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.
That’s something I see in almost every single advert for horses for sale.
And it’s great, as far as it goes.
But what about when the professional, whoever it may be, is gone and now you’re left to perform whatever ongoing procedure or treatment is required?
This was brought home to me recently by a coincidental pair of events at the stables where I board. My horse got an abscess on his off front foot. And another horse threw a shoe and managed to puncture her sole in the process. Both require soaking twice a day as part of their treatment.
Everyone knows that it is a good idea to train your horse to pick up his feet – seems like a no-brainer.
But how many have thought ahead to the possibility of having to have your horse put his foot down in a specific place? Or even in a bucket or tub of something to soak? I was lucky enough to have a horse who tolerates this pretty well without any previous experience that I know of. However, the other horse was a very different story, refusing to put her foot down, jumping around, and finally rearing and striking out – she was one unhappy customer.
Luckily, a very clever person at the barn (not me, I was already thinking “tranq her”) figured out a solution. He cut a piece of heavy plastic and after thoroughly washing down the wash stall floor, blocked the drain with it. We led the horse in, and started hosing her legs as if it was a normal after-ride hose-down. As the water rose I walked around her very casually and put the Epsom salts into the water; once the water was high enough to be a good soaking depth, we turned off the hose and just had her stand there for her fifteen minute soak (patting, stroking, and “good girl-ing” all the while).
But what if the wash stall had not had sufficient slope to make it practical to do what we did? What if there had been no plastic to hand. Even more important, what if that very clever man had not been there to think out of the box enough to come up with an alternative? How would we have solved the problem of her fear of the soaking tub?
And there are other procedures that seem to us humans to be ordinary and not worrisome, but to a horse can be terrifying, for no reason we can understand.
Hoses- I know many horses like a bath; I’m willing to bet that the ones who do were introduced gradually to the hose as part of their stable-manners training. But for those horses who have not had the benefit of this kind of introduction, it becomes an ordeal with the dreaded horse-eating hose. We were so very lucky that mare with the puncture was not one of those!
Clippers – how many people have acclimatized their horse to the clippers? Even if you never plan to clip your horse for the winter, or for showing, sometimes an area needs to be clipped for veterinary purposes and it is not always necessary to tranquilize the horse to carry out whatever procedure he needs to be clipped for. Clipping around a small wound or skin condition to allow direct applicatoin of ointment or other medication – really, would you want to have to tranq him for what should be at most a 5-minute clip job?
Anyone have a horse that shies away from the fly-spray bottle? Oh, I see some hands going up. What a pain, no? And in the area where I keep my horse, fly-spray is a given; the bugs fly around in squadrons and will torment any poor animal who has not been protected.
And trailer loading can take a whole article of its own – suffice it to say that it helps a lot to load every once in a while when you’re not going anywhere.
Try to think ahead to situations that may occur, and train your horse gradually to accept them before it becomes a necessity. Do it gradually, over time, and don’t over-stress them – it doesn’t have to happen in a day. But if you do this, when the day comes that you have a situation on your hands that needs immediate cooperation from the horse, you won’t have to struggle and stress him even further.