Saturday, January 31, 2015

Jack's Lobotomy

It's freezing and I'm holed up inside with my trusty sidekick, Wine. Since I've got nothing better to do, I figured I'd write a blog post, and then I realized I never shared the story of Jack's gelding process , or as I like to call it, his "rear lobotomy".

I got Jack as a 2 (soon to be 3) year old stallion. Yes, I am slightly nuts.... Why do you ask?  Actually, Jack had no clue he was a stallion, so it wasn't really a problem.  I figured I'd just have him gelded come spring.  Easy peasy, problem solved. Until spring came and I couldn't find a vet to do it.

It seems Sport Horse vets are kind of weenies when it comes to gelding 16.3h, 3 yr old stallions. Which is understandable, there can be complications with gelding older stallions, especially big ones.  General anesthesia in horses is tricky as it is, trickier with big ones who can injure themselves while going down. Plus, fully matured testicles have a tendency to bleed more and cause all kinds of problems. So, none of the local Sport Horse vets would do it. They all said, "Take him to New Bolton."

New Bolton, for those not living in NJ, is the equine hospital at the University of Pennsylvania. It's also the closest equine hospital to me. It's a great facility, but it's about an hour and a half away.  It also costs an arm and a leg. I was looking at around 1500 bucks to get this horse gelded, more if he had to stay up there.  Not that I'm cheap, but they geld adult horses at the track all the time without taking them to New Bolton.  What I needed was a track vet.

Of course, track vets are usually busy at the track, so I had to get a semi-retired track vet. We'll call him Dr. Bill. I call Dr. Bill up, explain the situation, give him Jack's size and age and he agrees to come out and do it that week.  Nice!

Dr. Bill shows up in the uniform of retirement, sweat pants and sneakers. Not the new style sweat pants, either, the old style with the elastic on the legs. He also has two younger (and better dressed) vets in tow. He explains that the two younger vets are there to watch, because they've never seen this procedure done before.  At this point I'm a bit puzzled, because how the heck do you get out of vet school without ever seeing a horse gelded?  Luckily, Dr. Bill explained.

Because of Jack's size, he was going to be gelded while fully awake and standing. I was a little horrified at this news, but Dr. Bill was already here and I really didn't want to take Jack to New Bolton. Dr. Bill handed me a twitch and off we went to get Jack.

It was a nice and sunny day, so Dr. Bill elected to do the job outside in the pasture. Apparently, natural light is better for these types of procedures. Jack was given a light sedative, twitched, and then Dr. Bill pulled out a giant syringe of lidocaine and proceeded to inject the, ahem, "surgical area". It was at this point that my husband, who had come out to see what was going on, booked it back into the house as fast as he could go.

We sat for a minute as we waited for the lidocaine and sedatives to kick in. I was holding Jack and the twitch, while the vets congregated at the other end of the horse discussing the procedure. I hoped Jack wasn't listening....

It ended up being quite interesting, since Dr. Bill was explaining everything to the young vets as he went.  According to Dr. Bill, doing it this way helps prevent excessive bleeding and swelling on older horses, as gravity helps flush everything out. It's also easier to be certain that you've got all the glandular tissue. Mature horses have more testosterone producing glandular tissue than immature ones, and if you miss any of that tissue the horse may still act like a stud. As an added bonus, Dr. Bill trimmed up Jack's scrotum so that, in his words, "It doesn't flap around when you ride him."  I had never thought about that, but yes, it would be rather embarrassing to go down centerline with a flapping scrotum.  To Dr. Bill's credit, Jack's surgical site stopped bleeding in less than 24 hours, never swelled and does not flap around.

It was all over fairly quickly, and Jack didn't seem to mind at all. The vets all patted him and complimented him on what a good boy he had been. And then Dr. Bill asked what I wanted to do with the testicles...

I don't know how it is in other places, but in this area there's a rather odd ritual of throwing the newly removed testicles onto the roof of the barn after a gelding. Dr. Bill, holding the organs in question, asked me if I wanted him to throw them up on the barn roof. Horrified, I replied "He's standing right here! Awake! He can see them!" Dr. Bill shrugged, said "OK", and then nonchalantly handed me the testicles.

So, now I'm standing there holding my totally awake gelding and his testicles. I looked at Jack. Jack looked at me. I asked him, "Are we still friends?". He bumped me with his head to get me to scratch his ears. I took that as a "yes".

I buried the testicles next to the arena and planted a nice iris over them. When it blooms, I point it out to Jack as we ride past.

"Look, Jack. There's your balls."

Tuesday, January 27, 2015


What is it with English tack and crazy prices? Especially dressage tack. Seriously, dye something black, slap a foreign sounding name on it and watch the $$$$ roll in.  Where I live on the East Coast, even used stuff costs an arm and a leg. I frequently see people here selling used tack for nearly what it would cost new!

I don't really play that game. I'll pay a fair price for things and I have plenty of tack I bought brand new that cost an arm and a leg, but I am not buying your ancient Flargenfluefer that you've been riding 3 horses in every day for the last 10 years for 10% off of the price of a new one.

(Yes, that is a thing dressage people do. They get super pissed when you laugh at them for this, also. "But!!! It has the real Okapi leather seat and knee rolls you can see from orbit, it's totally still worth that much!!!" Of course it is, that's why it's been for sale for three years.)

Luckily, I know a lot of people who ride Western. Western riders in my area will frequently end up with English tack, but are not privy to the insane mark ups and resale values that go along with English tack. They'll actually sell the stuff for a reasonable price. Most of the time the stuff has been sitting in a basement or a tack room for several years, but if you know what to look for, you can find some good deals. 

That's how I scored two barely used saddles for $25 apiece. 

Yes, I have a bar in my tack room. Or maybe I keep my tack in the bar.

Are they of the finest quality? No. The black all-purpose was purchased for the kids. It's a children's saddle and will probably only be used for a year or two before my kids outgrow it and I sell it for 25 bucks to someone else who needs a saddle for their kids to abuse for for a year or two. The brown one was just sort of a bonus, they were being sold as a package deal. I'll probably use it for goofing around on Spider on trail rides and such, instead of using the very expensive, genuine Okapi Leather, custom-made dressage saddle with knee rolls that can be seen from orbit that he usually goes in. (Actually, that's not entirely true, I didn't spring for the "special" leather on my custom-made dressage saddle, Spider's saddle is just made from common cow leather. That's probably why he isn't doing the Grand Prix right now. The shame.....)

As I was inspecting and oiling my new acquisitions, I realized that I'm really only familiar with dressage saddles and I have no clue what size girth I need for these things. I own four dressage girths, they are all the same size, and I have no idea what that size is. They fit every dressage saddle I own and every horse from little 14.2h Spots to 17.2h Jack, because dressage saddles have two foot long billets with loads of holes.  These saddles have wimpy little billets with hardly any holes.

Seriously, what am I supposed to do with this?

Also, why are there three billets when the girths only have two buckles? And what's that flappy thing on the billets? Please educate the DQ.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Dear Professionals,

I don't usually post rants, as I'm more of a "live and let live" type. There is no one set program that fits every horse and human, so I generally just smile and then keep doing my own thing. But, there is one phrase I hear over and over from equestrian professionals that just annoys the crap out of me....

"He/she stole my client!" (This statement is usually accompanied by a petulant pout that I like to call "Cat Butt Face" and an accusatory finger wag. Bonus points for a foot stomp.)

Every single time I hear this sentence I envision a scene in which a rival professional, under cover of darkness, infiltrates the barn wearing all black and a full face mask. They sneak down the aisle, casting furtive glances over their shoulder for the owner. When they finally find the clients, they snatch them up, throw them over their shoulder like sacks of grain, and then race out of the barn cackling maniacally.

That scenario sounds dumb, doesn't it? Clients are human beings with free will, you can't steal them like a sack of grain. So why do some professionals treat clients like that?

Now, I know there are sleaze balls out there who will trash talk their peers in an attempt to weasel their way into a client's pocketbook, but if you have a good relationship with your clients based on mutual respect and excellent service the weasels are going to come up empty more often than not.

Occasionally the weasel will win and a client will leave to go with the silver-tongued devil who promises the moon, stars and a spot on the USET. In those cases, you have to ask yourself if that's the type of client you really want anyway.

"Sorry, Current Trainer, but Dr. Sleizeboll has a cool accent and says my riding is totally good enough to get into this year's Pan Am games, so I'm going to train with him."

Sometimes your clients will leave you for someone else for reasons that aren't yours or anyone else's fault at all. Maybe the commute is easier for them somewhere else, maybe they gel better with someone else's style, maybe their astrologist told them they should only work with Scorpios or the pet psychic said that their horse prefers red barns. (Those last two probably go under the "Clients You Don't Want, Anyway" heading.)

However, if you find that your clients are routinely jumping ship like rats from the Titanic, maybe you need to sit back and ask yourself why that's happening. If you're throwing tantrums and Cat Butt Faces around whilst accusing everyone else of "stealing" your clients, that could be turning your clients off.  Maybe if you didn't treat them like property they wouldn't be so easy to steal. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Uri Geller

Remember Uri Geller?

He was that "psychic" who used to bend spoons. Uri's secret was that he would bend the hell out of the spoons off stage, so that by the time he got on stage the spoons were flexible enough that they would bend with just the slightest provocation, appearing to bend with just the power of his mind.  Sound familiar?

Of course it does, us dressage riders are always trying to bend things with just our minds.

Usually without success.

Here's the thing: It only works if you bend the hell out of the spoon off-stage first.  Now, I'm not talking about the "R" word*, here.  Although there is often some exaggerated bending necessary for training, it's not sustained or forced.  Forcing or sustaining an exaggerated bend creates tension. We're not looking for tension, we want to just flex and bend the horse until he's as malleable as one of Uri Geller's spoons.

(*Be careful! If you say "Rollkur" three times, a lady in too-tight purple breeches and a cat tee-shirt will appear to tell you everything that's wrong with dressage. ) 

It's a lot like yoga. Nobody needs to contort themselves into the Half Lord of the Fishes pose for anything they actually do during the day (unless you're a yoga instructor), but contorting yourself into those poses at home will help you stretch and strengthen your body so that you can do actual everyday things easily and without hurting yourself. You exaggerate the bend, so that regular bending is no big deal.

It's the same for your horse.  Again, I'm not talking about forcefully sustaining the bend or yanking  and kicking the horse into a position he's not ready for yet. I'm talking about exaggerating the bend in a way that does not compromise the quality of the movement to build suppleness and strength at home.

So, if you're tracking right on a 20 meter circle and things are going pretty well, don't just sit there and bask in your 20m circle glory. Ask for a little more right bend, or ask for a counter-bend to the left, or ask for a haunches in.  If you're riding a shoulder-in on three tracks, why not ask for four tracks?

If your horse can stay on a circle while curled around your inside leg or flexed to the outside when he's relaxed at home, then doing it properly when you're both nervous at a show will be no problem. If you can do the shoulder-in on four tracks at home, the same shoulder-in on three will be a piece of cake at the show.  Embrace your inner Uri and bend the hell out of that spoon. Everyone will think you're psychic.


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