Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Happy Birthday Dawn!

Today is Dawn's 12th birthday! We have had her since December of 2001, when she was 4. When we got her, she was little - 14.3 or so - scrawny and gangly. Her head was too big for her body, and she was so butt-high that she had to wear bell boots on her front feet 24/7 since otherwise she stepped on herself constantly. She had trouble cantering under saddle, particularly to the right.

She's a Thoroughbred, and improbably actually raced - with her June birthday and tiny size, I don't know how she managed it. Her top line goes straight back to Man O'War through War Relic. The only record we have of her racing is a form attached to her papers showing that she bled in a race in 2000. I expect that's why she was discarded as a racehorse. Our trainer at the time picked her up for a song, probably just before she was about to be sent to auction.

Over the first couple of years we had her, she filled out and grew almost three more inches. She's now a lovely little muscular horse with a very distinctive personality (not that all horses aren't distinctive - just that Dawn is even more distinctive!). She's very intelligent, curious, excitable, athletic and exuberant. She loves to investigate things, particularly machinery and work projects - if you're fixing fences, she's there to help. She is the beta of our mare herd, and if Lily weren't there, she would definitely be the alpha. She's one of those all-bay no-markings horses - except for all the scars from getting in trouble! She has a beautiful red coat, with a hint of dapples. I'm going to scatter pictures of her randomly through this post - so here's the first one:

Although my older daughter rode her briefly, she's my younger daughter's horse - they are very bonded and my daughter calls her her "soul horse". She will rest her head on my daughter's shoulder when my daughter is grooming, and just close her eyes, for as long as my daughter can tolerate the weight.

She is a challenging horse to work with - all of our horses are what could be charitably described as "hot" but Dawn is the hottest of all. She is exquisitely sensitive to the slightest shift of body position or even the suggestion of an aid - working with or riding Dawn is excellent training in paying attention to exactly what you are doing and refining your aids to the point that they are just thoughts.

I love to tell stories about my horses, particularly on birthdays. So here are a couple of stories about Dawn.

When we first got out trailer - a 4-horse gooseneck with a Ford F350 to go with it - we made a trip to a Mark Rashid clinic north of Milwaukee, about an hour and a half from where we live. We loaded up hay in the first slot, Lily in the second, Dawn in the third, and Maisie in the last slot. As we were driving through downtown Milwaukee on the expressway, all of a sudden the trailer started rocking from side to side - it was rocking hard enough that it was actually pulling on the truck, which takes some doing. Then suddenly something exploded out of one of the windows - it was like a puff of something dark. So I pulled off on some urban exit and found a gas station we could fit into, and went to see what had happened. Dawn had broken the glass window on her slot - that was the puff I saw in the rear view mirror - and there was glass everywhere. The aluminum bars were bent, and the window frame as well - the window wouldn't even close. Dawn seemed OK except for a little scrape down her forehead and being slightly dazed - well I guess after putting your head through a window! Luckily we had trailered in fly masks, so none of the horses got any glass in their eyes. So we went on to our final destination. When we unloaded (Maisie, who was in the last slot, wouldn't get off the trailer, but that is a story for another day), we discovered the inside of one of Dawn's hind legs was all scraped and cut up. We figure that Maisie had, in her usual friendly way, "snuf-a-whuffed" Dawn's back, provoking the violent, probably double-barreled, kicking that had rocked the trailer - Dawn has "personal space" issues. From the cuts and scrapes, and marks on the back wall of the trailer, we figure Dawn got her hind leg over the partition, and in heaving herself off, threw herself head-first into the window. From then on, Dawn always traveled in the last slot, with no problems.

Then there was the time my (long-suffering) husband was out in the pastures spraying the aggressive wasps that tend to build nests in the metal pasture gates. He was spraying away, when he noticed that Dawn was avidly eating the wasps as they fell dead to the ground! He stopped, figuring that was enough poison for Dawn for one day - she suffered no ill effects.

Another story - when Sugar first came to our barn several years ago, she thought maybe she could challenge Dawn for the beta position in the mare herd. There was much fighting. One morning when I was turning horses out - almost all turnout injuries happen at or shortly after turnout - I was walking away from the mares' pasture when I heard the distinctive "chunk" - like a cleaver landing in meat - that indicates that a kick has connected and done damage. As I turned back to the pasture gate, Dawn came galloping towards me, stopped at the gate, lifted up one hind leg and turned her head to look at it. Blood was absolutely pouring down her leg from a large cut that ran across her lower leg from front to back. She had clearly come to me to get help. I took my cell phone out and called the vet to come on an emergency call before I even went to look at her. The blood was pouring down her leg in a waterfall and pooling on the ground. I was just about to take off my shirt and use it for a pressure bandage (who knows what the neighbors overlooking the pastures would have thought of that!), when the bleeding slowed - the artery that was doing most of the gushing had spasmed shut. I was able to lead her slowly back to the barn. Lily, our lead mare, came up and actually lapped up the large pool of blood! Other than gently cold-hosing to remove any debris, I didn't touch the wound since the vet was on the way.

The vet came and stitched up several layers - no tendons or ligaments were obviously damaged, although a lot of internal structure was exposed and the cut was both deep and long - but because the wound was very clean and the vet came within the hour, it healed up very cleanly with only a white scar to show where it was. Dawn spent a month on stall rest and limited turnout before returning to the herd. During this period, my younger daughter taught her to accept medicines by mouth, which had been a big problem for her before, using the approach/release technique. When Dawn returned to the pasture, she was clearly dominant over Sugar even though I believe it was Sugar who kicked her (probably in defense) and caused the injury.

One last Dawn factoid - when she is sick or in pain, she gets these little wrinkles on her muzzle just above her nose - it's a clear indicator that there's a problem!

When my younger daughter goes to college in the fall, I will get to take care of and work with Dawn on a daily basis - I'm looking forward to that!


  1. Love the stories! Happy Birthday to Dawn!

  2. Happy Birthday Dawn! She sounds like a huge character!

  3. Wow, she sure has lots of personality and definatly a mischievous side!!

    Happy B Day, and many more!

  4. Happy Birthday Dawn! What lovely photos of her! She is so pretty! I love that she puts her head on your daughter. What a bond between them - I bet your daughter will miss her this year at school. I looked her up on Equineline - you probably already did this - it said she had 3 starts and was unplaced. It is free - and just type in their real name (I found her name on an older post). I always say that the best TBs are the ones who are unplaced. Safer and slower!

  5. Dawn sounds like a real character and I can relate to some of the incidents, like a rocking trailer or discussions over who's boss in the pasture that ends in injuries. She's very lucky to have found a home with your family and I'm sure she knows it.
    Happy Birthday to a beautiful mare who knows who she is.

  6. Happy Birthday, Dawn! Love those Thoroughbreds. She's like my Boy about the "helping" when you are doing chores and fixing things. I call it "Snoopervising."

  7. Happy Birthday to Dawn! Thanks for sharing the great stories!

  8. May Dawn have many more birthdays to come! The wasp thing, yea . . been there, done that. Two boys decided to chomp up on some Raid-loaded wasps . . . horses.

  9. Dawn sounds like quite a ball of personality! Many of the ex-racers I have met are like that. It makes them so much fun to be around.

    The bee story made me chuckle, although I think I would have been having a heart attack if my horse accidentally ate bee poison...YIKES!! It sounds like you handled it well tho-

    I'm glad to hear she survived all her little mishaps. She sounds like a really fun horse.

  10. Interesting stories about Dawn. Happy Birthday to her.

  11. Happy Birthday to you, Happy Brithday to you, Happy Birthday dear wonderful DAWN!!!!!!!! Happy Birthday to you!!!!!!


  12. I love your stories. Sounds like you've had your share of adventures with your horses. LOL - guess we all have! Life with horses is never dull! Happy Birthday Dawn!!

  13. She sounds like a very special character!!!!

  14. I somehow missed this post, so my belated birthday wishes to Dawn. I thoroughly enjoyed all of the stories!


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