Sunday, December 28, 2008

My Beloved Steadfast Max is Gone

Max, you are forever in my heart,
yet how desperately
I miss you by my side.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Red's 1st Night in his Stall this Winter

If you read this blog you KNOW I'm a huge advocate for horses living as close to "natural" as possible. Red lives outside just about 24/7 all year. There are a few exceptions. One is hail.
Yesterday it hailed, hailed, and hailed. When it was time to say goodnight to my little herd, Red gave absolutely no complaint (he usually puts the brakes on) when we turned toward his stall instead of the general pasture

A big advantage for Red in being stalled overnight is when I greet him in the morning I always bring him one of his favorite oat cakes from Ramones Bakery. He can hear the paper rustling as I walk down the stall aisle. He gets so excited he is actually quivering when I offer him a bite. Silly, spoiled Red Horse.

That was soooooooo good.

Who is sneaking up on me?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Skywatch Friday No. 24 - A Deep and Dark December

Skywatch Friday
From the general pasture of Freshwater Valley Stables,
Humboldt County, California

Christmas Day . . . hail, rain,
almost snow, crazy wind, more hail.
Glorious, wild skies. Color in the rain.
Hungry horses. Lots of mud.
Happy dog. Holiday light.

Have a Joyous Holiday

From me

and Red

And Lyra

And Max

And Stella

And Lena

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

"100 Things" Meme

Just learned a new word - "meme". According to Wikipedia "A meme (pronounced /miːm/) is unit or element of cultural ideas, symbols or practices that transmit from one mind to another through speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomenon." Urban Dictionary notes that a blog meme is "in blogspeak, an idea that is spread from blog to blog." So here is the blog meme "100 Things" as filtered through my life.

1. Started your own blog (that's how you're reading this list!) - Yep, and I can't believe how much fun I've had and how thoroughly I've enjoyed meeting so many wonderful people. I thank Catcus Jack Splash's DOR and Latigo Liz of Cowgirl Up for inspiring me to blog.

2. Slept under the stars -Many times I have -Ah, how I love waking to watch the Dippers swirl across the sky. Thank you my frined Liz for all our backpacking trips that let me sleep neath the stars.

3. Played in a band
4. Visited Hawaii
5. Watched a meteor shower - The Perseids in August
6. Given more than you can afford to charity
7. Been to Disneyland/world
8. Climbed a mountain - Caribou Moutain in the Trinity Alps

9. Held a praying mantis - and brought him home to visit.
10. Sang a solo (the world should be VERY grateful this has not happened.)
11. Bungee jumped
12. Visited Paris
13. Watched a lightning storm at sea
14. Taught yourself an art from scratch
15. Adopted a child
16. Had food poisoning
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty
18. Grown your own vegetables
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France
20. Slept on an overnight train
21. Had a pillow fight
22. Hitch hiked - oh those silly seventires
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill
24. Built a snow fort
25. Held a lamb
26. Gone skinny dipping - these days it would be called chunky dunking
27. Run a Marathon
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
29. Seen a total eclipse
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset
31. Hit a home run - high school baseball
32. Been on a cruise
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person
34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors
35. Seen an Amish community
36. Taught yourself a new language
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
39. Gone rock climbing
40. Seen Michelangelo’s David
41. Sung karaoke
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
43. Bought a stranger a meal in a restaurant
44. Visited Africa
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight
46. Been transported in an ambulance
47. Had your portrait painted
48. Gone deep sea fishing - and caught a
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
52. Kissed in the rain
53. Played in the mud
54. Gone to a drive-in theater

55. Been in a movie
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business
58. Taken a martial arts class - Akido in 1986
59. Visited Russia
60. Served at a soup kitchen
61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies

62. Gone whale watching
63. Gotten flowers for no reason
64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma
65. Gone sky diving
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
67. Bounced a check - blushing
68. Flown in a helicopter
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy

70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial
71. Eaten Caviar

72. Pieced a quilt
73. Stood in Times Square
74. Toured the Everglades
75. Been fired from a job
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London
77. Broken a bone
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person
80. Published a book
81. Visited the Vatican
82. Bought a brand new car - one time, 1970. It was an El Camino
83. Walked in Jerusalem
84. Had your picture in the newspaper
85. Read the entire Bible
86. Visited the White House
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
88. Had chickenpox
89. Saved someone’s life
90. Sat on a jury
91. Met someone famous
92. Joined a book club

93. Lost a loved one
94. Had a baby

95. Seen the Alamo in person
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
97. Been involved in a law suit
98. Owned a cell phone
99. Been stung by a bee -

100. Read an entire book in one day - favorit way to spend the day

Thanks for this meme, whoever started it. I first saw it on Fe's blog Coyote Road.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Upside Down Horse, Saddles, and Pads (Oh My!)

Check out my all time favorite picture of Red. He was off to find his herd, one fall afternoon a couple of years ago. I think he looks absolutely glorious. As I admire my Red Horse, I also notice some significant confirmation issues as he moves in his most typical posture - head up, low back. Red is an "upside down horse." He has a "sway back", high withers, and a forward tipped sacroiliac. This has serious implications for saddle fitting, health, gait, ability to collect, and performance in all disciplines.

Dr. Lauren DeRock has described this condition as the Sacro-Sciatic Syndrome. Dr. DeRock is a vet in Clovis, Calif. who specializes in helping upside down horses. If you visit her site, please read her article "How Horses Work" (I can't link to it). Red was extremely girthy, crooked and stiff, stumbled, and I ALWAYS thought my stirrups were uneven. He still hates to canter. Here is an excerpt by Dr. DeRock describing the symptoms of Sacro-Sciatic Syndrome:


1) Pain at the base of the neck

a. Put your fingers on either side of the last neck vertebra close to the shoulder and apply deep pressure.

2) “Girthiness,” “Cold Back.” Pain and discomfort anywhere around the girth area, chest area, and withers.

3) Pain at the Poll Joint and down the rest of the neck

4) Pain down the back, especially at the 16th rib (they have 18), about 3 to 5 inches lateral of the midline of the back, in the lumbar area, at the croup, and sometimes all the way down the back of both hind legs to the stifle. Eventually, I believe these horses will develop Sciatic Nerve pain.

5) Performance problems will often be noticed first at the canter, because the Sacro-Iliac joint is locked up as well, and the horse cannot flex his pelvis correctly. The horse may even start to buck or bolt. Your regular vet will think of hock problems. DJD in the hock joint is one of the symptoms that will eventually come out of this.

6) Sometimes the horse will actually seem to have a flat tire, and fall out under you now and then. It will leave you wondering, “What was that”?

7) When you ride, you will often feel that the stirrups are always uneven (a sure sign of crooked motion)

8) The horse fails to “track up” and often his hind legs stride very close together and may even interfere.

9) The horse gets very uncomfortable, anxious, won’t collect (temptation to use gadgets) or your horse constantly leans on the reins (temptation to use a more severe bit –PLEASE DON’T)

10) The horse may drag his hind feet, and/or drag his front feet and stumble. Because he is jammed in C7 to T4 he can’t get out of his own way. Couple this with some less then desirable shoeing, and you have an even greater problem. I have many times treated horses that have been EPM suspects. However, if the horse responds and is better with one treatment, as is often the case, it wasn’t EPM.

Hoof pain can also hugely contribute to back problems. Here is a description of how that can happen (in regards to Red) from an extremely talented member of the Hoof Care Forum:

It looks like the toe is jamming up, right up the front of the leg (sore fetlock bones), up to the hock, on up to the patella, on up to the hip and spine and creating a bumped up rump that comes with a pelvic tilt he creates trying to get off that dang toe. All the hurting places mentioned are all in line on the path of pathology from the jamming up toe....make sense? All this pathology jamming up with every step, over the years has caused aggravation and given birth to the arthritis and if Red heard this, he's say..."Now you're talking!....get me balanced please!"

When I first saw Red, it was instant love and a sense of "that is MY horse." I did not have a clue about the far reaching implications of his confirmation (would not have mattered). I did recognize that he had a sway back, researched it, and read that such backs do not limit a horse's performance but provide challenges for saddle fitting as the bars of a saddle will bridge the sway and create pressure points. The actual implications are far more complex than suggested by my early research. The rest of this article will be about my choices in saddles and pads. A follow up entry will consider remedial training and treatment options.

Before he came to be with me, Red had always been ridden in a honking big western saddle. I'm guessing there was little regard for fit. He bears the scars (white hair where skin was injured) of that lack of regard or lack of knowledge. For several years Red had been owned by a gentleman of substantial girth who used him extensively as a trail horse. While Red reportedly was once trained to barrel race, he was NEVER taught to collect. A long back put him at risk for serious problems and his lack of collection has hugely contributed to his current physical challenges.

Well, knowing that I pack around some substantial pounds, I did not want to add to the weight Red had on his back. My first saddle purchase was a Fabtron synthetic saddle from a local shop. This let me ride immediately without guilt but really did little for his back.

Burning through the internet I found a number of saddles that would be safe for Red's back. My search led me to learn about flex paneled saddles, treeless saddles, and hybrid saddles with partial or foan trees. Most were too expensive for my budget (less than $1000.00). Drool over this baby, the Pleasure Plantation made by Evolutionary Saddles. These folks have an excellent fitting program and have had great success fitting their flex paneled saddles on sway backed horses. I found another tempting saddle with a foam tree, the MacKinder Endurance Saddle. Yummy, kind to equine backs, and again outside of my budget.

About then I found an online article (can't currently locate it) stating that the Austrailian College of Equine Chiropractic suggested the Wintec CAIR system for sway backed horses. Within my budget! I found a barely used Wintec Pro Dressage saddle with CAIR on ebay. I have absolutely LOVED this saddle. Red's opinion can be measure by the disappearance of his saddle avoiding moves. He now stands like a rock to be saddled.

While well satisfied with our Wintec,I wanted a second saddle for trails. Bob Marshall

Treeless saddles combined with Skito pads for sway backed horses were highly recommended on several websites. Also beyond my budget. I settled on the Barefoot Saddle. Affordable and beautifully made, I have LOVED my Barefoot. If you choose a treeless saddle, it is CRITICAL to have an appropriate saddle pad. While the new generation of treeless saddles are incorporating foam panels to protect the spine, this function is also met by the saddle pad.

By now I had turned into an ebaytack addict. I'm still trying to reform. I own three saddle pads - a Supracor Cool Grip endurance pad, a Skito Barefoot Saddle Pad, and a HAF pad. I long for a Saddleright Pad. All of these pads share an essential function - the capacity to distribute the rider's weight evenly over the horse's back while protecting the spine. These particular pads serve an additional function of providing excellent protection for Red's high withers. My favorite of the three is the Supracor and I use it with our Barefoot and Wintec saddles.

These days, Red never appears to be in pain and shows calm, willing behavior when saddled. Yet I have much to learn about how to work with Red's upside down confirmation. We need to continue to work on collection, strengthening his back, and find sources of treatment. If any readers know of helpful resources, I'd love to have a link so I can check them out.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Horse Keeping - My Choices

Think about the many ways humans have "kept" horses. Yours. Those you respect. Those you disdain. The racing industry. Rodeo stock. Now enlarge your reflection to include geographical and cultural differences. Now let history touch your thoughts - American conquest and colonization (aka western frontier) , coal mines, the streets of London, the middle ages. Horses have endured, suffered, and thrived in their relationship with us homeo sapiens.

I'm highly influenced by "natural" horse keeping. What is natural? Horses have been domesticated for so many centuries. I wonder if, over time, more equines have lived in ways defined by humankind than have lived within human free bands. I have chosen to think of "natural" as what allows the expression of "hard wired" interactions with the environment.

I believe these things:
  • Horses are prey animals and are acutely aware of their environment
  • They are made, inside & outside for continual movement
  • Their digestive system is designed to ingest frequent, small amounts of roughage
  • Intelligent, emotional, and social, horses crave the company of their own kind and when in a group attempt to organize into age-old roles and functions

I also believe that when horses are able to live in ways close to these four criteria they will enjoy greater physical and emotional health. Increased rates of colic, ulcers, hoof deformities, respiratory illness, and emotional pathologies occur when horses live within artificial environments. Yet if you have a horse, it lives within an artificial environment.

Since returning to the delight of sharing life with horses, I have made the following decisions that shape my horse keeping practices:
  • My horses will live in a herd & if this is not available, will share space with other horses
  • Even though we "have" to rent a stall at Freshwater, my horses will live outside in the general pasture (this is why I board at Freshwater)
  • I will feed as few grain based products as possible
  • I will carefully consider the need vs. the risks of all vaccinations
  • My horses will be iron free - hoofs and mouths

These choices are not meant as a critique of others. Am I basing my choices on solid evidence or romantic whim? Good question. Future blog entries will attempt to feature the growing evidence that supports a natural system of horse keeping.

My decisions regarding my horses shape the routines of my life. There are some personal advantages - I spend less time mucking out stalls, have no bill for bedding material, and for a few months buy less hay. There are also disadvantages and factors that require action. In winter and fall I have to slog through acres of mud in the rain. In the spring I have no way to limit the amount of exposure my horses have to grazing on sugar rich early grasses - removing grazing muzzles is a fun game in the general pasture. Another disadvantage is injury from other horses, Red was seriously kicked when a new gelding (the scruffy boy) tried to take his place in the herd hierarchy.

Throughout the winter months the general pasture is extremely overgrazed and many horses lose a dangerous amout of weight - like Lyra. This means each and every night I need to feed increased portions for my little herd. My original plan of rotating stall feedings is not currently possible because of Lyra's confinement issues. So it means I take more time and both horses have had to learn to tolerate eating their dinner tied side by side (too crowded at night in the Redwood Barn for separate tie posts.).

In fall and winter months, horse management takes me at least a couple of hours a day - I'm guessing this is about the same for most folks regardless of management practices. I try to ride every day yet when I am late getting to Freshwater, I may only feed, groom, play, talk, scratch, and otherwise delight in time spent with Red and Lyra. This is also training time that puts into practice the saying "training occurs every minute you spend with your horse, whether you know it or not."

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Grumpy Red Horse

Oh my! Look at the face I caught on film - again. Red is NOT happy. I'm guessing he is sick, sick, sick of having that brat Lyra always tagging along. ENOUGH ALREADY. Time to have mom to himself.

Today, my first day of winter vacation, I got in some wonderful one-on-one time with both of my horses. Because it is so dark, cold, wet, and nasty I just have to get Red and Lyra at the same time at night after work. Originally I had planned to rotate stall time - every other night one horse would eat in the stall and one with me after riding. Unfortunately, Lyra's stall issues have proven very difficult and most nights both horses eat side by side, tied in the Redwood Barn. Red has been a really good sport but I think his patience is wearing thin.

Today I had a glorious ride on Lyra. Look at her! Beet pulp is such great stuff. Lyra is gaining back the weight she lost in late October and her sweet, funny personality continues to be more and more visible. When we finished riding I took her on a walk down the lane that separates the paddocks at Freshwater. We walked by Red who was waiting in a round pen. He thought I was leaving him and began making the funniest, squeaky, most forlorn little whinnies I've ever heard. They worked. I couldn't stand to hear my Red Horse so miserable.

While Red ate some more in the Redwood Barn, I led Lyra out to the general pasture. She lingered by the gate and tried to call me back with low pitched wufflie sounds. I am so in love with both of these horses. And so touched to see they also experience an emotional connection and want to spend time with me. Red was the next one to go for a ride. A couple of turns down the lane and then across the street to practice being a brave, trail horse. Whoops. I swear Red walked on tiptoe the entire time, spooking and snorting at each and every blackberry leaf as if they might be sheltering a pack of mountain lions. Silly Red Horse.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Almost Winter Solstice, The Night Sky - Skywatch No. 23

By the time I get to Freshwater Stables, it is dark, very dark. The week has been stormy and COLD (well, for our temperate coastal zone). Good thing Red comes to me when I call him. The cold, dark sky seems to swallow the light of my headlight. Even the cheery holiday lights seem somber against the intense night sky. Skywatchers, welcome to my almost winter solstice night sky.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Thoughts on Relationship

Horses exist in relationship - it is through their connections, as much as their own senses, that they experience the world. To truly see, know, and be known by our horses, we have to be willing to engage in the depth of relationship which is their world. To enter into relationship with Red and Lyra, I must be absolutely present. We can walk together with my mind lost as I replay my day and chances are more than good that I will get bumped back into the moment as Red whacks the middle of my back with his nose.

I've wondered about this and have come to believe that when my energy vacates the space my body fills, Red knows it immediately and moves to fill it with his own vital force. If I want Red to respect me and consent to follow my lead, then I need to own my own ground. To do anything else is not safe for the herd, just as it is not safe for our kind. My mind drifts and Red bumps me. I get large, growl or shriek, go full frontal predator woman on him - sure I'm reclaiming my ground but I'm also missing the more subtle lesson . . . walk with congruent energy, in each moment, present with my beloved Red Horse.

This is what my horses offer me. The chance to join them in their subtle, complex dance of connection. This is not a kind or loving dance, such concepts do not apply in the same way as in a human context. It is fair, and it serves life. My horse sees me, knows me, fully takes me in. If I am distracted, he will act to take the lead as he tries to make me move, asserting his will. His bump or his hoof planted with crushing force upon my foot invokes the same summons to awaken as the whack of a Zen master's staff. Thank you Red Horse, my teacher, my friend.