Monday, June 27, 2011

Blog Birthday, Wonderful Horse and Chapter of Book!

Woo-hoo! I’m celebrating! I’ve had this blog for a full year! I’m excited about this – I’m proud of myself for keeping it up and writing in it very consistently, every week. And without realizing it, it’s been a year! Congratulations to me!! I tell Buckshot that he is famous, but he doesn’t seem the least bit interested in his fame. He’s so modest. But I am glad that he is famous, for he deserves it.

When I began this blog, I didn’t know how it would go. But month after month, I have found that I enjoy writing my posts, and look forward to the comments I’ve gotten. Through my blog and the other horse blogs that I read, I’ve met and read about some wonderful people and you have all enriched my life. When I am with Buckshot, I find myself thinking about something you have said or observed. I have learned from your comments as well. The community aspect of blogging is wonderful, much more so than I ever imagined. I also thank you for reading through what must have been some boring posts. Sometimes nothing dramatic occurs. In life, that’s okay. But in blogs, it can seem a bit boring at times. Still, I enjoy reading others’ posts when nothing much happens. Because we all love our horses, and want to share about them. And we learn from and inspire each other. So thank you, thank you to all of you readers- I greatly appreciate you! I would like to make us all a big birthday cake, I think it would be carrot cake (in homage to our horses!) with cream cheese frosting, and a big picture of Buckshot on top. I wish I could offer each of you a piece of this cake!

Buckshot and I had a great weekend. He was great in all of our activities. We went to the reining trainer clinic yesterday and had a good time. Near the end of the clinic, the trainer looked over at us and said, Look at Buckshot, his eyes are closed and his lower lip is flopping. He was trying to nap, I guess, during our clinic! But when I asked him to walk, he woke right up and started walking! What a funny horse! I had noticed some beautiful, emerald green grass just outside the arena in one section of the farm during the clinic, and I’d told Buckshot I’d let him nibble some of that grass when we were done. So, after I woke him from his “nap,” I walked him around the rail and told him we were in cool down mode. After a few revolutions, I took him to the special grass, dismounted and let him nibble. I think I heard him say, this is so goo-mphmphmph….!

(To update you on the bridling and foot issue, I bridled him in a different place this weekend, where I wasn’t competing with his hay, and he bridled without incident. Thanks very much for your helpful suggestions!)

On another topic, I want to mention my book. I noted it in the “About Yourself” section of the blog but I haven’t said much about it. I have been having editor’s block with my book in recent months. I’ve written the text, and put it into chapters, and am now trying to get the chapters in order and do a final edit. But I am stuck in this editor’s block where I just can’t get motivated to work on it like I feel I should. So I have decided to jump-start my efforts by sharing some chapters here in my blog. Today I am including my first chapter. I think I’ll call the book A Thousand Pounds of Fragile Horse, just like the blog. It is the story of my first years of learning about horses, and getting my first horse, Buckshot. I hope you like it.

A Thousand Pounds of Fragile Horse
By Jan Swisher
Chapter 1
Horse Rears!

The horse reared next to me. He reared! Deadly hooves suddenly high in the air, near my head. I’m sure my eyes got big as saucers, because my mouth was instantly dry as cotton, my heart racing frantically and panic numbed my brain. I was scared to death! My horse, the horse I had just bought a few months ago, my old, ready-to-be-semi-retired, gentle horse just reared! Oh my God, what kind of horse did I buy?! I was instantly aware that this horse ownership thing was an experience in the frightening and the unknown. All at once. Oh, shit.

Adrenaline kicked in and I ran to the barn manager’s trailer, where he and his girlfriend were, but doing what? Heaven only knows. I didn’t care what activity I had to interrupt, my horse, in cross-ties in the barn while I groomed him, just reared. Reared. This is one of the scariest words the partially-experienced horse owner can hear. It connotes a dangerous, mean, aggressive horse. It means you’ll have fights and usually the horse will win. What was I thinking, buying a horse that rears? I mentally pummeled myself mercilessly, as if it was my fault that my gentle, sweet horse had decided to rear.

Actually it was.

But more on that later.

“Buckshot reared!” I frantically explained to Sammy, the barn manager, as I stuck my head in his door. Without a word, he slowly disentangled himself from said girlfriend (thank goodness they were clothed!) and slowly left the trailer. I followed him as I half-walked, half-ran, half-held-my-fear-in back to the barn. “He did…” was all Sammy said.

Buckshot stood calmly in the crossties. Sammy asked me what happened. While grooming him, he had started to paw a little. To stop this, I did what I’d read from the experts: to prove you are the leader to a horse, move his feet. Back, forward, to the side. I had made him move a little bit, back and forth. I turned my back to grab a brush and turning back to him, I saw—hooves! In the air! (I didn’t even know a horse could rear in crossties!)

Sammy walked calmly up to Buckshot’s haunch, put both of his hands on his haunch and pressed, grunting “move over!” He asked me where my saddle was. I told him- just behind him on a boarder’s trunk. My God, I thought, why saddle him? He’s wild, he’s dangerous! Although he was standing calmly, and I didn’t see any signs of aggression in him now. But I’m not going to ride him, I thought, still filled with shock, dread and a totally dry mouth.

Sammy calmly tacked up Buckshot and led him out of the barn. He called back to me, “Get your helmet and come up to the arena. I’m going to ride him.” Barely able to comprehend why I needed my helmet, because I wasn’t going to get on a wild and dangerous horse, I grabbed my helmet, tried to find enough spit to swallow, and walked, woodenly and reluctantly, up to the arena.

By the time I got there, Sammy was calmly riding Buckshot at the walk. I stood in the middle of the sandy, jump-filled arena and watched. Sammy kicked him into a trot. Buckshot complied and trotted neatly. I watched his face – Buckshot appeared calm and ordinary. His trot was normal- plenty of energy but responsive. Sammy kept riding. Finally, he called out to me, “See? He seems fine.” I nodded, deeply worried, although he did look fine.

A moment later, Sammy brought Buckshot to a stop and dismounted. He said, “Come on” to me and walked him to a jump that I could use as a mounting block. My gosh, I thought, he looks okay, he’s not showing anything different, but… (he just reared a few minutes ago!) I was about to get on a totally unknown, unknowable horse, who just reared! A part of me, a big part of me was scared, really scared, but a small part of me had recovered a bit from abject terror and could take in the new information from my own eyes- that Buckshot wasn’t acting bad or upset now. With trepidation, I decided to get on him.

Holding the reins a bit tighter than normal, and probably hunched over in the fearful-rider position, I asked for the walk. Buckshot walked. Sixty seconds later, I finally exhaled. We walked around the arena. He seemed very calm. I asked for the trot. Buckshot trotted. He seemed normal. Three minutes later, I breathed out again. Back to the walk. Very slowly, I tiny bit of my fear relaxed, then dissolved. He’s not going to rear again. Oh my god. Thank goodness. Another tiny bit of my fear relaxed, then dissolved. Some moisture returned to my mouth. Another breath out. Another tiny bit of fear relaxed. I was back, back from the precipice of shock and terror. I actually rode my wild and dangerous rearer. He didn’t do it again. I think I’ll live.

But still, a big part of my mind was in turmoil. What had happened? Who is this horse? What have I done? What kind of horse have I bought? Where is my gentle, old, ready-to-retire horse?

I dismounted after a few more minutes of riding. I walked Buckshot to his stall, calmly untacked him and put him back out in the pasture with a dozen other horses. I found Sammy sitting on the mounting block by the barn door. I joined him and said “I don’t know what happened.” Emotionally and mentally, I felt spent, weary, flaccid. Sammy suggested that Buckshot may have become impatient during grooming and it might have been better to stop brushing and just tack up. Get him going to help use his excess energy. (Excess energy? I thought. He is supposed to be slow, and old, and ready to retire, not have excess energy!! What the heck?)

Another boarder drove up, a woman I was friendly with. She approached Sammy and I, and said “What happened?” as I must have still been pale. Sammy told her, and ended with the order “Take Jan to get a beer. She needs one!” I laughed with them, the weak, half-smile laughter of tragedy averted. We went to the country general store down the road and for the first time, I had a horse-related beer! And no, he never reared again. I did say this was a frightening and unknown experience, didn’t I?
How did his all begin, this journey into the unknown and wonderful facets of the equine? ( It’s only frightening occasionally. Really.) Well, let me start at my beginning, which was eight years ago….

Monday, June 20, 2011

Confessions of Anger

Buckshot stepped on my foot yesterday. Big time. It was the worst foot stamping I’d ever experienced, and I’ve had my feet stepped on a couple of dozen times over the years. This one was bad. And I was mad. I thought I’d share my thoughts and reactions on what happened yesterday, because for me, it is hard to sort out these things. Others have had worse things happen then a foot stomping. But somehow they are similar. I think.

I was finished grooming Buckshot and had put his saddle on in the stall we use for tacking up. He was eating hay, the good hay, the alfalfa that I so kindly make sure is in the stall for a treat for him. He doesn’t like to lift his head for me to take off his halter or put on his bridle because he wants his head down at the floor where he can get more hay. So I have devised a way around that, which I’ve been doing for months, without incident. I did what I have been doing, which is, I say head up, Buckshot, time for your bridle. Which he ignores and keeps his head down. Then I put the reins around his neck, down by his ears, and I stand by his left side and thump/tap his side with my hand, fingers out, and say, turn, turn, turn, pulling on the reins with my left hand. Usually, after a few thumps, his head comes up and he turns facing away from the hay, and I put the bridle on.

Yesterday, I said “turn” one time and his head came up and he moved slightly toward me and, pow! His foot stamped, and stayed on, my right foot. I froze, and panicked and instantly pushed him roughly back away from me. His foot came off. Intense pain shot up my leg. I breathed, panicked, wondered what the hell was broken, cursed him, bobbed my body up and down while I tried to endure the god-awful pain. I thought briefly about all the tiny, vulnerable bones down in that foot. I thought, this is a bad one, this is an injury, capital I. I thought shit, shit, shit. And damn, damn, damn. It took time just to get through the pain and the realization of how badly this one hurt, before I could even think about Buckshot, who did it.

I breathed out slowly, still holding him by his reins, bridle down by my elbow. I didn’t know what to say to him. My anger grew. Damn it. Did you do that on purpose? I thought angrily, and roughly to Buckshot. I thought he did it on purpose, that he always knows just where his feet are and he can feel a human-sized blob under his hoof and can take it off in an instant, if he wants to. But he didn’t want to.

I thought about the three second rule; that you need to reprimand a horse in three seconds after it misbehaves or you lose the impact of it. Three seconds have definitely come and gone, spent with me in foot-mind agony, then worry (medical bills? Please, no.) then anger (why in the hell did you do that?).

Without realizing it, all my anger got balled up and put in an invisible pack on my back. My foot throbbed. I thought briefly, thank God for my boots with their almost steel toes in them. I said something to Buckshot like, You are NOT supposed to step on my foot. You know that. I didn’t raise my voice, I didn’t slap him or hit him or point my finger at him. But my anger was still there, along with throbbing, in the invisible pack on my back. Morosely, I put the bridle on him and led him out to the arena. And we started our phase one warm up walking, which I do out of the kindness of my heart.

But my head was mixed up. I didn’t know what to think about this horse that repaid my kindnesses to him with a forceful stomping of my foot. And he wasn’t acting any different than any other time. So what was he thinking, as we walked, my face grimaced in pain.

And what do I do with this anger? He can’t tell me if it was deliberate, or an accident. He isn’t talking. How do I handle it when he hurts me and I don’t have any idea what is on his mind about it. What a horrible quandary. So as we walked I finally said outloud to him, Buckshot, I forgive you. It felt like a big move on my part. I forgive you for acting like a jerk to me, who has only the best intentions for you, and for hurting me, badly. But, I thought, what would he say, if he could? Only three possibilities: 1. Oh, thank you Jan, because I didn’t mean it, it was an accident, 2. Forgive me for what? Or 3. Big deal. Did he realize it? Did he care that he just hurt me? Why, oh why, can’t they talk and tell us something. And what am I to do, since he can’t talk.

As we rode, I had thoughts of revenge. Okay, buster, because of what you did to me, you are not getting out of doing this X or Y or Z. I was surprised by how easily my revenge wanted to come out. I held myself back and didn’t let it get a good hold of me. Eventually, the pain eased and I thought, yes, it is easier to forgive him as the pain ebbs. He didn’t know what he did, I thought charitably. I can baby it and put ice on it later and wear really big shoes until it heals. I get a lot of little scrapes from him and other horses and I have to deal with them myself. Without getting any apologies. But this one seemed deliberate and it hurt me even more to think that. To wonder if this horse is really meaner than I have thought. And that hurt too, that maybe I have been overlooking a mean horse, and been ignorant about it, when it was right there for me to see.

Later, when I dismounted, my foot started to throb and I started to limp. Oh, the pain isn’t over. After the ride, I was finally able to be kind to him again, to say, good work, Buckshot, but part of me was still hurting. The anger was still there. And the bewilderment about it. And the frustration of not being able to communicate with him about what had happened.

I wondered, what about human babies. Can they hurt the mother? If they can’t talk, and explain it to the mother, what is the mother to do, to think about it? I don’t know. So I kept the pack of anger with me all day and thought about it some more as I drove home. If I described it to someone else, I realized, they might say, Jan, you were pulling the horse’s front legs toward you, and although you thought you were also stepping back, maybe you weren’t. It wasn’t as if you were pushing the horse away from you and his foot came way back and stepped on you. His hooves were coming toward you. So I concede that what I was doing made getting stepped on somewhat understandable. And I decided that I think, after all, that he didn’t do it on purpose, that it was an accident on his part.

Maybe I should have reacted bigger right when it happened, like screamed at him, or raised my arms, but, honestly, I couldn’t think that fast. I had to get him off my foot and I had to breathe and just endure the first intense wave of pain. I didn’t react to him. I couldn’t react to him. It dampened my time with him, as I was so unsure why he had done it. I was disappointed in him, I was angry at him. I thought it was the worst in unfairness, that a horse who gets such consistently good treatment from me, would do such a painful thing to me willfully. But I got through it, and today, as I look at my black and blue foot, I don’t hate him anymore. But I will be much more careful putting his bridle on.

And so, in closing, with still some mixed feelings rolling around inside of me, I will report that his rain rot is slowly getting better. It isn’t gone yet, but it is better. And we had some good trotting and cantering this weekend. My cantering seat is getting a bit better. And Buckshot was his normal, happy self when I brought him his dinner and hay. And by the time I go back to the barn, I’ll probably be looking forward to seeing him again. But what a day. Hope you had a better day with your horse!

Monday, June 13, 2011

More Extreme Summer Heat

It was a challenging weekend! Virginia had its first batch of extreme summer heat and humidity and was it a scorcher! Saturday, June 11, we had temperatures in the high 90’s F, with strong humidity. Buckshot was a trouper though! I was unaware that the temperatures had climbed so high. I was of course, very hot, sweaty and wanted to move slowly. I got Buckshot in from his pasture and checked his rain rot. Unfortunately, while two areas had healed, and a third area was in the process of diminishing, a new area of rain rot had appeared on his right hip. I sprayed it before taking him down to the barn to tack up.

I put a small amount of some special alfalfa hay in the stall for him. He loves it! I groomed him and tacked him up. My Cashel Tush Cushion had arrived in the mail so I used it on my saddle. (It works great – and gives a firm inch or so of dense foam right under my butt, just where it is needed. It is easy to attach to the saddle also.)

We headed out to the arena early and started our phase one walking. After twenty minutes, we started trotting and after a few tries, Buckshot rallied with some very nice trotting. We did a few canters, which felt a little funny with the new pad on my saddle – I’ll have to do more cantering to get used to it. But it definitely protected my seat bones. By this time, I was really feeling the heat, and giving Buckshot extra standing time in the shade.

A few students joined us in the arena and a bit later, we walked down the barn road to a neighbor’s house. A seven year old girl was having a birthday party and wanted a ride on a horse, so the BO rode one of the school horses and we followed. This party had added a huge, colorful bouncy house/ plastic slide thing for the kids to enjoy, but we riders were very wary of how our horses would react, so we stayed back, slightly behind trees and didn’t go where the bouncy house was fully visible. All of the horses behaved wonderfully. We rode back down the road with the birthday girl being led by the BO.

We arrived at the field arena and while the BO led the girl on down some grassy patches the rest of us spent a few minutes in the arena. Buckshot and I trotted and then cantered. I did quite well at sitting the canter (thanks to the pad, I think) and at using my hands well to give him the rein he needs while keeping a little contact with his mouth. Then we went to stand in some shade at the side of the arena. Buckshot decided I must be lost, and he started his itty-bitty steps to the side and towards the road (you know, back to the barn… the route all horses know by heart LOL). Laughing, I gently steered him back to the arena and we stayed with the other horses to return the birthday girl to her party, and we went on into a wooded trail, and then back to the barn. In all, Buckshot and I rode for almost two hours (which is quite a bit more than I would have ridden him if I’d known it was 99 degrees). He did well, though.

After untacking him and giving him treats (which he voted were not as good as the alfalfa hay!), I gave him a full medicated shampoo bath, and wiped him down with a squeegee. I then sprayed his blanket with Vetrolin spray for a sunscreen. In case you didn’t know, blanket is a term used on Appaloosas to mean a large area of skin/hair that doesn’t have many spots. I think most blankets are white hair. Buckshot has mostly white hair on the back half of him, so his coloring is called red with white blanket. The white area is where I spray sunscreen. I used a little bit of human baby sunscreen on his white blaze on his face. Then I walked him back to his pasture and told him what great work he had done that day! Later I applied more treatment to his rain rot, sprayed him with regular fly spray, gave him his dewormer (or most of it), put his fly mask on, and finally, left him to be a horse!! LOL!

On Sunday, June 12th, I came ultra-prepared for the hot weather. I brought more water, more Gatorade, more snacks and more ice. I planned to walk slower and sit down whenever the heat started to feel oppressive. I also planned to ride Buckshot earlier, and for a much shorter time than on Saturday. We had severe thunderstorms forecast for Sunday afternoon so I wanted to get my time with Buckshot before any old weather messed us up.

We had the arena to ourselves as there wasn’t anyone else at the barn. And the arena had two large wet spots in it. One large spot I called the lake; the other one I called the pond. I told Buckshot we would name it the LakePond Arena! We did our phase one walking and I used the lake and pond to give variety. A few times we walked around them, other times we walked right through the middle of them, other times we used them as borders. After walking, Buckshot did some lovely, energetic trotting, and we did a few canters. We rode for 45 minutes and then I dismounted. He had done great in our work!

I untacked him, gave him his treats, and gave him another medicated shampoo bath. I checked his weight because I have had to go up another hole on his girth. Fortunately, he hasn’t lost weight; rather the girth is apparently stretching. When I walked him back to his pasture, he had a spring in his step and seemed happy as a clam! What a good boy! After he rolled, and I applied some treatments to him, I left him and his pasturemate standing side by side in one of their stalls, hind feet cocked, nodding off into an afternoon nap – two happy horses! What a wonderful thing! What a wonderful horse he is – I am so honored that he is my horse!!

Today I bought some more Equispot and Eqyss Spray. I gulped as I saw the price of Equispot and decided to research any homemade options for a stay-on fly spray. Since Buckshot is in pasture all of the time, and I don’t get out to see him daily, I need a stay-on option, as well as my regular fly spray. After reading about various homemade ideas, I think an option for me may be to try Repel X, and not dilute it too much. Also, Repel X has a lotion form that is a stay on product. It has a much lower pyrethrins percentage than Equispot has. So I will give this some more thought. Have you found an effective stay on fly control product?

Hope you had a great weekend!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Summer is Here

This past weekend was a lovely summer weekend, full of sunshine, unpredictable weather forecasts (no rain? What is that wet stuff on my windshield?), humidity, lots of water drinking and standing in front of the barn’s fans. Thank goodness for the fans!

Buckshot’s rain rot is much improved. Several large patches of it are much better – no more raised bumps. But there are still a few places of raised bumps and we continue to treat it with Eqyss MicroTek spray and Betadine. On Saturday I sterilized his grooming tools with two buckets of warm water into which I put soap and bleach, let them sit for ten minutes, then rinsed thoroughly and set out to dry. I also washed down his saddle pad with water mixed with apple cider vinegar. I will stay vigilant on keeping his tools and pad clean to prevent a recurrence of this bacteria.

We had a good ride Saturday, and we even did some cantering. I am waiting to receive a Cashel Foam Tush Pad for my saddle, so on Saturday I used two sanitary napkins to cushion my behind! They didn’t work too well but I guess it was better than nothing. The BO had an older Cashel pad she let me borrow so I used it on Sunday and it works great. I am looking forward to getting mine in the mail any day now.

On Sunday, we took four horses and riders to the reining clinic. (And yes, we have had a lot of discussion at my barn about the reining controversy that erupted last week. I come in on the side of those that are upset to see rolkur or similar machinations used on a horse. Especially at a public event where “the best of the sport” are ostensibly competing. But I won’t get on my soapbox about it at this time.)

It was very humid on Sunday and Buckshot had low energy at the clinic. He started out strong in our walking phase, then was relunctant to trot more than a few strides. So I didn’t expect much, if any cantering, from him. There is a round pen close to the arena and as we walked around warming up, we watched an Arab mare in the round pen. She was running around that pen like a whirling dervish! I clocked her at 50 miles per hour! And she just kept on going! Her owner was standing placidly in the middle of the round pen, while the horse was working something terrible! As Buckshot and I walked by the round pen, and looked in, I don’t know what he was thinking, but I thought “I’m so glad to have Buckshot!!” LOL!

When our turn came to do one of the instructed exercises, Buckshot and I did better than expected with a canter. I tried to focus on two things: keeping my seat flowing with the saddle, and giving with my hands. With those things on my mind, I didn’t focus on steering much. So, while we were asked to do a circle, we did some kind of a non-circular shape, but at least it wasn’t terrible. LOL!

Later, we worked on rollbacks. Buckshot surprised all of us and did great! We started trotting down the rail, than got a canter, then stopped. I turned his head, he moved back on his haunches and when I tapped him, we went back along the rail in the opposite direction in a strong canter. I stopped him again, rolled him back and off we went again! The trainer gave us compliments! I was terribly proud of Buckshot! And I am glad to see such strength in his hind legs, to do this maneuver. Shortly after that, we ended the clinic. I would have liked to canter a bit more, but with such high humidity, I didn’t want to ask Buckshot to work any further. He did great overall, and in such challenging weather, I was very proud of him. I untacked him, rinsed him off, let him eat some grass, gave him his treats and we loaded up four very tired horses for the ride home.

While it may not have been a very exciting weekend with him, to me it was a great weekend- his rain rot is diminishing instead of spreading, he trailer loads well (something I really appreciate about him), he seems to like going to the clinics, as well as riding at our home barn, his poop is nice and solid these days, his appetite is good, his interest and alertness about life is good – he is a wonderful horse!! Good boy!! All those things rolled together are wonderful!!
Hope all is well with your horse friends as well!