Herding: It’s hard work!
Hunting: It’s hard work!
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.
I’d been taking pictures only a short while when I learned that getting a good photo of a horse isn’t as simple as just pointing the camera and pressing a button. And yes, I found that rather surprising. I’ve always operated under the belief that every horse is beautiful, but when I took up hobby photography I learned that like people, every horse can have their photographic challenges. Most will have a good side and a bad side, a nice profile and less than perfect profile and an array of other funky angles and issues that can show up in a photo. So even though overall you might have a lovely subject, you can still end up with a flashcard full of pictures that aren’t very flattering of the horse you’re trying to capture.
All of my horses are good examples of this. Bullet has a lovely, expressive face that, as long as he’s not sporting any current scrapes or dings, looks good in almost every shot. However, his body is another story. Bullet is built like a tank, so if you don’t capture his image from the right angle, he looks blocky. (He’s fit as a fiddle, but being quite muscular, he can look thick in some shots.) Dharla has a pretty face in person, but her Arabian nose can look odd if you aren’t careful how you capture her profile. And little Rascal has his own unique set of photographic challenges.
I wish I could say I’ve mastered the art of shooting horses, but I haven’t. (To the non-photography geek that statement must sound horrible!) The only way to improve is to spend more time studying horses carefully, and by taking lots of pictures of horses.
(Hazer, age 10.8 yrs.)
It’s hot here. So hot that my dogs aren’t even thinking about going outside. They lay around all day on the cool tile and hardwood floors and when I open the door to let them out, they just stand there looking at me like I’m nuts. I’m going to take my cue from them and stay inside the next couple of days. Oh, I still have to stagger out to water the gardens and take care of the horses, but there isn’t much I can do for the horses except feed and water them. The horses don’t like the heat any more than the dogs, but I can’t bring them inside to escape this inferno. I would if I could. I wonder if the same animal rights activists who think barns should be heated in the winter think they should be air conditioned in the summer? Don’t get me started ….
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!
I can spend hours watching my horses interact with each other. Herd dynamics have always intrigued me. Not a day goes by that I’m not thankful my horses all get along. Oh, sometimes they have an occasional ear-pinning, foot-flying spat, but I don’t have a truly mean horse in the bunch. I have friends who’ve had to carve out individual paddocks and pens because of personality disputes, so I consider myself lucky that mine all get along.
As the hierarchy goes, Rascal rules the roost. Dharla runs a pretty close second, but while she tends to respect Rascal, she’s not against giving him her opinion every now and then. Generally speaking though, Dharla defers to Rascal’s wishes. Bullet is the bottom of the herd. He’s persistent and he can be a big pest, but he always caves to any serious pressure from either of the other two horses. Bullet is a foundation bred buckskin and he happens to be one of most easy-keeping horses I’ve ever known. He doesn’t require any fuss or fanfare. He’ll gladly stand out in any kind of weather and eat anything you give him. He’s not married to any kind of routine and doesn’t even want the creature comforts our other horses seem to enjoy. If it’s pouring rain and Rascal and Dharla hog the run-in, Bullet doesn’t care a whit. Snowing like crazy? Rascal and Dharla want their blankets, but Bullet rarely wears one. He’s just the most easy to please guy. Nothing bugs him and he never complains when he gets booted from hay pile to hay pile. If he can share someone’s hay that’s great, but if not, who cares? He’s a go-with-the-flow kind of guy. At times when there isn’t any food around you can usually find the two boys hanging out together and Dharla will be off to the side on her own. She doesn’t like to be crowded.
While none of my gang are herd-bound, they do like to keep track of each other, especially when they are all turned out in the larger pasture. To get them to come back to the barn I only need to call to Dharla and the boys will follow. They find safety and comfort in their little band, and that works just fine for me.
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.
I was driving down a back road one day when I passed this old relic. It was parked out on a side lawn above a small pond. A once important piece of farm life now relinquished to the status of lawn ornament. It tugged at my heartstrings, so I turned around, parked and took several photos of it. I’ve never tried HDR, but when I’ve got some time to tinker with that I think I’ll go back and try it with this scene. It might help make the machinery stand out a bit more from it’s background. I’d also like to try to shoot it with a little snow cover on the ground.
I had a little time on my hands yesterday after checking out a future photography prospect, so I took the scenic route home. This was a challenging shot. It was taken from the side of the road, but the barns were a good distance away and up a fairly steep hill. I didn’t want to trespass to get any closer, so I had to make do with what I had. I also had to position myself so the rock in the foreground would “hide” a brightly colored swing set. Overall, I’m pleased with the results.