Friday, February 22, 2013

Happy Margarita Day!

It has come to my attention that it is National Margarita Day.  So, in lieu of posting something serious about training my horse (a subject I'm feeling rather uninspired about, anyway), I shall kick back with a delicious margarita and entertain you with a funny farm story.....

I actually remember the exact date that this happened, because it was my husband's birthday.  We had plans to go out for brunch at the local diner to celebrate.  Around 7am, as I was enjoying my first pot of coffee, there was a knock at the door.  I opened the door, and a very concerned woman yelled, "Your grey horse was running down the highway!!!!" Then, before I could get a single word in, she quickly retreated to her car and left.  I was left standing at my door in a state of confusion.

Now, I do have a grey horse, and he does escape regularly.  But, I could see him standing at the barn waiting for his breakfast.  Spider and Matilda were there, too, all waiting patiently for me to come out to feed.  They were all safely inside the fence, not running down the highway.

I walked out onto the porch, trying to figure out what the blankety-blank was going on, and then I saw her....  Not a grey, a roan snowflake Appaloosa, happily munching her way through my vegetable garden.  Now, where did she come from?

This image has nothing to do with the subject matter, but I find it hilarious, and somehow appropriate for National Margarita Day.

I sighed, and then put my boots on.

I grabbed a bucket, put a handful of grain in it, threw a lead line over my shoulder and trudged out to retrieve her.  As soon as she heard the grain in the bucket she trotted right over.  Good mare.

She was wearing a halter, a purple sparkly thing.  I clipped my lead line to her and looked her over.  She was obedient, fat and slick, her feet were well cared for and covered in sparkly purple hoof polish. She was obviously some little girl's pet, which meant someone would be looking for her.  I took her to my front pasture, which borders the highway, and set her up with some hay and water.  I figured that her owners were probably out looking for her, and if they passed by they'd see her in the pasture.

We don't have much in the way of municipal services in my township, no police force or animal control, but I figured if the mare had been running down the highway that maybe the State Troopers would know something about it.  So, I called up the non-emergency line and got the dispatcher...

"Hello", I said, "I found a loose horse on my property this morning.  I caught her, and put her in my front pasture."

"Oh good!", the dispatcher said, "We've been getting calls about that horse all morning!  So, you've got her contained now? That's great! Bye!"

"Wait, WAIT!", I yelled, "Don't you want my address in case the owners call looking for the horse?"

The dispatcher thought about it for a minute, then responded, "Ummmm, I guess...."

So, since the State Troopers were obviously a dead end, we settled in to wait for the mare's owner to show up.  Poor husband, no birthday brunch at the diner for him.  Such is farm life.

Around noon a gentleman in a convertible pulled into the driveway.  We rushed up to him, hoping he was the owner of the errant beast.  He was not.  Turns out, the mare had run through his lawn at around  6am, and then he had seen her in our pasture while riding around in his car, so he decided to pull in to see if we were her owners.  Another dead end....

Finally, around 4pm, an SUV pulled in to the driveway.  The mare's owners had been found!  They had been driving all over, but it turns out she was several miles from home.  The gentleman in the convertible had seen them out looking while on his joy-ride, and told them where to find the mare.

She was, as I suspected, their little girl's pet.  Her name, I was told, was "Mow"... As in, "Mow the lawn".  It turns out that the mare lived in their front yard in one of those portable round pens.  They moved the round pen around their yard, and Mow mowed the lawn, hence the name.  The previous night, their daughter hadn't latched the gate properly and Mow had gotten loose and gone on a grand adventure.

I was happy to have Mow reunited with her owners, but they hadn't come with a trailer, so I told them I would keep her until they got back with a trailer.  To my surprise, they said, "Oh no!  We'll just lead her home."  I offered to trailer her home myself, but they insisted that she'd be just fine walking home.  So, I watched Mow go quietly down the highway, followed by the SUV.  Good mare.

The next day Mow's owners brought me cookies to say "Thank You" for rescuing her, so I know she got home safely.

South Jersey is definitely a bit different....

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Winter Blahs

I've got 'em.

Even Spider seems unmotivated.

I hate winter.  I hate the cold. I hate the snow. I hate the freezing rain. I hate the wind. I hate the mud. I hate the grey skies, the grey trees and the brown fields.  It's so un-inspiring.  Everything on my little farm is dormant, waiting for better weather.  I'm dormant, too.

I go out and ride, but I'm just going through the motions.  I tack up, I get on, I ride until I can't stand the cold anymore, then I call it a day.  We're not working on new things, we're not even working on the things we should be doing as 3rd level competitors... we're just putting one foot in front of the other.

I had a lesson last week.  I had hoped it would motivate me to get my tuckus in gear and start riding towards my Prix St. Georges goal.  It didn't, and this is why....

Going into my lesson, I figured I was going to get reamed.  I thought I deserved it, for slacking off.  But, I didn't get reamed.  My trainer asked us to perform exercises and, much to my surprise,  Spider and I were able to comply.  We even did a haunches in, to half-volte in shoulder in, to half pass!  And Spider had some of the best half passes I have ever felt from him.  They felt like my Warmblood Schoolmasters' half passes.... Light, but powerful. Controlled, but electric. And supple, so supple.

How the blankety-blank did we do that?  We haven't been working on it, but these were the best half-passes I'd ever gotten from Spider.  I was happy, but puzzled.

I thought about it for many days.  Well, I tried to think about it for many days.  I have two children, a two year old and a four year old.  They tend to distract me from devoting any amount of time to really thinking about something for long.

I was watching them play, and marveling at how easily they learn new ideas like numbers, letters and words. I don't actively teach them these things, but I do spend a lot of time with them. And then it hit me.  They learn these things from being around me while I use those ideas.  They're watching me, emulating me, and learning from me without me ever actively "teaching" them.

My horse is doing the same thing.  He's always watching me, always learning from me.  And, while I'm just doggedly putting one foot in front of the other, he's learning from that.  And that will get us there.

Another shameless brag.. Look at that neck!  He's like a stallion.

Sunday, February 10, 2013


I've got a wicked, lingering cold.  The whole family has it, actually.  It's never fun to be sick, but it's especially un-fun to have a whole household of sickies.  That's our first plague.


The second plague is mud.  Nor'easter Nemo just dumped a bunch of rain on us, which is better than snow, but still not what we needed.  This has been a wet winter, and there's mud everywhere.  Which brought on plague #3: scratches.

Double Yuck. This picture is pre-cleaning, but a few days into treatment. 

Scratches, sometimes called "mud fever" or "dew poisoning", is a skin condition that develops when a horse's legs are exposed to wet conditions for too long.  Too much moisture causes the skin to become chapped and flaky.  It is not actually caused by a bacteria or fungi, as many believe, but the damaged skin makes it easier for bacteria and fungi to invade.  Those infections are secondary to the scratches and need to be treated separately.

If you catch it before secondary infections set in it's fairly easy to treat.  Since the cause is chapped skin,  the best treatment is a balm to prevent chapping.  My go-to balm is baby diaper rash cream.  It's made to protect babies' delicate skin from wetness and chafing and also to prevent secondary skin infections, which makes it perfect for treating scratches.

I like this one, partly because it has a funny name.  Also because it contains balsam, a gentle ant-septic.

One thing you shouldn't do is clean the affected area a million times a day with harsh cleansers.  That's going to dry the skin out further and make things much worse.  For Spider's mild case, I washed it once with a gentle tea tree oil cleanser to get the flakes and loose hair off, then slathered on some Butt Paste. Every day after that, I've just cleaned it up with an alcohol/fragrance free wet wipe and applied more Butt Paste. This is the exact same treatment as for diaper rash in a baby, by the way.  I'm always amazed at the overlap between horse care and child care.

Since his skin isn't inflamed or oozing, there is no heat and he isn't reactive to having it touched, I know he doesn't have a secondary infection.  Had he developed any of those symptoms, I would have called the vet to get some prescription ointment.  From the picture above, you can see it's healing nicely and the hair is even starting to grow in again.

Plague #4 isn't really a bad plague, it's just that viral time-suck of modern existence.... Facebook.  On a lark, I made Spider his own Facebook page.  I blame cold medicine and wine for my lapse in judgement.  But, then I thought about it and figured it might be kind of fun.  Don't worry, I won't post lame statuses in my horse's voice.  Actually, I plan to use it to post fun or interesting articles and videos, quick training updates, pictures from around the farm, and other silly things that don't really need their own blog post.  I'll post blog updates there, too. So feel free to "like" Spider on Facebook for even more Spider and Shannon shenanigans.  The link is in the sidebar to the right.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Back In The Saddle

Shameless Brag Photo of my awesome new boots.  My husband got them for me for Christmas, if only they were show legal!  I'd totally rock these at a dressage show.

So, I got back to riding this past week.  I've ridden three times, and I'm pleased to say that my back has not offered any objections.

I chose to just dive right back in, as though there had been no lag in our work.  I think sometimes when you "ease" back in, you run the risk of introducing bad habits. Spider objected on the first day, but we had a discussion about it and, together, we came to the conclusion that he did remember everything we had been working on and could do the work.  Horses are smarter than we give them credit for, and they remember everything.

I made a bit of a change in my own form.  I raised my stirrups two holes.  It's a change that was suggested to me by my trainer a couple months ago, but I was resistant. I prefer a long stirrup, because my back and knees hurt when my stirrups are too short.  But, since my back and knees don't hurt right now, I decided to give it a try.

It made a world of difference!  Just two holes made it easier to wrap my lower leg around Spider's belly.  With my lower leg right there on his belly, I was better able to lift his ribs with my calves and bring his back up under me.  And I was able to do that without lifting my heel or compromising my seat.

I think dressage riders often equate a long stirrup with "correct" position.  And that is mostly true, but it fails to take into account the "length" of the horse's ribs.  If your legs are dangling two feet below the bottom of the girth, there is no way for you to get your leg on that horse without seriously compromising your position.  So, when you think about "long stirrups", think about them in relation to your horse's girth.  The stirrups should be long enough to wrap around your horse, but not so long that you can't apply your aids, and that length will vary from horse to horse.

Play with your stirrup length.  Find your sweet spot.  And never forget that it might change from horse to horse, or even level to level!  


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