Covid-19, my horse, and me.

Covid-19, my horse, and me.

I’m not sure where to start with this post.

Do I start on March 23, when the boarding stable where I keep my horse had to close to the public – not only for the riding school, but including owners of horses boarded there?

Or do I start with my growing anxiety about my 25-year-old horse,  who has been kept in pretty good physical condition through regular exercise, both by me with groundwork, and by the lovely woman who pays to half-lease him and rides him 3 times a week?

I know that I have been at home, alone with my dogs, for weeks now. I have actually lost count of the days.

But – I’ve been very worried about Chips (that’s his barn name ). I’m sure that at his age, going for weeks without exercise, he’s losing condition – older horses lose condition fast and put it back on slow, and it is my experience based on the years I have spent around and working with horses, that horses that are kept in regular exercise live longer than those who get put out to be “pasture potatoes”.

And even though I have an unshakeable and absolute knowledge that he is in the best of hands, he may not understand why we –  me and my half-boarder (he loves us both, such a fickle boy!) – are not there for him. (I’m not sure exactly how a horse’s brain works, but I do know that he recognizes my footsteps as I approach his stall, and gives a little ”huff” out his nose when he knows I’m walking down the aisle towards him).

I have been forbidden by the Government to see my horse for 6 weeks now. I know that as far as feed, water, turnout, and even his hoof care (  HUGE thanks to Annalisa – you ROCK!!) he is doing very well for his basic needs. This is more than can be said for several stables that I have heard about, where basic care is increasingly becoming beyond the abilities of the proprietors.

But – I am 66 years old, and Chips will be 26 on May 7th – we don’t have a lot of time left together. Being unable to see him, spend time with him,  and give him some directed exercise, beyond turnout – where he stands around eating hay – has been something I have been struggling to live with.

Several weeks ago my daughter suggested that I offer to ask if I could be hired on as “night staff”, to give the last feed of hay and the last check of the stables at night. This is something I have done in the past, as a voluntary thing when I happen to be the last person at the stables. But asking to make it an official duty? I resisted the idea, because I respect the owners, and I knew there was a limit to the people who were allowed to work as essential workers at the stables, and I didn’t want to push the owners into skirting the rules. So I let the idea sit in the back of my mind.

This week it finally became too much for me, and even though I knew it could put the stable owner in a shaky position, I finally asked them if they could “hire” me as “night staff”. I’d give the last hay feed, sweep the stables, make sure the horses in the paddocks were secure – and it would give me the opportunity to get into the arena when nobody could see me and at least lunge my horse, in an effort to try to keep him fit, for however long this will last. There would be no mention of remuneration – the permission to use the arena would be all I asked.

Well, with my usual impeccable timing (as always, embarrassing – if only I had waited one more day!), today Cheval Quebec sent out a very vague, but hopeful, communiqué saying that they were making strides towards allowing owners into barns. It’s still very open to interpretation,  but the owners of the stables, a husband and wife team, ( I cannot stress how happy I am that my horse is in their hands) have done a live video explaining things as they see them.
We’ll know more tomorrow, but for now, I’m very optimistic!

And I owe an apology to my barn owners, for even suggesting that they skirt the rules for me.

 

 

Teach your horse to ground tie – a VERY good idea!

Teach your horse to ground tie – a VERY good idea!

Lately I have realized that I’ve been posting my progress (or lack thereof) to my social media and neglecting to put it here, on my blog! DOH!

So anyway, I have got to the point where my arthritis is bad enough to make it very difficult to get on to Chips. Once I’m on, I’m OK, but it’s that first step that’s a doozy!

I am lucky enough to be boarding at a therapeutic facility (more on this soon) where they have several types of assistance for mounting.

I regularly mount from both sides, and I’d been using the regular mounting block, but my knees were really starting to bother me. So I started to look at the wheelchair ramp as an alternative since it’s quite a bit higher.

The drawback was figuring out how to get up onto the ramp without having someone hold Chips for me while I did so. He’s great at standing still while doing ground work, and also with a rider up, but he had some trouble understanding that he had to stand still while wearing his “working clothes” and riderless. 

It took a few weeks, but finally, he got it – I could see his “AHA!” moment – and now he’s the poster boy for being ground tied! Check him out!

About older riders

About older riders

 I prefer to be called a “vintage” rider but the fact remains, I am probably the oldest person riding at the barn where I keep my horse.

Huh. I almost wrote “who still rides” but I just don’t like the implication that it’s some kind of amazing accomplishment to “still” be riding at my age.

I’m a member of a Facebook Group for women who ride. We have members from all over the world – Canada, the US, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, France – you get the picture.  And as a rule, it is a wonderfully positive and supportive group.

But just yesterday there was a post from a woman who said she started riding later in life, and was enjoying it immensely – until she found out that some of the other riders at the barn were talking about her behind her back, making comments about her age, her weight, her riding ability, and in one case even wondering why she was even bothering.

Now, first of all, I’d like to know who told her about this – if they thought they were doing her a favour they most definitely were not. But I digress. What I really want to talk about were the responses she got in the thread.

As I read response after response telling her to ignore them, that they were assholes, that every barn had some like that, that it shouldn’t bother her, and even to change barns, I started to notice that these responses were coming from women an average 20+ years younger than she is  ( judging by their profile pictures). Well, easy for them to say. They don’t know the experiences she has had in her life.

She is at a stage where in many areas of life there is discrimination on the basis of age or weight. It can be subtle, but it is there. And as we grow older there is less to do at home as our children leave, our social circle can get smaller, and we can start to feel isolated. For me, the barn is a big part of my social life – a place where I have real friends (that’s another post), where I know I am welcomed for me, not for what I look like or how old I am.

And while it may be easy to say “ignore them”, that is not always possible – I know that I have days when my confidence is so low that I don’t ride at all, even in the supportive environment at my barn. Denigrating and negative words can make a person question themselves and take the joy out of an activity that was previously fun.

Words can cause deep feelings, they can hurt but they can also help. I finally saw a couple of posts from riders of a similar age to the woman who originally posted. None told her to “get over it” or “ignore them”. These women were telling her about their own experiences – not telling her how to feel or what to do, but instead sharing with her and letting her know that she is not alone. Some mentioned coping techniques that they had found helpful to overcome the feelings and lack of confidence. Some just offered support and a willing ear.

I guess what I’m really trying to say here is that riders, indeed everyone, should be accepted for who they are, and leave outward appearances out of it. If they are a nasty person, of course steer clear. But if you can see a way to make an encouraging remark to a rider of any age, do it! It costs you nothing and can mean so much.

How do you feel about the culture at your barn? Let me know in the comments.

 

 

“They can tell you’re afraid”

“They can tell you’re afraid”

I wish I had a dollar for every time someone tells me flat out that they know horses can sense fear in humans and take advantage of it to behave badly.

Usually it’s someone who says with a certain amount of pride ” I rode a horse once – but never again!”.

Usually it’s because the horse they were on bolted, or refused to go forward, or shied, or exhibited any of a number of flight behaviours associated with the horse being afraid, not the rider.

Let me be very clear:

Horses DO NOT maliciously take advantage of a rider who is afraid of them.

Horses DO tune into the fact that the rider is afraid – and they then become afraid as well.

They expect the rider to be aware of the environment. They assume that because the rider is afraid, there surely must be something to be afraid of, even though they can’t necessarily see it. So they get nervous, unfocused, stop listening to the rider and start to behave according to their instincts. And their instincts tell them to flee, with or without the permission – or indeed the company – of the rider.

 

 

Winter Vacation Viewpoints

Winter Vacation Viewpoints

First of all, you have to know that I hate winter.

Not a normal, “Jeez, it’s cold and I don’t really want to go out” kind of hate, but a deep down, dismal, depressing, demoralizing, dark and doleful, all-consuming hatred that leads me every year to wish I had married that nice young man from Kentucky instead. (Sorry, Steve.)

Knowing this and given the winter we’ve been having (February being the coldest month we’ve experienced in 115 years, according to the weather gurus), I decided to take a break. I asked a lovely young lady at the barn to groom Chips three days a week for me while I was gone, and I left.

I have done this before, while boarding at other barns, and had noticed a fundamental difference in the responses to my re-appearance, compared to the return of someone who had actually gone South. The vacationers were unfailingly met with delight and happy queries; “You look great, all tanned!” “Where did you go?” “How hot was it?” I, on the other hand, who had stayed in this frozen hell we call a Canadian winter, was met with reproach; “Why did you stay away so long?” and “Your poor horse missed you!” I went to the barn again for the first time yesterday, expecting the same kind of censure,  and was amazed and delighted by the response I got. “Good to see you!” “Hi! We missed you!” “Glad you’re back!” I’ve said it many times, but sometimes it bears repeating – I love this place! (especially in warmer weather!)

 

How Not To Sell Your Horse

How Not To Sell Your Horse

This is a time of year when many horses will be changing hands for all sorts of reasons – a show rider who wants to move up to a more accomplished horse, a riding school expanding or reducing its herd, someone looking for a good family horse, a child having outgrown their pony…

Whatever the reason for selling, there are pitfalls in advertising your horse for sale. I can’t give you a sure-fire method to successfully sell your horse, but I can give you some pointers on how NOT to sell your horse…

Photos are so important.
Be sure to take photos of your horse when he is turned out, preferably after a heavy Autumn rain. If he is hairy and muddy people will be impressed that your natural horsemanship skills extend right down to the basics, and that you don’t use artificial aids like brushes or hoof picks to present your horse.

Try hard to take pictures when he is not standing even. This will lead your potential buyers to think he has a special number of legs—3 is good, but if you can get a post or object in the background, it can look like 5 or more! Missing or extra legs really helps catch the eye of viewers.

Be sure to accentuate his head. Take the photo when he is standing with his head facing you so that his head appears three times larger than his body. For a really comprehensive photo gallery, you can alternate this with photos that show us just the horse’s butt; we all know how flattering this type of photo is both for horses and people.

With time and patience, you may even be lucky enough to get a shot that combines both of these important features!

Never, ever provide a clear conformation shot that shows what the horse actually looks like.

100% Perfect Temperament

One of the best ways to show that your horse is safe is by including photos of a small, unhelmeted child clinging to its unsaddled back while loose in the pasture. Extra points if there are loose horses and other potential hazards in the background. This will clearly illustrate your confidence in your horse’s perfect disposition. (Note: if you’re running this ad in a newspaper, be sure to try to have it on a separate page from the “Barnyard Tragedy” article.)

A fairly subtle but very effective trick is to include various pasture hazards in the photos. Crappy fencing (preferably barbed wire and falling down) as well as random metal objects are a real plus. To the savvy buyer, this will show that your horse is smart enough not to get injured in the pasture!

Registration Pros And Cons

When you say, “Can be registered, I just never did it”, this shows us that you’re just so busy responsibly attending to your horses that you couldn’t possibly have taken the ten minutes to do the paperwork!

After all, registration is not that important – just look online; registered horses are everywhere! Show your horse’s uniqueness by listing its exotic breeding:
Mother was a Morgan/Quarter Horse and sire was a Canadian Horse/Standardbred.

For example, this is an actual ad for an unregistered QH/Arab cross. Just think of all the breeds you’d be getting for one low price!

“She has not been riden in about two years… She always produces nice foals that are easy to handle. She is available after her current foal is weanded or she can be purchaed now as a 2-in-1 for a reduced cost $750. 2008 foal is a sorrel colt, half-morgan. She can also be bre back to a palamino Morgan stallionor a cremello overo APHA if you would like. “

Height Measurements

You have several options here.

If you are going to list actual height measurements, be precise. Everyone wants a horse that is 14.5 or 15.6.

If you are selling a young horse who has not yet finished growing (anything under, say, 9 years old), provide guesses about your horse’s future height. Nothing says honest like posting your currently 2-year old 12-hand filly and saying:
“She will probably mature to be around 15.2”

Or you can measure someplace other than the withers. If you choose this option, remember, don’t provide the wither measurement.
“She is already 15-3 at the hip”

Sell The Potential

Tell us everything your horse ever could be potentially good at doing in the future. Does your horse have four legs and a head? Perhaps he’ll be a champion at jumping, dressage, barrels. The possibilities are endless, and you don’t want to exclude potential buyers by not listing their particular discipline!

If your horse has working or semi-functional genitalia make sure you also list them as having “breeding potential”! Has your 2 year old unregistered quarterloosarabian with three working legs bred with the donkey next door when he broke down the barbed wire fence resulting in an offspring that survived birth? Be sure to list her as a “proven breeder”!

Keep ‘em Skinny

Horses that have protruding bones not only show us that you are financially conscientious (what real horse person would spend excess money on feed?) but we can also evaluate the horse’s internal as well as external conformation.

Sell Your Horse Because It’s Useless

Show that you’re not a horse-loving softie, but a real horse person. Real horse people know how to use up a horse and sell them when they get too old to work for you. Show us you’re a real horse person by getting rid of the animals that no longer bring you a profit. It’s not like they deserve to be retired or cared for in their old age for all they’ve done for you during their life.

22 YO chestnut mare:
“She had been and is a great mare… she has a stud colt by her side and is bred back to <stud name removed> for an 09 foal. She is a sound breeder, color producer. I’ve had her since she was 4 and she no longer fits my program.”

Grammar Tricks and Tips

Nothing is more fun for a potential buyer than trying to decipher cryptic horse sale ads. This is a very smart marketing strategy – the worse your spelling and grammar, the more potential buyers will remember it!

Here are some great examples from actual ads posted online:

  • “I ahve 3 poines Paint Mare pony is 7 year old she is in foal. Broke to ride. She is 39 inches Paint Stud pony 5 years old. broke to ride.38 inches Pony colt he is 36 inches. Asking 350 each or 1000 for all.”
  • “finnish in your direction.” Does the horse speak Finnish?
  • “he is a 5 yr. old that needs some one. owner just dont need him and wants to have a good home.he is a good boy but aint been rode in while and now has only 30 days back in the saddle. all paper work . will load and do what you want.”
  • She would best suit an eprienced rider, only because she has alot of energy that can be unvercing.

Have you seen any really good ads that fit the “How not to sell your horse” criteria? Let me hear about them – I love a good laugh!

Thanks to “The Ultimate Horse Site” for inspiration and some ad content.