Monday, December 29, 2008


Anyone who has been around horses for awhile has certainly heard the "I'll keep in contact, see how you two get along," comment when a horse is sold. It's usually just an expected nicety the seller utters to make the sale. No one really expects the former owner to check up on the horse he/she sold.

And in the Thoroughbred industry, breeders and trainers who don't keep track of their horses after is sale is pretty common. They just want the non-money makers out of the barn and off the expense sheet as soon as possible so they can get a wage-earner in that spot. Some race tracks in the east have even started penalizing and banning trainers whose horses are found in kill pens at auctions. Good for them for making them responsible for the horses they are "ditching."

Anyway, when I bought Gabe his owner said she'd keep in contact and would like updates on him. I kept in contact the first month and the second month, I sent her photos and kept her updated on his progress. Then I just kind of forgot about it.

Last night she called me, inquiring about him, asking how he's doing, how we are getting along and requesting some more pictures of him.

That just doesn't happen often enough, especially in the world of race horses.

You bet I was THRILLED to talk about the newest love of my life. People at work have learned not to ask about my horses. *grin* They get more information than they really wanted. Hehe! She got all the silly details about his delightful personality, I filled her in on his progress and about how much my entire family has come to just adore the big wonderful guy and I think she was more than happy to listen to me gush about him for awhile.

Thank goodness for the few out there in the horse industry who are like her...the ones who truly do care where their horses end up when they just don't fit into their particular program any longer. When I went out to look at him (and subsequently put a downpayment on him) she said she absolutely adored him, but knew he didn't like his job as a racehorse.

"I just can't keep asking him to do a job he hates," she explained. "I know he has the ability to do it, I know he can run, he just doesn't want to. His heart isn't in it. I couldn't imagine what it would be like to wake up every morning to do a job I hated and I don't want to do that to him."

Truer words never spoken. I just hope he likes his new job as a pleasure horse more than he liked racing!

Friday, December 26, 2008

The season of ice

The horses got a special, hot holiday meal Christmas morning. I discovered over Thanksgiving that all three LOVE sweet potatoes...perhaps even more than carrots and apples. Which is cool since sweet potatoes have been on sale lately so I can get tons of them for almost nothing.

I chopped up a bunch of sweet potatoes, some carrots, a few apples and drizzled molasses over the whole mess. That got mixed in with their morning meal of hot beet pulp mash and feed. Talk about some happy ponies! Gabe discovered the extra treats right away and wasn't going to move his head out of his bucket for nuthin'!

Because of the mud and ice I haven't ridden for about two weeks. Christmas Day dawned chilly but sunny, and warmed up just above freezing by early afternoon so I thought Kayleigh and I would go for a little ride. I knew we wouldn't be able to do much as the creek is over it's banks, blocking some of our trails, the neighboring fields are off limits until hunting season is over and my upper pasture/field is flooded and frozen. Little did I know we would be stuck just riding up and down the driveway. I thought for sure we'd be able to use the short, hilly trail around the woods, but it was too dangerous. This is how crappy our weather has been. We've had rain or sleet or freezing rain every third or fourth day since the end of October. That means the mud is DEEP. Then it got cold and stayed cold, so the mud froze DEEP. Which is okay, as long as it's just frozen mud. But, wait! There's more! Because the mud is frozen solid any rain we get doesn't sink in to the dirt, it sits ON TOP...and then freezes. On everything. The hills on the outer trail were ice. The horses have churned up the mud pretty good in their paddocks, so they have good grip there. Sure, they have to pick their way slowly around the paddocks like a bunch of cripples, but it keeps them from acting like morons and falling on ice. I can't even turn them out in the fields to give them some time to really stretch because the fields are a solid sheet of ice, even under the grass. No grip at all there. And because it got a bit warm yesterday, a thin layer of mud and ice thawed over the frozen mud, so, it was a whole lot like trying to walk across snot on glass.

I couldn't even work Gabe. I pulled him out and groomed and was going to take him up to work him in the pasture when he started acting silly and slipping everywhere. I think he hit just about every frozen puddle from his paddock to the hitching post and slid on each one. There were a couple of moments when I thought he was going to attempt to do the splits. Scary! So, he just got groomed, fussed over and put back in his paddock where the footing is like a mine field but at least it's not slick. I know he wants to run and buck and fart and be a goof, but not quite yet. He'd slip on the ice and break a leg.

I'd much prefer snow to all the rain we've gotten. At least snow packs and we can ride in snow. We can't do much of anything in this mud and ice. And it looks like it's not going to end any time soon. We are currently under a flood watch. In December. Flood. As in LOTS of water. The main road that takes us through the bottoms and into civilization was flooded this morning and barely passable. By tonight it will be completely impassable and I'll have to go around. That adds about 15-20 minutes to my commute. Woo hoo! Winter in the Mississippi River Valley is fabulous!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Remembering Blaze

When I was a kid we almost always had snow for Christmas. Not like here, where we usually have mud or ice.

We had snow nearly all winter long. Deep snow. The kind of deep, cold snow you can only get in Kansas. The kind that drifts and packs well. I remember spending a good portion of my Christmas break with my little brown pony, Blaze.

That little Shetland-cross became my new best friend when I was in third grade and she stayed with my family until my senior year. I had long outgrown her and she had been standing around doing nothing and really missing the daily loving she had grown used to over the years. So, my mom found her a home with a family and another horse-crazy kid to teach some life-long lessons to.
I know there are TONS more pictures of Blaze out there, but my mom has them. This is one of my favorites and displayed on my wall. Any guesses where she got her oh so original name? Please excuse the's a photo of a photo. I don't have a scanner.

Blaze was just as crazy as me, maybe a bit more. She wasn't really well-broke when I got her, but that pony really taught me how to ride. It's probably a good thing I was absolutely fearless or I would have never enjoyed her as much as I did. She taught me how to dismount at a full gallop and cling to a runaway pony cart. She taught me patience by staying just out of reach in the pasture when I tried to catch her and she decided she didn't really want to be caught. She taught me humility when she dumped me in mud puddles out on the trail and left me to walk back to the barn. Or swam out to the middle of Breakneck Lake and left me standing on shore, waiting for her to be done with her little swim and allow me to catch her. She taught me how to think quickly about all possible outcomes when she ran away with me and no amount of pulling or yelling at her would engage the brakes. I learned how to duck, fast, when she aimed straight for the lowest branch. She could go English, Western, bareback, Indian-style (you know, just a loop of rope around her bottom jaw) and could drive.

We went to western shows, English shows, fox-hunted, went trail riding, went swimming, went driving and jumped every obstacle imaginable on the old cavalry training field at Ft. Riley.

During the winter we'd trail ride in the snow bareback. When the snow was deep and slick enough enough and my sister willing enough, I'd put the western saddle on that rotund little pony, find a really long rope and tie the disk sled to the saddle. I was the driver in the saddle, my sister, the sucker on the sled. My goal was to whip her right off that sled with crazy fast riding, hairpin turns, spins and leaps over ditches.

You'd think that after a few winters of such "sleigh rides" my sister would get a clue and refuse to be the sucker on the sled. Or maybe I was just a bit intimidating and coerced her into going sledding with me.

She was the driver in the saddle a few times, but her style of driving was far too tame for me so I'd try to take over the reins. Blaze could drive and of course I tried driving her while sitting on the sled. Did I mention she could become a runaway pony in seconds? Talk a ride that would take the skin right off your teeth!

I don't know how my mother survived my pony years. If it was conceivable, I would try it, no matter how hair-brained or insane it might be. And back then helmets were for shows only. Heck, during the summer, riding in a pair of shoes was pushing it. Bareback in short shorts and a tube top, barefoot, with just a thin rope looped around Blaze's jaw was how I spent the summer.

She taught me how to ride fearlessly and with passion. Her intolerance for bad riding taught me to be a thinking rider with compassion for my partner. She was the foundation of my passion and love for all things equine.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Wind whipped and mudified

It's only December and I already hate this winter. It's muddy. It's cold. It's windy. And of course, we have these wonderful periods of icy rain and sleet that just make outside chores and driving a delight.

I haven't been able to do much of anything with the horses. I hate that. I just want to ride and I want to play with Gabe. I did get him out for a drive yesterday, even with the 45 mph winds snatching the lines and whipping them around bringing tears to my eyes. He was prancy and jiggy, but for the most part good. The wind was certainly not helping our communication through the lines and our steering is still sticky. But, I drove him down the driveway, further than he'd been, and let him look around at all the "new" stuff. He was definitely interested in the cows across the way! We practiced halting and speeding up, slowing down our gaits as well as turning left and right. It takes him a bit of time to turn and at the moment he handles more like a tank than a Porsche. No power steering on this baby! But we are installing power steering as well as air brakes...slowly but surely.

Kayleigh and I went for a short ride on Saturday. It was, once again, windy as heck and cold, making for a cold, not very enjoyable ride. The horses were being silly and snorting at everything and the footing was slick and swampy. I wish the mud would just freeze and stay frozen instead of this back and forth between crispy top layer and slimy, sucking under-layer of mud.

Calypso has not shown any more signs of lameness at all, so I'm thinking she just hit a "funny bone" or twisted something. Thank goodness!

My horses were not overly fond of the last load of hay we brought home. It was grass hay, no alfalfa in it at all. It was okay quality hay, not moldy or musty, but not nice and green and soft. Kind of stemmy with lots of fescue in it. They really don't like the fescue much at all. So, they aren't eating it all and I've had to feed MORE of it to make sure they are getting enough. Gabe is being particularly pissy about eating this hay. He has a TON out there, but he's turning it into bedding instead of eating it. The other two are eating it better, but not finishing it off like they should. They are picking through it. It kind of pisses me off. I paid the same amount for this hay as I do for the nicer hay, but I'm having to feed twice as much to make sure they are getting the same amount of calories, nutrition and bulk. Plus, having to feed a little bit more because it's been cold. So, at the end of it all, I went through this last load of hay almost twice as fast as I planned. Grrr. I'll have enough to get us through Wednesday and I'm crossing my fingers that my hay guy will 1) have a better load of hay in the barns and 2) be willing to set up a weekday appointment so I can go pick up a load. He usually prefers to do all his hay dealings on the weekend but I'm hoping he'll work with me. If not, I'm going to have to buy a couple of bales from friends, which I hate doing, but you do what you have to.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Catching up

The world, it's froze. The mud, it's froze. My hands and nose, they're froze. But Gabe, Chief and Calypso? They are FUZZY and warm!

Robert finally got the roof on Gabe's run-in Wednesday afternoon (yay!) and I bedded it with straw. Robert insisted that Gabe wouldn't use it, he'd just stand out in the elements and the run-in would go to waste. I assured him he was wrong, he was convinced he was right.

Care to guess who was correct? Any guesses? No? Okay, I'll tell ya. I was right! I went out to feed this morning and Gabe's fuzzy coat had all kinds of straw stuck to it. His tail is twined with straw and I could tell where he bedded down in the run-in last night. Yay! I knew he'd use it. Do I know that silly horse or what?

I am absolutely hating this weather. It has been so cloudy, overcast and dark out for the past couple of weeks that I haven't been able to get crap done with any of the horses. Kayleigh and I rode three days in a row over Thanksgiving break and it was fabulous. Of course, it rained the last two days of our break. Boo! Kayleigh is really taking after her ole mom...she refuses to ride with a saddle when it's cold out. I can't say I blame her, Chief's fuzzy back is MUCH warmer than her saddle. She's even trotting bareback and getting much, much more confident in her riding skills.

Something really weird happened to Calypso after one of our rides. We had a nice, easy ride and were out for almost an hour riding through the fallow fields and our woods. She was good, Chief was good. It was windy and chilly, but not horrid. We got back, untacked, groomed and grazed them on the frozen grass then put them back in the paddock. Calypso was fine. Immediately after we turned them out I went back inside to get their dinners ready and came back out to feed. It wasn't more than 5 minutes between turn out and feeding and in that time Calypso was drag-leg lame on her front right. She wouldn't put much weight on it and she couldn't seem to bend the knee at all. I felt for heat or swelling and checked to make sure she hadn't picked up a rock. Nothing. She ate fine and her respiration and heart rate were normal for her. About an hour or so after her being three-legged lame, she was fine. No indication at all that she couldn't walk just 60 minutes earlier. Odd. I wonder if she twisted it trotting down to her feed tub, or maybe Chief kicked her in those scant five minutes? I dunno. I have been keeping an eye on her in the meantime and checking for heat, swelling or a racing pulse in her feet, nothing.

It almost feels like this nasty weather and the shorter days are in cahoots against me. Every time I think I'll be able to get out and work or ride Gabe, it turns nasty or the ground is frozen. I have a feeling this winter is going to be very, very long and very, very frustrating for me in terms of working with Gabe and getting him ready for spring riding. *sigh* Such is life, I suppose.