It’s hard to believe it’s that time of year again. I thought about Tia as I rode yesterday, as Dharla fussed and worried, shied at ice frozen on rocks, fret over bikers and dogs, jigged and jogged as much as she could on our way home. It wasn’t a great ride. I try to be patient and open and accepting of Dharla, but sometimes I just miss Tia. Not that Tia didn’t have her faults. She did. But I was younger then and I guess things got under my skin a little less back then.
Every ride I try to keep an open mind, stay positive, try to understand where my horse is coming from. Sometimes I succeed, but other times I fail. And when we fail to connect I start to feel … a little hopeless. Like I’ll never reach that impossible high bar I had with Tia. And I take the blame for any shortcomings we have now. Fortunately, the frustration doesn’t last too long. Maybe a day or two at best, or maybe just until the next ride that goes better. I guess if I have any strong points it’s that I never give up. I keep trying. Some might say that’s silly or stupid, that I have the wrong horse and I ought to sell her and start over. But I tend to disagree. I think Dharla has a lot of potential and if I’m not tapping it it’s only because I lack the skills to do so.
Either way, today’s another day, another opportunity to get out there and do it all over again. So we will. And I’ll always carry the memory of Tia in my heart. Always.
As per my previous post, Dharla was moved to a boarding barn in the beginning of November. Unfortunately, due to a crazy, mixed-up schedule, she had to come back home ten days later for various vet & chiro appointments. These were appointments that had been scheduled previously, but had to be postponed until November. Since I wasn’t about to pay two trip changes (Really? A second charge to drive 2.5 miles to a second location?), I decided to ride her home. Naturally, once the appointments were over the weather wouldn’t cooperate for me to ride her the half hour ride back, so we lost a little over a week of training. Not a great start.
To say we didn’t start off on the right foot would be an understatement. Oh, she settled in OK the first time there, but it’s been one headache after another since she went back. I won’t go into the details here, but it should suffice to say that basic people skills and an attempt to make sure the customer is (somewhat) happy should be the core of any successful business. And when it’s not? Shit happens.
Dharla will be coming home after we get our fully paid month of training and board. We have nine days to “make up” but I’m not even sure if we’ll stay long enough to fulfill that. (Since I’ll ride her home, our departure is weather dependent.) My unhappiness at the barn has nothing to do with my trainer and it pains me that circumstances beyond her control will force us to move on. It ain’t her fault, but I’m too old to waste another minute of my time or spend another dime at a barn where there are so many glaring issues.
It isn’t always easy for me to recognize when something isn’t working. Since I hate the idea of conflict, I’ll do just about anything to avoid it. But age highlights the fact that time is precious. More than ever I feel like I don’t have the luxury of just waiting to see if issues will work themselves out. Nor am I willing to put up with circumstances that, two decades ago probably wouldn’t have bothered me a bit. Comfort. Safety. Camaraderie. Those things are important to me now and if they’re lacking … I’m gone.
I’ve been riding a lot. When you stop to consider we’ve had 17 days over 90 since June, it’s nice to finally have some weather that doesn’t leave me sweating and bitching as I drag myself back inside the house. However, it’s rained only five times since April and the landscape is crunchy and dead or rapidly dying. It’s unlikely we’ll have a “pretty” New England fall. A couple of recent rides through the woods made me realize just how severe this drought has been. Not that I didn’t already know; I’ve been watering my own gardens with a frightening regularity that makes me question my sanity and praise the good fortunate of a deep well. They say rain is coming, but they’ve been saying that all summer. I’m not holding my breath.
My goals for the next few months are beginning to come together. I’ve started taking English lessons and in a few weeks I’ll move Dharla back to the boarding barn where we’ll both start working with my trainer again. We took last winter off and while that worked out fine, the heavy snowfall and bitter cold meant no riding. The entire winter. Ugh. So despite the fact that the Farmer’s Almanac is calling for another snowy and bitter cold winter, I think I’ve got a better chance of riding in an indoor arena than if I keep Dharla here at home. Or so I’d like to think. Cold weather tends to turn me into a weenie PDQ, so while it’s easy to say I’ll ride, only time will tell. On the up side, I happen to be one of those people who hates wasting money, so If I pay to keep my horse someplace where I can ride, odds are pretty good I’ll do it.
Riding English has been an adventure. It’s been about five years since I took a handful of English lessons and I’ve forgotten most of what I learned. For now it seems like there are as many pluses as there are minuses to starting from scratch with a new discipline, but that doesn’t surprise me. Nothing new comes easily at this age and stage. Not that I was looking for an easy out. I’m not. But after a year of very little ring work it’s been a bit of a shock. There are times when I worry that being limited to riding in an arena will bore me stiff, but then I remind myself that it’s only for a couple of months and ring work is better than not riding at all. Kinda. I’ll adapt. Besides, I can always trail ride Rascal at home. When I remember that I feel a little less limited. Thank goodness for Rascal!
I won’t move Dharla for maybe another month or so. I’m playing it week by week. If the bugs stay bad she’ll stay home, but if it cools down and the flies diminish then I’ll get her settled in. I’m not in any rush. And if this winter turns out to be too cold to even ride in the indoor then I’ll bring her back home. No point in paying to keep her somewhere if I can’t or don’t fully utilize the facility. I often day-dream about living in a place where riding 7-8 months out of the year is a reality. As much as I love the four seasons we’re lucky if we get 3 months of solid riding a year. I’m not getting any younger and I want as much time in the saddle as I can get.
Up until yesterday it’s been a week or so of miserable hot and humid weather. Not much turnout in the big pasture since the bugs are the size of a small dog. But the weather broke yesterday and it’s supposed to last a few days before gradually sliding back to that awful soup we call summer. We had a nice ride after unloading the hay. Rascal managed to lose a shoe in a boggy spot so we’ll have to add that to the list of things that need to get done this weekend. It’s always somethin’ here!
There are few words in the equine language that strike fear into the heart of a horse owner like the word colic. I’ve been around horses since I was a young girl and yet I somehow managed to escape ever having experience a bout of colic. Shortly after our first Arab arrived at our farm I learned what colic was. There’s nothing to prepare you for the fear and panic; it’s like jumping into the deep end of a pool for the first time.
As the years wore on we learned that both our Arabs were prone to colic. Like the boy who cried “Wolf!” they would exhibit an assortment of symptoms, but nothing much beyond that would ever materialize. (With hindsight I can say that’s a good thing) It was clear they were in pain, but they were both very stoic. Sometimes Tia, the mare, would camp out a bit, stand there like a rocking-horse. Other times she’d alternate between standing up and laying down. She never pawed, broke a sweat or acted any less than her calm, composed self. Finale, our gelding, was very similar. He’d stretch out, then turn to look at first one side of his tummy, then the other. Phone in hand and ready to call the vet, I’d pace from house to barn, watching them or stroking their flanks, fretting until the episode passed. It seldom took more than a few hours for their pain to dissipate and they’d be back to normal. I’d sigh a sigh of relief, but it would take hours for my jangled nerves to settle. The last few years of their life these episodes of colic became so frequent, I rarely called the vet. We’d been over the symptoms and options a thousand times already. We kept some pain medication on hand, but we rarely needed to use it.
Ultimately, we lost both horses to colic. I still try to rationalize our loss by reminding myself that they were in their late 20’s, but try as I might, I can’t forget the underlying cause of their death was colic. Tia had starting having such frequent bouts of tummy pain that with winter closing in, I decided to take the path of least resistance. On a beautiful sunny day in early January I gently let her go. Three days later we were buried under three feet of snow. The next fall Finale suffered a sudden, horrific bout of acute colic, and we had no other choice but to let him go too. It was like having lightening strike the same place twice. Finale’s death haunted me for months. I’d never witnessed such a brutal, devastating demise. We had complications getting a vet to come and my husband was ninety minutes away on a riding vacation. Finale hung on until my husband got home, but I suffered with traumatic nightmares for weeks. Finale’s frantic, final hours are forever etched in my memory.
It goes without saying that early this spring I was less than pleased to find Dharla showing some of the classic symptoms of colic. I’d gone out to the barn late that morning and was ready to tack up Rascal when I discovered Dharla in what appeared to be mild discomfort. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if something is wrong, but if you’re really in tune with your animals you get a sixth sense. I could feel Dharla’s tension. She wasn’t obvious about her pain, but there were almost imperceptible clues. She paced a bit and she looked unsettled. Normally, Dharla has a very calm, grounded demeanor. I brought Rascal inside and watched Dharla as I groomed him. She didn’t seem too “off” so I decided to do a very short ride down in the arena. Biased though it may seem, when a mare shows restlessness I tend to be less alarmed, as that can sometimes accompany her monthly estrous. And that is often the case in early spring, when a mare’s first few cycles can be the strongest.
Dharla was still pacing a little when Rascal and I left for the ring. We proceeded to do a few patterns, but my mind wasn’t in the game. I was more worried about the “what ifs” going on at the barn than I wanted to admit. I spent about thirty minutes trying to carve something useful out of our time, but I couldn’t focus. After looking at my watch for the third or forth time, we headed back to the barn. The minute we crested the hill I could see that Dharla was down. Not laying down like she might if she was taking a sun bath, but she was stretched out flat in the dirt. This didn’t bode well at all. Dharla never lays down. Ever. Well, certainly not like that. I’ve maybe caught her laying down all of three times in the four years I’ve had her, so this was definitely a red flag. I stripped the tack off Rascal, turned him loose and grabbed Dharla’s halter. I got Dharla up, slipped her halter on and started checking her vitals. It wasn’t good. It wasn’t awful either, but she clearly wasn’t OK. I started walking her around the hilly paddock and she followed willingly, yet every time we stopped she wanted to lie down.
It happened that just about then I saw a friend’s truck amble down the road that runs parallel to our farm. His window was open and he waved, to which I frantically responded by waving back and shouting “Stop! Please stop!” Kyle hit the brakes and asked if everything was OK? I quickly explained that my horse was ill and I needed to get to the phone. Problem was, I couldn’t leave her to go to the house … would he come walk her while I ran inside to call the vet? He quickly backed up the road. I tossed Kyle the lead rope and bolted for the house. It was one of those times when you wish everything would go smoothly, but it didn’t. Again, I had trouble finding a local vet who could come. The practice we normally use didn’t have a vet on call until after 6 PM and it was only 3:00. I’d never heard of this happening before, but I didn’t have time to argue or plea my case, I simply asked the receptionist if she knew of anyone else I could call. She gave me one or two names and I quickly hung up and started dialing.
I finally reached a vet who not only lived nearby, but was available to come. My luck, I just happened to catch her at a quiet time. (Later, after the crisis she told me she doesn’t always take emergency calls from new clients, but she could hear the panic in my voice and decided she needed to come.) She pulled into my farm in what felt like an eternity, but only about twenty minutes had elapsed. I can’t begin to describe the feeling of relief I had at that moment, but that was only a minor reprieve until the next round of panic hit. We still had to figure out what was going on, how serious it was and how we would proceed. Let me just say that this is not how I want to meet a new vet. I’m stressed, my horse is in pain and I was hoping my husband would soon arrive in case we had to make any difficult decisions. That fearful, un-askable question was pounding in my head: Was I going to lose my horse?
The vet was fantastic. Kind, compassionate and a great communicator, she set about doing her best to make my horse comfortable. My husband pulled in just ten minutes behind her, so he was able to give the vet a hand. Despite her pain, Dharla was ever the lady. She stood quietly while vitals were taken and a shot of pain medication was administered. In minutes Dharla’s relief was obvious, which gave the vet an opportunity to do a more thorough exam. She had little trouble locating an intestinal blockage and we immediately started discussing all our options. As colic typically goes, there were few. We would do an oil lavage and hope it would move the blockage. Either it would budge or it wouldn’t. If the blockage passed my horse still might re-block for a myriad of reasons, none of which we might ever know for sure. There’s no way of knowing the cause of colic until an autopsy is done and there’s no way to know if the cure will work. No matter what we did there was no guarantee she was going to be OK, and if so, we wouldn’t know that for awhile. Awhile being at least 24-48 hours. Waiting. It’s always the hardest part.
We did the lavage and Dharla had a good night. I made several trips out to the barn to check on her and aside from being hungry and wanting to go out, Dharla was fine. The boys both hung their heads over Dharla’s stall door, keeping her company. The vet touched base with me later that evening and again first thing in the morning. Since Dharla was doing well, we were able to start her on a small amount of hay. I monitored Dharla’s intake and output over the course of several hours and everything seemed to be doing much better. By the 48- hour mark I should have sighed a sigh of relief, but I still found myself anxious and worried. We were told we could take Dharla off stall rest by dinnertime the next day and while we knew we’d be watching her closely, she did seem fully recovered.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t. Recovered, that is. I had nightmares about losing Dharla. I had several dreams about Finale’s death again. I mourned over the loss of Tia. It seemed like this one brief episode brought back all the grief and horror from our past episodes with colic. It took a few weeks, but I eventually got over the hump. Riding Dharla again helped make her recovery seem more real, but there are times when I know I’m still looking at her with a clinical eye. Is she acting like herself? Is she eating with her normal enthusiasm? And God forbid if I ever see her laying down. I’ll probably have a full-blown panic attack!
They say you don’t appreciate something until you lose it, but I beg to differ. We came close. Too close to losing Dharla. I appreciate every single day she’s here.
This is my horse Dharla. As Arabs go she’s not bad looking. Not show-stopping, drop-dead gorgeous, but she’s kinda cute in a girly sort of way. She was an adorable, make-you-want-to-squeal filly. I know this only because I saw pictures of her from when she was a baby. (I have a few baby photos somewhere,
but I’m too lazy to look for them.) She was a very feminine little thing, full of pep and spunk, yet dainty. Four years ago when I was looking for another horse and went to see Dharla, I didn’t ask her breeders/owners to relay any antidotes about her “childhood.” I kind of regret that now that I know Dharla better.
I noticed right off that (for an Arab) Dharla was well-reared. She was cooperative and well-mannered while being handled, groomed and led. She had no qualms about us, total strangers, walking into her stall and picking up each of her feet. She stood there quietly, attentive, yet untethered as my husband and I gently went over every inch of her body. We watched as Dharla was tacked up to be ridden. Again, she was compliant and calm. While I credit her trainer for much of Dharla’s quiet acceptance of this routine, I know it spoke of a horse that had been exposed to a great deal of variety over the course of her (still) young life. (Dharla was coming on age four that spring, which is considered quite young by Arab standards)
Dharla was born and raised on a local, high-quality Arab and Warmblood farm. The owners take part in every aspect of the breeding, foaling and rearing process of every foal and have a reputation for turning out some very lovely, highly successful show horses. That said, no matter how carefully one pours over pedigrees and bloodlines, sometimes a foal just doesn’t live up to expectations. While that was never said or implied, I have my suspicions Dharla was one of those foals. And I suspect her breeders knew this from fairly early-on, which only makes me respect them even more. Why? Because they didn’t just let Dharla slip through the cracks, like some breeders would.
Instead, Dharla was raised exactly like every other foal born on this farm. She was handled often and given lots of opportunity to see and do new things as she grew up in the safety of a small herd of youngsters her own age. Bred as a Sport-horse prospect, Dharla was halter shown and graded as a yearling. (Her grades were very high!) This meant she got a little exposure to riding in a trailer and being in a show environment. When Dharla was old enough, she began the slow process of being trained to be ridden. Professional trainers do the early prep and backing of the youngsters on this farm, but as her training progressed one of the owners rode her too. Nothing in Dharla’s young life was any different than her more valuable relatives and companions.
There’s nothing really wrong with Dharla. It’s just that on a farm like this, babies that are going to grow up to be really outstanding prospects are earmarked from an early age. Dharla was a slow bloomer. That’s not unusual for an Arab, but when trying to run a profitable business one must determine where to invest the most time and money. Dharla had a sister (bred from the exact same parents, but born a year later), who had already proven herself more worthy of that investment. The sisters looked almost identical, but the similarities ended there. Twice I rode Dharla’s sister and I liked her a LOT, but she was priced out of my budget and she was way out of my league. Besides, I wasn’t looking for a show prospect, I was looking for a future trail mount. (Although still on the market to the “right” buyer, Dharla’s sister has been retained by her breeders and has been extensively and successfully shown by them.)
Dharla has grown up to be a fine trail horse. Athletic and smart, she has just the right amount of common sense and self-preservation that makes her a good team player, but capable of independent thought when necessary. Translation? She’s not inclined to do stupid shit. Granted, at this stage of my life I’m not prone to take a lot of risks out on the trail, but occasionally we’ll run into a situation where I really need to rely on my horse to get the job done with no wiggle room for mistakes. It’s times like that when I’ll look to my horse to help me make a decision and execute it, and it helps to know she’ll work with, not against me. Sometimes Dharla can be willful and stubborn. That’s the quirky side of her personality. But usually when the grit hits the fan I can count on her to do her job without a lot of extra drama. I value that.
All that said, it’s hard to understand how a horse that is apt to think clearly on the trail is so accident prone at home. I went out to feed early this morning and found Dharla sporting a big bald patch by her left eye. During the night she must have had a close encounter with a blunt object. The good news is that her eye is fine. (Phew!) Unfortunately, she looks like hell, and will continue to do so until the hair grows back. I know this only because this is a common occurrence for her and boo-boos are seldom a big surprise. For some odd reason Dharla has a tendency to like to throw her weight (and head) around. I’m sure if her pasture-mates could talk they’d say Dharla can be hard to get along with. She’s seldom truly mean, but she’s known to be ornery and mercurial. I kind of get the feeling neither of the boys ever really know where they stand with her. She wants them nearby, but she doesn’t want them close. And that makes for some interesting dynamics. It’s a little like taking kids on a long car trip; eventually someone’s gonna get poked.
As Gilda Radner would say, “It’s always something!”
(Baby Dharla. Photos not taken by me)
OK, not a great picture from a photographic standpoint, but I was out taking pictures of flowers with a 90mm macro lens and the Bean was getting tired of waiting for his breakfast. Every now and then I’d turn to see what he was doing and I just happened to catch him “testing” the electric fence! Now the Bean is the biggest weenie in the world and he would never under ANY circumstance even get near the electric fence. However, that morning I had turned the fence off because some of the flowers I wanted to shoot were quite close to the fence line and I didn’t want to absentmindedly back into a hot fence. Apparently the Bean knew it was off too, and since he was bored hanging around waiting for me to finish up and go feed him, he decided to live a little dangerously. I love how, in his Arab way of thinking, he wouldn’t chance standing any closer to the fence. Instead, he just stretched out his neck and head … in case he might have to make a fast getaway. So the 90mm lens captured his head pretty well, but there was no getting the full length of his body in focus. But I’m OK with that because his expression more than makes up for it!
This is my husband’s horse Finale, affectionately known as “The Bean.” He was supposed to be the last get from his father, Gamar and was officially named Gamar’s Reflection. He got the nickname Finale because he was supposed to be the last of a long line of champion race horses out of Gamar’s family tree. But when Finale was two, his father knocked up another mare. So Finale wasn’t Gamar’s last stand.
We bought Finale when he was three. He was a green broke, feisty, hot-blooded Arabian. Certainly not what my rookie husband needed. But Finale was charming and personable and won us over without even trying.
Beanie is twenty-six now. He’s just as feisty and finicky as ever and he rules the barnyard with an iron hoof, but we still adore him. That said, he’s not the easiest horse to photograph. Hopefully, I’ll get better with practice because he’s a very handsome old man and I’d like to have a lot more pictures of him around.