Hug your Horse Today

Willow and Freedom

I was trying to take a photo with Freedom but Willow photobombed us. She was determined to be included. She is  very good at making her humans smile!

Next time you go to the barn, make sure you give your horse a hug.

Last week a friend of mine lost her fabulous mare after a pasture accident — Living Life in the Middle — reminding us that these fabulous creatures that we love and treasure are as fragile as they are powerful, and that their time with us is sadly limited.

Horses give us an amazing sense of elation and freedom. They allow us to sprout wings and fly. They are our partners in often unimaginable thrills. After a day of hunting, I look around and see riders who are grinning from ear to ear, humbled by the willingness of their horses to gallop, jump and share the excitement of following the hounds.

And yet horses can break our hearts. A bad step, a stomach ache, a moment of panic — any one of these can be career ending, or even worse, life ending. Horses find innumerable ways to hurt themselves even when bubble wrapped. We care for them the best way we can and yet some still find ways to thwart our efforts.

I remember all too well when I lost my Trakehner gelding, Kronefurst, back in October of 2008 (hard to believe it was so long ago), it was sudden and mysterious. He showed a variety of unrelated symptoms, stumping my team of vets. He died at Tufts less than 24 hours after arriving and I was stunned. I had been preparing for a long rehabilitation, not for grieving. Three months later, after a necropsy was performed, I learned he had a blood clot near his poll. There was nothing that anyone could have done for him; it was just bad luck.

Freedom and Kroni

Freedom and Kroni — two “heart horses” which just goes to show that we all have enough love to have many of them.

I suppose that the best thing we can do is enjoy our horses every day we ride, even the bad days — the ones where you doubt your sanity and want to throw in the towel. Then remember to give them a hug and thank them for giving you so much joy.

Horse owners sometimes say that we have “heart horses”, horses that are so special they own a piece of your heart. Suzanne’s mare, Sugar, was certainly one of those. She was beautiful, powerful and extremely fun to ride. I was privileged enough to hunt her a few times and she was magnificent. I know that she gave a lot of joy (even while inciting a few unprintable words). She was well loved and will be long missed.

Fun in the snow . . . or not

Here you can see the relative size difference between Zelda and my dog, Woolly Mammoth (aka Woolly).

Here you can see the relative size difference between Zelda and my dog, Woolly Mammoth (aka Woolly).

How much fun you are having in this latest snow depends considerably on your size.

Zelda loves it. She’s fully of energy and although she doesn’t race around for long, she gives some good bucks and rears, trying to convince Curly to join in.

Curly was having none of it this morning, so Zelda tore around the paddock on her own for about 3 minutes (until she tired herself out).

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When Woolly saw Zelda hightailing it around the field, he did the smart thing (I thought) and got the hell out of Dodge.

Unfortunately for him, he decided to stray off the path into fresh snow. The result? He got stuck until I could rescue him and make a new path. Lucky for him I noticed he was missing! Sadly for him, I think he’ll need to stay home until some of the snow melts.

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More snow

The horses were out in the snow, not much bothered by the bitter cold. It’s actually a good sign that their blankets are covered in snow; it means they are well insulated.

Just when we’d almost dug out from the last storm, we’ve been hit by another.  This one came with less fanfare, very few ominous warnings in the media, and no driving ban but it dumped almost as much snow on us and left the roads nearly impassible.

Thankfully, I didn’t need to walk to the barn today because I think that the high temperature today was 11 degrees!

The horses were fine, although they didn’t get their breakfast icicleuntil it was quite late. They were out in the snow and looked more like icicles than horses.

Freedom in particular was dripping with icicles.

Let’s look at the bright side. With all the snow, the laceration on his foot is staying clean and it’s giving his hooves (which were tender and cracking from the hard ground) a chance to recover.

snowshoesBut I’m ready for the daily high to be more than 15! But I’m going to keep my snow shoes handy for the foreseeable future.

Bad luck comes in threes?

Freedom's laceration should have healed more . . . it's in a bad place. Hard to keep clean, hard to keep him still.

Freedom’s laceration should have healed more . . . it’s in a bad place. Hard to keep clean, hard to keep him still.

It was one of those weeks where I felt like I spoke to my vet more than my friends! I like my vet, but mostly I want to see her twice a year for shots. I’ve now seen her three times in the past month, so I’m hoping that my spell of bad luck is over.

Freedom’s heel bulb laceration isn’t healing well. It’s in a prime location to develop proud flesh and to promote healing, she needed to cut away the excessive granulation tissue. It was not fun. Even with his foot blocked, the only way to keep him still was with a lip chain. When it was done, it looked like a small animal had died in the aisle — there was a lot of blood.

To add insult to injury, he’s also developed scratches on that foot.

I guess the good news is that he’s sound on the foot and not particularly bothered by it. Still, it’s going to take a long time to heal. I am armed with saline wash, a treatment for the granulation tissue and enough sterile pads and bandages to treat an army.

That was Thursday. Fast forward to yesterday morning.

When I went to feed in the morning, he was clearly not himself. He refused to eat. He was lethargic. he was yawning excessively and rocking his lower jaw. He was colicky.

Thank goodness we keep Banamine on hand at the barn. I dosed him in the morning and at my vet’s advice, also syringed a cup of Milk of Magnesia down his throat. Two hours later he was looking brighter and moving around. He’d passed manure and was looking hungry — and mad that he was not allowed food until the evening. Banamine is really a wonderful drug.

By dinner time, he was back to his normal self and guarding his food from Willow. He got another dose of Banamine as a preventative, but if you hadn’t seen him in the morning, you wouldn’t know he’d been feeling so sick.

At 10 p.m. he was still chowing down on his hay (provided in a small hole net to make it last longer).

Of course this happened during our first real snowstorm of the year when the roads were nasty and most everything was closed. That’s a rule, isn’t it?


Warming from the inside

soaked cubes

Soaked cubes are part of my horses’ winter diet. I like feeding the extra forage and the more water.

Blankets are one way to keep your horse warm during the winter, but you can also help your horse generate his own heat by feeding him more forage.

We feed a lot of hay. Much more than my horses ever got at commercial boarding facilities. Long stem forage is good for a horse’s digestion and the digestive process also generates heat. So, the colder it becomes, the more forage you should offer your horse.

According to the North Dakota State University Agricultural Communication,

Cold temperatures also change the daily feeding requirement. The lower critical temperature for horses with a heavy winter coat during dry, calm weather is 30 F. For each 10-degree change below 30 degrees, horses require an additional intake of approximately 2 pounds of feed per day (assuming the feed has an energy density of 1 megacalorie per pound, which is typical for most hay).

A 10- to 15-mph wind will require horses to consume an additional 4 to 8 pounds of hay to meet their increased energy requirements. When a horse without shelter becomes wet and encounters wind, it must consume an additional 10 to 14 pounds of hay.

That’s a lot of hay! One of the ways that I feed hay in the winter is by using soaked hay cubes. I feed 50/50 Timothy Alfalfa cubes, adding 2-3 pounds soaked. Freedom gets his twice a day; Zelda just at dinner. This adds more forage to the diet (without as much volume), cuts down on waste,and also helps keep them hydrated.

Note: while it’s not absolutely essential to soak hay cubes, I always do to prevent the chance of choke.

It’s all about staying warm

zero degrees.

I like temperatures with at least two digits. The sad part is that it was even colder when I woke up.

We’ve had quite a run of cold weather. Okay, it is Winter and it is New England, but I am getting tired of waking up to single digit temperatures (or worse).

Warming up to 16 degrees just doesn’t cut it for me.

I’m not worried so much about the horses. They don’t seem to mind the weather. They have plenty of hay to eat, soaked hay cubes and cozy blankets.

What I really worry about is the pump. Yup, the pump.

We get water to Freedom’s barn using a pump that obviously would prefer to live in the south. When it’s consistently below 25 degrees, it freezes. Even when wrapped with a heating coil and insulation, it just doesn’t run. When that happens, you really begin to appreciate the beauty of running water because the only

Naked pump

The pump has a heating coil and the remains of some insulation.

other way the water gets to the tank is when I schlep it there. Because you know that horses need access to water all the time. No use telling them that they really aren’t thirsty.

This year, I got smarter. I bought a second water tank so that we have 140 gallons on tap. And then my husband suggested a clever solution: we need to keep it warmer. A little Yankee ingenuity came into play. We covered the pump with an unused horse blanket and then topped it off with a plastic garbage can.

Wrapped up

The tank stays noticeably warmer with a blanket topped off with a garbage can. It looks like something you’d set up at Halloween to scare away kids.

The result? It still freezes when it gets really, really cold but it warms up more quickly and we have water more frequently.

Ring around the Hay Pile

Zelda hay

Zelda makes it very clear that this is HER hay

Every morning when I turn out Curly, Zelda and Andy they perform a complicated and highly ritualistic dance of power around the flakes of hay (and there are many flakes in many piles).

Freedom and Willow are easy. Freedom is in charge so he eats where he wants. Willow understands this. They are perfect pasture mates because there is no conflict. Ever.

Curly is very obliging. She will always defer, always move off and let another horse eat first.

Andy Hay

Andy tries to eat hay next to her.

Zelda and Andy are still figuring it out. Mostly Zelda. She loves her food and sincerely believes that is should all belong to her. She’s a horse that will stand over her food pan in her stall and stamp her feet if she thinks another horse is dreaming of eating her breakfast.

There’s no true aggression in their hay dance; it’s actually a very clear demonstration about how horses communicate through posturing.

Here’s how it goes:

Zelda and hay

Zelda gets all mad at Andy but ultimately moves off to another pile

Zelda assumes possession of the hay that she wants.

Andy love Zelda so he tries to eat at the hay pile nearest to her.

Zelda responds by pinning her ears, snaking her head and maybe lunging a few steps toward him. Then, she retreats to another pile of hay.

Andy follows her and starts eating next to her again.

Zelda kicks out at the air and gives him the evil eye. She might squeal.

Eating hay

They figure out there is plenty of hay for everyone and settle down to eat. Notice that Curly has kept well out of the fray.

Curly watches the antics from a distance, shakes her head and continues to eat from her own pile of hay.

After three minutes, they all eat quietly.

I’m not ready


Here’s a perfect imprint of Zelda’s hoof. At least this one has come out; Freedom is standing on snowballs and as soon as I pry them out, another one starts to form.

Winter arrived in the Northeast this week — just in time to ensnare drivers heading off for Thanksgiving. We only got a couple of inches, but I’m just not ready.

I’m not ready for the snow causing the electric tape to sag. I’m not ready for the horses to have wet blankets. I’m not ready with a barn full of hay — it’s hard to get hay to the lower barn when there’s snow on the ground and it’s already getting difficult to find a reliable supply. I’m not ready for overnight temperatures to approach the single digits. And I’m not ready for winter riding.

I love riding in the snow. It can be so exhilarating. But not when your horse doesn’t have properly prepared feet. My horses are still wearing regular shoes. No snow rims, no borium. My plan is to pull their shoes early next week. A barefoot hoof offers good traction and no issue with snowballing. But for now, the are walking on snowshoes (Freedom was perched on some snow stilts today) and neither they or I can enjoy the snow.