Thursday, April 30, 2009

Soft Spring Rain

Today we're getting rain for the morning, and perhaps a let up in the PM - so it may be a riding day after all.  It was about 50F as I turned the horses out, but it's supposed to get up into the mid 60s with little wind, so I left them unsheeted.  They have the grass to focus on so I expect they won't be too uncomfortable.

The mud in the aisle to the pastures is worse than ever - our soil is heavy clay, which is very good for pasture grasses, but makes for very heavy, slippery mud.  I haven't fallen down yet, but I've come close a couple of times.  I have a couple of horses who are willing to be my "helper" - I can put a hand on the horse's neck as we walk through the worst of the mud and that helps me balance.  Oddly enough, Blackjack, who is quite shy and cautious with people, is my best helper.  He's usually very forward going to the pasture, but when I need him to help, I let the lead rope go loose, put a hand on his neck, and he slows down to match my pace and carefully stays right next to me.  It's really quite a lovely thing.

Many of the grassland birds are in serious decline in our part of the world due to increasing development.  Due to our pastures, I often have the good fortune to see wonderful grassland birds that are rare elsewhere.  This morning I saw my first Eastern Meadowlarks - three that were flying up and down and squabbling.  In the summer, I often see them perched on fences, singing their hearts out.  They and the Bobolinks are my favorite pasture birds, and they both have wonderful songs.  One time a number of years ago, we briefly had a flock of Cattle Egrets, following the horses to take advantage of the insects that were stirred up.  We're actually outside their usual range, so that was wonderful to see - they're more of a southern bird.

So, even with the rain, it was a beautiful morning - the rain had that wonderful, soft spring feel, everything was amazingly green and the smells of earth and growing things were in the air.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Killdeer Nest

As promised, I managed to get a few photos of the Killdeer nest while I was waiting for the farrier this morning.  I didn't manage to get a picture of the bird on the nest, since it moved off as I approached.  There are now 4 eggs, which I understand is the norm:


Usually it's much harder to see the eggs against the stony, gravelly background that the birds usually select as a nesting site.  I worry that these eggs will be more visible to predators since they show up against the grass.

Here is the bird, doing its best to distract me from the nest:

As soon as I retreated, the bird went back to the nest.  If the eggs survive, I hope to get some pictures of the tiny hatchlings when they arrive later in May - they're miniature adults and move very fast within hours of hatching although it's a while until they can fly.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Lily's Face, Maisie Screams, Trailer Chores and More on Birds

When I went to feed and turn out yesterday morning, as I was getting Lily her hay I noticed a large dark area on the left side of her face right behind her mouth - at first I thought she had mud on her face but on closer examination it turned out that she had rubbed all the hair off so the dark skin was showing.  She'd almost made it raw in places and it was swollen.  I put some Bag Balm on it to soothe it, which she tolerated.  There was no obvious injury or mark - I expect she may have been stung by a wasp or bitten by a spider or tick, and rubbed it on the fence in turn out.  Last night it looked a little bit better, so I gently cleaned it and put some Nolvasan ointment on it, more for the soothing effect than for the antiseptic.  This morning it didn't look too bad, so I left it alone.

I was able to take Maisie for a trail ride yesterday - our arena is under water but our trails are crushed limestone so were rideable even though they were wet - we did encounter one giant puddle that was almost knee-deep on her, but she gamely plowed through - this from a horse that when I got her would go to almost any lengths to avoid putting a foot in water!  This water issue was one of the things we solved at one of the week-long clinics in Colorado with Mark Rashid that I had the chance to attend several years ago.

Maisie is in heat, and usually she isn't very "mareish" even then.  Yesterday, however, although our ride went well, as we approached the barn on our return, Maisie became very "locked-on" to the horses visible in the distance - it was hard to get her to pay attention to me - and started screaming to them.  She did focus well enough to walk back to the barn, but kept screaming.  Since she was very antsy, we worked on standing still, and we stood in the parking lot on a loose rein for quite a while while the horses came in - at the end she was relaxed enough to cock a hind leg.  Then, we went away from the barn for a ways - just a little farther than she really wanted to go - before turning back and being done for the day.

This morning I took my truck and trailer for their twice-a-year safety inspection.  Even though I don't haul commercially, my truck and trailer are large enough (Ford F350 and 4-horse gooseneck) that I'm required to have them inspected.  I have to drive about 10 miles away to a Jeep dealer, and get in line with the semis, taxis and other trucks.  Today I was lucky - there was only one taxi in front of me.  By the time I was done, there were three dump trucks and a taxi behind me - I'm sure glad I got there early.  I was hitched, inspected and back home and unhitched in less than an hour and a half.

It turns out that we have a mixed flock of both White-Crowned Sparrows and White-Throated Sparrows - it turns out they often flock together when migrating to their breeding grounds further north.  The differences are subtle - the males of both have white stripes on their heads, but the White-Crowned have a soft grey breast and a slightly longer tail, and the White-Throated have a distinct white throat, yellow spot by the eye and an overall more reddish appearance in the body.  This afternoon I was fortunate enough to be able to closely observe two males, one of each species, foraging together under my bird feeder.

I consulted one of my favorite bird references, The Birder's Handbook (Ehrlich, Dobkin and Wheye) to remember how long the Killdeer eggs will take to hatch (assuming they aren't eaten by something in the interim - this nest seems particularly vulnerable since it's on a grassy area instead of on dirt and rocks, which makes it much more visible.  The average clutch size is 4 eggs (there were 2 on Friday) and both parents incubate for 23-25 days.  That would put hatching around May 17.  The baby birds are precocial, which means they're up and running almost immediately.  The parents then guard and teach them for another 22-31 days until they fledge.  It's too windy today for pictures, but with luck I'll get some soon of the bird on the nest.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Nobody Rolled

We had a huge amount of rain from Saturday through Sunday morning - over 2.5 inches.  Saturday it was warm - almost 80 - but then the temperature fell in the afternoon so some of the horses were shivering when they came in - a few got coolers put on until they warmed up.  One of the hardest parts of spring is the changeable weather - sometimes you can't put on rain sheets when you'd like to because part of the day will be too warm.  Then on Sunday, it was supposed to be done storming (after storming all night long) by 7 a.m.  It was chilly - low 40s - but supposed to get up to almost 80 in the afternoon (we had a front go by and then reverse course, causing the wide temperature swings) - so the horses went out without sheets.  And then, of course, it rained hard all morning - wet, cold horses but at least they had the grass to distract them.  As promised, the sun finally came out and the temperature shot up to the high 70s.

As a result of so much rain in such a short period, on top of already wet soil, we now have standing water everywhere.  The wonderful lady (a boarder) who supervises all of our pasture matters - rotations, seeding, weeding, etc., is very worried that the pastures are going to get all chopped up since they are so wet.  They probably will, and we'll have to do some reseeding once things dry out a bit.

All the horses came in Sunday with beautiful soft coats - the rainwater really seems to make a difference.  And they were all washed (mostly) clean - and nobody had rolled in the mud!  It's hard to believe, but it was actually too wet to roll!  I don't expect we'll escape today.

We have a Killdeer pair nesting in the field behind the barn - the nest is now circled by little red flags to keep the mowers away.  I'll try for some pictures of the bird on the nest, and perhaps even the eggs.  There are still a lot of spring migrants moving through, including a large flock of White-Crowned Sparrows eating seed off the ground at my house - they're very active, cheerful birds.  On second thought, they may have been White-Throated Sparrows - I'll have to pay better attention when I see them next.

And, last but far from least on the wildlife front, as I was sitting eating lunch I felt a tickling on the back of my neck - you guessed it - the first tick of the season.  These are the normal, large, dark dog ticks, not the tiny deer ticks that carry Lyme disease.  I probably picked it up in the pastures - even though I was wearing tall mud boots and we have no tall grass yet, and even though I'd already had a shower, there it was.  Ick, a tick!  I was hoping the rain would keep them at bay for a while, but no such luck.  We had a huge number of ticks last year on the horses - one day I took 22 off Maisie alone.  It looks like the season is starting early!  Now I'm going to constantly have that awful crawling feeling . . . !

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Change of Seasons

Fern Valley Appaloosas has a nice post on what needs to be in a medical kit at the barn.  For me, spring is a good time to go through my med cabinet, discard anything that is out of date, and replenish and resupply.  It's one of those seasonal things like changing the batteries in the smoke detectors in your house!

On one of the first nice warm days, I also like to take all my brushes and other grooming tools out and give them a good wash with a mild bleach solution, and leave them to dry in the sun - there's no point in bathing one of my horses and then grooming with dirty brushes!   Pretty soon as well, I can take my rainsheets and winter blankets in for cleaning, rewaterproofing and repairs.

Pretty soon I'll be putting up the stall fans at the barn - our ventilation isn't all that good due to the poor window design, so we need stall fans for days when the temperatures in the barn get above 80.

I don't bathe my horses all that much - I like them to have the natural oils that make for a shiny, healthy coat, although I do rinse off if they get sweaty.  Sometime soon, on a warm day, I'll give them a first bath using EQyss Micro-Tek medicated shampoo - it helps a lot with any crud or crusties that are left from the winter, particularly on the legs.  I also bath manes and tails - I don't brush tails all winter and only start once they've been bathed in the spring.  After that first bath, I usually don't bathe more than once a month, and then usually with Vetrolin Shampoo, which I think the horses find pleasantly bracing.

I need to order some fly spray and some mosquito spray, and check the fly masks to see if any need replacing - Norman the pony won't wear one so we can forget that!  My truck and trailer are due to go in for their 6-month inspection, so I'll need to see to that next week.

Another feature of spring around here is spring thunderstorms.  We usually get quite a few, and although they're usually not as severe as people in the central Great Plains get, we do on occasion get hail, high winds and even the occasional tornado warning.  There's often a lot of lightening, and since our terrain is largely flat and treeless, lightening safety is important.  Our barn has a lightening safety system involving lightening rods and insulated cables running to the ground.  Although we don't bring the horses in for ordinary storms, even though there is some low risk that they could be injured by lightening, we do try if we can to bring them in if truly severe weather is coming - this happens a couple of times a year.  One important rule, however, is that nobody should go out to get horses if conditions are already dangerous - the likelihood that the horses would be injured in the pastures is low and we don't want to put people at risk.

What are your spring chores and routines?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

On Naming Horses

A Good Horse has an interesting post on naming horses.  When I was a child, I had a series of horses that had names I made up for them - a bay mare I called Molasses Bay ("Mo"), and a little bay Quarter Horse I called Kitty, and a wonderful Quarter Horse mare called Snow (Snow's Ghost - she was almost white with blue eyes).

Then when I was grown, and married, with children getting interested in horses at around age 7 or 8, I got Noble, my wonderful old Quarter Horse gelding.  His registered name is Walla Bars Bonanza (he's got Three Bars three times in his pedigree and by my calculation is 35% Thoroughbred) - where they got Noble from that I don't know, but he is definitely Noble and I never thought of changing his name.

My older daughter's first horse was a little bay Thoroughbred named Dawson (his registered name was Slick Sheik, which is just dreadful).  Then we got Norman the pony for my younger daughter.  His show name was 14 Karat, which suited him perfectly and was well known, so we kept it.  But "Norman"?  We hated it (if there are Normans out there, please don't take offense).  We wanted to change it.  We tried different names.  He's just . . . Norman.  So we're stuck with that.

I had a wonderful unregistered Thoroughbred mare named Promise.  She came to me as Promise and stayed that way.  The name said a lot about her personality and ability.  To my great sorrow, we lost her in 2001 at the age of 10 to a fractured leg in turnout.

Then I got Lily.  Her barn name was - get ready - "Lulu" (hope there aren't any Lulus reading).  She didn't have a show name, and we believe she showed very little, although she improbably turned out to be an amazing jumper.  We just couldn't deal with Lulu.  So I came up with Lily, which sounds sort of the same, and she is almost white.  Her show name, Capriole, just came to me in a moment of inspiration while watching her do one with another rider on her.  Yes, she can do true caprioles under saddle, and will do them when excited or stressed.  She can even do them from a complete standstill.  I've been on her once when she did one, and it wasn't that hard to ride - not at all like a buck (for one thing, your reins go loose since the head comes up and back, not down) - but rather exciting!  Capriole just expressed her fire and athleticism.

Dawn is a off-the-track Thoroughbred, and her registered name is Silent Dawn, which is sort of awful - makes me think of dead birds or something.  But Dawn's OK, and that's how she came to us.

I got Maisie after my older daughter started riding Lily in jumpers (Lily made it very clear that she wasn't interested in the hunter thing).  Poor thing, she came with no name.  Almost instantly, though, the name Maisie struck me - I can't imagine why as I know no one named Maisie and don't even think I know of anyone named Maisie.  It just seemed sweet and old fashioned to me.  Her show name was harder - I'm partial to one-word, easy-to-pronounce show names.  I made a long, long list of possibilities - and came up with Intrigue.  Don't know where that came from either, but it works.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Bluebirds, Green Frogs and Trail Rides

This morning I heard my first Green Frogs - I call them rubber band frogs because they sound like someone twanging a stretched rubber band.  I also saw male Eastern Bluebirds twice - once in front of my house and once by the barn - unmistakeable even from a distance - the blue is amazingly intense.  I hope a pair nests in the bluebird box in front of my house, from which I've already had to evict some English Sparrows, which outcompete the bluebirds for nesting spots and even kill the baby bluebirds to do so - bluebirds are on the decline in these parts.

Maisie and I went on a longer trail ride yesterday - about 30 minutes.  She did very well, although a child riding a Big Wheel (they should call them Noisy Wheels!) in his driveway made her nervous.  If we can keep up these nice forward walking trail rides, that will help her get back in shape.  She has trouble with her stifles - they sometimes lock - and with her back.  She's sounder this spring than she has ever been, which is amazing after a winter of sliding around in the ice and mud.  Getting her fit, slowly and carefully, is the best medicine for the stifle issues.  It also seems that all the chiropractic we've done over the past several years is really benefiting her and staying with us.

Today the weather was lovely again, so we did another trail ride.  The ride I took yesterday is two big loops, one around the pastures - it takes about 10 minutes, and then a longer loop in another direction after you pass the barn.  I changed two things today - we rode at noon instead of at bring-in time, and we did the second loop in the other direction, which means we have to do the less inviting part (along people's back yards) first as we go away from the barn.

Today on the first loop she was very relaxed.  On the second loop, she was clearly somewhat reluctant but was very compliant as we headed away from the barn for the second time.  Her walk was very forward and even, and she was stepping well under herself - she felt really right to me.  As we got to the outermost point and turned for home, she wanted to accelerate, so we worked on slowing, and occasionally stopping for a moment.  She stayed very soft and only tried to jig a few times.  She was relieved to get back to the barn, and when I turned her back out she galloped around the field a few times to let off steam.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Loon on Lake; Leading Work

This morning as I was walking to the barn I heard a Common Loon calling - they're not common around here and this one was on our large lake, visiting briefly on its way north.  It was a truly wild sound.

This morning we started our second week of grazing by switching pastures.  We do intensive rotational grazing with two herds using 10 pastures, each of which is about an acre plus.  Moving to new pastures is always exciting for the horses, and especially so when they are going for the first time to pastures they haven't seen for almost 6 months.  One of the pastures was also the one farthest (by a long way) from the barn - well over a quarter mile each way.  On an average day, making 6 trips, I do about 3 miles of pretty brisk walking, half of this leading horses.  Our pastures are not configured for easy access from the barn, and we don't have the horses run out both because the configuration doesn't easily lend itself to this and because it can lead to problems for the owners handling their own horses on owner days.  One thing we try to do is avoid practices that make it difficult for owners to handle their horses.

Whenever I'm around the horses, I try to keep in mind that everything I do when I interact with a horse, picking feet, worming, grooming, leading or just entering a stall, is training the horse to do something - maybe not on purpose or not what I intended the horse to learn, but something nonetheless.  It's always amazed me how many owners get angry or frustrated with their horses for doing exactly what they in fact have trained the horse to do!  In order to train a horse to do something, you have to know exactly what behavior you want, so you can reward and shape positive responses on the part of the horse to reach that goal.  Just fighting with the horse or punishing them when they do what you don't want doesn't tell them very much, in my opinion - it doesn't tell them what to do.  I get to do a lot of leading work with the horses, and a lot of that can carry over to other things.  When the horses are "up" as they were this morning, these lessons become even more important.

First a word on "equipment".  Most of our horses lead out in web (breakaway) or leather halters.  We have three horses (Lily, Sugar and Fred) who lead out in rope or nylon natural horsemanship halters because of how they have been trained and because I don't have to get "big" with them to keep their attention.  I don't use chains - not because they aren't effective (pain or the fear of pain is an effective control device) and not because I wasn't trained to lead horses that way - but because I believe training a horse to lead that way doesn't teach them much that usefully carries over to other things and also because if I had to let a horse go for safety reasons the horse could be seriously injured if there was a chain.  This is not to say that I will never under any circumstances use a chain when leading or handling a horse.  Since all our boarders also handle the horses on occasion, that means I need to work with the horses so they will lead as consistently as possible.

I don't care what sort of lead rope the boarders use, but when I lead my strong preference is for a 10' soft cotton lead with a soft woven-in (not tied) bulge at the end - no sharp edges - and a large, lightweight brass clip at the end - not one of those heavy bull-nosed things, the only purpose of which that I can see is to painfully whack horses in the jaw, which is not something I am interested in doing.  These leads are dirt cheap as well.  The cotton leads have a good "feel" - I can often tell how a horse is feeling and what they are doing without even looking just by the feel of the rope, I can't get rope burn if I need to play the lead out, there's a soft and effective stopper at the end if I let the lead play through my hands all the way to the end, if I swing a rope at a horse the end cannot hurt them if I connect on purpose or by accident, and the rope is long enough to allow me a lot of flexibility as circumstances arise - "mini-lungeing" is even a possibility.

Our horses lead in pairs.  When I open the stall door, I expect the horses to come to the front of the stall and present their head for the halter - this is easy to teach:  all I have to do is wait and they quickly figure it out! (With my own horses, I also expect them to come to the front of the stall to greet me even if they are eating hay.)  I expect them to stay in the stall until I ask them to step out, which means I can open the stall doors all the way as I halter.  One of the first things I train each horse to do is to move out of my space when I ask them to, and not to run me over or move too close to me.  I also work with all the horses on giving to pressure on the halter, both by head lowering and backing.  Most of the horses also are trained to give to the pressure of a "hiss", or even a glance back over my shoulder.  I'm not interesting in leading as a body-building exercise - my objective is for the horses to lead quietly at my shoulder or slightly behind (when I lead a single horse I want them to lead behind me by an arm's length and to stop when I stop).  I use pressure on the halter, but expect the horse to respond and then I give a release as soon as the response is given.

While I am haltering the second horse in the pair, I expect the first horse to stand quietly in the aisle, either on a loose lead or ground tied, without "snooping", visiting with other horses, or visiting the horse I am haltering.  No socializing on the lead - that's for turnout.  Horses that are closer to being babies particularly need to learn this - Scout now stands quietly and waits, which is wonderful.

Then we lead out.  The leading part is generally uneventful, although this morning I had to remind almost everyone of the rules, since they were all excited.  We did what I call the "funeral march" - walking more slowly that usual, with frequent pauses.  I find that if the horses are excited, allowing them to build up momentum is usually a bad idea - they get more excited the faster they go.  Even Blackjack and Noble, whose combined age is probably over 60 years, were eager to go!  I also lowered my energy as much as possible so the horses would feel that, and worked on keeping my body relaxed and breathing even and slow - it's amazing how much of that carries over to the horse you are with!

Once we get to the pasture, getting the horses through the gate and released (we remove halters for turnout for safety reasons) can sometimes be a bit trickier.  I usually let one horse in at a time, having the second horse wait outside the gate.  Sometimes I can leave the gate open to do this, and stand in the entrance while I let the first horse go (and no, I don't get run over!) but if the horses are particularly excited I will hold the second horse outside the closed gate while I release the first horse.  All  horses are required to walk through gates - no trotting or darting through.  My second objective is for all horses to walk from the gate - this doesn't always happen for obvious reasons - but short of this to have the horse wait for me to release them to run off - I've had a rotator cuff injury before and I don't want to repeat the experience.  That said, safety (mine) comes first, followed by safety of the horses.  I have gotten into situations where I've had to let a horse go with rope attached for my own safety or the safety of the horse - this rarely happens and when it does I retrieve the horse (usually from the very back of the pasture), lead it back to the gate and repeat leading in and releasing until we get it right - I don't punish the horse, rather we just calmly work on creating and rewarding the correct behavior.  I also do my pairings so that my more excitable horses are pairing with a horse I can tie or ground tie if need be.

This morning Sugar did a big bolt from the gate.  More on Sugar in a moment.  Dawn was also very up and is one of the horses most likely to want to bolt from the gate.  So with her I did a little work on changing her expectations (what I had trained her to do).  What she had learned was - walk through the gate, wait for halter to come off, bolt - all associated with the sequence of events near the gate.  So I changed things.  When I led her in, she was quivering with anticipation.  So I stood outside the gate, with the lead draped loosely over the top, while she was on the inside, and waited for her to calm herself down.  That took a moment.  Then I went in the pasture and slowly led her down towards the other horses, who were at the far end.  She led well, we got to the middle of the pasture, and I slipped her halter off.  Because she wasn't expecting to bolt at that point, she actually took several quiet walk steps before trotting off.  Mission accomplished!  For the next several days, with both her and Sugar, I will lead them into the pasture and let them go at a different location each time.  

Sorry for the unusually long post - there's a lot to leading!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Cold, As Always, and Noble Seems OK

Yesterday the horses were in all day - 30s with driving rain and wind.  Today it may break 40 if we're lucky, but at lunchtime it's still in the 30s with the same wind - windchills are in the upper 20s.  This morning it was also drizzling, which added to my delight, but that seems to have mostly dissipated.  And then there's the mud from the rain yesterday - fortunately not enough to cause the horses and me to slip and slide too much in the long aisle leading to the pastures.  Scout, Blackjack and I got very close to a wonderful hawk on the aisle fence - we were within 15 feet of it before it flew off - I think it was a Cooper's Hawk or possibly a Sharp-shinned Hawk - I'm guessing Cooper's because it seemed large to me.  Neither of the photo links captures the beautiful soft reddish buff of the bird's breast - the drawings in my Sibley Guide to Birds give a much clearer picture.

Noble is much improved.  We had a bit of a scare on Saturday when the bleeding picked up - it was dripping off his nose - and the blood was brighter red.  But then the bleeding stopped, and as far as I know there hasn't been any bleeding since then.  His demeanor and eating continue to be excellent, and he's galloping around the pasture with the others.  Dr. Ana came to see him, and everything seems OK - heart, lungs, airways, sinuses and capillary refill is fine too.  We did not scope him since he seemed to be improved, and since she will be back next week to do more spring shots and can see him then if need be.  For now we just have unexplained bleeding - perhaps he just hit his head on something.  He's determined to live to be a very old, healthy horse, and I'm all for that!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Cold Spring Rain

Today we're back to early spring - maybe March 1 - high in the mid 30sF, 15-20 mph wind with gusts to 25, and rain.  The horses have mostly lost their winter coats, at least on their top halves - bellies and legs are still holding on and Lily still has a tuft of long hair below her jaw.  They would have been very cold today even with rain sheets, so they stayed in.  I'm sure they were disappointed, since yesterday was their first full day of grazing.  There isn't too much grass out there yet, but they're after every bit there is!  They were mostly philosophical this evening as I picked stalls and helped our PM lady.  Tomorrow we should get back out.

Noble has his vet appointment tomorrow AM.  His nose didn't bleed at all yesterday that I could see, and not today either that I noticed, although there was a bit of dried blood inside his nose.  We'll see what the vet has to say.  Keep your fingers crossed.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Noble's Nosebleed Continues

Noble's nose has continued to slowly bleed, on and off, for three days.  I have called the vet, who will come out on Tuesday and scope him to see what is going on.  It is possible that it is guttural pouch mycosis, which could be a serious problem.  The guttural pouches are unique to equines, and are large (10 ounce capacity each) sacs that are enlargements of the eustachian tubes.  Mycosis involves a fungal infection that actually penetrates an artery or arteries in the wall of the guttural pouch.  The only symptom is persistent nosebleeds on one side.  The risk is that the fungal plaques rupture, leading to severe or even fatal bleeding.  Treatment involves anti-fungal drugs and surgery to cut off the blood supply to the affected artery.  I believe Noble is too old (almost 29) for surgery.  But perhaps it will prove to be something else or even nothing at all, or if it is mycosis perhaps the anti-fungal drugs will do the trick.  He has been on AspirEase for a long time for arthritis, but I have discontinued that to reduce the chance of bleeding.  For now he seems comfortable and happy.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

First Grass and Noble's Nose

Today was our official first day to start turnout on grass.  In the winter months (very, very long in these parts) our horses are on dry lot - for more than 5 months.  The dry lots are seeded with grass in the spring after the horses come out, so they do have some grass for a while in the fall.  Then we use round bales through the winter and spring.  For the past several weeks, the horses have been nibbling the grass as it resprouts in the dry lots - it's amazing how nimble their lips and teeth are to bite off the tiniest morsels.  But today we started true grazing, only for an hour or so - we ease into it, adding an hour a day until we're up to 6 hours and then the horses go out all day.  This process involves turning out to dry lot in the morning and then moving all the horses to the pastures at earlier times every day until we're worked up to full day turnout on grass.  Luckily for me, the boarders are very helpful with this.

The horses find this process very exciting.  Some gallop off from the gate, and there is also bucking and rolling.  Some just dive for the grass as soon as their halters are off.  Even Blackjack, our most senior horse, got to go out with the other geldings.  He had been in a separate paddock for a while because he was being harassed by the younger horses, particularly Scout.  They all seem to have enjoyed their grazing time - more tomorrow!

When we were moving the geldings to grass this afternoon, Noble had a bloody nose on the left side - a wide swath of blood mixed with colorless liquid.  It was still wet but whatever it was had apparently stopped bleeding.  It didn't look like the result of a scratch inside the nose.  He was coughing a bit and his breathing sounded a little wet.  But he wasn't in distress and the head down position of grazing would help clear out anything in his airway.  He was very interested in going out and even galloped around the pasture before settling down to graze.  I knew I would see him in an hour or so, so I wasn't too worried.

When he came in, there was no sign that there had ever been any bleeding.  His breathing and demeanor were normal and he seemed fine.  I listened with a stethoscope, but everything sounded normal.  We may never know for sure what it was, unless it reoccurs.  I suspect a little blood vessel popped somewhere in his airway and bled for a little bit, then stopped.  At his age (almost 29) anything can happen at any time.  I consider every day I have him to be a good day.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Barn Envy

Do you ever get barn envy?  Some of the people whose blogs I follow have lovely barns - modern buildings with large stalls and good ventilation, that look easy to maintain.  And then there's lovely fencing - pretty and low maintenance.  And turnouts that are convenient to the barn so turnout is easy, or where the horses can go in and out as they wish.  Or a climate where the horses can be out 24/7 with lovely run-in sheds.  Or an indoor.  Or an outdoor with adequate space, a good base so it drains properly and lovely footing.

Our barn, unfortunately, has none of these.  It's a relatively new structure, about 15 years old, but was built by people who were interested in picturesque.  They knew very little about barn construction or barn operations and many of the decisions they made were poor.  As a result, our barn is poorly ventilated, requires endless and expensive maintenance, and don't get me started on the fencing and the outdoor, both of which are very deficient.  The biggest problem we have is that we can barely afford the annual costs of labor and maintenance and never have any money left over to improve anything.  The one advantage is that I don't own it so can walk away at any time if I choose.

The big advantage for me is that it is very close to my house (a couple of hundred yards), and that we have all-day turnout, with excellent (almost too good) pastures in the summer months.  I also get a big say in how my horses are handled and fed - not having this is to my mind one of the biggest deficiency of many boarding facilities.

I often dream of my ideal barn - it wouldn't be too fancy.  It would have all the necessary features for horses, and would be sited on the property so that turnout was easy.  Everything would be constructed to be low maintenance and safe.  It would have an indoor so I could work my horses in the winter and when the weather was bad.  The horses would mostly live outside, with big loafing sheds and round bales under cover in the winter.

I'm certainly not saying that it's not possible to live with a less-than-perfect barn and facility.  Many people do so, and happily work with and enjoy their horses.  I'm just considering an ideal world here.

Now, why haven't I found my own place and done this?  I don't really know - probably worried I couldn't manage all the work on my own and worried about the expense.  If you have your horses at your own place, how did you decide to do it, and how did you go about it?  If you would like, put a post on your own blog (link back to this if you like) and leave a comment here letting us know that you have done so.  I'd really be interested in how people have decided to have their own places rather than continuing to board.