Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Happy Birthday to the Brothers January - Sovey and Foggy!

Happy Birthday Found in the Fog - today he is eight years old! Here he is, above, on our Sunday ride. He is a fluff ball and the sweetest horse that ever was.

And Sovereign turned nine on Saturday. We had a great birthday ride. It has been very cold and windy but the sun has been out so I am not complaining. I wear many layers and Carhartts on the top. My mom says that I look like a man in the photo below! I need to get pink Carhartts like Bay State Brumby!

I was letting Sovereign graze a little at the beginning of our ride - it was his birthday after all!

The grainy, blurry nature of this one makes me giggle. It looks like that old 1970's footage of Bigfoot.

So the brothers were born in Ocala, Florida to Western Groom and Suave Prospect. Sovereign (Suave Lord) was born on January 19, 2004 and Foggy (Found in the Fog) was born on January 22, 2005. Fortunately, it is much warmer in Ocala in January than here! I am so lucky to have two full brothers. How did that miracle ever happen? They look a lot alike and seem to have a close friendship/bond, but their personalities are entirely different. 

Sovey must have had a tough life or else he was just born sad. He has a few things that make him happy but not much. I strive each day to see him smile, but it is rare. I adore him anyway and so does my mom and our farrier. We all are won over by his quirky personality and high intelligence. There are brief periods of hand-grazing (or eating hay and grain from the wheelbarrow) when I brush Sovey gently and he will close his eyes and relax and seems at peace.  

He also loves going out for a ride. I can ride him in a halter and bareback any day of the year. He rarely shies and seems to enjoy our rides. He also loves Blueberry Iced Tea. This photo is from 2011, but I brought the jug with me this year on his birthday and he slurped it up making delicious noises!

Birthday boy Foggy is the happiest horse I have ever seen in this world. He is interested in everything and clearly enjoys himself. There is nothing I can't ask him to do. He loves everything and everybody! He loves riding, hand-walking or just standing around hanging out with humans. He could easily live in a house - he tries to wiggle inside any building we find. Every single time I walk up to him, no matter how many times in a day, Foggy gently nickers. Every single time. He melts my heart.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

And felt that old familiar pain

Since we have been back home we have had one day of full sunshine. One. People think that I love Florida because I mind the cold temperatures in Pennsylvania. Really, I don't mind the cold. It is this depressing grey that we endure. Every morning starts out grey and the sun just can't break through. My car headlights are always on - even at noon and not because it is raining. It is like White Nights in reverse. We got something different yesterday - rain and sleet and snow and mist and drizzle. Very depressing.

So...to cheer myself up I decided to share sunny photos and the story of how Brian rode Chaunson bareback on a bright New Year's Eve day!!!!! Yes, that is Brian up there bareback on the very special Chaunson boy, both looking super relaxed as they happily make their way to another park at a horse crossing sign.

Brian talked to me on December 30th about the possibility of riding the next morning. He doesn't often ask to ride so I knew he was up to something. It ends up that he cooked up a scheme for a very unusual New Year's Resolution. The background information on this plan is that Brian inadvertently has a running streak going. He has run for three consecutive calendar years plus a few weeks without missing one day. I think he has run something like 1152 days straight. He didn't plan to do this, it just sort of happened. He kept thinking that he would get a cold or illness and then stop but he hasn't been sick. Neither of us believe in streaking - running or riding every day without a day off - because it invariably sets up unhealthy situations where you ride or run when you shouldn't just to keep the streak going. I had a 73 day riding streak going in 2008. The longer you go, the harder it is to quit. Therefore, Brian's New Year's Resolution for this year was to quit the streak. I think by planning to ride a horse on December 31st in the morning, he was trying to make sure he was occupied and not tempted to run. (A least that was the plan - as of this writing he still hasn't quit! He did ride Chaunson that morning, but he ran later that day...and every day after so far. Just like any New Year's Resolution, this one is difficult.)  

Anyway...I love when Brian wants to ride - no matter what the reason so I started trying to figure out who he could ride. A group of us had already made arrangements to hit the parks on a big trail ride on New Year's Eve morning and I knew that most of the horses were going. I realized that Brian could ride Chaunson if I walked along. Brian has taken riding lessons, but he certainly isn't safe on just any horse. I don't mind when he rides Sovereign because Sovey is great with beginners. Also, Brian is agile and can bail if necessary on our farm because Sovey will stay with us. Chaunson is a lovebug of the first order, but he isn't a beginner's horse and bailing out on the streets of Pinellas Park would not be an option. I knew if I could be there beside him though, Chaunson would be great for Brian. One worry - I didn't have a saddle. I rode the entire vacation bareback. Brian had never ridden bareback before.

Everyone at the barn offered us saddles and sweet Mandy even got a bareback pad ready for us. I worried that Chaunson might not like an abrupt change in the program so I chose Chauson's mental comfort over Brian's physical comfort - poor Brian! He knows me and my kooky ways so he was ok with riding bitless and completely bareback! 

Here you can see some of the gang in the barn parking lot waiting for other riders so we can start. I am in red on the ground beside Chaunson and Brian has a powder blue helmet on. Barb took most of the photos since I was sticking like glue beside Chaunson. Thanks Barb! As the ride progressed, it became apparent to me that Brian's relaxed demeanor was contagious and Chaunson was very relaxed too. 

In the first five minutes of the ride we had to walk around the barn and arena on a narrow sidewalk. The arena is huge and there happened to be two horses turned out with their owners "encouraging" them to race around. Our group had to walk by these bucking and racing horses. The three leading horses on our ride were Mandy's horses who are all very calm. Brian was in the back and I was really concerned because of the street and narrow sidewalk tight against the arena. The front horses started trotting which seemed unusual to me. I found out later that Tom was having trouble with Norton because of the racing horses in the arena. I kept Brian at the walk and Chaunson was amazing. This was the type of scary situation that a horse person could recount and talk about for years as in: "One time I went on a crazy trail ride and we were walking by two horses in an arena and these horses were racing and bucking and snorting and sneering. There was a narrow sidewalk between a busy street and the arena and our horses had to keep it together and I was on bareback..." but it all was completely lost on Brian. He had no idea how dangerous the situation was and he had no idea how fabulous Chaunson was about it all. But it wasn't lost on me. I love Chaunson! I held on to the bitless bridle on the near side and kept my eyes forward and never mentally acknowledge the racing horses to my left. I actually walked on the ground and breathed slowly exactly as if I was riding and it worked. Chaunson was worked up inside but he didn't trot in place or do anything that would endanger Brian. Brian has no idea that he rode through a dicey situation on an amazing horse.

Here we are in the first park. I had a helmet in case I needed to ride back home, but there were zero problems for the entire ride.

I like to call this the "Palmetto Alley to Alpaca Road". Tom is in the front on Norton and Kristen is on Koda. You can just see Barb and sweet Titan in the back.

I am starting to trust Brian here as I snap a few photos. It looks like Brian is on a tiny pony. Chaunson is 15.3 but Brian has long legs! Good thing too since it seems like he might be listing/tilting over to the side a little!

Look at those dapples!!!!

There is Amy on Dingo at the back of this group photo. Boy, her hair is long - she is sitting on her braid!

Oh I love him! What an adorable boy! Brian is cute too ;)

Brian kept saying that Chaunson was confused/sad that I was on the ground beside him. So, after the three parks, we switched riders and I rode the sweet boy for the rest of the ride. Brian walked along and everyone was happy to see that Brian could walk!!!! We were all teasing him but still a little worried about him after such a long, first bareback ride, but he was perfectly fine. 

On our way back to the barn I turned Chaunson into this driveway. This house is near the barn and it is for sale and is unique because it has two horse stalls attached to the house! One of our friends is seriously interested in purchasing it and has toured it twice. In this photo, you can just see the horse stalls through the second arch from the right. I rode Chaunson right up to the house. He was quiet and interested and loved every second of our investigation. Brian was on the ground and we "toured" around, careful not to damage anything. I have never seen a horse so human-like in his interest. He listened to our conversations and stood quietly and really looked at everything. He never shied or acted worried in the least. In fact, he drank heartily out of the fountain! The fountain was running and I realized very quickly that it was city water. Chaunson's barn uses a well which is sulfur water and smells horrible. I know Chaunson found the fountain to be clear and delicious! He could not get enough and gobbled it up from every tier allowing the upper levels of water to spill all over his muzzle! Our "real estate tour on a horse" sounds in retrospect like we were clomping around, drinking from the fountain, walking in and out of the property's hallways in a disrespectful manner, but it truly wasn't like that at all. I wish Brian had taken a video of us. Chaunson was just like a human who would respectfully look at a real estate property. If a horse could "tip-toe" he was doing it. I have never seen anything like it.

Here is a closeup of the hall with the stalls at the back and the tack/grain room in front and the two posts are for grooming. Around to the right is a back small paddock that opens to the stalls. We walked around there and Chaunson went right inside that paddock. I could not get him to leave! He loved that space and acted like he had been here before! 
The back yard "pasture" wouldn't last too long because it is tiny. Can you imagine my boys in here! Oh, my! My horses wouldn't fit! This horse world is so very different from home. There isn't much turnout space in this area of St. Petersburg, but there sure are places to ride and a ton of riding being done! And just look at that sunshine! Oh Chaunson and Barb and Titan and Mandy and Barry and Judy and Charlie and Kristen and Koda and Tom and Norton and EVERYONE - I miss you so! There is a knot in my throat as I finish writing this bittersweet post.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

This is the land that grows around me

When I arrived at the barn yesterday morning three muddy puppies were waiting to greet me. I had groomed them all perfectly on Monday. I thought they looked wonderful. They said "Thank you, Julie, but we know how to make ourselves even prettier" and then proceeded to roll in the sloppiest mud they could find. They rolled before I pulled away from the barn which is hard to take. You think they could wait until I go home. So, on Tuesday morning this is what I found...

...and Pie's left eye was swollen.

He sure is a squeaky wheel these days! I bathed his eye and was able to determine that the swelling was from a sting or foreign matter (mud?) rather than from an impact injury. I know because it was super itchy and Pie wanted me to rub it for him which he would never do if it was hurt. I would not have ridden him if it was bruised because extra blood flow there would have made it throb. I thought a sting or foreign matter would do well with extra movement - especially adrenaline which I figured we would have for our first ride. 

I planned to ride for a very short time, just enough to go through the motions and allow their backs and muscles to become reacquainted to me up there. My body is fit from riding for two months. The boys haven't had a rider in a long time and it seemed unfair to hop on and go for too long. 

I probably would have ridden Pie with a saddle under normal, first-day-back conditions to save my own hide, but the sore eye made me feel like he was a little less formidable. I groomed him (which took forever) and slipped on his bitless bridle. I could tell he was animated and happy to be going out. In fact, after I got on, he started walking out toward my mom's house like we were all safe and hadn't missed a beat. I don't like going that way if there is any worry about behavior because it is too close to the road. He was really irked at me that I turned him in another direction. He thinks of my mom's house as a candy store complete with a kind woman who emerges each day to give him apples and carrots. He pulled a few head shakes and neck circles with annoyed squeals and a few small front end lifts. These were not rears and were not dangerous at all under normal conditions, but I had on my winter Bog boots (which were too heavy for our balmy 45 degree day!) and I didn't think I was going to stay on with some of his antics. These Bogs will be perfect for a freezing cold wintery day when I have stirrups, but they were too heavy for bareback. I couldn't feel him or where he was at all so I decided to keep my legs straight out and away from his sides which was nice for him, but that made staying on a bit difficult! 

Next, I rode Sovereign and then little Foggy. They were completely wonderful like they always are and the only difficulty was restraining myself to not ride them too far or too long. Again, I like to give their backs, feet, and entire muscle system a chance to slowly get used to me up there on a long walk. All my rides were less than twenty minutes and I used that time to bend around trees, bushes, outbuildings, and houses. I took Sovereign into the woods for a tiny bit and I took Foggy to the turnpike. Each horse had a post ride grazing session of ten minutes ONLY! (I learned my lesson from Sunday!) I will slowly be able to increase the riding time and grazing time each day. I don't like to use a watch at all, but in the beginning of a new program it does help keep them safe from the grass and prevent soreness. Today the farrier comes.
Update: Text from Mom - Pie's eye is perfect again this morning! Hooray!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Mom - the unsung hero of our trip - And, a brush with colic!

This post of thanks has been brewing in my head for six weeks and then, today, we had two scary hours of Pie with colic that made the message and gratitude contained herein all the more important. If you are like me and worry as you read scary posts about horsey friends in the blogosphere, then don't worry - Pie is A-ok! Hooray! But it was a bit dicey...

The topic of this post started in November when Brian, Maizie, and I left for sunny Florida. I knew that I had to somehow express my gratitude to my mom for so many things, but mostly for keeping our horses safe and sound while we were away. Travel for horse owners is always difficult, but travel for a persnickety person like me (translation: completely freakazoid anal about anything to do with animals) is nearly impossible. I come by this trait honestly, since both my parents gave me my intense love and devotion for, and to, our sweet, furry friends in this world. Consequently, my mother and I rarely travel together because we only trust each other as petsitters. 

And then of course, horses, as we all know, are a super tricky species anyway with few individuals in the world of animal caretakers actually able to correctly halter a horse, lead a horse, or recognize lameness or illness. I am infinitely lucky because my mom knows it all. In fact, anything I know about horses, I learned from her so when I travel it is a little like having a horse loving clone living on the farm where my horses live. 

Mom on her Sovey boy in May of 2009, above, and at a show in the 1960's, below.

But, what she does for us so we can travel is not easy for her because of the weather. While we were away enjoying sunshine and warm temperatures, Mom fed the boys hay many times a day and scrubbed and refilled their outside heated buckets in the gray haze, snow, mud and icy cold. She cleaned out their sheds when necessary and fed millions :) of carrots and apples each day.

This was her daily view...

and this was mine...

This was her chilly sunrise...

and this was my balmy sunset...

In addition, my mom never once complained when I'd phone or text to hear about "what the boys are doing this very second" - sometimes multiple times a day. She happily and enthusiastically reported their daily routines and events.

Because of my mom's generosity and open-minded views, our farm is currently set up in pastures that are large and winding, promoting movement that keeps the horses enagaged and interested. They aren't completely out in a natural, wild world, but it is close enough to make me feel good about leaving them without a rider for an extended period. This type of horsekeeping, combined with a new style of riding and working with horses has been a huge learning experience for me as I feel my way through uncharted territory. And, right beside me, every step of the way has been my mom. She has allowed me the freedom to investigate new and better systems of riding and keeping horses that were foreign and frightening to both of us at times. She has moved away from the pristine neat and comfortable system of keeping horses in a stall with one small, tidy paddock for brief turnout as seen in the top photo of our farm taken in the 1960's to the wild and woolly "prairie" captured in her sunrise photo. Clean and neat to unusual and wild could not have been easy for her. This whole process has been a counter intuitive transition, yet she has been willing to patiently allow our success to unfold. 

I returned to our farm this morning to find three happy and perfectly plump geldings. None seemed at all stressed or cold or injured. My mother had done a superb job of caretaking! Thank you, Mom!!!

Mom on her Thoroughbred, Tam

Brian always says that kids aren't happy until they break something, so, true to form, I had to come back home and immediately undo all my mother's fabulous work. I got to the barn at 9:30am and Pie had colic by 11am because of my foolish actions.  As I said earlier, it all worked out fine, but, ugh, what an idiot I am!

So...I spilled out of my car running and squealing with kisses for my three furry mammoths like any nut would do after being away for so long. Foggy looked at me like I was crazy, but let me squeeze him and Sovey licked my hand forever. Pie pushed them both aside so he could get his proper, "I the BIG boy, I the BABY boy, I the BEST boy, I the SPOILED boy" attention. Foggy and Sovey kindly allow his spoiled dominance. Around that time, I got it in my stupid empty head that I would open the small paddock that adjoins the ring so they boys could graze in there while I went to the grocery store. This area is only 50' x 50' but it was off limits while I was gone. Did you read that sentence? That should have been my first clue that I was doing something idiotic. It was off limits! Therefore it was fresh, and green and lush and new and a huge French Silk Chocolate Pie to one overstuffed sausage horse named...ahem...Pie. But, I forgot all that and went to the store. No, oops - forgot - first before I leave for the store, I tell my mom all preachy-like when she asks if I am going to ride, "Oh, no, I wouldn't do that on my first day back. That would be very unkind and forward. I like to reintroduce my boys to me without rushing them." Never once in all this condescending brilliance did I remember to reintroduce the horses TO THE GRASS. I kissed the boys goodbye on the way to the store and Pie puffed Ground Ivy breath on me. Ground Ivy in large quantities is toxic to horses, but I didn't think about it or worry because I know my guys sometimes get a few leaves in their mouth while grazing.

I returned with a car full of groceries and an idea of giving quick carrots and kisses on my way home to Brian and Maizie. I planned to come back later for real grooming so I didn't have warm, barn clothes with me. All the horses were out of the small lush paddock. Foggy and Sovey were eating hay in the ring and Pie was out in a far pasture looking at me. I gave Foggy and Sovey carrots and Pie started pawing and pointing with a front leg. "I'm coming Pie!" I yelled, laughing because he couldn't even walk in, but instead pawed to demand a treat from far away. As I got closer, he kept "pointing" on the ground with his front feet. I thought he was trying to show me something in the icy snow. I actually thought an animal might be dead there because Pie is very "pointy" with his fronts. But, when I offered him the carrot and he wouldn't take it, everything became too clear. He wasn't pointing but pawing in pain. He was sweating on the far side and he had rolled. 

Ugh. Running to shut the gate so no one could get into the lush paddock again. Running to car to get hat. Phone mom - "Pie has colic!" Running to barn to get his halter and lead. Running back to him before another roll. Cursing self for being the biggest idiot on planet. Praying to God to please make him be ok.

I am a believer in slowly walking a horse when there is a problem of this sort. Not everyone is in that camp and I am not honestly "in" any camp when it comes to things like this. Actually, I can't explain what I do when my horses get ill because really I just watch and do what seems right at that time including calling the vet if that seems right. Today, pawing and head tossing meant "walk slowly". Stopping meant "stop" and stand and massage. Pie had ever so slight gut sounds on the right side which was the sweaty side, but no sweat or sounds at all on the left. I gave him a little Banamine and walked slowly as he seemed to indicate. He passed manure fairly early in our stroll, but it wasn't too comforting because I knew it could be behind the impasse and/or have little to do with Ground Ivy poisoning. Any "stops" dictated by him were spent with him standing completely still and ground tied (two indicators that Pie was VERY sick) and I would gently stroke his flanks, underbelly and sides while my mom stroked his ears. He would fall asleep and then jump from pain or just jump awake. If he pawed or tossed his head we would walk again slowly with my mom talking to me about anything (conversations that are not about him or the problem at hand are very comforting to Pie). This went on for a fairly long time but the sun was out which helped me keep my spirits up. We live in a place with very little if any, sunshine each day. I needed every beam to keep positive. I couldn't believe that I had come back to find my horses happy and healthy and I promptly killed one of them.

One of our stops had Pie sleeping very deeply, in fact he shut his eyes while we worked on him and I was silently praying that he would make it through. Mom and I aren't super knowledgeable about any type of horse massage but whatever we were doing was relaxing him. He woke up in a few minutes and started pulling to nibble grass. Of course, I didn't allow him to eat and I know that wanting to eat means nothing - many horses continue to eat when twisted or blocked, but I still felt a little better. More walking. Finally, it was obvious by his animated walk and general return to being an imp that our Pie was back and going to be fine. I turned him out in the sparse pastures and we rechecked him throughout the day. I will feel better tomorrow when I see him, but I do think he is fine.  

Thank you, Mom, for all your healthy, happy, horse caretaking. You kept the boys fat and fluffy and without one bout of colic or any other ailment. Obviously, I could not do this without you!!!!!! xoxoxoxoxoxo