Wednesday, November 24, 2010


As one who has both boarded and managed her horses for more than 40 years, I think I have become an expert on how to run a successful barn, whether you keep just your own horses or board other horses as well.
One of my biggest pet peeves, and something that has caused me to leave a barn, has to deal with water.
The typical horse drinks between 8 and 12 gallons of water a day. They prefer cool water...temperatures between 50-65 degrees.
A big worry this time of year, and you can read numerous articles and threads online warning about this, is the need to make sure your horse is drinking during the winter months. Last year, with our record setting cold winter here in Florida, there were several reports posted online about horses that were lost to colic due to not drinking enough.
There are ways to make sure your horse is drinking enough in the winter. Adding a touch of salt to their diet is one way. Soaking hay is another. On really cold nights, my horses are given a warm mash, where I add warm water, a cup of bran and a cup of oatmeal to their regular diet.
But to me, there are other important ways to insure that your horse drinks plenty, and not just in the winter.
Nobody relates colic to water consumption in the summer, but I bet if a study were done, they would be surprised. Why? Because I cannot tell you the number of barns that I have been to that do not provide fresh clean water to their horses daily.
Many times I have encountered water sitting in buckets and troughs that have algae slimed sides and bottoms. And I left a barn because the trough in my yearlings paddock was never dumped of its hot water at the end of the day, leaving him only water that had been sitting in the hot temperatures of the summer to drink, until I arrived to dump it out and refill it.
To me it is a very simple horse management rule. Ask yourself if you want to drink the water that you are expecting your horse to drink. Is the bucket clean or full of algae, slime, dirt, and other debris? What is the temperature of the water? Freezing cold with a layer of ice or does it feel like sitting in a hot tub?
Buckets and troughs should be dumped daily. Mine are dumped as I muck the stalls. Generally, they get a good scrubbing (as do their feed tubs) once a week. Some of my horses who are messier and like to dunk hay will require their buckets get at least a light cleaning if not every day then every other day. Buckets are dumped, rinsed as needed, and refilled with fresh cool water. The troughs are treated the same. They are dumped daily and fresh water added. I find that walking out to the paddocks and pastures to check the water is also a good time to check the fencing, look for any poisonous weeds that may have sprung up, and remove any dangerous debris or trash that may have blown into the pasture. It is all part of good stable management.
It is sad to have to lose a horse to colic. It is even more tragic if you could have prevented it by simply providing clean, cool and fresh water.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Celebrating the older horse!

Dolly, age 25 and Amanda. Pilgrim, age 20 and Amanda

Bubbi and Jane. Age 33

Last weekend I had the opportunity to be a horse management judge at the Sunshine Region Dressage Rally. The last time I was at a rally was in 2007, the year before Jen retired Imp. It was great to be in the barns with these kids, seeing what they know and helping them understand what they should be doing. As I was walking down the aisle at Rocking Horse, I noticed a black horse with a sign on his door stating that he had special dietary needs. The rider, Jane, told me it was Bubbi....and as I looked closer, sure enough, it was Bubbi! I could not believe it and got emotional over seeing him there.

Why? Because Bubbi, a beautiful black Thoroughbred, is 33 years old!

Bubbi and his owner Raechel were Jen's teammates at the USPC Champs in 2004, where they were on the 6th place novice eventing team. Bubbi, who's show name is Janus, was 27 years old at the time, and the oldest horse at the Championships. I remember the region had a bit of a hard time letting him travel the 17 hours, but he made the trip to Lexington and back to Florida just fine, gaining a girlfriend in Imp in the nearly 2 week trip...she became obcessed with him!

Raechel is off to college now, but Bubbi, now retired from eventing, still has a very important job, teaching a new generation of pony clubbers the fine art of dressage at the family farm.

I love the older horse. It breaks my heart to read ads of these noble creatures, having served their owner for so many years, whether in the showring or foxhunting, or on the trails, now being dumped because of their age. Don't people realize that these horses still have so much to give?

If I won the lottery, I would have a farm full of these grand senior citizens!

As the District Commissioner of the local U.S. Pony Club, I frequently get calls from frustrated parents, who were dooped into buying their young child a horse that they can't handle. It is unfortunately, a scam in my opinion. Basically the way it works is the trainer convinces the parents that if they want to win at shows, their darling little Suzy needs a tall, lanky, big moving, 4 year old, usually OTTB (off the track Thoroughbred). Now don't get me wrong, I love Thoroughbreds...they are my favorite breed and I will take one over a warmblood anyday. But they are not for beginners, at least not 4 year old OTTB's, and they are not ideal for children. Why? Because the Thoroughbred, and a lot of young horses, regardless of the breed (yes, there are exceptions, especially with Quarter Horses and draft and draft crosses), have a very high energy level. They can be full of themselves, especially the green ones. So these trainers who have now gotten these ignorant parents into an expensive situation, can now charge to lunge the horse and to ride the horse before the child can get on the horse. Like I said, it is a scam and a black eye to the equestrian community in my opinion.

My advice to these parents is to first, RUN from that barn...find a reputable trainer and then sell that horse and find a schoolmaster. They have no idea what a schoolmaster is.

Bubbi is a schoolmaster. Are all aged horses good for beginners? No. I would not dream of putting a beginner or even an intermediate rider on Imp, who at age 20, acts more like a 2 year old these days. But most of them are.

Yes, a schoolmaster has x amount of years left...but I know of 4 and 6 year olds that colic and die or drop dead from other reasons. Unfortunately, no one knows just how many years any particular horse has left in them. But schoolmasters have so much to offer! They are over the silly stage (most are anyhow!), are usually predictable, and have that been there, seen that attitude that makes them such great teachers!

When I bought my youngest daughter her first horse, Dolly was a 20 something year old Quarter Horse, still with plenty of spunk. She did it all...eventing, stadium jumping, dressage, even games. Today, at nearly 30, she is retired, but only because a kick from another horse last summer, left her with a bad knee and as a result of over-compensating, now a mild case of laminitis.

Amanda's next horse was an 18 year old Thoroughbred, a freebie. Pilgrim was a dream. Another family had passed on him at the last minute because of his age. His age didn't bother me in the least bit. He had evented at the preliminary level and I knew he would teach Amanda so much! And he did! And like Dolly, he too excelled at dressage, show jumping and she even took him to a games rally! Unfortunately our story with Pilgrim did not have a happy ending, as he developed Lyme disease and was eventually euthanized due to neurological complications from the Lyme. We had him only a few short years, but his death could have happened at any age. I, nor do I think Amanda, would have traded the experience and good times she had with him, for anything.

Now adays, horses are living longer, thanks to improvements in feed and health care. A horse in his late 20's is very common, and I know of a pony who recently was euthanized and he was in his 40's! He was doing tadpole level eventing just a few years ago, and up to his death, still being used for lessons. I know of another lesson horse that lived to be in her late 30's, still being utilized up to the time of her death.

Health issues like arthritis and general wear and tear after years of hard mileage may make a horse not fit to continue at the level he once was, but that is no reason to dump them to an uncertain older horses on CraigsList have a very good chance of being slaughtered. What a shame that this is how we thank our best friend after so many years of service. In fact, the worse thing you can do for a horse that has arthritis, is retire him. Arthritic horses need to keep moving. And just like old people, old horses need to be stimulated. They need a job. They like having a job (well, with the exception of our Dolly, who prefers not to have a job, other than eating, but that has been her motto all along!).

Older horses do require a certain level of special management. Horses that are older will have different dietary requirements. Mine get Seminole Wellness Senior, which is softer to chew, and is higher in calories and low in starch. Many older horses, like Imp, who has many miles on her joints, have some degree of arthritis. Joint supplements are needed. Older horses may develop Cushings disease, laminitis, metabolic disorders, or any other number of health issues, that need to be managed with supplements or medications. I really like the SmartPak supplements, and their supplement guide and fast expert help, whether on facebook, email or phone, really makes it easy to figure out which supplements are best. But these disorders do not mean he has to be retired! And their teeth should be checked yearly, possibly twice a year. Older horses, such as Bubbi, may start to lose teeth. Substitute their hay with soaked hay cubes or beet pulp instead.

When I was running a horse rescue, our first rescue was a skinny old horse. The neighbors who drove past this horse every day, attributed her condition to her age. Lady, as we named her, was a 33 year old appendix, who shared a drylot with 3 other younger horses. They were fed once a day, everyone got the same feed, and since they were fed in the open, guess who had her meal stolen from her? The other horses would greedily gobble down their food and then chase her off hers. And, to top it off, the only teeth she had were 4 incisiors. No wonder she looked like she did. Once we rescued her, we put her on a senior diet, which was soaked. We also soaked her hay cubes. She got fed 6 times a day initially. And you know what? She gained weight! No surprise there!
Yes, some old horses do have a hard time keeping weight on them, but that doesn't mean that all older horses do, and with the proper management, you should be able to keep most senior horses looking just as good as one 10 or 15 years their junior.

Older horses are greatly underrated in our society. It is a shame, because they have so much to offer. Please don't dump your old horse because he no longer serves your needs...if you look hard enough, you can find a new job for him. Somewhere there is an older person who wants to just pleasure ride, or a beginner child who needs a horse who will safely teach her to ride. After being your faithful companion for so many years, doesn't he deserve this?

Friday, September 3, 2010

Moving Day and Getting Back to Normal!

Looking out towards our fields

The barn aisle

Tucker's stall

Dolly loving having a stall

Imp in her stall

The barn

Really, moving horses and a barn full of STUFF in August in Florida has got to be one of the worst ideas I have had in recent history!
But, record setting heat aside, I am glad we moved and 3 weeks later, the horses are settled in to their new abode.
The plan had been to move the horses by 9am, which meant we didn't leave until 10. Thankfully, Nikki's mom came from Tennessee, bringing their 4 horse trailer which she left here for Nikki to use. So instead of having to make 2 trips, we were able to load the mares in their trailer and the boys went in my trailer, with barn cats Gizmo and Hobbs riding shotgun with me (well, Hobbs made it as far as the end of the driveway before I threw her in the carrier, Gizmo alternated between laying on the seat next to me and looking out the window). A quick stop by my house to pick up Jen, who had driven up from Tampa to help, and we arrived in Apopka nearly an hour later.
First priority was to rinse off the hot and sweaty horses and put up their fans. The radio announced record highs of 107!
One of the first things Her Royal Highness, I mean Imp, did, was to roll in her stall. The stalls at the old barn were tiny and if they wanted to lay down and roll, most went out in their runs to do so. I took that as a sign that she approved!
In the weeks since, the horses have adjusted without incident to their new surroundings. Even the barn cats were right at home; I had nightmares of them disappearing, but the fatties know a good thing and aren't about to leave where they get a free meal. I guess they saw us, they saw the horses, so all is good in their world.
And I started to ride again! The last week has been actually tolerable! There has been a hint of fall in the air, whether that is true or whether Hurricane Eric is responsible, it has been absolutely refreshing! I can actually do barn chores and not head straight into the shower when I get home!
My Internist said it was ok to ride again, so with the cooler weather, why not? Permission or not, I was going to ride!
Tucker has been a bit of a wild man...whether because of his new surroundings, the cooler air, not having been ridden for 6 weeks, or, most likely, all three reasons contributing factors, he has been strong and fresh, even throwing in a most unusual buck (I can count on one hand the number of times he has bucked!) last week. Hmm, not sure if I like this new Tucker or the steadfast and dependable old Tucker. I am sure that the old Tucker will return eventually.
The barn is slowly falling into order. The tack room is almost done, and this weekend the goal is to work on the feed room, which for the present has been kept in an empty stall. Jumps need to be put up.
The design of the barn takes advantage of breezes, and for the first time this summer, the horses are not sweating by dinner time. The fans blow on them and their stalls are open enough to catch any breezes.
We already have our first pony club clinic scheduled for 2 weeks and I am planning a barn warming party for October!

Exciting times are ahead for Calypso Farm!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Big Move, Part 2

So after making the decision to relocate Calypso Farm to Apopka, I set the move in date for August 14. A week after that decision, I was hospitalized when what I thought was a pulled muscle turned out to be a blood clot in my leg.
Overnight, I have gone from healthy and active and feeling immortal, to being put on restrictive activity...fine with me, giving the horrible heat, but I have had a hard time understanding how my healthy body could turn on me and make me feel so weak, light headed and tired all the time. I am finally coming to terms with the fact that I am dealing with a "serious" health issue here.
Thankfully, I have had the best of support from my boarder, Nikki, who has taken over feeding and mucking; Jen, who has come home from Tampa whenever she can, both their boyfriends, Shawn and Travis, who have helped with the move, and good wishes from all my friends.
Moving in the middle of summer is insane. Moving when not in the best of health...well, that is just beyond stupid. But we have been managing!
Last weekend was the "big move"..all the heavy and big items..trunks, jumps, stall mats, troughs. Shawn brought his trailer on Sunday and Jen and Travis came up for the day. We loaded everything, a barrel decided to make an early departure from the trailer halfway to the barn and was recovered with no incident to any passing vehicles, and we spent the afternoon unloading, cleaning, killing wasps and spiders and organizing. Peter stayed home and smoked ribs and chicken all day for us to feast upon for dinner. It was a great time, although I did more supervising than work!
It is amazing how much stuff one accumulates over the years! I think each of my horses has at least 2 sheets and 3 blankets, not to mention fly sheets, coolers and anti-sweat sheets. Thirty years of ribbons decorated my tack room and had to come down. Numerous photos, signs and plaques. Buckets and saddle pads multiply tenfold, just like rabbits. No, no rabbits to bring, although a few years ago there would have been a few bunnies and guinea pigs, not to mention a bird. Two fat and useless barn cats will come with us, however. I don't need a crop, but yet there is a collection of them. Two bridles for each horse, 20 bits for each horse (or so it seems, though they all go in just one!), girths, halters (their every day halter and their "good" leather show/travel halter) and many lead ropes. It goes on and on!
Once I received permission to go to the barn, I started packing all the stuff, a little at a time. Stacked in the aisleway in rubbermaid totes, I made several trips to the new barn to deposit them. The heat really gets to me right now, so I have just dumped them in the large feed room...when cooler weather prevails, most of it can be addressed.
Last Saturday, Nikki and I decided to forego bagged shavings and get it by the bulk. The stalls, having sat empty for over a year, needed alot to get started and it made more sense from an economic view anyhow, to go to Focal Point Nursery in Geneva and get it by the truck-bed load! Economically sound? At just $75 for the truckload, Yes! But what we didn't figure into this equation, was removing 3 yards of entire 8 foot bed full, out of the truck!
Filling it was an adventure! We followed Dave in his tractor into the behind the scenes of a nursery...down a dirt road, past potted plants and trees, empty plant containers and piles of rock, mulch and dirt. A sharp 180 degree turn in my F250 crew cab with extended bed was difficult up was an even sharper 90 degree turn, with a fence on one side and empty pallets on the other...I was wondering how on earth could I back up and around the 180 degree turn, when Dave hops out of his tractor and pushes the pallets out of the way...Nikki and I were laughing hysterically at this point, as a light rain drizzled. We filled the truck bed and Dave took us out a different route, past an old log cabin tucked away where no one would ever imagine it exists. We were laughing the whole time, while Dave kept apologizing for the locked gate and missing key that took us on our wayward journey!
A quick stop for some South Carolina peaches and another stop at Horstmeyers for some wormers and feed, and we arrived at the new barn. We started cleaning and then realized we had to empty the bed of its contents of shavings. Suddenly, we realized why we paid the extra expense of bagged shavings! Thankfully for me, Nikki shoveled out the entire 3 yards of shavings...we may be going back to bagged shavings in the future!
The new barn is now clean, rid (hopefully) of wasps and spiders, waiting for 4 horses, 2 useless cats and a slew of tack. Nikki's mom and dad arrive tomorrow from Tenessessee, bringing us 60 bales of freshly baled orchard hay! Saturday morning, bright and early, the horses will arrive! I cannot wait!

The Big Move, Part 1

Tucker and Tyke playing in the pasture in Chuluota

So Saturday is our big day..after nearly 6 years of leasing the current barn that I am at, I will be moving my horses, 2 barn kitties and all my "stuff" to a new barn clear across town!

It is a journey that I have been pondering for several months. Back in February, I realized I needed to make some changes. I was spending too much time (and money) on somebody else's property, too much time (and money) on rescues, and not enough time with my family and my own horses. As much as I desperately want to own my own farm, that dream is still at least a year away, until the high school graduation of my last and youngest daughter. I love having my horses in a situation where I control every ounce of their care, but somewhere along the way, I got sucked into a black hole, where I was spending so much time and energy (and money) fixing fence boards, mowing pastures and repairing stalls, that I had no time or energy to ride. With much regret, the rescue was money, no volunteers, no more energy made it an easy but sad decision. Only in existence for two and a half years, Heart Land managed to save and adopt 10 horses plus manage the adoptions of at least a dozen other horses that we were able to send straight from their old home into new, loving homes. That is over 20 horses that may not have had a happy ending had we not intervened. I feel pretty good about that.

We also found a new home for one of our own. We only had Bates for 2 years. He was Jen's new eventer after we had to retire Impulsive in 2008 unexpectedly. Unfortunately, he was a high maintenance Thoroughbred requiring a daily workout 6 days a week, and she started college as an engineering student. Time became scarcer and this past spring some hard decisions were made. He simply could not spend the next 2 years sitting around waiting for her to graduate, with no job, getting older, so he has gone to live in North Carolina at a wonderful eventing farm, where his talents will be fully utilized...horses need and like to have a job!

So down to just 3 Tucker, Jen's mare Imp and Amanda's mare Dolly, I waited for the right situation to appear..and it did. In July, I found a 6 stall barn to lease in Apopka. Northwest of Orlando, it is in the complete opposite direction of where I am used to traveling, but a new toll road right next to where I work, puts me at the barn in no time at all. Plus, it is just 20 minutes from Rocking Horse and 15 minutes to my trainers barn. In addition, my long time boarder, Tyke, a Dutch WB-TB, will come with us. He is Tucker's best friend and I am so glad his mom, Nikki, is coming with us!

Situated on 60 acres, the barn is one of 6 on the property. I think in its glorious days, it was a standardbred training facility. The property offers rolling pastures, something you only find to the north and west of Orlando, a race track, a lighted arena and more. My barn, a shedrow, has its two own private fields plus access to a larger field for turnouts. The best thing? I don't have to schlep to the barn twice a day. Starting next week, I will have the luxury of sleeping in or being able to clean house or do yard work before work, because the caretaker of the property will bring my horses in and feed them in the morning! Not only that, but I will not be responsible for mowing or repairs! In fact, a deluge this past weekend while we were moving stuff into the barn revealed a leaky nice to notify Vicki that the barn leaked and could she take care of it? So now, with only having to go to the barn once a day, and not having to do massive barn chores other than clean stalls, I will actually have time to ride! I am looking forward to cooler weather and being able to haul Tucker to Rocking impatient traveler, it will be nice to have only a 20 minute drive instead of an hour and a half!

Now we can focus on our goal, making it to a recognized event in January!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Can We talk About Helmets?

A proper ASTM approved helmet!

And here I am in an old fashioned helmet, riding Sir Tally, 1980

The use of riding helmets has always been a controversial subject, but with the recent injury of Dressage legend Courtney King Dye, it seems there is a renewed interest of the topic. It is surprisingly how many riders adopt the attitude that "Well, I rode as a kid without a helmet, and nothing bad happened, and 20, 30 years later, nothing bad has happened yet, and besides, it is my body, I can do as I damn well please". Well you know, lots of us grew up with mothers who smoke and drank when they were pregnant with us, a whole lot of us did not wear seat belts ( we would routinely drive the whole way from Pittsburgh to Florida and back, stretched out in the far back of the station wagon, never buckled in!) and yes, alot of us did ride without helmets. But what about those who did end up being born prematurely, those who did suffer serious injuries or death in car accidents, and those who did suffer injuries or death from falls from horses? Just because you or I did not happen to have anything bad happen, well, that just means either we are lucky or our time just hasn't come yet.
Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, with a pasture full of my grandfathers horses, I have pictures of me as a toddler, sitting on a horse, no helmet on. Fugly would have a field day with that image! At least my parents never wandered from my side! I really don't even remember when I started riding daily with a helmet...when I think of all the crazy stunts I did as a teenager, with no helmet on, I am convinced I must have had a guardian angel looking after me. My scrap book is full of pictures of me jumping my beloved Sir Tally, over 4' fences, with no helmet on! I know I had one to show in, but that was the only time I wore it. At some point though in my teens, for some reason that I don't remember, I started to wear one every time I rode...but even then, it was the helmet without a know, the one that has a warning label in the catalogs that "this helmet is not to be used for riding in?" Um, hello, then why in the world are you selling a helmet for a hundred dollars that you issue a warning label not to ride in? But for years, that is what I wore, as did many of my friends and competetors. A helmet with a harness was absolutely hideous. It was hot and sweaty and lets face it, in the professional photos that you shell out good money for, well, you look awful! That is what I used to think anyhow.
What changed my mind? My daughters always rode in an approved helmet. Period. Nothing to discuss. But I was still riding in my old fashioned helmet. Then I watched the video "Every Time, Every Ride" at a regional pony club meeting, and literally, my first stop on the way home was at a tack store to purchase an ASTM approved helmet. I have never ridden without one since. Yes, the video made that much of an impact on me. That was in 2001.
I never understood the argument that riding one discipline versus another was so much safer that helmets were not the normal standard of attire...western riding or saddle seat for example. I about had a melt down watching a video of a friend's teenage daughter, riding a very high strung Saddlebred, wearing a top hat! I mean, a fall from a horse, whether the horse is wearing a western saddle, a dressage saddle or even if bareback, is still a fall, and it can have devastating results. Lets face it..all horses spook. There really is no such thing as a bombproof horse, no matter how much we like to think that we own such a creature. Things happen. They spook. And if they don't spook, they can trip, they can fall. It happens in a blink of an eye. It happens regardless of our riding experience, or the saddle we are riding in. I know personally of two local riders who suffered permanent brain injuries, when their horses tripped at the WALK. Because neither were wearing a helmet, their lives, as are their families lives, forever changed.
And speaking of experience level, advanced riders are just as likely to fall as a beginner. It is a fallacy that the more experienced rider just doesn't fall. I think that Courtney King Dye's fall is proof that this just isn't true. In fact, since more experienced riders may be more likely to be riding a green horse, jumping higher or riding a rank horse, this really can't be a legitimate argument.
Eventers seem to always be one step ahead of the industry when it comes to protection. ASTI approved helmets, along with safety vests have always been considered normal attire, even when schooling. Even so, riding in a top hat at the upper level dressage tests has been acceptable, but the appearance of Allison Springer at the Kentucky Rolex this past spring, riding her dressage test in a helmet, brought about much accolades in the eventing forums. It seems more and more eventers are opting for helmets instead of top hats. And the racing industry reports that jockeys now suffer fewer head injuries than pleasure riders since requiring approved helmets.
In the United States Pony Club, head injury rates were lowered by 29% with mandatory helmet use.

Need more facts?

-Approximately 80% of injuries occur while riding. This means, 20% of injuries occur on the ground. My daughter Jen suffered a concussion and mild memory loss when the horse she was mounting, inexplicably bolted, leaving her on the ground, unconscious for 10 minutes, until she came to. Her trainer thought she was in the barn, late for a lesson, and I, seeing her leave the barn, thought she had joined her lesson group. Had she not been wearing a helmet, she may not be walking or talking today.
-Most injuries occur during pleasure or trail riding. I know the reason why. It is because this seems to be the group that is least likely to wear a helmet. For whatever reason, maybe because they think they aren't doing anything dangerous, they feel they don't need one. Well guess what? Just standing next to a horse can be considered dangerous! I know way too many riders that fit this way of thinking.

More facts?

-Most common reason for riders being admitted to the hospital is for head injuries.
-A fall from 2 feet can cause PERMANENT brain damage. Think about where you are on a horse...6 feet? 8 feet above ground? How high are you off the ground while jumping a four foot oxer?
-A human skull can be shattered by an impact of 4-6 mph. How fast are you going at that canter? Gallop? About 40 mph!
-A rider who has suffered from one head unjury has a 40% chance of suffering a second head injury. Two years ago, after eventer Darren Chiacchia was severely injured in a fall at Red Hills, there was an uproar when he returned to riding within just a few weeks of being released from the hospital. Yes, he was wearing an approved helmet...I don't think he would be here today had he not been. Many argued that it was not safe for him to be riding so soon after a brain injury. Months later, interviews show that he was clearly not 100%. Had he suffered another fall so soon after his return, he probably would not have survived, or at the least, he would most likely have suffered permanent brain damage. Children, teen and young adults are most vulnerable to sudden death from secondary impacts.
-There are things far worse than death. Those who do survive may do so with epilepsy, memory impairment, paralysis and more.
And how about this fact? Head injuries are the number one horse related cause of death, accounting for 60% of deaths.
SIXTY PERCENT! And this number is so preventable! It is a proven fact that helmets work! Modern helmets greatly reduce the risk of head injuries by cushioning the landing of a fall with a layer of crushable foam. The foam slows the stopping time of a rider's head as it hits a surface. A bare head will just come to an abrupt halt when it meets a hard surface, which causes the rider's brain to crash into the inside of the skull. The secondary impact of the brain into the skull is when the majority of brain injuries occur. This is why the old fashioned helmets that I used to prefer are useless. They don't have the lining that today's ASTM helmets do. Also, I can vouch that upon landing, helmets without a harness can and will, go flying upon buckle up that harness while mounted!
When my daughter went away to college, I gave her the book "How Not to Die" by Dr. Garavaglia. It provides tips on how to live longer, safer and healthier. Obvious tips like eating healthy, staying out of high crime areas, and not smoking. For me, whatever I can do to prolong my life, I am all for it! As I told two pony clubbers I was examining recently, "Always, always wear your pony club pin! You would hate to have points taken off at a rally for something you could have prevented"! Well, wear your helmet...wouldn't you hate to have your family preparing your funeral, or feeding you jello because you can't feed yourself, when it could have been prevented so easily? Save death for another day, for a reason that you cannot old age!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The itchies, habronemas and allergies (or, Welcome to Florida!)

Tucker's face looking beautiful and clear, June 1, 2010
Another shot of his face

The habronema is just a bare spot..hopefully, it stays that way!

Tucker ready to battle the elements in his nightly turnout.

The habronema at its worst. Notice the granulation tissue.

Typical summer face

Sheath and midline

Tail rubbing

Part One, Habronemas!
Florida, with all its miserable, hot, humid seasons of spring/summer/fall (which kind of just flow into one another, with no real discernable fall or spring), and mild winters (usually..thank goodness this past winter it was COLD!), mean that all kinds of funky, icky things like to grow, mutate and generally make the lives of humans and animals miserable. I have always said that Florida is not fit for anything living. I work for a Veterinary Dermatologist, and the large amount of animals we see with allergies and skin issues, and the 2-3 week waiting period for new patients, just proves this. And it seems that everyone I know, suffers allergies once they move to Florida.
I have spent the last 4 years dealing with allergies in horses, and combined with my job, feel that I have learned a thing or two.
Tucker arrived in November of 2003 but his skin issues did not begin until the spring of 2006, when he scraped the bridge of his nose. It didn't appear to be anything abnormal, it certainly wasn't deep, but its inability to heal was our first clue that something was amiss. Using all kinds of medications, both OTC and vet prescribed, nothing worked. Either right from the get-go, there was simply no healing noted, or it would start to heal, and then once a scab developed, Tucker would rub it open and we would be back to square one. Four months passed, and finally a combination of Preparation H and Lidocaine solved the problem and healing finally was achieved, although to this day, there is a slight indentation from where the sore was.
The following spring of 2007, Tucker became itchy. Very itchy! Let me tell you, a 1400 pound draft cross that is itchy is not a good thing for fencing. Lets just say, hot wire became my best friend that year! Tucker was suffering hair loss and was just plain miserable. Medicated shampoos, and anti-fungals were of no help. Eventually, I allergy tested him.
Now one thing I have learned working at the Vet Derm Center is, if you are going to spend the money for allergy testing, which costs hundreds of dollars, if your animal is not on steroids, then do the more reliable intra-dermal skin testing, where a patch of hair is shaved and the animal is injected with possible allergens. It is much more reliable than blood testing. Also, you cannot test for food allergies, only food elimination trials will reveal true food allergies.
I ended up blood testing Tucker, and he tested positive for 26 of 72 allergens. Unfortunately for him, one of the positives was grass. Boy, does this suck for a horse or what? Because I blood allergy tested him, I am not positive that he is truely allergic to all of those 26 items, but I can definitely say he is allergic to culicoides, mosquitoes, no-see-ums and grass!
Changes were made, including the use of a fly sheet and fly boots, but fly boots do not always stay on Tucker. He often came in from the pasture with tiny, crusty sores on his ankles and pasterns, which usually healed in just a few days.
In the fall of 2007 however, one sore would not heal. It became the size of a peach, was oozing and bloody and smelled. Nothing we tried would heal it. My vet speculated it was a habronema, but a biopsy indicated it was an auto-immune issue. Shortly there after, the weather got cooler and it started to shrink and heal and we weren't too concerned about it.
It was well on its way to healing, until the spring of 2008. The first warm day and suddenly the sore, which had shrunk to the size of a nickle, was oozing and bleeding and growing at an alarming rate. It was soon the size of an apple and the smell was horrendous at times. A second biopsy was performed and the culture was sent to the lab we utilize at work. This time, the results showed a habronema.
What is a habronema? If you are eating, you may wish to stop doing so for a few moments.
An open sore attracts flies. Even being diligent with SWAT and fly boots doesn't guarantee 100% protection. Flies land on the sores as well as in the moisture of the genitals or eyes, and lay their larvae. When the larvae emerge, they can migrate into the tissue and this causes a granulomatous reaction.
It can be just bad luck but it can also be attributed to an increased fly population, poor manure management or moist patches of long grass. The condition is seasonal, with remission in cooler weather. Affected horses are often repeatedly infected in succeeding years, which may indicate genetic factors having an influence.
There are 2 kinds: Ophthalmic and Cutaneous. Tucker suffered the Cutaneous. His was a classical case, with the parasite causing a rapidly enlarged superficial and granulating skin ulcer. Irritation results in rubbing, chewing and biting and can cause scarring. Wounds infested with the parasite may fail to heal and can expand with the production of unhealthy tissue.
It is possible to misdiagnose habromenas, as happened with Tucker. Initially we thought it could be cancer, and at one point I was afraid it was pythiosis. Seasonal appearance is really the best clue. Smears and biopsies are not always conclusive and as we learned, 2 different labs came back with different results.
Once we had a diagnosis for Tucker, we began treatment of a mixture of Ivermectin, DMSO and Fura Ointment. Within a week, the sore had healed and shrunk by 90%! Unfortunately however, we hit a wall after the first week, with no more improvement, but no regression either. Then, our farm was flooded with Tropical Storm Fay in August of 2008. Weeks of flooding was the worst possible thing to have to subject Tucker's leg too. The sore began to grow again. It was impossible to keep dry and we just had to deal with Mother Nature. Thankfully, fall came, we dried out, the weather got cooler, and once again we were in a healing pattern.
Again, winter provided a lull in the growth. Once again, it shrunk and healed. But come the spring of 2009, the first warm day and once again, literally overnight, the habronema was growing and now it was bloody and oozing. Again, we spent another summer fighting the habronema: daily regiments of medicating and protecting the leg.
Last winter was probably the best thing to happen to Tucker. With day after day of record lows and multiple freezes, the habronema had disappeared to its smallest size yet. We have now survived 2 months of warm and hot weather with no oozing, bloody mess. It is still there, there is a bald spot about the size of a quarter. But I am diligent about managing his allergies and the habronema. Beginning in March, he started wearing a fly sheet. His leg with the habronema always wears a fly boot. Tucker seems to understand that the left front leg needs to stay covered, and that is the only leg wrap that he does not try to lose! We try to keep a fly mask on, but Tucker and I have different opinions about these and rare is the morning that he comes in with it still on. So instead, I just wipe his face and ears with the EquiDerm mixture before going out. I have learned that all it takes is just one itchy moment for him to rub the leg open, and one small bite on any part of his body can quickly escalate into a big itchy sore by morning. By keeping to these measures, I am hoping that this will be the first summer we do not have an issue.

Part Two, the Itchies!

In addition to the habronema, Tucker is extremely itchy! I read an interesting thread on COTH (Chronicle of the Horse) bulletin board regarding Onchocerciasis or neck threadworms. I will spare you all the details, if you want to read more, I highly suggest going to COTH ( and searching or you can go to
A lot of itching, and the lumps and crusty sores which develop along the midline, which Tucker has, as well as tail rubbing (which Imp was doing) has been proven to be related to neck threadworms. I already grossed you out with the habronemas, so really, go read about these nasty things on the 2 sites I mentioned. A good cure for this is a double dosing of Ivermectin, 2 weeks apart. I did this to all my horses. Interestingly, the lumps disappeared from the midline, and Imp stopped rubbing her tail. I now do a DD of Ivermectin several times a year!
Another cause of rubbing, especially the face, can be ulcers. Jockey Calvin Borel told me about this cure. A tube of UlcerGuard will cure this. I told Calvin that how could Tucker be stressed out enough to have ulcers, he has it pretty easy, but as I thought about it, his skin issues could be pretty stressful enough. And sure enough, a treatment with UlcerGuard did clear up his face. Another handy trick Calvin taught me is to use castille soap and rub the bar good over the legs at bath time. The soap will remove any contact allergens. You can also use this all over the body for that matter.
I have tried alot of different products for Tucker. Toad Juice and Calm Coat are great to use on open, crusty and oozing sores. I add Calm Coat to my fly spray as well. He gets bathed weekly with MicroTek Medicated shampoo. My favorite medication, and he gets coated with this every night during the summer, as both a prevention and a treatment, is a mixture of EquiDerm and Desitin. The first raw spot I see, he gets a good coating of it.
We have about 4 more months of hot, humid, miserable weather. Keeping up with an allergic horse requires a lot of diligence. One slip up, whether its not medicating a sore, or not putting on the fly sheet or leg wraps, can mean we have lost the battle for another season. It really does not take much for him to regress that quickly.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Tucker and I go schooling at Longwood Farms !

Jennie Jarnstrom, our trainer, invited me to come along for a schooling at the famed Longwood Farm in Ocala last weekend. It was the second time she had invited me this month, but unfortunately, I had to decline the first time, due to not having a traveling companion for Tucker.

Yes, you heard right. You see, Tucker is not the most patient traveler when it comes to hauling. He is ok for about the first 45 minutes, which is the time it takes to go across town from our barn to Jennie's. But anything longer, and he gets impatient. Very impatient. Not really a problem if he was not such a moose. But in my bumper pull, which by the way was built for Tucker...7'6 tall, extra wide and extra long, once he gets rockin' and rollin', the next thing I know, my trailer is not only rocking side to side, but to and fro! At 65 mph on the back roads to Rocking Horse, this is not fun. And, it is not safe either.

But give him a friend to pass the time with, and he is (knock on wood) the perfect traveler! Perhaps he just needs a buddy to chat with:

"Hey, where do you think we're going this time?"

"Last trip we went to that cool farm with all the cross country jumps"!

"Hey, I wonder if that cute little bay mare will be there this time"?

"Gosh, I hope she avoids that road with all those bumps and sharp curves this time"!

I always wondered if on trips that we made regularly, such as taking Imp to Rocking Horse, do they know where they are going? Can they tell by the turns we make, the bumpy roads or even the smells?

Anyhow, I invited my daughter Jen to go on the first outing, but she regretfully declined. Bates was not in condition and she was in Tampa anyhow. Somehow, despite being the best eventing mom there is, the only cross country schoolings I missed with Jen were her outings to Longwood Farm. She, like everyone else who goes there, raves about the beauty of it. She was really bummed not to be able to go. Nor could she go on this last outing, so I invited my friend, Pam Fore, who jumped at the invitation!

4:30 arrived very early last Sunday! My daughter Amanda was also accompaning me, as Jennie was bringing Bella, a sale horse, for Amanda to ride. We arrived at the barn, fed, wrapped Tucker and actually arrived at Pam's at just a little after 6am! This would be a first for Tucker, loading another horse into the trailer after he had already been loaded, but he was a good boy and was very excited to have Copper, Pam's Thoroughbred gelding along for the ride!

We made it to Longwood Farm in Ocala right on schedule, arriving at 8:00. We pulled up behind Jennie's entourage of trailers, which were waiting for the massive gates to be opened. Just from the road, what I could see was jaw dropping!

Longwood Farm is legendary among eventers. It is the site of USEA training sessions and was the home of eventing great, Ralph Hill.

Driving down the tree lined driveway, sweeping fields on either side are full of many cross country jumps of all levels, from beginner novice up to the upper levels. Water complexes, banks, ditches, sunken roads, logs and more. There is even a life-size metal sculpture of a horse and rider, jumping a fence, downwards towards a pond!

The driveway stretches forever, passing the cross country fields, 2 barns, and manicured turn out pastures, before arriving at the main barn, with its stained glass windows and water fountain. Past the main barn, are 2 dressage arenas, a covered ring, maintenance buildings and all along the way, there are several bungalows. We never did see the main residence, which I understand has it's own private entrance.

We pulled our trailers up a hill (yes, a hill!) under the canopy of a pine forest, being careful to manuever around the trees. There were vast pastures to our one side. I never did get to see the view from the top or other side.

We unloaded, Amanda found Bella to groom and tack, and we were all quickly mounted and heading back down the hill, past the barns and out to the cross country fields. The morning was still cool and there was a slight breeze. Thankfully, there were grandfather oaks everywhere to provide shade for when we were stopped to watch the other riders have a turn.

We warmed up, and began popping over little logs, which Tucker usually trips over, as they aren't really big enough to give him an excuse to pick up his legs.

Muscles warmed up, horses and riders both eager and fresh, we were ready to progress in height and difficulty. Our last outing on the cross country course was a year ago, I am sad to say, so I was not interested in over facing him or giving him any reason to have a bad experience. Fun was the name of the day!

And fun we had! We jumped so many different obstacles. I really have a problem with jumping up banks. I can jump down them all day long, but for some reason, going up freaks me out. Maybe because I once saw someone fall and break their shoulder! So of course, on our first attempt at going up the bank, my mind went blank and I shut down. Tucker decided that if I was going to be a sack of potatoes on his back, he wasn't going anywhere, and slid to a stop just in front of the bank. I don't blame him one bit! We circled around, I got tough with myself, looked up and across the bank, and up we went, 2 strides across, down the other side, and then I quickly gathered up the loose reins for the log which was 3 strides after the bank. We repeated it a few times, and I am glad to say, had no more stops.

The other jump I was nervous about, turned out to be my favorite! It was a sunken road, with logs at the top of the hills on either side. The object is to jump a log, landing downhill, going across the sunken road, then up the hill and jumping a log at the top of the next hill. No matter which side you jump, you are landing going downhill. The more I watched the others ride this, the more fun it looked and I could not wait to give it a try! Landing a jump where you cannot see the footing is like being on a roller coaster! It was actually exhillerating!

Our outing lasted 4 hours! Four, butt sore hours, but oh! What fun they were! We went through the water complex (never an issue for Tucker), up and down more banks, over more logs, post and rails, benches, chairs and rolltops.

Amanda had a blast on Bella, too! It has been a year since she took Dolly to Rocking Horse, and months since she last rode. Bella, a former prelim mount, took good care of her and they both looked to be having a good time!

It may not be until the fall until we do another horse trial, but honestly, if all I do are cross country schoolings like these, who cares? Isn't this what eventing is all about anyhow? I mean, no dressage, no stadium. What could be better! I cannot wait for our next outing!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

My horse apologized to me (and other equine emotions)

Just listen, I have so much to tell you!
Tucker letting me know his opinion!

So the other evening, Tucker did something that he has never done before...not ever in the 6 and a half years of owning him. Not even when he was a baby going through his, well, his baby phase of tasting everything. He BIT me!
Now it wasn't intentional..I don't think! I had come into the barn in a whirlwind. It was my OPRC (Old People Riding Club...stop smirking, please) meeting that evening and I wanted to arrive in time to hear the guest lecturer, Dr. Fowinkle. So I raced to the barn after work and rushed into the barn, grabbing feed buckets. It was a stark contrast to my normal sedate easy going entrance, where I say hello to everyone and pat the barn cats. So I think the horses instantly reacted to my body language.
I had dumped everyone's feed except for Bates and Tucker. As I was standing in front of Bates stall, about to dump his feed, Tucker reached over from his door opening, which is open with only a stall guard across the front, and BIT me! HARD! On my hip! I have to say, the pain was a bit of a shock, just as much as the fact that he had just bitten me for the first time. My first instinct was to throw an empty feed bucket at him. It made contact with his big ole head and he quickly retreated to the back of the stall. After standing there, getting pissed and thinking, "wow, this really hurts", I finally entered his stall, giving him a good slap on his side for good measure. I dumped his feed but refused to allow him near it..not that he tried. He knew he was in the doghouse and stood his ground, waiting for me to grant him permission to eat. I finally allowed him, admonishing him as he made his way to the feed tub and telling him how much he had hurt me.
Well, I proceeded with my chores, making breakfast, putting the evening hay out in the pastures and turning the mares out front and turning the other geldings out. All I had left was Tucker. But as I approached his stall, he was not in his usual spot, which is standing in the doorway, waiting with his head over the stall guard. No, he was standing with his head in the back corner! Seriously! He had put himself in the corner!

I tried to stifle a laugh as I realized what he had done. I tapped him on his butt, told him he was forgiven, and to come on around.

Well, he turned around and then, proceeded to apologize to me!

How does a horse apologize? Well, he schnuffled me (I think that is a term only horse people use!). I mean, he took his soft muzzle and started, well, you know, schnuffling me! He was running his muzzle up and down my arms. Then he started to lick me! And don't you know, he was very, very careful not to even let me feel his teeth!
He had this genuine look of remorse as he was doing this, and I think if he could have spoken, he would have apologized a hundred times.
Now this is the horse that has broken dozens of fence boards, knocked over jumps for fun during turnout, loses his fly mask in under 2 minutes, and once stepped on my foot, all 1400 pounds on 2 toes which he pivoted on before moving off it, breaking them in the process. Not once did he ever, ever apologize! But here he was, showing me an emotion that I had never seen from him before! It was very touching!

I have witnessed other enduring emotions from my horses. Most notably, humor and scolding.

Have you ever been scolded by a horse? I have!

It was a couple of years ago. Imp is the Queen of the barn. She is very prim and proper and she knows the barn rules. She obeys the rules 99% of the time, except for when she gets into a rare funny mood. She does not tolerate other horses not abiding by the rules either and will pin her ears back and let them know that their behavior is childish and unacceptable.
This one particular morning, I pulled up to the barn, bright and early, as usual. My boarder had fed the night before. She had let Imp into her stall from the back pasture, using the gate in her run, instead of the stall door in the barn aisle. She did not know that the stall door, which was covered with winter blankets, was not locked, just shut tight.
Well, when I pulled up, my heart skipped a beat, because I saw her door wide open and no sign of Imp, who usually hangs her head over the door when I arrive. I thought for sure she must have left her stall and since I had not seen her as I drove up the driveway, I was convinced she had wondered off the property.
But as soon as I opened my car door, Imp's head suddenly appeared over the opening of her stall. I was so relieved! I couldn't believe that she was in her stall and didn't escape!
As soon as I entered the barn, that is when the scolding began. She started shaking her head at me, up and down, left and right. And she verbally blasted me, making all kinds of deep nickers and grunts. Her ears were pinned back as she did this. Her little charade continued for a few minutes, and I realized, wow, I am being scolded by a horse! I knew that if she could have talked, she would have said "Hey, humans screwed up! You left my door open and I could have escaped. I could have gotten into the feed room and had my fill. I could have wandered off the property and gotten into who knows what kind of trouble. But I at least have some common sense and know better, even if you don't. So I stayed where I know I should be, safe and secure in my stall. Now, hurry up and feed me, and you better be giving me extra treats". Yes, that is exactly what she said to me that morning!
Now this same horse, does have a sense of humor. It is not displayed often, unlike her barn mate, Bates, who is the barn clown. So when she does get a humorous side, it makes it all the more amusing.
Just last week, she got such a wild hair. I had turned her and Dolly out in the front pasture, for their evening turnout. I had 3 piles of hay, and had returned to the barn to retrieve GiGi. I left the gate slightly open, because, unlike the geldings who would not hesitate to take advantage of such an offer, Imp would not dare, and Dolly, who would normally not wait to take advantage of such a situation, was not about to leave hay. As I am walking GiGi to the pasture, I see Imp suddenly spy the open gate. She looks at me, looks at the gate, and starts walking for it. I see what she is up to and increase my pace. So does Imp. I break into a trot. So does Imp. She reaches the gate just before I do, breaks into a canter, and out she goes, right past me. I swear she laughed at me as she went by!
I quickly got Gi-Gi in the pasture, removed her halter, and took off after Imp, who was cantering around the barn yard.
Experience has taught me that food is absolutely useless in reining Imp back in. Unlike the other horses who will do anything for a bucket of feed, Imp will not resort to being bribed. She does have principles. Such things as bribes are beneath her.
So around and around the yard she goes, finally making a beeline up the driveway, me in hot pursuit, pleading with her to stop. Thank God we are on a private dirt road and our biggest worries are the teens on ATV's. She made a left out the driveway, went about 40 feet, stopped across the road at my neighbors pasture and then turned and watched me coming. As I approached, she of course turned around, laughed in my face and trotted back down the driveway, into the barnyard.

Did I mention she laughed in my face?

I was able to get Imp into the back pasture, where she did what she normally does when she doesn't want to be caught..she did perfect 20 meter trot circles around me. Laughing all the while.
So I ignored her and went about my barn chores, knowing she was safe. Once I gave up the game, she did too. It was no longer fun for her and when I was ready to turn the boys out in the pasture, she came in willingly.
Obviously there is no fun if I am no longer in a sheer panic.

Humor is probably the emotion I have seen the most expressed in horses. Bates likes to remove his halter and lead from the hook outside his stall door and twirl it around. And if there is something that can be knocked over, he'll gladly go out of his way to do so.
My old jumper, Sir Tally, was an escape artist. Only, after he had let himself out of the stall, he would then proceed to let everyone else out. This usually occured between the hours of 2:00 and 5:00 AM, when the barn owner was rudely awaken to the sound of galloping hoof beats outside her bedroom window.

I feel sorry for people who say animals don't have emotions. Animals have a wide range of emotions, you just have to remove your head from the cell phone or ipod. They have so much to tell us, and all you have to do is just listen! Try it, you'll be amazed what your horse tells you!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

What makes a champion?

Jen and Imp sharing peppermints
At Poplar Place HT, Training level

At Rocking Horse...I hate this table! I have seen Imp leave out a stride
and stretch her way across it!

One question many horsemen have debated for generations, is, what exactly, makes a champion?
Is it genetics? The breed? Size? Talent? Is it the training? What about the partnership? Is it the size of their heart, both literally and figurativly?
Secretariat's heart was 22 pounds...the normal Thoroughbred's heart weighs in at about 8-9 pounds! Was it his heart that made him so great? His breeding? There is no doubt that he is one of the greatest champions of all time! Yet amazingly, he was not considered an immediate success in the breeding shed. However, his bloodlines can be found in 2004 Derby and Preakness winner Smarty Jones; and he is considered a broodmare sire, with such notable offspring as grandson AP Indy, sire of 2007 Belmont winner Rags to Riches (the first filly to win the race since 1905), and Storm Cat. I even own a grandson of Secretariat, Bates, by the legendary Bates Motel. Although Bates looks similar to the big chestnut stallion, he does not come close to being in the same league!
In her book Saddled, author Susan Richards describes having heart as meaning "gusto, pizzazz, a willingness to go anywhere or try anything. Not blindly, but with an expansiveness of spirit and intelligence that are visible in a horse's posture and eye. Heart is confidence" She goes on to say that it is the biggest difference between a good horse and an extraordinary one.
I agree! But does having such heart mean that a horse will be a champion? I think so! But what is a champion? Certainly horses like Rachel Alexandra, Affirmed, Theodore O'Connor and Gifted are all champions, having attained the highest level of their chosen sport, and doing it incredibly well! But does being a champion mean you have to be a 14.2 hand pony competing at Rolex or to be undefeated on the race track?
If you were to ask any student at a therapuetic riding school, such as Orlando's Freedom Ride, I am sure they would declare every horse and pony in their barn a champion! I had the chance to visit there today. I didn't see any blue ribbons hanging from stall doors, but these horses were spoken of so highly, so affectionately. No, they may not have blue ribbons, but they have achieved something much more important in the lives of so many!
I know that in my own barn, of my 4 current horses, I have 1 definite champion, 1 in the making, and 1 definitely not! And Bates, the grandson of Secretariat? Well, lets just say that the jury is still out on him!
But Impulsive, our 20 year old retired Thoroughbred mare? She has the heart, just as Susan Richards describes. She also has the talent, the breeding and in my opinion, the breed..she is a Thoroughbred after all. And a mare at that! I was not a fan of mares, not having owned one for 20 years. Then Imp came along and a wise dressage judge told my daughter and I that a bond between a mare and her rider will be stronger than any between a gelding and his rider. And after watching the way Imp looked after my daughter Jen out on the cross country course, I have to agree! She is talented and had the training to boot..all traits that when combined, make a champion. With her former owner, she evented at the advanced levels..pretty impressive in the eventing world. She was not thrilled competing at the lower levels with Jen, she loved the higher heights and faster speeds. But she taught Jen the ropes of eventing, taking care of her like nothing I have ever witnessed before, keeping her out of trouble and if they did get into trouble, I saw this horse execute the most daunting manuevers, that only a true champion could muster. That alone, in my eyes, makes a champion! When they schooled at the prelim and intermediate levels, you could see a look in her eye that she just could not get enough. When a bad knee forced her into early retirement 2 years ago, the surgeon could not believe that just a month earlier, she had been schooling at these levels with no indication of any pain whatsoever. Now that makes a champion! That is heart!
My beloved Tucker, has not the breeding, but he has heart and a partnership, that I think will make him a champion..maybe, definitely not at Rolex, but whatever level we do eventually settle on, I know he will excel at! People are shocked when they see him and find out he is only a premarin baby! Ok, he is no longer a baby, I really gotta stop referring his as such! To his sire's credit, he does have a famous the Percheron world. But for a sport horse? His poor dam doesn't even rate a name or description, only known as a "15.1 hand Quarter Horse." Nice, huh? But having owned him since he was a big bouncing baby of 6 months old, about to turn 7 years in less than 2 weeks, I think we have a pretty good partnership...I have been his only trainer, only letting a handful of other people on his back...3 to be exact...and I can pretty much read him like a book, as he can read my thoughts. And that definitely goes into the stir pot of ingredients for the making of a champion! And, he is showing talent. And a love of the sport...and a love of the sport is definitely an important ingredient! After all, I can't really see a dressage horse such as Gifted, performing well at say, reining, although a good number of Thoroughbred racers have gone on to excel at many other careers...hunters, dressage, jumpers and eventing in particular.
It is an interesting debate, one which will continue to be discussed in the barns, over a cup of hot tea (or coffee) at the show grounds, or at the backstretch, for many generations to come.
How about you? What makes a champion in your book?

Saturday, May 8, 2010


Tucker's first horse trial, Rocking Horse, April 2009

Tucker at the age of 4

I had never heard of a PMU or Premarin horse, until I was shown a brochure from an adoption group in the 1990's. I was absolutely horrified that such a practice exsisted: mares kept in straight stalls, unable to lie down for the most part of their pregnancy, hooked up to catheters to collect urine, and then the babies, sent to auction houses before they were 6 months of age, with the majority being sold to slaughter houses, so Europeans could eat them. All of this cruelty in the name of a drug to keep women from suffering through menopause. I was horrified that such a barbaric practice was going on, and had been going on for decades! Only in recent years had this practice come to light, and adoption groups were forming and were working with the ranchers, most in Canada and in the northern United States, to breed decent quality sport horses, that might actually have a chance of ending up somewhere other than on somebodies dinner plate.

It wasn't until 2003, nearly 10 years after seeing that brochure, that I had the opportunity to adopt a Premarin foal. I was so excited! I scoured rescue group websites, looking at prospects. Most foals were draft crosses: Percherons or Clydesdales crossed with Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses. The perfect sport horse! I ended up with a black Percheron/QH colt. He had been originally picked out by someone else, but they decided they didn't need another horse and offered him to me!
The black colt was much larger than any of the other foals that were delivered with him to a drop off point in Winter Garden, about an hour from my house. We loaded him and another, a Fjord cross for a friend, into the trailer, and off we went! We quarantined the two together for several months. I was never able to get more than a quick pat while offering food to this wild fellow...he was so wild, I might as well have adopted a mustang! Twice during his quarantine, he jumped over the 4 foot fence. Well, I wanted a horse that could jump, I told myself, all the while, wondering just what the hell I was getting my self in to.

After 2 months and not making any progress, mainly because he was being kept so far from my home and I was lucky if I saw him twice a week, I moved him to be closer to my horses. I took him to a friend who halter broke him for me. Using the clicker method and food as a reward, he was halter broke in just a few days! Once he was halter broke, the rest of the training was so easy! After a few weeks, I then moved him to the farm where I kept my daughter's horses. I went slow and easy with Tucker. Eventually, I was able to pony him off the back of Dolly, my youngest daughter's aged Quarter Horse mare. A couple more times, Tucker demonstrated his jumping ability, jumping out of the pasture. He was also good at breaking boards. Hot wire soon became my best friend: I may as well be using toothpicks to keep him in otherwise! Tucker grew and grew, sometimes showing how stunning of a horse he would eventually become, other times looking gangly and darnright ugly! His sire had been a famous Percheron by the name of Johnny's Showtime, who stood 17.3 hands, and looked more like a Friesian than a Percheron. The mare, who did not rate a name, despite the abuse she endured, was a 15.3 hand Quarter Horse. I have pictures of Johnny's Showtime, none of his poor dam. I had hoped that the 2 extreme heights would mean he would top out somewhere around 16.2 or 16.3 hands..a good size for a tall gal like me. But Tucker kept growing, and now just 2 weeks shy of turning 7, he is 17.1 hands tall.

I named him Tucker...well, not for any really good reason. It just sounded right for him! His show name is Patronus. If you are a fan of Harry Potter, you will know what it means. If you aren't a fan, its definition is to protect, to defend. In the Harry Potter series, Harry uses the Patronus charm to conjure up protection from the dementors and other various vile villians!
I waited to break Tucker until he was 3 years old. With his height, I didn't want any unnecessary stress on his joints. When I did sit on him for the first time, he looked around at me, as if asking just what was I doing up there on his back? He didn't buck, he didn't bolt. He just stood there, and then took some hesitant first steps when I asked him too.

The next few years were spent at a turtles pace compared to how other horses are broken. I didn't canter him until he was 4. I didn't jump him until he was 5. At the age of 5 1/2, I introduced him to his first cross country jumps.

In the fall of 2008, we attended an intro to eventing clinic with Jonathan Holling. It was Tucker's first time looking at cross country. He loved it, I loved it, Jonathan loved him! He told me Tucker could go to any level of eventing..I didn't tell him I aspired only to do novice...I knew what crazy jumps my daughter Jen jumped on her mare, Impulsive at training and above, and no thank you, I am not interested!

Last April of 2009, we finally did our first schooling horse trial. We finished on our dressage score of 38, taking 4th place out of 26 in beginner novice. Tucker was a blast to ride on the cross country course. We quickly settled into a rythmn and I think he would have jumped some of those crazy training and prelim jumps had I asked him to! He was having fun..we were having fun! I had done jumpers and hunters all my life, converting to eventing because Jen had gotten involved with eventing and pony club. It was one thing to be an eventing mom and groom, to watch from the sidelines. But to finally ride it? This was a blast!

I wish I could say we have done more events since then. But summer came, and I tend to hibernate in our is just too dam hot. Fall came and went before I had a chance to realize it had already left and I missed some shows. Winter was a busy time. But I had a wake up and made some adjustments in my life, so that eventing Tucker is now a priority. I missed the winter season and summer is here, thereby limiting my cross country, but fall will be here before anyone knows it and you bet we will be out there!

In the meantime, Tucker and I continue to get ready, working on conditioning and jumping.

I have owned many horses in my life, mainly Thoroughbreds. And I will always have a special place in my heart for each and everyone of those horses. Tucker comes at a time in my life when my kids are leaving home. As I approach the big 5-0 in a few years, I don't want to think about slowing down..who says you have to? I want to conquer the cross country course, who knows, maybe we will go beyond novice? I do know that age is not going to slow me down!

I have owned Tucker since he was 6 months old...I know him inside and out. And he is pretty dam comfortable with me, and he knows what Iam thinking and does it before I ask.

He is one cool horse, and I have been privledged to be a part of his life.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Calypso Farm

So just who, or what, is Calypso Farm?

I grew up on farms in West Virginia and just outside of Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, I now reside in Winter Park, a charming city just north of Orlando, Florida. I really, really long to be on a farm though. Preferably north of the the Florida/Georgia border, but really, I would settle for some acreage anywhere!

After going through boarding hell, which I will have to blog about another time, I found a little slice of heaven which will have to satisfy my appetite for my own farm for now. Nearly 6 years ago (wow, that long?), I was able to lease a farm in the rural community of Chuluota.

Sitting on 5 acres, I can pretend that the land and small barn belong to me. The owners of the property live there and are absolutely wonderful about letting me do my own thing. They really have put up with alot, from rescued horses to pony club meetings.

I came up with the name because my horse, Tucker, who I adopted at the age of 6 months from a PMU farm, was originally going to be called Calypso. You see, my absolute all time favorite singer is John Denver. And one of my favorite songs of his is Calypso, which is about Jacques Custeau's famous ship. It is such an upbeat melody, I just love to play it over and over, singing it at the top of my voice! And since my husband is into boating, I thought it would be a great way to integrate his love with mine, should the day come that we finally buy our own farm!

Calypso Farm is home to my 4 horses and 2 boarders, as well as 2 utterly useless barn cats. The horses include Tucker, now going on 7 years on May 25; Impulsive, my oldest daughter Jen's retired TB eventer; her new eventer, Bates, a grandson of Secretariat, and Hello, Dolly, the retired QH mare of my youngest daughter, Amanda. Tyke, a Dutch/TB and GG, a Swedish Warmblood, make up the 2 boarders. Gizmo and Hobbs are the charming but useless felines.

Everybody gets along, maybe a bit too much and there is alot of good vibes and harmony on the farm. My favorite thing, when not riding, is to just watch!

I love watching the horses play, groom each other and graze. The farm is a bird lovers birds come splash and bathe every evening when I overflow the troughs; sandhill cranes, ibis, bald eagles and swallow tail kites are regulars; and the deer! The other morning, there were 9 does in the front pasture, oblivious to the 3 mares and myself as we went through our morning chores. It really doesn't get any better than this...unless it is my own property!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Last weekend of April means one thing...ROLEX!

So as I think about what to write for my first ever blog entry (welcome to the 2010's, Lori!), I am conflicted about what to write about. An aspiring, wanna be writer, I have so many ideas in my pea I write about my dysfunctional childhood, my wonderful husband and kids, my horses, or things that tick me off (like smokers who throw their butts out their car windows, not only risking a fire, but dammit, LITTERING!!). I hope that by blogging, I can start to organize my thoughts and try to get focused, as well as hone my skills.
(Photo of Karen O'Connor and Theodore O'Connor, the most amazing Pony! Photo by Lori Tankel)

But since it is the last weekend of April, and I am a horseperson, I gotta write about ROLEX!

No, not the watch! Every horse person, whether they ride western or do the hunters, knows what ROLEX is. I mean, to prove my point, this weekend at work, I was explaining it to a co-worker, who is not a horse person and thereby does not know what ROLEX is. I was telling her how Great Britains 2 entries, William Fox Pitt and Oliver Townsend, had to go to great lengths to arrive in the US, thanks to that volcano in Iceland. Oliver managed to get to Paris, then pay $3000 to take a taxi to Spain, where he took a plane to Miami, then on to Lexington. WFP had a similar experience, though I read he missed his connection to Spain and convinced a neighbor to fly him there in his private plane. I am sure this could be a sequel to Planes, Trains and Automobiles, the British version! Anyhoo, a waiting client who is listening to our conversation, pipes up and asks "Rolex? As in the 3 Day Eventing Rolex?" Oh yes, annoyed me by showing up late to your appointment, a no-no for a newbie, but now that I know that you are obviously a horseperson, I will now give you the time of day! Turns out she is a Hunter rider...and of course, the horse world being a very small world, I know her trainer, she bought a horse from my trainer, etc, etc!

So ROLEX! ROLEX to the eventing world is like what the World Series is to baseball affectionadoes, the Super Bowl is to football nuts and the Playoffs is to basketball fans...I think they call it the PLAYOFFS for basketball. I dunno... my husband got tickets to a Magic game a few months ago and dragged me along. I thought my kids high school soccer games were more exciting.

ROLEX is the only 4 star event in our country. I will save the history of the 4 stars to those who want to go to, or, both of which has a good article on it.

I think most eventers dream of riding in ROLEX, though if given the opportunity, I think most would chicken out. I know I would! I grew up doing the jumpers. I admired the pictures of the legendary Bruce Davidson in the Chronicle of the Horse. I was asked if I wanted to event my jumper, Sir Tally, but you know, those jumps don't fall down my trainer reminded me. But then my daughter, Jen, joined the United States Pony Club, and before I knew it, she had an incredible eventer..a story in itself for another blog. We were eventing, or rather she was..and I was the ultimate cool horseshow mom. I trailered, groomed and pampered the hell out of Impulsive, her new mare. And I realized something about events, or horse trials, pretty early on. These people are awesome! I can be standing next to Olympian Karen O'Connor and she will warn me about a sticky spot out on the cross country course. Or Canadian coach Peter Gray is asking how Jen and Imp are coming along. Wow! At a hunter/jumper show, riders of this calibre would give low lifes like us the brush off and wish we break a leg. And, I learned at my first HT, you have..ready?....ASSIGNED RIDE TIMES! So unlike a hunter show, where you awaken at 4am, get to the show and sit around and wait for your class, because there is always a hold up, at a HT, you have ride times! So you always know when you are going to ride. What a concept! So I became hooked on eventing and in what will be another blog at another time, finally made it to my first HT last year on my very own Tucker, who I raised and broke myself. But event at the 4 star level? Hell, no. Not even the 3 star level! In fact, I don't really see myself going beyond novice, although I have been told repeatedly that Tucker can go well beyond that. But in my dreams and I think most eventers, yes, they dream of competing at ROLEX! I do think that Jen will one day ride in ROLEX! She really wants to! And she was already schooling at the Intermediate level with Imp when we had to unexpectedly retire me, it will be more exciting to watch Jen ride there then anything else!

I have not made it to ROLEX. Every year, I say I am going, but I don't. One year, we will make it. Maybe when Jen graduates from college in 2 years and doesn't have finals in the way. So in the meantime, I check the Leaderboard several times a day, I read up on the COTH bulletin board and read about it on the USEA website. I am not one to subscribe to the live streaming, because if I did, my horses wouldn't get ridden and there would be no clean laundry for the week. Instead, I count the days until NBC airs it..this year, May 15, prior to the Preakness. And because it has become so popular, they have increased the coverage from 60 to 90 minutes! WooHOO!

Thankfully this year, there were no serious injuries, no fatalities. Poor Oliver, after all he endured to get there, he had a bad fall on the xc and was airlifted. Thank God, he is ok, the horse is ok, but he was kept overnight for examination so he could not continue on his other mount. WFP, for all he went through, DID win with Cool Mountain! He is an amazing horseman.
Horses routinely humble us, and they didn't disappoint at Rolex. Kim Severson was in 2nd after xc, only to have a disasterous show jumping round today and drop to 24th on her lovely gray, Tipperary Liadhnan. There were several withdrawals on the xc, some did not pass the vet inspection today, and others, well, it just wasn't their weekend, but hey, there is always the next time, right? That is always the mantra for horseman, no matter what our level..there is always next time. And for me? Well, there is always next year..maybe we will make it to ROLEX!