Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Food Fight

Busy day for me professionally, so I didn't spend much time with the four-legged inhabitants of Farcical Farm. I can report that all swelling has subsided around the strikes on Tonka's legs, and he seems to be lengthening his stride on the front right again -- maybe Raven realigned him? I can also report that the goats are growing quickly, probably because they are so greedy. In the video we have Morsel on the left, Roland McNugget in the middle and Timbit on the right. Their names are inspired by the attention they have received from local predators. Let's hope the Maremma pup we now have on order will help to prevent them from fulfilling any such destinies.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Love Hurts

David witnessed his first real example of equine aggression yesterday, though I take full responsibility for the incident. On those mornings when I head to UBC, Raven is often just finishing her feed as I am getting in the car. Instead of escorting her out of the feeding pen, I simply leave the door open so that she can let herself out -- Tonka knows better than to venture in there when she's eating. When David went into the paddock yesterday evening to top off their hay both horses ran into Raven's still-open feeding pen in anticipation of dinner. Raven, who is currently in heat, objected to Tonka's presence and nailed him repeatedly while he was stuck in the corner. Three hard shots to the left gaskin and one to the right, which has him limping around and looking sorry for himself. She seems to have missed his hocks entirely -- a lucky testament to her athletic ability.

The simple solution is never to leave the gate open again (and I won't), but repairing Tonka's confidence in his beloved Raven might be more difficult. He is certainly keeping his distance for the time being.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Custom Fit

A helpful FFF reader suggested some great modifications for Raven's hoof boots. First, I cut down the left heel strap by two notches to give the bulbs more space. Second, I bought a piece of 6mm anti-fatigue rubber flooring and cut a piece to snug up the fit of the right boot.

Both changes have worked really well. Raven seemed perfectly comfortable on our 90 minute ride this morning (which included a long gallop), and there was no evidence of chaffing on either foot when I pried the boots off. My only concern is that she needs something for her back feet, which seem to be flattening out now that her shoes are off. Although the EasyBoots were easier to get on today, Raven is not the most patient horse when her hind legs are being handled. I'm considering a pair that are super fast to put on, as she's really coming along and we are ready to explore the world beyond the railroad tracks (which requires walking over large, sharp rocks).

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Other Woman

A lady named Bernice jogs by our house every day with her poodle Patches. She loves animals of all kinds, but seems particularly fond of Tonka, whom she laughably prefers to call "Thor". Since the arrival of Roland, Timbit and Morsel (we named the goats) Tonka is too afraid of the far end of the paddock to visit with Bernice when she goes by. Even the promise of many Milk-Bone dog cookies cannot convince him -- an impressive indicator of his terror. Yesterday I was mucking the paddock when Bernice came up to the fence, and I was able to coax the big chicken down to see her for the first time since last weekend (which almost made her cry). Raven completely ignores Bernice and her dog treats, preferring to remain aloof while letting her man have his fun.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Fly Away

Tonka has come through The Great Escape without any signs of a laminitic reaction, but yesterday he was looking sore on both front feet with no obvious heat or swelling. I blame the flies. Whenever we get a few moments of sun the flies, mosquitoes and gnats come pouring out of their hiding places and head straight for the horse paddock, throwing Tonka and Raven into a state of constant motion. I suspect that Tonka is one of many horses who have an allergic response to gnat/midge/ noseeum bites, leading to an uncomfortable condition called sweet itch. Raven has very few detectable bites while Tonka is covered with swollen lumps down his neck, chest and under his belly. He cannot have the freedom to outrun his attackers, so I am going to have to buy him a sweet itch sheet. These are both expensive and ridiculous, but he knows nothing of either complaint.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Epic Indeed

Raven's Easyboot Epics arrived in the mail today. Everyone who told me that they're not actually easy to put on was absolutely correct. After much struggling I concluded that the size 1 fits great on the left, but the size 2 seems a little floppy on the right. Having said that, the size 1 did rub her heel bulbs while the size 2 did not. Overall she seemed quite comfortable wearing them at a walk and a trot, though we didn't try a hard gallop. I think they are going to be perfect once I perfect the application and disengagement processes.

Monday, April 21, 2008


I called David on my way home from work to ask about life at Farcical Farm and any supplies necessary for dinner. He was in the middle of telling me that Tonka seemed less terrified of the goats today when he stopped mid-sentence and said "they are in the neighbor's yard". I assumed that he meant the goats (who have a well-known penchant for escape) but it turned out to be the horses. We're not sure whether the small gait was left unlatched or whether they simply bullied their way through, but they were chowing down on Wayne and Lucy's immaculate lawn. We're not sure how long they were out there (less than two hours, as they were in the paddock when David got home) or how the gate was compromised, but I am suspicious about how little hay they ate today. Perhaps this was not their first foray to the greener grass on the other side? I will ask the neighbors about it tomorrow, but I have bungeed the gate shut for now. Thank goodness that we have a healthy relationship with Wayne and Lucy -- too bad that Tonka doesn't have such a healthy relationship with sweet spring grass. Keep your fingers crossed for him!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Cowardice in the Ranks

Avid FFF readers (yes, all three of you) know that Tonka is no war horse in the making. He has a long history of being terrified by such fearsome things as llamas, sheep and mailboxes. I'm embarrassed to announce that we can add baby pygmy goats to the list. Yesterday David and I braved some severe winter driving (yes, it is late April) to retrieve Huey, Dewey and Louie (yes, we are still working on names) from Armstrong. Poor Tonka has been crammed into the far end of the horse paddock ever since we unloaded them into the goat paddock last night. We had to put out a special pile of hay for him, so that he can eat while keeping an eye on them (yes, about 100 feet away) or else he simply will not eat.

He does have a point, I guess:

Friday, April 18, 2008

Spring Has Unsprung

I got up early this morning to soak Tonka's foot before heading to work and it was so cold that my hands were aching while I was preparing feed and the epsom salt solution. Tonka seems to like his pedicures, but there is a critical point at which he will pull back (and knock over the bucket if I'm not careful). There is a large piece of material breaking away from his right heel now, and I suspect this has been the problem as he becomes uncharacteristically impatient and intolerant when I poke at it. Not sure whether there's an abscess under there, but I assume that softening it up can't hurt. He does seem to be walking more comfortably, which is a relief. It started to snow about 10 minutes after I left the ranch, and David took this picture sometime later:

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Third Theory

I spoke with the vet this morning, and she feels that Tonka's lameness is likely due to a hoof abscess. It turns out that such abscesses are not unusual in horses recovering naturally from founder. When normal circulation is not enough to get rid of the dead and damaged tissue, it can collect in one pocket of the hoof and cause and abscess. Sooner or later it will blow out through the coronary band, the sole, or maybe with some help through the hoof wall. We will start daily soaking in hot water and epsom salts to try speeding this process along. The end result we're hoping for is a lot of pus pouring out of somewhere -- yum!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Theory Room

Tonka seems to be increasingly sore on his front right despite a careful diet, proper barefoot trimming and a natural lifestyle. While maintaining a philosophy of "wait and see" I do have a couple of theories about his discomfort. First, the shape of the right hoof is changing rapidly when compared to the left one despite more severe rotation of the right coffin bone. I suspect this is putting pressure on the sensitive navicular bone that lies along the connection between the deep digital flexor tendon and the coffin bone (or distal phalanx below). His preference for keeping weight off his heels is consistent with this theory, though it's heartening to note that all steps recommended for natural rehabilitation from founder are also recommended for natural treatment of navicular problems.

Second, some pain appears to from the knee, even though I can't find any heat or swelling. Tonka has the knees of a wrecked race horse -- excessively large, forward and knobbly. I assume this comes from years of moving awkwardly to reduce laminitic pain, but there might have been other factors in his history. Regardless, rapid changes to the shape of his hoof are likely putting new stresses on those already-compromised joints so that pain is coming from multiple places. Don't get me wrong -- he is largely comfortable and healthy, but he will not be under saddle any time soon. He remains very handsome:

Monday, April 14, 2008


For horses, as for humans, there is a long list of vendors peddling a seemingly endless variety of miraculous nutritional supplements. I autonomously choose to ignore most such products in my human diet, striving instead just to eat whenever/whatever I find appealing (rarely McDonalds). For the dogs I maintain a philosophy of balance in the long-term, supplementing their raw chicken/turkey/lamb/pork diet with the occasional vitamin pill/dose of salmon oil/suspect item from the fridge. Horse nutrition is newer to me, but all my research suggests that good grass hay, some alfalfa, some fat (sunflower, flax..) and the occasional treat should do the trick for our horses when accompanied by free access to salt and mineral blocks. My decision to take alfalfa off the equine menu effectively removes calcium from this diet, so I have decided to compensate with Hoffman's Horse Minerals. The manufacturers suggest allowing free-choice access to the powdered mixture, but I'm pretty sure that Tonka would eat the whole bucket in one shot. For now they are getting the recommended ~200 g/day. Raven gets it in her grain, and Tonka is so happy to get something while Raven is eating that he will devour it straight.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Along for the Ride

Our friends Sean and Melanie stayed over last night before heading back to Lethbridge. Melanie has never been on a horse, and I promised her a Tonka ride this morning if the weather was good. Much to everyone's surprise, predictions of 20+ degrees and blue skies were accurate, and it was the first of our beautiful summer days. Much to my concern poor Tonka was sore again this morning, with warm hooves and a bounding digital pulse. I am going to take alfalfa out of his diet for a while. Most nutritionists agree that it is safe fodder for lamanitic horses, but some sources suggest that certain horses cannot tolerate it. Melanie did get a very short ride, but no one had the heart to make Tonka work for long. Raven got a longer ride, but was obviously feeling tender without her shoes. I established that the new bit is an improvement and called it a day.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A Room of Her Own

While Len was here to do the goat paddock we also asked him to fence in one corner of the horse paddock as a Tonka-proof feeding area for Raven. It looks great (Len's fences always do) and it works great as well. Today when I gave Raven a scoop of soaked beet pulp (which puffs up to be about 3 scoops of food) she ate half before losing interest. I'm sure that Tonka got the other half last Tuesday, which contributed to his laminitic episode. Today Raven was forced to stand around until I let her out, and Tonka was too busy munching on hay to lament his missed opportunity. He knows he can't get in there, so he simply doesn't obsess over what she's eating. I am very pleased with this addition, and I'm sure it will come in handy should we ever need to isolate one of the horses (or goats, dogs, guests, etc.).

Tuesday, April 8, 2008


For the past two days the horses have been watching Len of Gedak Fencing build (1) an enclosure around our manure pile for better composting, (2) an enclosure in the horse paddock so that we can feed Raven without fear of poaching by Tonka, and (3) a paddock for the three pygmy goats that David and I will pick up in Armstrong next weekend. These little fellows have been on order since the fall, and the oldest will be about 12 weeks when they arrive. They will be wethered (castrated) ASAP so they can start their new lives as hungry little brush cutters (and I can put my personal war with the blackberries on hiatus). To imbue this addition with a little kitsch value David and I decided to buy the hull of a 1978 VW bus for use as a goat shelter. It arrived today, and it's damned cute! You can rest assured that it will be painted to match the house, and will sport a peace sign between its headlight sockets.

Monday, April 7, 2008

A Mile in Their Shoes

Or lack thereof. Christina Cline came by today to trim Tonka's hooves and to pull Raven's shoes. She took pictures of Tonka's feet to compare to her originals, so it will be interesting to see what progress he's made. His hoof wall is certainly strong, and we are beginning to see better concavity as his heels pull under in the front. All soreness from Tuesday episode has faded, thank goodness. Here he is looking handsome and less hairy (note the ground around him) after his trim and a grooming:

Raven has a thinner hoof wall than Tonka, which is typical for a thoroughbred. It might take some time for her soles to toughen up enough for a completely barefooted life, but we will support her with some hoof boots in the interim. Unlike Tonka she should fit nicely into a pair of Old Mac G2s, so that's what I will get for her. Christina and I both suspect that she will transition easily, given that she is easy going and not prone to drama (though here she is after ripping the hitching ring + cedar siding off our garage).

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Which Tack to Take?

Another day of flyball, so not much horse news from Deroche (though the beasts themselves might wish to complain about the rain). On my way home from the tournament I finally made a decision about our two horses/four saddles problem. I love the Wintec 2000 AP I bought for Tonka too much to sell it off, so it will stay. I love the Wintec 100 Sport I bought for Raven too much to sell it off, so it will stay. And I like the comfort and security of the little Wintec stock saddle, so it will stay. The latter fits both horses well, which means that I can use it when the mood strikes, and I can offer it to riding partners when the opportunity knocks. So the heavy Aussie stock saddle will get sold and no more saddles will get bought. I did order a third set of stirrups and saddle pads so that all three saddles will be mounted and ready to go whenever they are wanted.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Ixnay on the Ideray

Or so I thought. This morning our lovely spring weather faded back into a cold, gray rain. I have no compunctions about riding in wet weather, but it adds an unnecessary element of discomfort to training exercises. So I mucked the paddock, fed the horses and got a heck of a lot of work done (the kind I get paid for), though not before takings some close-up pictures of the horses from the dry warmth of our bedroom. I like David's new lens!

At 17:30 the clouds parted a little, a bit of sun shone through, and I got Raven tacked up for a quickie. After some reading and some thinking I decided to remove the caveson (nose band) from her bridle to allow greater motion of her jaw, and more room to escape pressure from the bit on the roof of her mouth. Overall things went really well. I had to modify the one-rein halt somewhat, as she simply would not come to a stop without some pressure from the outside rein (posing a threat to both of us). Still, an hour of concentrated effort produced a horse who was much more willing to hold her "whao" and who was starting to respond to lighter contact from the bit for gait transitions. She got a completely loose rein when she was doing as I wanted, and several times at the halt she turned her head to look at me over her shoulder. It feels like progress.

In other news Tonka has a tiny cut on his lip that produces an alarming amount of blood. It's hard to get a good look at because he shakes it around like crazy when I poke and prod (don't you just love horses lips?), but I suspect it was a splinter from the feeder. Let's hope it heals quickly, because the red droplets all over the paddock look awful!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Bits and Bites

Some time ago I wrote a little about bits and their mechanical actions on a horse. So far I have been riding Raven in an eggbutt snaffle, but I find that she works it constantly and fights it like crazy when we have a difference of opinion. Fault for this lies mostly with me (for rusty and clumsy use of my aids) and partially with her early training. Somewhere along the lines she should have learned to yield to the bit as a communication device rather than fighting it as a restriction device. My mission is to teach my old girl some new tricks. First we will be practicing our one-rein stops, where a horse resisting a halt (or a request to slow down) has its head turned by shortening one rein towards the hip and dropping the other entirely. Where the head goes, the body will follow, the powerful hindquarters will disengage, and the forward momentum will dissipate. Pressure on both reins is dropped as soon as the horse stops turning in circles and comes to a halt, and the whole process resumes (alternating directions) when needed. Raven and I will be working one-rein halts on the quiet country roads of Deroche tomorrow morning, and I will be headed back to the Abby Saddle Shop tomorrow afternoon for a milder, double-jointed French link bit. Raven has a small mouth with limited range of motion in her jaw, and I imagine that single-jointed snaffle is making matters worse by putting a lot of pressure on the roof of her mouth.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

It Doesn't Take Much

In one sense, it doesn't take much to throw Tonka's digestion out of whack. When I got home last night I could see that he was walking gingerly, and a quick examination found heat in both his front hooves and a bounding digital pulse above his front fetlocks. Although he's moving better today, these are typical signs of a mild laminitic episode. Chances are that Raven abandoned her beet pulp to him yesterday morning, and that they both spent the afternoon browsing the tiny shoots of sweet spring grass popping up in the (small) dirt area of the paddock. A neighbor also tells me that she and her toddler had stopped by to feed them some carrots. I fear this perfect storm of simple carbohydrates was enough to mess with Tonka's hind gut and that grazing in the muzzle I recently purchased simply won't be safe for him. Beet pulp will be off Raven's menu until we get a feeding enclosure built, and I think that I will hang a bucket of alfalfa cubes on our fence with a sign asking passersby not to feed the white horse anything else. It makes me really happy that our neighbors love our horses, but I also prefer to know what's going down Tonka's totally indiscriminate gullet.

In another sense, it doesn't take much to get Raven galloping. We headed out for a couple of solo hours this morning and found a nice dirt road where she could let loose. What fun! She is such a fantastic, willing little horse and I feel so lucky to have found her. Even when she's afraid she will try anything that I ask of her with enthusiasm and forward momentum. My only complaint thus far is that she tends to wander out of a "whoa" when she wants to go, but I never let her get away with it, and I suspect she'll stop trying as we get to know each other better. After a week of settling in her personality is shining through and I love it.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Homeward Bound

After a week of unpredictable rain/hail/snow storms we are finally getting some decent weather on the south coast of BC. If I hold my head on exactly the correct angle I can see a bit of sky through the door of my windowless lab/office when the door to the lab across the hall is open. I avoid the temptation to contort myself this way because it only makes me want to go home and ride. My presence is not required on campus for the rest of the week, and you can rest assured that I will be taking advantage of the continued good weather.