Saturday, May 31, 2008

Another Approach

Before Raven arrived at Farcical Farm I used to spread Tonka's daily grain ration onto a feeder full of hay so that it would dispense slowly along with the forage. Wild horses don't happen on buckets of oats very often, so I assume it's more natural for domesticated ones to get the good stuff a little at a time. I stopped doing this when Raven arrived because she eats so much more than Tonka, but I have revisited the idea over the past two days. Instead of soaking and feeding beet pulp in two large helpings I have been spreading dry pellets onto their hay (the shredded product would be better for this, but I'm not worried about choke when they are getting one or two pellets at a time). So far so good -- Raven hasn't been gassy and Tonka hasn't been laminitic -- and I am still able to feed their other rations separately.

I spent some of this afternoon visiting with an 18-year-old quarab (quarter horse X arab) gelding on behalf of some friends on Vancouver Island. Shadow is a sweet fellow who has not received proper food, farrier visits or veterinary care for some time. His owners were going to auction him for meat, but a kinder young lady has volunteered to find him a good home instead. With time, patience and TLC he will make a great horse of light trail riding, which is exactly what my friends are looking for. Keep your fingers crossed for Shadow, and please please please become a regular at Fugly Horse of the Day if you are interested in the creation and disposal of unwanted horses in North America.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Gassy Lassie

After a few days of trial and error I've concluded that a breakfast of beet pulp followed by rich pasture grass was probably responsible for Raven's colic on Saturday. Since then I've observed that beet pulp alone makes Raven gassy. This stuff is the byproduct of sucrose extraction from sugar beets. Of course they can't extract 100% of the sugar, so the pulp remains slightly sweet. Because most horses don't process sugar very well (Tonka being an extreme example) I suspect it as the root cause of Raven's gas. While I could stop feeding it entirely, beet pulp has several benefits that I'm not ready to relinquish, so I have started soaking and rinsing it as suggested here. The drained water is surprisingly sweet and we've had no funny faces, no flared nostrils and no excessive farting for the past three days. I'm not ready to write it up for publication yet, but I think we're onto something!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Bitter Sweet

Sweet because Raven rode out in her new bridle for the first time today and it was otherworldly. After ten minutes she began to understand it, and the following half hour was thoroughly enjoyable. She didn't turn into a perfect angel (it's not a magical bridle) but for the first time I felt like I was riding the same horse who I know and love on the ground. In a regular bridle Raven tends to get pushy when agitated (she's the same on the ground), and then she tends to panic when too much bit is applied in any attempt to regain calmness and control. In this bridle she still gets pushy but she is able to keep her head when I use my hands to communicate that she will not be getting things her way. This could be the best $150 I've ever spent. (As a side note, the beta material is like a cross between leather and rubber -- very nice on the hands, and it looks good too.)

Bitter (get it? BITter?) because I wonder what kind of treatment Raven had before she fell into Jenn's care. The paperwork suggests that she's had at least seven owners in her 15 years -- did one of them create these problems through harsh treatment? She is such a willing and bighearted creature in so many ways that any challenging behavior seems incongruous with her underlying nature. Of course she'll be living the good life from herein, but sometimes you wish they could use words rather than actions to tell you where they've been.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

It All Comes Out in the Wash

A quiet day around here, thank goodness. Raven ate and drank and pooped as if nothing ever happened, but I decided to wait another day before fitting and trying the new bitless bridle. This left lots of time to tackle some items on the never-ending chore list.

For reasons too boring to explain David and I ended up with an extra washing machine in January. It's old and cranky, but we decided to put it in the garage for horse and dog laundry. Last week we identified the perfect location (our garage is both huge and complicated), and today we organized all the cables and hoses necessary to make it work. I celebrated by washing Tonka and Raven's rain sheets, cool coats and fly masks this afternoon. It was sunny when I started, but the rain sheets were truly "wash and wear" because it was pouring by the time they finished their spin cycle. Here comes the rain again!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

A Watched Horse Never Poops

At 8:30 this morning I turned Raven and Tonka out onto the pasture and started my chores. It was 10:00 when I finished, and I decided to leave them out for another hour, at which point David and I had to leave to meet some friends for lunch. At 10:30 David pointed out that lazy old Raven was lying down and eating whatever grass she could reach from her recumbent position. I didn't think much of it as she loves to sunbathe, and this is the first sunny day we've had all week. She was down again when I went to bring them in, at which point the alarm bells started to ring. Sure enough, she was pawing and pacing and rolling by the time I got dressed for lunch, so I sent David on alone.

Fortunately Dr. Schwichtenberg was nearby and able to make it within the hour. She administered a shot of Banamine and described Raven's gut as a "veritable disco" of the sounds associated with a gas colic. I was left with instructions to encourage grazing, restrict hay, watch carefully, and not let my guard down until I'd counted three poops. So I stuck Raven in the goat paddock, pulled up a chair and waited. And waited. The third one came around 3:30 and I swear to both Neptune and Poseidon that the horse started to buck and kick and rear about thirty seconds later. Given the size of the goat paddock I decided to move her back to the pasture, where she galloped around for about a minute, obviously feeling better. I am still keeping a close watch as Banamine is potent enough to mask several hours of colic pain, but I think she's in the clear. As always, the cats remain entirely unconcerned about the plight of the other hostages held at Farcical Farm.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Another First

When I let the horses out to graze this morning Raven bolted past me as usual (bad manners, but I like to see her excited so I let her get away with it) and, much to my surprise, Tonka bolted out with her. They both cantered down to the far end of the second pasture then played for about 10 seconds. This is noteworthy because I have never seen Tonka maintain a canter for more than 3 or 4 strides of his own volition -- he usually breaks from canter to trot to walk in less than 8 strides. It was really nice to see him move so freely and joyfully. Even if it only lasts for a day, it gave me a glimpse at the horse he might become with continued care and rehabilitation.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Caught in the Act

My apologies for a slow blog week. The weather here has been truly wretched with low temperatures and heavy rain. It was sunny while I was in Vancouver yesterday, but David reports that the Deroche microclimate remained resolutely bleak. Environment Canada is calling for sun over the weekend, which I'm hoping will coincide with the arrival of Raven's new bridle -- that ought to be good food for blog fodder.

When I pulled into the driveway yesterday evening Tonka and Raven were grooming each other under the apple tree. I've never seen them do this before and, by their embarrassed reaction, they prefer it that way. Quite funny to watch Raven saunter casually away with her "nothing to see here, folks" face.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Nom Nom Nom

That's the noise David imagines Raven to be making as she tears nonstop (nomstop?) through the grass on our pasture. He is amazed that any creature can eat so much without seeming to gain any weight (and I am envious). Since her arrival on March 26th Raven has put on ~150 lbs, and I would like to see her gain at least 50 more. She no longer looks obviously skinny, but she is still ribby and angular in places where I'd like to see her more fleshy and round. One dilemma is that I prefer to steer away from concentrated or engineered feeds as they seem so far removed from a horse's natural diet. Another dilemma is that Tonka needs low-carb hay, which restricts Raven to the same (a smart person would have sought out another easy keeper as her second horse). She's out on the grass for an average of 6 hours/day right now, and I've just bumped up her oat and beet pulp rations a little -- it will be interesting to see what the next weeks bring. I am pleased to report that her scruffy orange winter coat is coming in a lovely glossy black now, which I will take as evidence that I'm doing something right.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

So Far, So Goodish

Tonka has been turned out on the pasture in his grazing muzzle for two hours on each of the past three mornings. I am watching him like a hawk, but see no signs of pain beyond his usual half-gimpy gait. No heat in the feet, no exaggerated pulse. Not surprising, since he will graze in one spot for about 10 minutes with the muzzle on -- I don't think he's getting much, but he sure tries hard.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Darth Tonka

I did something new and probably stupid today. I finally fitted Tonka with the grazing muzzle I bought months ago and, after I widened the opening, he was able to nibble some grass (instead of standing pathetically around and breathing like Darth Vader). With my heart in my throat I turned him out with Raven for two morning hours, which made him as happy as I've ever seen him. They even played for a few sweet seconds, chasing each other around like yearlings. Now I'm watching him like a hawk for any signs of soreness, wondering if I will ever be able to do it again. Keep your fingers crossed!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Hitting the Trails

It was a beautiful day here after 100 mm of rain over the past 72 hours. Nothing would have been nicer than a long ride in the sun, but Raven has a girth gall that I want to see gone before I saddle her up again (and she's still too bony for me to go bareback, even with my ample padding). Tomorrow I am hoping to take David to a local farm that offers trail rides in the mountains. He may have been on horseback once or twice as a child, but nothing since. I figure we can minimize the stress (and maximize the fun) of his inaugural ride by doing it elsewhere on horses whose quirks I don't know and therefore cannot get worked up about. Should be fun!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Backwards, Forwards, Left and Right

I bought some Clinton Anderson videos recently, and I'm quite impressed. Anderson presents exercises in a clear, grounded and practical way that makes them easy to digest and apply, unlike the Parelli camp of natural horsemanship. His no-nonsense attitude is similar to my own, and I believe that his approach can benefit both horses.

Today I noticed how severely afraid Tonka remains of the goats and decided to start working through it with him. I began by taking him to the driveway outside the paddock and getting him to hustle his feet backwards, forwards, left and right (Anderson's mantra). Then I drove him through an increasingly narrow gap between me and the paddock fence about 30 times, until he started to relax. Then I tied him to the paddock fence while I did some goat-related errands. Finally I brought him into the paddock and let him eat alfalfa from the goat feeder while I encouraged Roland, Morsel and Timbit to be boisterous and noisy. We'll be doing this daily for a while, as well as some lunging. Now that the big lug is sounding up it's time for his life of leisure to get a little less leisurely.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Beast of Burden

A friend of ours from Seattle came to visit with his two little kids this weekend. They don't have a lifestyle conducive to pet ownership, and both kids are slightly animal averse. We figured that some fun times on Farcical Farm might help them to overcome their fear of fauna. Within hours they were playing a rousing game of fetch with Willow, and over the course of two days they got quite comfortable with all of the critters here. On Saturday I attached a grab strap to the Wintec stock saddle and put Raven to work on some pony rides.

After that I switched to the Wintec sport saddle (which fits Raven much better) and took myself for a pony ride along one of our usual routes. Sometime since we last rode that way a local farmer has filled one of the fields with 40 heifer calves -- next year's milking stock, I assume -- and they all came *running* when they saw Raven. She kept her head for about 30 seconds and then bolted, which she has never done to me before. I lost both stirrups but kept my seat and managed to pull her up and turn her around with a series of mini one-rein halts. When we got back to the cows I dismounted and did some ground work to get her thinking again. After that I let her burn off a little energy with a long gallop, and she managed to keep her brain in when we passed the black and white aliens on the way home. I must admit that the attention of all those sweet, vacant eyes is a bit unnerving.

One thing I learned is that Raven cannot cope with fear and the bit at the same time. When she loses her head she loses all ability to relax and accept contact with her mouth, which leads to a downward spiral in communication. This warrants much more ground work in situations that make her uncomfortable, and a complete dental checkup to ensure that everything is OK in there. I have also ordered one of these, based on the gut instinct that it might make a big difference for her. Raven's temperament is so different with and without a bit in her mouth (even the mildest possible bit) that I wonder if simple pain lies behind her uncharacteristic unwillingness.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Blue Steel

Tonka hasn't been getting much air time lately, mostly because he hasn't been very interesting. Due to that long lameness on his front right he has been spending his days wandering around the paddock, munching hay, mooching treats and looking handsome. Our friend Chris took this picture of him yesterday (David is convinced that he stole Zoolander's "Blue Steel"):

Anyhow, I just wanted to let everyone (all three of you) know that Tonka remains happy, relatively healthy, and very much loved. I was going to take him for his first ride in weeks today, but the weather here is foul and I am a wuss.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Please Yield

Yielding to pressure is not Raven's strong point. So far I've gained her respect through bullheaded persistence, but I am experienced and relatively fearless with horses. Sometime soon I expect to leave everyone in David's care for a few weeks, in which case Raven needs a tuneup. Big names like Pat Parelli, Clinton Anderson and Jonathan Field have convinced me that carrying a big stick will help her along. These carrot/handy/horseman's sticks measures about 48" long without much flex, making them more of a "whump" than a whip. They are firm enough to get a horse's attention when needed, and also to give a nice little scratch when earned. Raven has been responding well to her workouts, thinking her way through to the correct answer 95% of the time. Her steadiness, intelligence and desire to please never cease to amaze me.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Trim Time

Christina Cline was here this afternoon to trim Tonka and Raven. Given that she visits once per month (and that she's a trained professional) , her unique perspective on Tonka's progress is always appreciated. Today she said that the tightening of his white lines over the past four weeks rivals that of the previous eight weeks, and that she feels increasingly confident about his prognosis. At the same time she confirmed my suspicion that the rapid growth of his front right heel is probably linked to his soreness. This slightly "clubbed" foot could have preexisted the founder and caused greater rotation in the right coffin bone, or it may be the result of accommodating founder pain for years. Either way, the condition is mild and should not affect his soundness in the long term. Tonka has certainly been happier for the past few days, both physically and emotionally. Although I doubt we've seen the last of these healing pains, I'm glad to see him get a reprieve.

Christina also confirmed my observations about Raven's hind feet, which seem to have pancaked since her shoes were pulled. She assures me that this is normal for thin-walled hooves that have been shod for a long time. Miss Thing is oblivious to this development, but I did buy a pair of Cavallo Simple Boots to protect her hinds on rocky rides.

Monday, May 5, 2008

A Rave Review

I love the Blocker Tie Ring. It's not often that a product lives up to its reviews, but this has transformed my thinking in a mere 48 hours. Yesterday I brought both horses out for a good shedding/grooming session, and Raven stood like she has never stood before -- calm, quiet and totally relaxed. Even Tonka (who ties without a problem, but does paw when anxious) was noticeably more at ease. Neither challenged the ring at all -- it was if they simply sensed that they were not trapped. I'm a total convert. This morning when I was tacking up for a ride with some friends I was able to leave Raven tied while I went inside to change my shirt, which would have been unimaginable last week. Then we spent a happy three hours cruising along the dikes and the river, and she was reasonably well-behaved in the company of some 100% solid geldings. Much as I love going out alone, it was also nice to have company.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Manure Pile

Most online horse-related forums have a posting area called "The Manure Pile" where users can vent their myriad frustrations. I spent most of yesterday in our real-life manure pile, moving three months of accumulation around and getting the composting system sorted out. Instead of fully enclosing the 10 X 12 bins on three sides we decided to use chicken wire for improved aeration. Better for the compost, but quite maddening to manipulate when it comes in 100 foot rolls. With much help from David most of the manure is now perking away in bin #1, and tomorrow I will get bin #2 ready for action. We are looking forward to using this stuff in our vegetable garden next summer.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Home Wrecker

Raven's most dangerous vice is the tendency to pull back when something startles/interests/annoys her while she's tied. It's not uncommon for horses that don't yield well to pressure to panic when they hit the end of a tie rope, and 1000 pounds of panic can do a lot of damage to the horse, the thing to which it is tied, and anyone else nearby. For example, Raven has already broken a leather halter, ripped two panels of cedar siding off our garage, and almost broken my thumb. Some folks from the school of "that'll learn ya" will simply put such a horse in a rope halter (which, unlike a flat halter, digs deeply into the sensitive poll behind the ears), tie it to a tree and let it fight. Others will teach the horse to ground tie, meaning that it is not to move a muscle when standing haltered with a rope dangling to the ground. I don't have the heart for the former or the patience for the latter, so I have invested in two Blocker tie rings. These nifty little gizmos arrived yesterday. When used as shown the curve of the pivoting arm allows a little give when a horse pulls back, thereby neutralizing the panic. The degree of give is dictated by the thickness of the rope, and the way in which it's looped around the arm. I will install one on what's left of our garage and on our tie tree, and I will look forward to using them while tacking up to ride this weekend.