Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A Terrible Landing In Paradise

(Shiloh and Red during a parade in '03.)

When you have an old horse you always wonder, is this the year I'll lose him? How many times did I wonder that about Red--too many to count.  And, every time I traveled, I worried that it would happen while I was away.

It did.

(Shiloh and Red.)

In my mind, I always wanted to hold him as he passed. Comfort him as he passed.  Thank him and thank and thank him.

This winter was very hard.  It got cold in late November and it hasn't warmed up.  Last month, I found Red down in the snow and he couldn't get up without my help, so I made a decision to keep him stalled.

Yeah, he didn't like that.  Every time I went out, he'd greet me at his gate and demand I open it.  Usually, when the weather was a little better, I would.

But now-- I couldn't.  At least, most days I couldn't.

(Shiloh and Red)

It took 6.5 hours to fly to Hawaii from Portland.

 (Sophie and Red. Sophie at 4. Red 29.)

When we landed, my phone started to receive text after text after text.

(Dear Lord, I'm crying now.  This is so hard to write.)

"We need to call a vet out. Red isn't doing good."
"There is a vet coming. You need to call me ASAP!"
"We have to put Red down."
"We're doing it now."
"His heart rate is at 100 and normal is 40."
"T (my riding friend) is here, too."
"Red was put down."
"Did you get my message?"

(Sophie and Red when Sophie was about 4.)

There were more messages, from friends, but those were from my daughter, Shiloh, who had to make the decision.  Red had started out as her horse, and then became Sophie, my granddaughter's horse, and had lately become Catherine, my younger granddaughter's.

Shiloh never had to make a decision to put a horse down, but she did the right thing.

 (Sophie and Red being ponied behind Cowboy.)

I called Shiloh and the vet was still there, so she handed the phone to her.

"Hi. This is Dr. Pederson.  I'm so, so sorry you're having to hear this. was the right thing to did so well by him to keep him going this long....I've never worked on a horse as old as him....he looked good for his age.... I took his tail hair for you and we send it out to make an angel for you...complimentary.  Yes, there will still be some for you to have to make something else.  ....It was the right decision, we could have done a lot of expensive tests, gut sounds... I've never seen a horse pull out when they've gotten that far."

Of course, I was bawling at that point.  All the other passengers looked very uncomfortable.  We had, after all, just landed in Paradise.

My very first thought was how cursed I was that it would happen then.  Why me?  Why now?  Why Red? But then I wondered, did it happen like this for a reason?  Did I ask too much of Red to make it through this god-awful winter?!?  Did he leave the world when he knew I'd be gone?  Will it be easier for me to mourn his loss in Hawaii--away from it all--with the distraction of the ocean? 

Could I have been there?  

Should I have been there?

 (Sophie riding independently at 6 years old.)

But it was what it was.  Death is so unpredictable.  I had wanted to give him a chance to make it through the winter, and he had been doing pretty well....considering.

(Sophie riding alongside me as I pull one of my youngest granddaughters, Ariana, behind on Red.)

You know how Facebook puts up your memories.  Well, yesterday, the morning after we arrived home, this memory from exactly a year ago came up--Catherine riding Red and Sophie riding Penny.

That was a wonderful, mild winter.  He looked awesome!

The night I got home, I went out to see my herd in the dark.  As you know, we're a family.  We all feel each other.  Cowgirl was laying in the snow, near the round bale.  I dropped to my knees and  hugged and hugged and kissed her.  After that, I went to Cowboy, he was standing, but he moved his muzzle over to my mouth and I kissed and kissed him.

Horses are so emotional.  It was as if they were all telling me of the loss.

Now, we all  have to go on without him.

I'm not sure what that's going to look like yet.

(Red, last month.)

But I'm hoping sadness will turn to happiness and gratitude....  

I'm hoping I can incorporate some part of his character into my own....

Because he was a GREAT one.

**Thank you all for your condolences in the last post.  I haven't been able to respond to your comments yet, but I will.  

**For those wondering how old Red was in human years--like I was, here's a chart that converts it.  Red would have been around 111.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Good-bye, Sweet Friend

I thought letting go of my 37 year old horse would be easier.

But I was wrong.

Please meet me in the pasture when I pass from this world to the next, lift me on your broad, strong back and let's fly through heaven together.

Until we meet again, sweet friend, I'll carry you in my heart and soul.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Tossing the Head from Walk to Trot

In yesterday's post, I briefly described a problem I'm having with Leah. When I ask for the trot, she tosses her head and acts kind of mad.  At first, I thought it may be the saddle, because I didn't think she did it when ridden bareback, but last week she did it in saddle and bareback.

Hmmmm....another mystery.


1. Leah prefers the trot to the walk or lope.  I have a hard time getting her to start out at a walk.  She wants to get up and go. For the first half hour, it takes me about 2-3 asks to get her from trot to walk.  At the slightest provocation, she will start to trot again.

2. When SHE chooses to trot, she doesn't toss her head.

3. The tossing happens bareback and in different saddles.

Possible Solution:

I was watching Julie Goodnight last night (I tape all the episodes) and she had one on a horse that would buck when asked to lope--an "explosive departure."  The horse was very forward, sensitive, smart and athletic.  She pointed out that the horse was nervous about being asked to lope because he expected the rider to pull on his mouth.  The ask for movement, then the pulling back of that movement, was sending the horse mixed signals and he had developed a sourness or anxiety about the transition.

Here is a link to Julie's article on this topic.

During my lessons, I was always told to gather up my reins and make them short before asking for the trot and, I'm thinking now, my execution of that has made Leah anxious about the walk-trot transition.

Julie's advice was to throw the horse the rein before the ask and really emphasize that you WILL NOT get in their way or yank on their mouth.  AND, to use her seat only to ask for that transition. Then, let them move into the new gait for a few steps before gathering up any rein.

She also said to use his movement and don't try to hold it in all the time.

My plan:

1. Let Leah start out at the trot, if she wants, and stay off her mouth except when needed for control. (Julie said that allowing them to move out at first will help them get in the groove and listen better when they settle down.)

2. Throw her some generous rein whenever I ask for the trot and let her find that movement for a few strides before I shorten the rein.  And, if I don't need to, I'll continue to give her that rein--which I have been doing.

3. Use my seat ONLY for the ask--no clucking (which she hates) or leg--seat only.  Leah is extremely sensitive to cues.  I have to be very gentle with my leg cues anyway.  As for vocal, she even hates it when I'm talking to other riders while she's trying to work.  She'll pin her ears back anytime I start talking loudly.  On the ground, however, she likes voice commands.  Go figure.

Now, I just need to dig my trailer out again and get to the barn to put this into practice!

Monday, February 6, 2017

Snow Cancels Horsin' Around, A Hawaiian Vacation, & My Sweet Guitar

 More Snow

 We got dumped on again here in Spokane, and that, unfortunately, canceled our February horse clinic.  The roads were slick and dangerous--so it was a good call--but, oh, so sad!  Hopefully, we'll be able to reschedule for next Saturday--weather permitting--which will be one day before we leave for a Hawaiian vacation.  (More on that below.)

Before the dumping, I did get a couple more rides at the barn in.  I rode Leah in a new saddle and bareback, but this time I didn't see any difference in the two.  She tosses her head when I ask for the trot.  I had a friend ride her, too, and she thinks its a habit--a kind of tizzy over being asked to do something that differs from she wants to do.  Time will tell.


Hawaiian Vacation

I packed two days ago--completely packed--for our Hawaii vacation.  We've saved all year for this trip and we're making sure to stay longer this time.  We leave next week, but when it started to snow...and snow...and snow...I consoled myself by packing swimsuit, sun hat, shorts, sun dresses, sunscreen, etc.etc.  I also packed riding boots & jeans because I do plan to ride on the island again, but not at the same spot.  This time we'll be riding here.  Paniolo Adventures--picnic ride.  I need to book it!

I used to think a Hawaiian vacation was a waste of money, after all, you could buy a new horse or saddle with that $$--or guitar--or piano, but that only lasted until we actually went to Hawaii.

Hawaii is our How to Survive Winter drug.


After a year of playing the guitar, this is what my fingers look like. I promise, they don't hurt!  In fact, they're rather numb.  I was worried it would affect my piano playing, but if anything, it has improved it.  I hear music differently now--I see it differently, too.  I so wish I'd started playing the guitar at the same time I started piano.

I love my guitars.  I have the Big Baby Taylor and the Taylor 414ce.  The Big Baby is my porch/boat/office guitar and the Taylor 414 is my LOVE. I play so often now, everyday, multiples times a day, that I have to restring every few weeks.  I buy my strings in bulk and learned to string by watching this video by Martin.

Here are some photos of the process:


I  had over 3,000 pictures on my phone, so I weeded them out.  But while I was at it, I found this one of Cowboy's plate.  I kept it as a souvenir all these years to remember everything we've been through and how lucky I am to still have him.

And these  Beautiful memories of summer.  Yes, we will see sunshine and green grass and flowers again!

Monday, January 30, 2017

A Horse to Make Your Heart Sing

Last weekend, I took Cowboy and Leah to the barn next door for a day of fun.  First, I worked with Leah, and she did great, but when I switched the saddle over to Cowboy and hopped on--my heart sang! He's NOT a better horse than Leah--he's just the one I have the most time with, and I believe TIME makes all the difference.

You may wonder why I decided to divide my time away from my sweet boy--and sometimes I even have to remind myself--but it's because 10 years ago Cowboy broke his front, left P3 and I thought he was never going to be 100 percent sound again. He'd been mis-diagnosed by his vet for 3 months.  She thought it was an abscess, even though the x-rays showed a clear fracture and displacement--x-rays she took on the FIRST day.  She took more x-rays later, when he didn't get sound, but they weren't as good as the ones on the first day.  She just kept coming to the house and digging deeper into his hoof--drawing blood each time--swearing it was an abscess.  Eventually she consulted and they decided to make a removable plate and had  me pack sugardine inside to "draw out the abscess."  That plate inadvertently cast his foot, so in that regard, it was helpful.

(I had to take off the bolts and repack it twice a day with sugardine--sugar and iodine mixed together. My farrier was the one who took the measurements and nailed the plate onto his hoof.)

When I finally got my 2nd opinion, I brought those x-rays to the new doc and he saw the fracture with a flashlight in a dark bathroom at the barn.  It was clear as day.  (Moral: always look at  the x-rays and don't take your vet's word for it.)   We sent those x-rays, and new ones, to WSU and had the vets there give us an opinion.  They thought his prognosis was very poor because of the time that had lapsed (3 months) and the severity of the displacement.  They recommended that any treatment we did should be "conservative."

During his convalescence--which took a year--I didn't have a personal horse to ride, so I rode my husband's horse, Shadow, but he was already pretty arthritic and trippy.  I looked for another horse and ended up finding two--Leah and Beautiful Girl.  Then, Cowboy surprised us all and had almost a full recovery. He'd made it 6 months in a 12x12 stall--I visited him constantly because we had set it up right next to our house.  Then, he moved to a 24x12 stall for another 3 months. During the whole stall-rest process, he had not been allowed all, which would have been cruel for some horses, but Cowboy had been an Orphan Colt, so he seemed to like the attention and be okay.

Cowboy and I have been through A LOT together!

Time is key to a singing heart, and to that end, with all three of my horses, I'm devoted.  So, I don't have any time to waste.

I asked my husband to dig out my horse trailer with the tractor.

I loaded up Leah on Saturday and went next door to the barn.  (The only place safe to ride in this weather.)

I've only ridden her once--bareback in the snow--since our last clinic.  Saturday was day 17, but most of those days were spent riding Cowboy and working with Beautiful Girl.  Leah was a little wound up, but we worked on the walk, trot and lope.  She doesn't have any pain in her feet anymore, but I think she still does have issues in her body that exercise and massage will slowly work out.  She used to overarch to the inside going left, and she barely does that anymore.  It used to seem like a pinched nerve, but whatever it is, it's almost completely resolved.

On Sunday, I took Cowboy and Leah both to the barn.

I rode Leah first, then switched out the saddle and rode Cowboy.  He had been pretty bothered by the fact that he had to wait, so when I hopped on him, he was ready to go and as responsive as he's ever been.  Riding him was pure joy.

We set up a few obstacles to play over.

And, afterward, I rode bareback which, as you know, is much WARMER.

My heart did begin to sing a little bit riding Leah bareback.  She was happier than when she's saddled.  And, her trot is like floating on butterfly's wings.

All and all, I was at the barn for four wonderful hours that day.

I'm going to be trying a few new saddles on her in the coming weeks to see if I can replicate that bareback feel.  A friend suggested a cut-away--and another, an English trail-style saddle.  Whatever it is, it needs to fit around her broad, muscular shoulders.

Finally, today, Day 19, I took Leah over to the barn for more of the same work.  I hope that riding her more will help her lose more weight and stay in better shape.  My farrier suggested I ride her every day to get her moving good again.  That's not always possible, but with the arena, I can ride her quite a bit.  If I didn't have the arena there is no way I'd ride in the snow and ice.  Too dangerous.  I feel very lucky to have the arena.

Hope you're all getting horse time in, as well!