A Change in the Weather

While I continue to tweak the next instalment of Confessions of a Coaching Intern, here’s another missive by one Shakespeare the “Equine” whose own blog I have yet to update.

As he would say: “The day hath only so many hours.”

As well, change is in the wind.

Stay tuned.

~*~

Our new official portrait ~ Photography by Cary Andrew Penny

Our new official portrait ~ Photo: Cary Andrew Penny

~*~

Sonnet II

Fall on us falls with glowing gasps of gold

O’er wooded hills in splotches splished and splashed,

And red and amber textures big and bold

Are vari-coloured leaves all smished and smashed.

My feathered friends profess a fond farewell

As to the south their beaks they point with glee,

And flap in happy vees through cloudy cells,

It seems, at last, they have abandoned me.

*

And so turn I my thoughts to season’s plight

Of colder rains and winds that blast and blow.

And wish for August’s warmth with all my might —

Though forecast doth, alas, predict, first, snow.

No choice now but to weather Winter’s pain

Bow I my head and whimper in my grain.

~*~

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti, Aimwell CreativeWorks 2013

To clip, or not to clip: that is the question …

A Clean Slate

… Bear waits patiently for the inevitable …

Clipping a horse is not an exact science.

There are as many opinions about when and how to clip as there are horse owners.

Thus begins the great clipping debate.

By now horses are sporting the new season’s latest trend in fuzzy winter wear. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts (see below), Bear tends to spare no expense here, donning a fine fall fur that, when I flatten my hand against his side, engulfs it in its deep fluffy plushness.

The flip side of this, however, is that during a workout Bear’s winter woolies become a damp and nasty matted mess which can take hours to dry. Heaven forbid my poor boy should catch a chill.

So, to clip or not to clip?

In Bear’s case it’s not really the question at all. It’s more a matter of when. Too soon and I might have to clip him again in February. Continue the waiting game and I’ll be waiting for him to dry forever.

A little background …

The decision to clip or not largely depends on the type of work a horse is doing and their living conditions. Horses who live outside during the coldest season and are in light work, maybe a couple of hours a week, may need only a light clip or may get away with wearing their natural winter duds. Light blanketing may be in order also.

Horses with a more intense workload and who work up a heavy sweat will need a more thorough clip and blanketing when they’re at rest.

Bear is in the latter group. His muscles fire on all cylinders during a workout. He needs relief.

Still, it’s a crap shoot to figure out the particular needs of each horse, taking a couple of years to understand their MO. Needs vary from year to year too. Different horses grow different thicknesses of coat at different rates.

So, a typical conversation in the barn around the subject of horse clipping might go something like this:

“Wow, Bear sure is fuzzy these days. When are you going to clip him?”

“Soon, I think. Maybe the end of October.”

“Won’t you need to do it again before spring if you clip him this early?”

“Maybe. Maybe not. Last winter was milder so Bear’s coat didn’t grow back as fast, but I’m hearing rumours that this year winter’s going to be harder, so I dunno … What about Pebbles? What will you do about clipping her?”

“Oh … I’m going to put it off as long as possible. All that hair flying around ~ getting up my nose, in my eyes, and down my shirt. It’s soooo itchy. I don’t want to go through that more than once.”

“I hear ya. …”

A moment of silence as we both pause to contemplate the inevitable itchy shower of horse hair that is part of the annual clipping ritual.

“Hmm … What kind of clip for Bear this year?”

“Same as last year ~ a triangle of his winter woolies from his withers to over his bum. Looks sharp on him and, most importantly, keeps him warm where it matters ~ over his kidneys and such. Everything else, off. That way he’ll stay dry.”

“Face and legs too?”

“Face just to his halter line and legs to the knees and hocks. Anything else would be overkill, at least for our needs.”

“Did you get your blankets cleaned?”

“Yup, all eight present and correct. Freshly washed and weather proofed. He’ll be snug as a bug in a rug.”

“Eight blankets!!! For one horse? Why so many?”

“Two lightweight day sheets so there’s always a spare. One warmer sheet that can be used under a turnout rug or as a cooler on colder days after workouts. Two turnout rugs ~ one lightweight blanket (plus an extra if this one gets ripped) and another heavier blanket for colder weather. One winter-weight rain sheet, i.e. it’s wool lined. And another lightweight fleece cooler for warmer days. … I think that’s everything.”

“It’s enough.”

“I’d like to think so …”

~*~

So yesterday Bear was clipped …

He was such a good little soldier, standing absolutely still through most of the two-hour ordeal. He’s not bothered by the whirring of the clippers or their vibration against his body. I think he rather enjoys the attention. Occasionally he’ll give a sideways glance to see what I’m doing.

And I wish he wouldn’t, because I’m such a neophyte.

Up until three or four years ago I was paying someone to do this. But then circumstances changed and I decided that perhaps it was time I took this particular task on myself.

For one season I struggled with clipper hand-me-downs that were too small to do the job properly. It took forever. The next year I invested in a more suitable (expensive) pair of heavy duty clippers that allow the job to be done more quickly.

These behemoth trimmers are great except that I’m such a mechanical gadget klutz I don’t really know what I’m doing. Christine, who’s much more adept at this sort of thing, helps to set me on the right path. She makes it look so easy. I stick to the large body areas and leave her to negotiate the legs and face with a smaller pair of trimmers. Maybe next year I’ll be braver about that. After all, once you clip out a notch you can’t put it back. I don’t want Bear looking like a patchwork teddy.

Still, for all that there’s horse hair floating freely and getting up my nose it’s a pretty special time with Mr. Bear. As I inspect our handiwork he looks at me with those big, trusting brown eyes in a way that makes me feel my responsibility to keep him happy. This is easily met with a carrot, of course. So, during breaks to spray coolant on the clipper blades and clear the air intake of horse hair, he gets royally spoiled.

If the interval between carrots is too great, the long face throws me a look; a restless hoof paws the ground.

I’m fortunate. Many horses don’t handle their annual appointment with the clippers nearly as well.

When we’re all done, he looks incredibly handsome …

The coat he no longer wears lies in a fluffy pile on the cold barn floor and revealed is a beautiful, soft seal-grey velvet that, most importantly, releases moisture generated by a vigorous workout so he won’t look, or feel, like such a drowned rat.

New jammies

A special treat this year is a new blanket to replace one he’s had for several years that’s no longer weather-proof.

So debonair …

To clip or not to clip? I believe, for the purposes of this blog post at least, we’ve answered that question. 😉

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy 🙂
Horse Mom

©Dorothy Chiotti, Aimwell CreativeWorks 2013

~*~

Related Posts

Summer Says Goodbye

Managing the Equine Fall Fashion Faux Pas

Summer Says Goodbye …

Well, not yet … not for another month, at least.

But with all the kids going back to school, and the daylight hours getting shorter, and the leaves already starting to change colour on some of the maples, one can be forgiven for lamenting the passage of summer.

I’ve seen a few bloggers remark on this already.

Here’s my two cents worth …

Continue reading

Beating the Heat …

It’s hot again.

Too hot to ride and too hot to think.

I sat down with the purpose of writing something inspiring and the muse is silent.

So let’s have a bath time pictorial instead!

As you might imagine, bathing a horse can be a wet business, especially when it’s this hot and I’m looking for a little relief myself. So, these images (except the first which is my own and taken just last week) are courtesy of my brother, James McDonall, who was visiting from Calgary six weeks ago and happy to view from the sidelines.

Stay cool … and nurture what you love.

Dorothy 🙂
Horse Mom

*

© Aimwell CreativeWorks 2013

The Mud Hole

Holy mosquito splatter … it’s hot!

More to the point, it’s humid. Stinking humid. In fact, the kind of humidity that brings forth storms of bloodsucking predators intent upon stealing summer’s pleasant thunder.

An article in today’s newspaper strongly hinted at a particularly malevolent mosquito season too due to a confluence of a rainy spring and hot summer temperatures.

But my horse could have told you that.

This morning, following a short turn around the neighbourhood with my panting collies lumbering behind me and my chest seizing with damp discomfort, I made the decision to give Bear a day off.

You see, yesterday’s hot, unwitting struggle with Mother Nature’s intra-seasonal mood swing during a training session in which I nearly drowned in a pool of my own sweat, left me exhausted and unwilling to do a repeat performance today. And why put Bear through the stress of training in stifling conditions when it’s not absolutely necessary?

Laying low seemed the smart choice.

Bear and Sam

And it was.

When I arrived at the barn this morning Bear was happily standing, with his buddy, Sam, in the pouring rain helping himself to nature’s verdant buffet. I could have brought him in and struggled with the whole grooming ritual but instead I admired him, and his mucky fly repellent handiwork, from afar and filled his bucket with carrots.

Yesterday was quite a different story.

*

At 10:45 a.m. I arrived at the barn and the day was well into its sweltering unpleasantness. Due to a faltering alarm clock, I was already behind on my preparations for an 11:30 coaching, so I was in somewhat of a rush to get organized.

Working backwards from our lesson time, Bear and I needed 15 to 20 minutes to get the ol’ wheels greased before Coach arrived. This meant Bear needed to be groomed and tacked up by 11:10.

Although I am efficient I don’t like to rush the grooming process. This is when I happily merge into Barn Standard Time. Fortunately Coach is pretty relaxed about timing, so I don’t usually need to stress too much about being a few minutes late.

Still, I don’t like to keep him waiting.

Well, you know what they say about good intentions.

Innocently enough, I grabbed a lead rope and went to fetch Bear from his paddock.

The minute I arrived at the gate I knew my carefully planned routine was, on this occasion,  so much trash. Somehow I’d mysteriously forgotten the chaos a bit of rain, a pile of dirt and a swarm of stinging insects can cause.

What does any self-respecting horse do in the mosquito battle fray?

He stops, drops and rolls until he is thoroughly coated in a paste of mud that dries to an impenetrable protective crust.

Mud hole

At least impenetrable in the time I had allowed for spiffing him up.

In short, when I fetched Bear from the paddock, he was a walking mud pie.

There was mud in every orifice; between his legs; behind his ears; in his mane and tail. There was no way he was going to be spic and span in time for our coaching.

And if there’s one thing you need to understand about me it’s that I am a fiend about presentation.

I was taught from the beginning of my horsey education that being properly turned out, i.e. clean horse, clean tack, clean breeches, et al, demonstrates respect for my horse, myself and my instructor.

When I was coaching for a while, it irked me when a student brought their horse into a lesson with shavings or hay caught up in the tail or mane, or mud or grime of any kind still lingering on the coat. It demonstrated a lack of care or concern for the quality of their, and the horse’s experience.

Being one who likes to lead by example I am, therefore, attentive to Bear’s and my turnout at all times.

For instance, some might consider it obsessive, but Bear’s polo bandages always match the colour of whatever shirt I’m wearing. If we don’t have a match I either go neutral (white or black) with the shirt or neutral with the polos. I blame it on my brief stint as a fashion model and, okay, an obsession with being co-ordinated.

Still, with Bear looking like a mud monster, what was I to do?

I had to make do … one of the things I most despise in the whole world.

I remember, when I was a small child, a horrible man who used to do odd jobs for my grandmother. Terrible workmanship ~ tiles in the bathroom whose seams didn’t match, etc. ~ and granny overlooked it because she was simply grateful that he would do it. Consequently I dislike slip shod work ~ reminds me of predators who don’t care about the impact they have on people.

But that’s another story …

So perhaps this is one of the reasons I want my horse, and I, to always look presentable when we’re training. And perhaps this is why, on this day, I was provided an opportunity to learn to let go of this apparently manic need to control appearances.

With my supply of old towels at the barn for just such an “emergency,” I rubbed dry Bear’s saddle area. Then I grabbed a stiff-bristled dandy brush and removed whatever debris was dry on other areas of his body. Beyond that, and picking out his feet, it was hopeless to do anything else. His rump was amass in thick, wet mud that would just have to stay there and dry on its own while we trained.

(Sigh … )

In the meantime, I eased my pain by handsoming Bear up with a set of turquoise polo bandages which matched my shirt. Then, I let my obsession go. What other choice was there?

A liberal spraying of fly repellent was a poor substitute for the natural barrier Bear had so carefully devised for himself in the mud puddle, but it would have to do. We went out to the steamy sand ring and did our thing.

Coach’s response when I apologized for Bear’s lack lustre appearance was predictable.

“He’s a horse,” he said matter-of-factly. “He’ll dry.”

Which, of course, he did. And that’s when the mosquitos landed and engaged in their own blood buffet at my poor horse’s expense.

Afterwards I hosed Bear down, gently removing all the sweaty, mucky debris before rinsing him off with an anti-fungicide and spraying him again with repellant. All the while I was acutely aware that once loose in the paddock Bear would meander to the mud hole and take care of matters for himself.

As well he should.

In matters of mosquito management there’s little doubt that Bear knows best.

Still, with the pestilence predicted for our region this summer I don’t see myself going for a roll in the mud hole any time soon … or do I?

Hmmm …

Fly Repellant

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy 🙂
Horse Mom

*

Copyright Aimwell CreativeWorks 2013

A Change of Pace …

It’s April 11 and, believe it or not, a snow day.

What do we do on a snow day?

The last few weeks have seen some intense moments as Bear and I sort through a few issues together. But now, with a clearer vision of where we’re going, it seems appropriate to take a bit of a break and have some play time.

I arrived at the barn early to beat the effects of the “winter” storm currently barrelling down on Southern Ontario. The arena was free so I walked Bear over and let him loose for what we commonly refer to as a “Yahoo!”

I happened to have my iPhone in my pocket so, while Bear did his best wild thing impression I did my best to capture a few candid moments.

These three images worked out the best.

Running free

Bear wasn’t such a wild and crazy guy this morning, but he did kick up his heels a little and enjoy a bit of a run about.

His head carriage always seems get that much higher as he canters past the mirror. I believe he has a strong appreciation of his own handsomeness. Can’t you just see him catching a glimpse of his reflection from the corner of his left eye?

Cornered

Excitement over, limbs stretched, the demons chased away, he comes to a stop in the north east corner of the arena and waits for me to collect him. For some reason he always stops here when he’s done. Like us, horses are creatures of habit.

As I walk over he slowly bobs his head up and down below chest level, stretches his nose toward me and peels back his upper lip in a happy grin. He’s relaxed and ready for his lump of sugar.

The view from here

Once we’ve re-connected Bear freely follows me around like a big, happy, puppy dog, going where I go, stopping where I stop. I feel like a million dollars. Is there anything so marvellous as winning the trust of the free-spirited?

We stop at the open half door overlooking the outdoor riding ring where many of the boys are turned out while spring paddock management is in full swing. Bear checks out the mudslingers moping in the muck. Liam is mildly curious; Tex is bored.

It’s not a good time of year to be a horse outdoors. They like to roll in the mud but hate to be covered in it. Sadly, you can’t have one without the other.

Play time over, I lead Bear back to his stall where he chomps on a generous helping of carrots and a big pile of hay. He awaits his moment in the muck.

Later Christine will pop on him and have some fun over fences.

A lovely change of pace and a mental health day for Mr. Bear.

A change is as good as a rest.

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy 🙂
Horse Mom

*

Copyright Aimwell CreativeWorks 2013 

A Dangerous Game

I love my horse.

Shakespeare is friend, teacher and therapist all bundled up in own big, brown, furry package, and a dream come true.

Occasionally, however, he’s an opinionated, demanding, obstinate [insert expletive here]. I don’t like when he leads me doe-eyed up the garden path and then unleashes his evil twin. It’s not nice.

And so we begin …

*

Hello Down There

… Who knows what evil lurks …

When I arrived at the barn on Tuesday morning I was feeling good. Temps were hovering around zero; the sun was shining and I was looking forward to spending time with Bear and having a coaching — our first in more than 10 days.

At the paddock gate I called for Bear who was lingering at the far end of the two-acre pasture. Hearing my voice, he sauntered over all relaxed, and evidently happy, following a morning spent lolling in the sunshine and eating hay with his buddy, Sam.

As I groomed him I chanced to look through the barn window and across the driveway to the arena. Snow on the roof and the milder temps portended the risk of falling ice, the downside of a sunny day in February. However, with my half-hour lesson scheduled for 11:30 I figured it was early enough in the day for this not to matter. Early afternoon seems to be the tipping point for ice melt.

Besides, Bear was mellow yellow. He’d been ridden the two previous days, so was in good shape to handle a bit of extra stimulation. As a precaution, however, I turned him loose in the arena before getting on him. Just as I thought, he was fine — no drama. Ice toppled from the roof in a gentle cascade at one point and, while he flinched, he held his ground.

So, we were good.

I got on. We started our warm-up walk. Ice fell now and then. No big deal. Coach arrived and as things were going well I asked to extend the lesson to an hour.

“Sure!”

Great!

Bear and I went into our trot warm up. Coach worked his magic. He is the best kind of teacher for me. Technical, intuitive, patient and keenly interested in our progress. My skill set has been reinvented since I started working with him three years ago. Miraculous would be the word for it, especially since I’ve also been negotiating the pot holes of adrenal fatigue during this time. A couple of rounds of golf for Christmas hardly seems enough of a thank you for the difference this man has made in my life with Bear.

Still, I think he gets satisfaction from seeing the progress Bear and I are making. He likes Bear; sees he has talent and that he’s smart, and he wants me to ride him well and have fun with him safely.

So, yesterday Coach put us through our paces, the focus — connection.

Bear is savvy enough to know that connection means hard work — engaging the hind end; rounding through his back; being in the moment with me every step of the way. It’s challenging — for both of us — but we are at a point in our development where a consistent connection is integral to our progress and, on a day when ice is toppling off the roof at an ever-increasing rate, vital to our safety.

A good connection means that when Bear goes off the rails, for whatever reason, I can make the correction within a step or two instead of floundering through ten. He feels the weight of a secure connection to the bit through the reins and his body through my seat and legs and is confident I can get him through the spooky stuff. In turn I feel confident I can get him through it too.

At the trot we did this to brilliant effect.

Then it was time for canter work.

Canter, in general, has proven more of a challenge. My big-strided horse covers a lot of ground and synching our rhythm has been difficult, especially in recent years while I’ve been battling anxiety. During the past several weeks, however, things have started falling into place. With a lovely round of canter on Monday under my belt I was optimistic for our chances. Surely we could command a repeat performance, especially with Bear appearing so relaxed.

Perhaps you can imagine where this is going …

About the time we started the canter work, just after noon, the sky started to fall. One great crash of ice and my seemingly placid Bear lost his grip on reality.

Enter Mr. Hyde.

I was surprised. He’d been such a good boy and had suddenly turned into a brat!

“He’s not afraid of the ice — his timing is off,” said Coach noting the cool expression in Bear’s eyes, “He’s toying with you. We’re asking more of him now and he’s using the falling ice as an excuse to throw you off your game. … Who’s going to win?”

Enter Mrs. Hyde.

As conditions around us became more volatile, I confined our work to a 20 metre circle. Coach stood in the middle and called out a continuous stream of instructions to help me weather the storm of Shakespeare’s tempest and set him right.

Bear’s claws came out — first in the form of a mighty four-foot-off-the-ground twisting buck (the first of several free chiropractic adjustments 😉 ), followed by a scoot, a spook and then, the final straw — an abrupt stop and propulsion backwards.

Going backwards is difficult for a horse. Bear was making my life difficult by making his life difficult, when all I wanted was for him to go forward into a nice, sympathetic connection.

He was determined to test my determination.

Fine!

“You want to go backwards buddy … have at it!” I put my leg on and kept him going backwards (which is what he’d told me he wanted) until we almost backed into the kickboards. Then I tapped him sharply behind my leg with the whip to remind him who pays the bills (I always use the whip sparingly) and, while maintaining the connection he was so anxious to avoid, pressed him into the forward canter I wanted.

He was not happy about it, and tested me some more, but Bear’s bloodymindedness only made me more determined. There was no way he was getting away with this obnoxious behaviour.

The whole experience was exhausting both mentally and physically, but in the end Mr. Hyde receded into the shadow of Bear’s psyche and once again my boy was putty in my hands all achieved, I hasten to add, with a commitment to the integrity of the process and the help of a good coach.

I’m proud of this accomplishment even if marginally annoyed that he’d lulled me into a false sense of security in the first place. This experience has left me with the profound sense that if I can manage the importunate demands of a 1,200 lb horse flying off the handle, I should be able to handle pretty much anything.

As a horse mom it’s my responsibility to see that Bear engages appropriately with the world around him. Establishing boundaries and laying down the law in a horse-friendly way is part of that responsibility. Bear’s a honey but, like the testy child, he took advantage of my good nature, dragging me into a dangerous game in the process. It was a game in which I simply had to outsmart him. It was a game I had no choice but to win.

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy 🙂
Horse Mom

*

Copyright Aimwell CreativeWorks 2013

The Happy Place

Strange weather, here in southern Ontario. A veritable roller coaster ride of temperatures and precipitation.

Last Wednesday, following a week of brutal sub-zero temperatures, we experienced a record high of 12C. With it all the snow of the previous week melted away, and the accompanying rainfall reduced the paddocks to a mass of mucky chaos. There’s nothing quite like negotiating a bog at the paddock gate and trying to extricate your horse without letting his paddock buddy bully his way out at the same time. It can be quite the dance. (Note to self: wear your wellies …)

Then on Thursday temperatures plummeted again.

The once sloppy mud holes by the gate froze into menacing rock-hard craters. Fetching Bear was an entirely different experience. The gate, which usually swings freely, had to be lifted over this quasi moonscape in order to clear a gap wide enough to squeeze Bear through. Meanwhile, he’s tripping over the unforgiving terrain while I’m praying he doesn’t wrench an ankle in the process.

And then … the mighty wind …

Before bringing Bear in I checked the wood and corrugated steel arena to see how noisy it was in there. It’s wont to rattle and hum under the stress of buffeting elements. The exposed northwest corner is a particularly spooky spot.

The winds were battering against its sides with a consistent drone and the occasional crash. Still, I figured if Bear had a chance to run about and get acclimated on his own, we might be able to have our lesson as scheduled. With this in mind, I groomed and tacked him up as usual and hoped for the best.

“Are you going to ride today?” a fellow horse mom asked uncertainly as she watched me getting ready.

“It depends,” I replied.

With horses it’s always useful to have an open mind. Decisions depend on what’s happening in the moment. In this case, everything hinged on Bear’s reaction to the whirlwind whipping wildly just beyond the arena walls.

With helmet on head, and Bear in hand, I trudged from the small barn through the gale to the arena. Once there I removed Bear’s sweat sheet, tied up his reins and set him loose. As expected, he bucked and reeled and snorted and flew in giant galloping strides from one end to the other. This continued for a couple of minutes until he finally stopped, faced me and, with a nod of his lowered head, indicated he was done.

“Hmmmm … Perhaps I can ride after all,” I thought optimistically.

I started to walk over to him. Bear looked relaxed enough. His neck was outstretched; his head, as I said, low. He’d found his happy place.

Then a crash of wind belted those corrugated walls and changed everything. A spike of adrenalin plunged with force through Bear’s prey animal veins — his head shot up; eyes bulged; ears pricked; nostrils flared; tail agitated; feet restless.

He eyeballed me for assurance.

“It’s okay, Bear,” I called gently while quietly continuing to approach.

I halted some 15 feet in front my snorting Bear and, with a gentle tilt of my shoulders in the quiet way of the horse, encouraged him to return to his happy place. His big, brown eyes softened as he began to relax his neck and back and lower his head again. In horse body language, head level or lower is a happy place.

... Bear in his happy place ...

… Bear in his happy place …

I stepped up and, with a pat on the neck and a sugar lump, reassured him that everything was okay. Then we walked hither and yon around the arena, Bear following me of his own free will like a giant puppy dog.

Meanwhile, the winds continued to roar their chaos. Violent gusts shocked the arena — rattling doors, whistling through cracks, banging the walls and quaking the roof … over here … over there … everywhere! Bear flinched a few times but, feeling safe in my presence, remained in his happy place as we continued our walk.

To test our progress I stopped near the spooky northwest corner and had Bear stand with his hind end to it. I walked on a further 10 feet and then turned to face him. My goal was to have Bear keep his focus on me, and his happy place, regardless of how agitated the arena became in the grips of Mother Nature’s fury. I’ve done this before when ice is  crashing off the roof. It works like a charm.

He managed well. When he became rattled he responded right away to my signal for the happy place. At one point a gust of wind banged against the wall nearby with such ferocity it even made me jump. Bear responded by side stepping over until he was standing beside me. We became each other’s port in a storm.

Our riding lesson turned into an unexpected session of ground work, but in the end it was exactly what we needed. There’s more than one way to ride out a storm. Finding, and being still in, your happy place is perhaps the best way of all.

Besides, there’s something magical about a horse choosing to stay when his flight instinct could so easily chase him away.

I must be doing something right. 😉

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

*

Copyright Aimwell CreativeWorks 2013

The little matter of hay …

Hay

This week I received an email from the barn owner where Bear is boarded which noted that, for the foreseeable future, boarders will be charged a $30 per month hay surcharge.

Several factors, including last year’s drought and a drop in hay acreage, have contributed to the doubling of hay prices in recent months. ie. a round bale that cost $40 this time last year is now over $100. For some horse and barn owners this will be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back on whether or not they can continue their stewardship of the horse.

Make no mistake, this is a serious situation. Already many horses in Canada, the U.S. and beyond have been abandoned, or prematurely sent to slaughter or euthanized simply because the cost of their upkeep has risen beyond their owner’s means.

It’s a fact of life. Good quality hay is a staple of the horse’s diet, so we must either pay what the market demands (even when greed becomes a factor which, some would say, it has) or, if we cannot, be forced into the unpleasant alternative.

Thankfully, Bear will be okay. Our barn manager is resourceful and we can manage the extra cost while being mindful of our budget. We have been assured that once the hay shortage has passed and prices correct themselves the surcharge will be dropped and board bills will be adjusted accordingly. When this might happen is anybody’s guess, of course.

Having said this, if it happened that I was ever unable to properly provide for my beautiful horse and there was no other in whom I could trust to see properly to his needs, I would be put in the very difficult position of having to decide whether or not to euthanize him. It doesn’t even bear thinking about. 😦

I agree with French author and aviator, Antoine de Saint Exupery, when he wrote in his delightful book The Little Prince, ” … we are responsible forever for the things that we tame.” To me abandoning Bear would be like abandoning a child. I could not even consider it. So, to me the only viable alternative would be to ensure he does not suffer.

I am confident I won’t need to do anything quite this drastic. In my mind I see Bear living to a ripe old age where, when the time reveals itself, I may need to assist him to that plentiful pasture in heaven. My preference, of course, would be that he gently meet his eternal rest while out in the paddock happily eating hay. 😉

Winter hay

Now, lest you think high hay prices only effect horse owners, you may wish to reconsider.

Cattle operations are in the same boat. In fact, anyone raising large animals and who relies on hay as a major source of fodder is feeling the sting of this shortage.

As a result, all of us can expect to pay more for food in the coming year. It cannot be avoided.

So really, I guess I’m simply giving you a heads-up.

Pray for a healthy dose of rain this year so we may all eat heartily.

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy 🙂
Horse Mom

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Copyright Aimwell CreativeWorks 2013

Managing the Equine Fall Fashion Faux Pas

Autumn brings change.

As Mother Nature releases her latest Fall collection (the same every year, but who’s complaining), my horse dons a retro look all his own … a big, fuzzy, seasonably fashionable, Fall coat.

Bear is, for better or worse, amongst the most ardent followers of Fall’s irreverently fluffy look.

Unlike his sleeker chic summer style, Bear’s cool-season wear is more provincial — thick, fuzzy, like … well … a bear! I run my hand through his hirsute coat rather than over it, my fingers buried in plush. He is suiting up for Winter.

The Fall season’s colour trend for this horse-about-country is a rich, dark bay … a mahogany melange of reds and browns and blacks — my favourite range in the equine colour palette. Naturally three white socks, white-starred forehead and the white snip on his muzzle distinguish him from others sporting the same outfit. Everyone needs their own personal statement.

A thicker, more luxurious coat of necessity requires a more intense grooming regimen. Designed to insulate and provide a certain amount of water-resistance the Fall coat is, indeed, prone to attracting all manner of dirt or, heaven forbid, mud when Bear is engaged in one of his more pleasurable outdoor pastimes — rolling in the dirt patch (bottom left of first image) in Poet’s Paddock.

In fact, no amount of elbow grease can release completely the layers of, dare I say, filth, which gather beneath the surface yet is plainly clear to the eye. A never ending cycle of currying and brushing and currying and brushing isn’t enough to remove all the detritus that lurks there.

Once unleashed from its hairy prison, dirt and dust fills the air around Bear like a menacing cloud. It settles on my clothes; gets up my nose; coats my face; invades my lungs. Sometimes the grit of it even gets inside my mouth (which, I suppose if looked at in a more positive light, does provide a bonus between-dental-appointments tooth polishing. 😉 )

Thus, in spite of my best efforts, there is always, hovering at the surface of his fluffy new Fall coat, a layer of dirt that makes it look as if I’ve put no effort into grooming him at all. I don’t know, perhaps it’s part of the equine Fall “look,” and I just don’t get it.

There are many things about fashion in general I just don’t understand.

And then imagine, if you will, Bear’s appearance after his workouts, his fuzzy coat randomly caked in sweat. Remove his saddle pad and voila! … as profound a case of a bad hair day as you’re ever likely to see — all sticky and matted and gross.

Fall’s fashion statement leaves something to be desired — it simply is not functional as active wear!

You see, before I can brush him out he must dry off. On cold days this requires the use of a “cooler” — a light fleece or wool blanket that wicks off moisture so he doesn’t catch a chill. With his coat as generous as it is now, this can take a long time. And while he, as the indulged might, enjoys the extra preening I do need to consider my other responsibilities. Not every day can be a spa day.

So, how to manage this Fall fashion faux pas?

In about a month (maybe sooner because he is really fuzzy) Bear will sport more urban chic Winter finery. His fluffy look will be clipped away completely so that all of which I’ve shared here is nothing but a passing unpleasant Fall non-fancy.

No more unpleasant, lingering sweatiness for him. No more dirt up my nose. No more floating surface dust cloud that renders him looking ill-used. Just a lovely ready-to-wear, high-season, shiny coat of seal grey/brown (also rather beautiful) — easy to clean and accented and protected by myriad high-quality warm blankies and accessories provided, at some cost, by yours truly.

He’ll model a carefully selected assortment of outerwear designed for equine comfort indoors and out. A stylish waterproof, wind-resistant rain sheet (unfortunately not horse play-proof but you can’t have everything); blue and green plaid day sheets to wear in the barn (pictured below); grey/blue/black plaid cozy “jammies” with a burgundy fleece lining for when the nights are colder; a green turnout shell for those days outside when it’s reasonably mild, and a heavier blue/black/cream checked outdoor blanket for those really cold days (to be worn over his day sheets for extra warmth). His undergarment a blanket buddy of pulverised parachute silk (I least I think that’s the fabric) to protect his broad shoulders from blanket rubs.

Not to mention his two stylish coolers for keeping the chill off immediately following a training session — a blue/green fleece for warmer days and a heavier black/burgundy number with gold trim for the deep winter months. (You might have noticed some colour coordination in my descriptions. I am a firm believer in this. More in another post.)

Bear will be toasty warm and clean. He can roll all he likes in the mud and the blankets will take the brunt of it. No more bad hair days for him. No more dust and dirt storming off his coat and clogging facial orifices for me.

His Fall/Winter wardrobe will be both functional and fashionable — no doubt what every mom wants for her child, even when it is the four-legged (fuzzy) kind.

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy 🙂
Horse Mom

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Copyright Aimwell CreativeWorks 2012