A nice little farm for Sunny & Stella.

I grew up with horses in the back yard. I got my first pony when I was nine, and from then until I went off to college, we always had a horse or two (or six) at home. My formerly non-horsey parents became experts at mucking stalls and making bran mashes. Horses were as much a part of our lives as breathing. I remember cold winter mornings, when my dad would come to the barn with me to help do chores, and breezy spring evenings when my mom and I would sit on the tack boxes in the aisle way after night check, listening to the horses munching on their hay. Every weekend was spent at a horse show or clinic. Family vacations and camping trips were things other people did. Horses were our lives, and we wouldn’t have had it any other way. And I’ve been waiting for over two decades to get back to that life.

Fast forward to a month ago. That’s when we spotted it on the internet. A nice little property, with what looked like some good fields, at a manageable price, in one of my very favourite parts of Nova Scotia – a little place called Elderbank, in the Musquodoboit Valley. Two days later, we went to see it. I think I spent about 10 minutes total looking at the house – just long enough to make sure it was livable. Then I headed out to the fields. Here’s what I found:

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In an instant, I could imagine Sunny and Stella in this field. I could picture the fencing, the barn, the riding ring… everything. I’d been planning and dreaming and scheming for so long, and now, standing in this field, I could see it all. I knew we had to have this place.

The past four weeks have been a roller coaster. This hasn’t been an easy purchase. Things didn’t exactly go smoothly, and we had more than our fair share of moments when it seemed like the entire deal was doomed. There were certainly times when it would have been easier to give up. Just walk away. Look for another place. But then I’d close my eyes and remember standing at the top of that field on that sunny day in June, imagining my horses grazing contentedly together, and I knew we couldn’t give up. We had to keep going. They say nothing worth having ever comes easy, and now I know exactly what they mean.

We got a text message from our agent today. The deal was done. The sold sign had been put up. The property is ours. We close in three weeks. We did it. It just goes to show that good things don’t come to those who wait. Good things come to those who decide what they want, and never give up on it.

Welcome to Devonwood Farm.

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Peat moss for the win.

So it just occurred to me that I never updated you on Sunny’s problematic knee rubs. The solution was actually pretty simple – we switched her bedding to peat moss.

Now, I know some of you are wrinkling your nose and saying “Ewwww. I hate peat moss. It never looks clean”. Well, that’s how I used to feel about peat moss too, until I used it. Peat moss makes the softest, most cushion-y bed your horse will ever sleep on. Its dust particles are too big to cause any kind of respiratory problem for horses (and it is also the most absorbent of the beddings, so it virtually eliminates any ammonia smell). Once you get used to mucking it out, it’s actually easier than shavings or straw, and if you put aside your feelings about how “dark” it looks, there’s really no reason not to use it, especially for a horse like Sunny.

The first morning after bedding her stall in with peat moss, she woke up covered in peat from head to toe – which brought tears of joy to my eyes, because it meant that for the first time in who knows how long, she had a good night’s sleep. Since that day, there have been no more rubs on her knees or fetlocks… so I’m calling it a win.

Now that Sunny feels comfortable lying down (and being able to get back up), she has become a different horse. She’s more relaxed, she spends more time wandering happily around her paddock, and she’s even started putting some weight back on. I snapped this picture of her yesterday, one month before her 24th birthday. I think she’s looking good, for an old girl. Don’t you think?

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Duct Tape for the Win.

Sunny is what I would call accident-prone. If there is any possible way that she can hurt herself, she will do it. It’s not usually life-threatening, or even very serious, but she’s the kind of horse that could cut herself in a padded stall.

So the first time I noticed an odd little nick on her front left fetlock, I wasn’t overly concerned. I did what I always do – cleaned it out, put on a little purple spray, and forgot about it. The next day, she came in with two of these nicks – one on each fetlock. Same routine. By the third day, they had become full-blown open sores, and I started to get worried. I just couldn’t figure out what was happening. She lives in a very safe stall, with a very safe paddock, and there was nothing I could find that would be causing these injuries.

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So, I did what any responsible horse owner would do – I took to the internet in search of “what causes sores on fronts of fetlocks”.

Well, as it turns out, the problem is in the way she’s lying down. Actually, more to the point, in the way she’s getting up. Now, Sunny’s no spring chicken. She’s twenty-three this year, and has a lot of arthritis in her poor old hocks and knees, so it’s not surprising that she has a bit of a hard time getting up and down. We filled her stall up with more bedding (on top of her rubber mat), and hoped that would do the trick. Of course, it didn’t. Sunny’s stall opens up into her paddock, and she is free to come and go as she pleases. Since she wasn’t necessarily lying down inside, filling up her stall might not have any effect at all.

My barn owner, Darlene, and I wracked our brains to try to figure out a way to protect Sunny’s fetlocks. Because we didn’t know if she was doing it at night or in the daytime, and because she spends most of her time outdoors, standing bandages weren’t an option. She was already wearing bell boots almost 24/7 because of some shoeing changes we were in the midst of making, but they didn’t cover the area where Sunny was getting injured…

And then it hit me. Sure, her bell boots didn’t protect her in their proper application. But turned upside down, they provided all the coverage Sunny needed to keep her fetlocks wound-free. An easy fix, as well as a great conversation piece whenever someone visited the barn (interesting side note – people for the most part are oddly apprehensive about pointing out that your horse’s boots have been put on completely upside down).

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Problem solved. Or so we thought. Within a matter of days, the sores began reappearing, this time on her knees. We were back to the old drawing board, except a little worse off than before because, well, have you ever tried finding a way to protect a horse’s knee without bandaging it? Especially a horse who basically lives outside? Not so easy.

Again I took to the internet, and found a few different options. One was these cool “socks for horses”, but it turns out the ones that are good for covering wounds don’t go up over their knees, and the ones that go up over their knees aren’t good for covering wounds. Another idea, which I thought was ridiculous and would never work, was covering the wound with duct tape. And the third option, pricey but appealing, was a pair of Back on Track knee boots.

So I temporarily used the duct tape method, and immediately ordered a pair of Back on Tracks from Amazon. I was very interested in how whether they could pull double duty, protecting her knees while at the same time providing a little heat therapy for her arthritic old legs. Well, I was right one one count.

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The moment I put them on, I could tell Sunny liked them. She got a soft, dreamy look in her eye, and began to lick and chew the same way she does when I’m scratching her favourite itchy spot on her belly. Happy with my new purchase, I turned her out with them on, and asked Darlene to take them off when she came out to do night check. Which she did. Although they weren’t actually covering Sunny’s knees anymore by night check. They had made their way down around her ankles, and were protecting nothing.

Back to Google, to search “how to keep Back on Track knee boots from sliding down”…

Almost every review I read about these boots talked about the fact that they were hard to keep from sliding down, and the preferred method of holding them up seemed to be standing wraps. Which we had already established that we were uncomfortable using. The next day I made a trip to our local Greenhawk store and purchased a nice pair of Stretch & Flex wraps. We then applied the knee boots to her knees, and the Stretch & Flex wraps underneath to hold them up. Which looked great…

 

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But, of course, by the next morning they had slipped down quite a bit. And since it’s been snowing, and they’ve been getting wet, they’ve been slipping down even more, to the point where the knee boots are once again down around her ankles most mornings. We even tried putting the Back on Track boots on upside down, which had been suggested as a possible way to make them stay up, but to no avail.

Then I thought back to that couple of days while I was waiting for the Back on Track boots to arrive. I remembered that the duct tape method, which had sounded so sketchy to me at first, had actually worked. I mean, it wasn’t pretty… but it had worked. So yesterday morning, I got out my duct tape, gauze and scissors, and fashioned Sunny the prettiest little duct tape knee protectors I could. All of the folks in the internet forums had suggestion cutting two long strips and applying them in an X shape over the gauze. So that’s what I did.

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And you know what? It kinda works! Once again proving the following three truths that are known to horse owners the world over:

  1. There aren’t many problems for which duct tape isn’t a viable solution;
  2. Sometimes less really is more;
  3. Make it in pink and mare owners will buy it.

Have you ever had a horse with knee sores? How did you treat them?

 

Goal-Setting 101

The Water Trough

Yesterday marked the official end of Stella’s “show season”. And no, she didn’t actually go to a horse show. But I’ve been showing my whole life, and so for me, there is a definite beginning (April) and end (October) to the season. Stella’s season consisted of one “at home” lesson, three “away” lessons, and four trailering excursions.

Yes, I know what you’re thinking. That’s not much of a season. But for Stella and me, it represents the achievement of some real, tangible goals, and that’s what this post is about. If you don’t set goals, and give them a timeline, how do you know if you’re improving? How do you know where to focus your energy? How do you know where you are?

Some of you may remember that this time last year was the beginning of a very dark phase of Stella’s career as a dressage pony. In…

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Mountain Lions

The Water Trough

I had a thought one day a few weeks ago:

When we are nervous while riding or handling our horses, they are not capable of perceiving that it is them making us nervous. Therefore they assume that we are able to see or hear or smell something very frightening that they can’t see, hear or smell yet. This makes them afraid. Surely there must be a mountain lion lurking nearby. Must run away.

I texted my coach, Wylie, to tell her about my revelation. “Yes”, she answered. “I’ve always thought that.”

For me, it was like an awakening. I had seriously never thought of it this way. By being nervous, we are scaring the bejeebers out of our horses. They must think mountain lions follow us around.

I thought very hard about this the next time I went out to the barn to ride Stella. I am in the process…

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Mind Over Matter

The Water Trough

It’s been a while since I wrote about Stella, my lovely Connemara with the ulcer issues. So, to put everybody out of their misery, I will tell you that she is absolutely fine. No tummy troubles whatsoever, mainly due to her change in venue and lifestyle. Stella now lives outdoors 24/7, with a nice herd and a cozy run-in shed. She grazes at will, is completely grain-free, and lives a pretty stress-free life. It’s a lifestyle that has kept the ulcers at bay, and now I can’t imagine keeping her any other way.

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But that’s not what this blog post is about. This blog post is about expectations, outcomes, and getting the heck out of your own head.

For anyone who remembers the story, Stella and I didn’t really have much time to get to know one another before she got sick. We did spend an awful lot of time together…

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My Favourite Letter is Q.

They say horses come into your life for a reason. I don’t think this was ever more true for me than in the case of a little chestnut quarter horse mare named Q.

When I first met Q, I was a working student for Michelle LaBarre. Q was my “summer project”. In a former life she was a western horse, a reiner to be exact, and my job was to retrain her to be used in our dressage lesson program.

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You know how sometimes people say “reining is the western dressage”? Not true. Not even one little bit. How do I know this? Because for the first month I rode Q, I had to ride her late at night, or early in the morning, when nobody else was in the arena. Not because she was bad, but because she was trained so differently than a dressage horse (or any english horse I’d ever sat on), that I didn’t know how to get her to go. She had so many buttons installed, and if you accidentally hit one, you never knew where it was going to take you. Sometimes she would fly backward as fast as she could. Or sideways. Or she’d just stop dead. Since I never knew in which direction she would go, I was afraid to ride her in the ring with another horse.

After months of hard work, Q became an amazing addition to our lesson program, and I was even able to use her for my “little kid” riding school, where she helped students as young as six years old fall in love with horses and riding. As Michelle often said, I had resurrected her. She had become a solid, dependable citizen who enjoyed her job, and did it well. I was even using her for my own lessons with Michelle, and we were ready to start showing first level together.

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Through an unfortunate twist of fate, Q and I were forced to part ways at that point. I never forgot that little mare. I thought about her every day, and cried myself to sleep many a night wishing I knew where she was, and that she was safe. Then one day, years later, I I was asked to come to the Atlantic Equestrian Centre to judge a schooling show. Of course I said yes. Part way through the day, during one of the breaks, I was wandering along the row of paddocks, and a familiar chestnut face caught my eye. I couldn’t believe it was true. It was my beloved Q, and she was right in front of me!

To make a long story short, I got in touch with Q’s owner, and made arrangements to come and ride her once a week. That riding arrangement not only reunited me with my old friend; it was also the beginning of a new friendship, with my coach, Wylie. Which, of course, has changed my riding life.

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Q and I are now a regular item. I ride her a couple times a week, I take her out to shows (where she often wins), and I ride her in clinics. She is turning twenty-four this year, but she’s still going strong, and usually comes out into the arena like a four year old, snorting at the scary back door and playing like a youngster. She lives in the stall next to Stella, and sometimes I stand in the aisleway and watch them both in their stalls, munching on their hay, thinking how lucky I am to have such amazing and wonderful horses in my life.

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Finding Q changed my life. It gave me a horse to ride ‘just for fun’, with no pressure, no expectations and no fear. It made me realize that the old saying is true, about loving something, setting it free, and trusting that it will come back to you. And it taught me to never stop looking for what you want, because someday you might just stumble across it standing in a paddock looking back at you.

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“I was walking along looking for somebody, and then suddenly I wasn’t anymore.”

-A.A. Milne