Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Momma, I got the itchies

Gabe bit me on the leg this weekend.

Hard, right on the shin. And I reacted fast and popped him in the nose with my crop. How the heck did he get my shin, you may ask. Well, simple, actually. He reached his head around during our ride and bit me.

But I don't think he actually meant to bite me, I think he meant to bite himself. Strange? Maybe. We were out on a trail ride for about an hour, he was hot and sweaty and once he started getting sweaty he started reaching his head around to bite/itch his side right where the girth sits. It was really, really agitating him and was very distracting for him. I imagine it was driving him a little bit crazy which is why he got me instead of himself.

I don't know what is causing the itchiness, but I think I might have an idea. I use a fleece girth cover because his skin is so sensitive that if I don't the leather rubs him the wrong way and he hates it. I had JUST washed the fleece cover and for the first time ever used bleach on it. It was NASTY, it had to be done! Bleach is the only difference so I'm thinking his ultra-sensitive skin + freshly washed with bleach fleece cover + sweat = MISERABLE HORSE.

I'll be washing that cover again, without bleach this time and maybe even send it through the rinse cycle twice. Poor guy. It's got to be tough being such a sensitive guy!

Well, Chief is officially retired (semi-retired any way). We rode last night and Kayleigh got on Chief for the first time in over a month. He refused to trot and when he did trot he laid his ears flat back and bucked. He refused to step over a 12" jump and refused and refused and bucked until he was permitted to just slowly walk over it. He's NEVER bucked and never reacted like that to a request to trot or go over a small jump. I think he's really feeling that arthritis and it's time to retire him to just long, slow trail rides. No more trotting, no more jumping. Just slow, easy stuff to keep him moving. He does need to lose some weight and get more fit, and I told Kayleigh that will be her job, to get him fit with long, slow, easy rides because his joints will be much, much more comfortable if he uses them and is carrying less weight on them.

It sucks when your horses start to get old and creaky. Chief is 25 now, he'll be 26 in January. He deserves his retirement and has definitely earned it. I'll be keeping a close, close eye on him this winter. If the cold and the ice and the mud prove to be too much for him and he's in pain we can't control with Bute, we may have to make a tough, tough decision that I don't even want to have to think about.

Monday, August 22, 2011


I have to remind myself that although the sweltering, icky, yucky, horrible hot SUCKS....

The alternative is worse:

Because while hot is hot is hot, cold is just MISERABLE and a whole lot more work to deal with. Cold toes, cold nose, frozen horses, frozen mud holes, ice, more ice, snow...brrrrr....

Nope. I'm not ready for winter yet. I know I should be getting ready and get that hay shed filled, but it's an admission that winter, yes, it's coming.

And it can take its own sweet time for all I care. Fall, on the other hand, I am ready for fall!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Dairy cattle eat horses with a butter knife

I took Calypso "around the block" last night. Around the block in my neighborhood is just about a four mile trip. We walked, mostly. We did some standing and staring a bit too. By the time we returned home she was huffing and sweating.

Poor, fat, out-of-shape mare. Need to work on that.

She's always been pretty good going out by herself, a little squirrely sometimes but for the most part, very good. When she does get silly or spooky she doesn't worry me as much as Gabe does simply because she is spooky in a different way. While Gabe spins and tries to run away very fast from the scary thing, Calypso stands, stares, her eyes bug out of her head and she absolutely refuses to move forward. Which is much easier to deal with than a spinning, freaking out 16+ hh Thoroughbred!

Sometimes it's a hidden propane tank that gets her bugged-eyed. Other times it's just a piece of trash blowing in the wind.

Last night it was cows. And a Gator. At the same time. Oh, my!

To get where we were going we needed to walk between a pasture full of very curious dairy cattle and a Gator sitting on the road, idling. On the other side of the road near the Gator is a Big Scary Hole that has water falling into it. Calypso was pretty sure there were giant, slimy serpents in it waiting for her to become a tasty meal. Scary stuff on it's own, but add in the fact that the cattle had JUST been milked and were feeling their oats and being particularly curious about us and it's a horsey nightmare.

Visualize, if you will, a herd of black-and-white, full-grown cattle, running full bore straight towards you. Some of them were bucking, which I find hilarious. Dairy cattle are not athletic enough to perform a good PBR buck.

Calypso didn't find it nearly as hilarious as I did. So she stood, bugged eyed and trying to move as stealthily sideways as possible while avoiding the Gator and the Big Scary Hole With Slimy Serpents. As if moving slowly would take the attention off her and she could sneak away from the whole dang mess.

With some time, patience and much reassurance from me she finally decided it was safe enough to brave the cattle and the Gator and the Big Scary Hole With Slimy Serpents all at the same time and she was marvelous. The rest of the ride was pretty Speedy Gonzales-like as she was rushy-rushy being by herself, but I let her take the pace she felt like taking as long as she didn't break into a trot or suddenly refuse to go forward. It's been quite a while since she's been out on a long ride by herself and I decided just letting her figure out she wouldn't die while alone was good enough for this ride. About 3/4 of a mile of our ride is along a two-lane 55 mph road. Usually there isn't much traffic along that road and last night was no different. The trucks that did blow by us were pretty loud and she didn't flinch a single muscle or even twitch an ear, just kept Speedy Gonzales-ing it right along.

Such a good mare, but I definitely need to get her out on her own more often. She's quiet, but she needs to be dead quiet and damn near bomb-proof. And I need to get her more fit. Poor, fat mare. Bad owner to let her get fat!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The monsters are REAL!

A pair of deer tried to murder me.

And Gabe was absolutely convinced they would succeed in killing both of us.

Have you ever heard deer running through a cornfield? They are LOUD and scary. Especially if you're a horse who is convinced the world would like to roast you on a skewer.

He was being fabulous during our ride (yay! I'm able to ride again! My heart is happy.), quiet and responsive and just GOOD. I think he was having fun and I was actually succeeding at keeping him busy enough to keep his brain working and engaged.

Then, during our cool-down on the buckle, I heard it. Something was crashing through the cornfield right next to the arena. I felt him tense. And beneath my leg I could actually feel his heart pick up and really start pounding hard. I grabbed mane (thank goodness I haven't pulled it yet, there's a LOT there) and prepared for the worst because I knew he was going to explode and there wasn't a damn thing I could do about it while the crashing in the cornfield was going on.

Chief and Calypso didn't help matters much, either. They both heard it, and being free, decided to go ape-shit bananas in the paddock next to us.

Oh Boy.

I've never actually ridden a tornado, but I'm pretty sure what Gabe offered up for me to stick to last night came pretty close. No bucking, just spinning and darting, a little bit of rearing when I refused to let him run away quickly, and quite a bit of sideways scurrying, neck arching and snorting.

It only last a few seconds, maybe even a whole minute, but it felt like forever.

The deer finally finished their mad scramble through the corn and ended up coming out not too far from where we were riding. I don't think Gabe spotted them, if he had, he may have wet himself a little bit. I saw them though before they tore off up along the edge of the field away from us. Two of 'em, looked like a doe and an older fawn.

But what impressed me the most was how quickly he quieted after the cornfield crashing stopped. He didn't dump me and it was over as soon as it began. Four trips around the arena on a loose rein then out to hit the driveway and a few trails as a final cool down. He was good, looking at everything but not reacting, walking nicely and not prancing or snorting. His back felt soft and swaying and he dropped his neck, sighed deeply and marched forward.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Green, green and more green

My pastures look fabulous. Fabulously fabulous, actually. Thick and green and...well, surprisingly nice considering the heat and lack of rain.

What IS that grass that the horses nor heat nor lack of water can seem to kill? Not orchardgrass, not brome, not fescue, not Bermuda nor Johnsongrass. Those I knew. And this was none of those.

I had no idea what this stuff greening up quickly and beautifully in my pastures was. The horses seemed pleased with it, but still, what was it?

So, I checked it out. Examined the leaves, the stem, the growth pattern, found a few stalks that had started seed heads.

Still no idea so a Googling I went.

And...the verdict?

It's crabgrass. All over the place the crabgrass is running rampant, defying the lack of water, thriving in the heat and standing up to horse hooves daily.

At first, I panicked. Oh. Crap. We've all heard that crabgrass is bad bad bad! GET RID OF IT! It's a horrible weed and no self-respecting homeowner would be caught dead with as much crabgrass as I have. I kind of like it, though. While the other grasses in my lawn are brown and crunchy and dormant, the crabgrass thrives and is a beautiful shade of green and when it's mowed, it's thick and springy and soft on bare feet.

Well, yes and no. I researched and researched and researched. Is it bad for my horses? Because honestly, I can't afford to have all my pastures tilled and replanted just to have the crabgrass move back in again.

I learned something fabulous! Apparently, only those living in subdivisions who desire a beautifully, perfectly manicured lawn hate it and go to great lengths to get rid of it. Farmers love it. Many plant it for their cattle as it's highly nutritious and a great producer. It's excellent for horses, too. It's a bit more fibrous than other grasses, which is actually GOOD for horse guts, so it's not something they'll choose over say, clover or brome, but it's not inedible or nasty, either. But the good thing is is it's a later season grass, so all my other grasses (the orchardgrass, brome, clover and fescue) come up early in the season and go dormant when it gets hot and dry. The crabgrass THRIVES in the heat.

Given it's tolerance of heat, drought and heavy traffic, I'll keep it and be grateful for it. The only downside is it's an annual so I have to let it grow up nice and tall and go to seed this fall so I'll have more this spring. I hate letting the grass get that tall, it's hard to mow later!

Friday, August 12, 2011

The boys are nuts

I'm loving this cooler weather. LOVE IT! A whole lot unusual for early August 'round these parts, but I will NOT complain! When I wake up in the morning there's a slight chill to the air and I've had the AC off since early this week (my electric bill will thank me, I'm sure).

The horses seem to be perking back up with the chillier evenings and cool mornings. They were drag-ass exhausted and just absolutely beat during that month of 100+ temps. I've never seen three horses drag their hooves as much as my three did when the temps soared. Poor beasts.

I jumped on Calypso for a little "work the fat off your butt" exercise and she was spunkier than she has been all summer. We started out with her pulling on the bridle and READY TO GO! But she settled quickly into the work and even let me know a few times she wasn't terribly enthusiastic about an actual nose-to-the-grindstone workout. Trot? No thanks. I don't think I want to trot. I'll just walk a little faster. I didn't work her too hard, 15 total minutes of trotting and circles to work on her neck reining sensitivity and reaction time, then 20 minutes of walking the arena, halting, backing, lateral work and a cool-off walk down the driveway and along the corn field at dusk.

I forgot to shut the gate to the pasture to lock the boys in the paddock when I took her down the driveway and of course, as they usually do when I fail to contain them properly, the boys came rip-roaring screaming into the pasture after her, raising a ruckus, hauling ass around the pasture and acting like their tails were on fire. You'd think I was taking away their girlfriend or something. Oh. Wait. I was! HA!

Goof balls.

I was a bit worried that they'd get her all worked up and I'd have more than just a nice cool-down walk on my hands. But no, the mare was perfect. Head down, loose rein, walking nicely forward without even flicking her ears at the nincompoops in the pasture next to her. So pleased with her! Such a good girl.

Her feet were ouchy and gimpy on the driveway, but fine on the grass. That mare has the thinnest soles on the planet...damned QH inbreeding issues. Guess I need to pick up some Durasole and really work on toughening her soles up before winter rolls around again. I don't like to keep shoes on unless I absolutely have to, and as long as she's not on gravel/rock, she's fine. But the frozen ground hurts her feet too, and it's a double-edged sword. If I put shoes on her to protect her soles from the frozen ground she ends up spending the winter skating around her frozen paddock (there's usually a nice layer of ice over everything) on a pair of steel skates. So, Durasole it is. What a pain.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Nearly disastrous

As I called Gabe in from the pasture and slipped the halter on, I realized I haven't ridden for over a month.

A long, long month of unbearable, debilitating and dangerous heat. A month of bugs so bad nothing seemed to work to keep them off my horses. After too much money and few discernible results, we finally did find something that has worked and is working well. And is far, far cheaper than the $20 bottles of horse-specific fly spray. A concentrate of 10% permethrin, made for all varieties of livestock: $8 a bottle. One bottle makes about 12 gallons and it WORKS! Not just for a few minutes, but for 2-3 days at a time. It stinks like crazy and probably isn't the gentlest stuff on their coats, but they are nearly 100% bug free all day and all night. It doesn't work very well on those fist-sized horse flies, but really, does anything but a flyswatter?

He was filthy. His greyish-silver coat streaked with dried sweat and brownish dirt came clean with significant elbow grease and about 45 minutes. I found dried blood in his tail which I can only surmise came from the crater-sized holes left in his hide by those nasty, horrible, good-for-nothing green and black horse flies. A pox on them.

He seemed happy to be messed with and stood relaxed while I scrubbed and flicked the dirt away. He is losing his summer coat already...how time flies.

The girth tightened one hole larger than a month ago and the running martingale seemed to fit his chest a bit more snugly. Seems Mr. Gabe has put on some weight despite the heat. I guess 12+ hours a day on thick, lush pasture will do that for ya!

Our ride very nearly ended in disaster before it began. Bad disaster.

Unknown to me, during the month-long hiatus from riding a swarm of wasps took up residence in my mounting block.

A BIG swarm.

I climbed onto the mounting block, pulled Gabe up near it so I could get on and noticed what I thought was about 6 big horse flies swarming his head. I swatted at them and suddenly realized they were NOT horse flies. They were wasps.

Just as this realization hit me about 20 more flew out from beneath the mounting block and swarmed me and Gabe in a buzzing, terrifying cloud. Have I mentioned that I tend to have a very bad reaction to bee and wasp stings? So, not only was I terrified my horse would get stung and freak the hell out and kill me in his freaking out process, I was terrified I'd get stung and have a reaction when no one was home and knew no one would be home any time in the foreseeable future. I briefly wondered how long it would be before someone found my body or figured out things weren't quite right at the ole homestead.

A moment of panic...do I mount and get the hell out of there and risk one or both of us getting stung or do I jump off the block and get the hell out of there and risk the same thing?

I chose the former, jumped on quickly and booted Gabe away from the block before I could even get my feet in the stirrups. Completely opposite of what I usually do and I think he was confused as I usually make him stand there for a couple of minutes before moving away. There is nothing more annoying and dangerous than a horse who won't stand still so the rider can climb aboard safely.

We escaped without either one of us getting stung but my heart was pounding and kicking him off the block so quickly (and rudely I'm afraid) had Gabe wound up for the rest of the ride. He was good, but ready to go and full of himself, especially near the Corner of Absolute Doom, Death and Destruction. It must have been particularly packed with horse-eating monsters last night because he wouldn't get near it and boot-scooted across the arena every time we came close to it.


Monday, August 8, 2011

The girl child would rather "yee haw!" than "tally ho!"

The girl-child has been in Northern California for the past three weeks visiting my mom, stepdad, and sister and cousin. She's been living it up, trail riding, hiking, camping, etc., etc.

And apparently, riding up and down the mountains on mom's trusty mare, Rock. In a western saddle. As a result, the child has informed me no more than four times now that she wants to ride western rather than English, because it's "easier." Which is kind of funny, actually, because we went to our county fair on Friday and watched pole bending and barrel racing and my significant other commented about how much he thought Kayleigh would kick ass riding Calypso at speed events.

She is a little daredevil, just like her mom, and Calypso would probably thrive as a speed event pony. And while I'm an English girl through and through, (western saddles make me feel trapped...there's far, far too much leather between me and my horse and all around me for my taste), and would really like it if she and I went to horse shows and the occasional fox hunt together, I suppose if my kiddo wants to ride western I'll do what I can to make that happen.

However, I have no western saddle for the child to use. I have a buttload of English saddles, and one teeny tiny little western saddle. But none that will fit her or her horse. Guess I need to start going to auctions again (which is always a bad idea for me! I come home with more than I really need) or perusing eBay and Craigslist to see what I can find for her. I guess that's what I get for selling off the only larger-sized western saddle I owned. Ugh! Oh well.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

While we swelter...

We've been under an excessive heat warning for almost a month, here, in the Midwest. Heat indexes between 105 and 115 many days. It's too damned miserable to do any kind of riding. My only goal for the past few weeks has been keeping the horses as cool and healthy as possible in this miserable crap. It hasn't been easy. Gabe will stand for hours in the sprinkler, but Chief and Calypso want nothing to do with it and prefer to stand in the sun practically panting and dripping sweat.

The only thing I can do is keep their water cool, hose them off and do as much as I can to keep the horrible, horrible bugs away.

In the meantime, my kid is waaay out west enjoying lots of California sunshine, (hot, but not humid. What a world of difference that makes!) mountains, trail riding and camping with her Nana, aunt and cousin!

See what the kid has been up to!