Oct 26, 2013


I don't want to write another sad post this morning. But I do want to write a frustrated post.

Like most of you I read some of the online fora for riders. COTH and Ultimate Dressage are my two usual ones and Facebook has a couple of groups I check out. I don't post much; who has time for endless discussions and frankly 90% of the posters don't have a clue and they just irritate me so why engage. I would rather deal with real poo in my barn than the various levels of self generated navel gazer poo that can be a big part of the online world.

What frustrates me is that in this internet age there is no excuse to be ignorant about horses and what they need and how they function. None.  Look at what is available for us online! The AAEP site, the NRC sites, all the good video sites (I love Dressage Training Online). McPhail is on line. Deb Bennet. Gerd Heuschmann. Everyone doing research in to the biomechanics of riding and training is on line with web sites and how to videos. You can watch every practically any training conference, every horse show performance, every lecture about everything from feeding practices to training and riding techniques. Sure there is a lot of crap but there is an endless amount of useful and valuable information out there.

So why and how can some people be so dumb?

Why do people still think that tying a horse's head down makes him a better athlete? Many of you saw the story about the poor AQHA mare in San Diego that was killed by her 'trainer' a few weeks ago. The story in and of itself broke my heart but what made it worse were the apologists for the technique itself...as if 'tying a horse's head to the saddle' is ok really *as long as its done right*. Really?

Why do people still have no idea what a healthy foot, either shod or barefoot, looks like?

Why do people still start sentences with crap like 'My horse was really evading my aids today, he was such a brat! He's so <naughty, lazy, snotty>'

Why do people still ride with their hands low and wide? Info on bits, mouths, the bars, and TMJ issues is out there.

Why do people still not know how to place their saddles on their horses backs? Why do I see saddles sitting practically on the withers?

Why do people still make excuses for their lousy trainers and pay them good money to wreck their horses?

My list is long and the answers elude me. There is more than one I am sure. But in my mind there are two primary reasons that people are dumb about their horses. First is the name I chose for this blog. Some people say that God doesn't make mistakes, but if and when I get to meet Him I will point out that He did indeed mess up big time but not giving horses a sound for pain. Big oops. This simple fact leaves them open to every kind of abuse. If they could cry or whimper when sick or hurt you would see about 98% of all horse owners immediately get it and poof, many of our common training practices would disappear in an instant. The abuse gamut can run from outright whipping or spurring to just 'riding forward in to the hand' badly or being bounced around on by a stiff awkward rider to a saddle misplaced and a bit that is hitting the palate or banging the bars or when their feet  hurt. Since horses don't make any pain sounds people apparently think ergo the horse feels no pain. Its the only way to explain the way people treat them.

The second reason I see as just plain ego and intellectual laziness. Horses are just their vehicle for self aggrandizement. What they do works for them for whatever reason and they feel no need to explore further. I see it every day and I will never understand it. I have heard every excuse out there and they all ring hollow. There is no reason for any horse owner today to not have a sound understanding of anatomy and physiology of the horse and how tack and the rider affect them.

Do we love our horses? We say we do. So why don't we want to understand them and make their lives better?

Oct 12, 2013

To Continue

Naturally, I wasn't able to ride after my surgery, but I put a plastic bag over my boot and went to the barn as soon as I could. Not riding just meant more fun time for body working, lasering, grooming, etc. The barn I was keeping most of the horses at has an Equicisor and lots of turnout so I was able to keep the boys in some sort of work. Sue, the owner, and Augustine, the main worker, had been taking such good care of them all while I was laid up, so I knew they were under watchful eyes.

I was in the cross ties working on Rheingold when I saw the reality of Zeus falling. I had a hard time believing what I was seeing but it was soon apparent that something was very wrong with him. I had the same denial experience with Charlie; I could see that he was lame, but it wasn't so bad, and I wasn't too worried.

Charlie was another horse that I had known and loved and then ended up owning. He had lived in my barn aisle, owned by a nice girl, and his sweet nature, charming character, and good looks had endeared him to me immediately. His owner left the barn and I didn't see them for a while. A year or so later she contacted me; she was busy with a new foal. Charlie needed a home and would I like to have him. Absolutely! A couple of weeks later he was mine.

Charlie was a US Hannoverian. 17hh, old style, a Walldorf son. Plain red bay with a perfect heart on his forehead. He had been bred to be a stallion, owned by a partnership, and destined for great things.
He was kind, very fancy, just a wonderful horse in every way. When the partnership broke up due to economic reasons, he was gelded and sold to be a jumper. I guess he was not a very good one; an ad for him says 'wants to be a dressage horse' >;-> That was fine with me.

We lose track of his story there for a couple of years, but he was sold a few times and then my acquaintance bought him. Again through no fault of his own he was somewhat back burnered. When I got him he was 13, usually clinically sound with some visible ringbone. I took his shoes off, put him in work, and he was just a peach. Usually the horses I get, like Bryan, are pretty wrecked and need a ton of rehab work. Charlie was broke, very serviceably sound, and just a joy to ride. He was naturally so uphill and so balanced, easy and so fun. He was also very sweet and personable. People naturally gravitated to him and he seemed to like them back. He had a funny tongue game that he liked to play; he was hard to resist. He had a big, quiet, expressive eye and a steady way of looking at you that made you know he was special.

The barn has a couple of big grassy fields; I turn the boys out in groups of two or alone. While I was laid up he was out every day or in the Equicisor. The barn owner gave me updates on the boys and said Charlie had become lamish. I wasn't that worried; figured maybe a bruise. It didn't resolve though.

I knew he had some ringbone; you could see it. I also had old xrays that were not great but not bad; I always go by clinical anyway. So when I had my vet come see Zeus, we also xrayed Charlie. I still wasn't really worried. Figured we could always inject or what have you. So we fired up her new digital xray machine and shot away. What we saw silenced us, utterly.

While both ankles were bad, it looked like a bomb had gone off in his left. It was a galaxy, a milky way, an explosion of bony growths, spurs, cracks, edges, holes. He had bone where he shouldn't and spaces where he should have had it. We stared.

Then we cried.

How in the world had he ever been sound with those ankles! But it went to show what I have known since high school; xrays are just a small part of the soundness picture; you can have grade 5 lameness and xrays that look quite benign and the reverse. Charlie was the reverse.

I think we both knew it was hopeless. But we sent the pics to Wayne MacIlwraith, my favorite ortho surgeon, to see if there was anything that could be done surgically.


We did a CT at Dr. Martinelli's clinic and talked to Dr. Rantaanen. Was there any hope of a positive resolution?


Why had he gone suddenly lame after all that time of clinical soundness? It was hard to say, but probably, during play time in the field, one of the spurs/arthritic growths had broken. Or finally all the crap in there had just reached critical mass. We thought we could see a p2 fracture; maybe that was the final straw. But it didn't really matter. He was getting lamer by the day and would never be without pain. I even considered nerving which I am generally against; not so I could ride him, but just to make him pain free. He wasn't even a candidate for that.

And so five weeks after saying goodbye to Zeus in the field, we sent Charlie to the Bridge as well. I was scheduled for my second surgery the next day, in which I faced a tendon graft and three months of casting. In a fog, I went home. My dear friend Hunter, who had been staying with me for the winter, greeted me with hugs and tears. It was just a sad, sad, blue day.

Oct 11, 2013

Where There's a Will There's a Way

So, there I was, lame and in a boot. My first surgery was pretty easy and the recovery at first appeared like a piece of cake. I was pretty medicated and miserable (I will never understand how some people can take narcotics recreationally! Man, they make me sick, depressed, and play havoc with my memory. I couldn't wait to get off of them) but it wasn't so bad. I had the surgery on a Monday. The Dr. told me I could weight bear, drive, whatever, and sent me home, no crutches, and in a walking boot. So I took him at his word and limped around. It was my left foot so I could drive with no problem.

As luck would have it, the yearly local George clinic was being held that week. I was not feeling too hot but couldn't bear the thought of missing it. It was cold and dreary and I was spacey and medicated but it was only ten minutes from my house, so that Friday, off I went.


As usual, it was great. I love The George. He was his usual pointed, acerbic self, sitting like the Grand Poobah in his golf cart, dispensing salient advice and criticisms as is his wont. It is such a privilege to be able to audit that clinic every year. It's held at Fairbrook Farm, Julie Taylor Zumstein's beautiful farm in Fallbrook CA. I hobbled in from the parking lot, propped my foot up on the bleachers, and watched and listened. My foot throbbed. It was worth every minute.

There were some excellent riders and some that maybe should not have been there. It had been raining, so the grass field was wet. There were no falls though; Julies grass field drains well and is pretty good even in the rain. The best part of a George clinic, to me, is watching and studying the combinations he puts the riders over, and how the riders negotiate them. I have been auditing that clinic for several years now and never miss it. Every year I vow to ride in it, and every year something happens and I can't. I won't make it this year, either, since the horses I could have used were the horses I lost this year. Oh well. George doesn't seem to want to retire and maybe I will get to ride in that clinic before we both hang it up.

I wrote about my big dear 'giant white donkey', Zeus and his weird falling episodes that led to his euthanasia. Sadly, as it turned out, he was just the first in what became Another Winter of Loss. I say another; a few years ago it seemed like everything I loved died. My mom, my brother, several horses, even my dogs. I didn't think I could ever endure a year like that again. But fate doesn't always ask you what you want to bear, or think you can bear. It just gives it to you, regardless. And so it did.

Sep 27, 2013

Catching Up

Well, a blog is supposed to be a web diary sort of thing. If I had kept a diary of 2013 it would not be very pleasant reading and I would have been crying while writing most of the entries. But my Life Motto (tm) is Don't Be Such A Sissie, so I am bucking up and getting over myself. The Annus Horribus is almost over, things are looking up, so back to work I will go.

A brief recap of The Year That Was Not Always Happy: in December last year (the Bad Year started in 2012) I was just finishing my morning shower where <ka BOOM!>. My shower door exploded.

Yes, that is my bathtub, and that is my blood. Apparantly this happens; tempered glass can spontaneously explode. I climbed out as best I could. Except for lots of tiny cuts from the little slivers of glass that are part of a tempered glass explosion, I was pretty ok. I did have a deep, two inch wide cut on the top of my left foot however where the corner of the heavy glass door had landed as it shattered and dropped. It was not bleeding badly but I thought well, I should probably get it checked and it probably should be stitched. So after making a pressure bandage out of the sock I had just taken off, I wrapped it up and drove to the emergency room to see if they thought it needed stitches. The usual ER wait didn't take long...the blood oozing from the sock and on to the floor probably motivated the staff somewhat.
Once in the ER, cleaned up and no longer bleeding, it didn't look so bad.

I took a picture and sent it to my husband, who is a physician. You won't believe what happened! I texted. Ruh-roh! he said, ominously. That doesn't look good. What's the matter? I texted. I think you have damaged your tendon, he texted back. Hmm. Maybe he was right. My left foot certainly didn't look as perky as the right one. Hmmm.
And he was right. The ER Dr dug around and said a medical version of 'You are in deep doo-doo, Missy!'. I had indeed severed that big tendon that goes across the top of your foot. At the time I didn't realize what that exactly meant. I do now, 8 months later, and it was no fun.
The first repair surgery failed, thanks to an inept orthopedist who cheerfully told me 'I have never done one of these before!' (Note to self: bring Gray's Anatomy to any future surgeon and ask him to identify relevant body parts before surgery). The second surgery, in February, entailed a tendon graft and a much longer, very painful layup and recovery. I was non-weight bearing for three months. It was really miserable.
I had had a dear friend come for a visit for a week or two; she was here when I got hurt. Bless her, she stayed all winter and took care of my horses, fed the dogs and the chickens, and brought me soup and cereal for the weeks I was bed bound. I wrote before about how certain friends don't ask you what you need or if you need help; they just see a need and fill it.  Hunter is that kind of friend. An experienced horse girl, she blanketed and mucked and fed the two boys I have at home for five months. My daughter came for two weeks as well and then on weekends. It is very hard for me to be dependent on other people. Emma and Hunter took such good care of me and Hunter kept me laughing rather than crying, which is certainly what I felt  like doing.
So that's how the year started! And it just got better! >:-> Not.

Mar 20, 2013

Back to Bryan

As you can see in the initial photos Bryan was deeply tied in in front of the withers with a strongly developed underneck. 

 Twenty years ago I would have felt this was just a conformational defect. Now I know that it is a reflection of soundness and movement anomalies, and that with the correct approaches, can and will change. There are of course conformational defects in necks…like the ‘Nest’, wherein the neck comes so low out of the body it looks like the horse has no chest. You can’t do much about where the neck comes out of the body. But you can do remarkable things with the neck itself, and the way it ties in to the wither and the shoulder.

There are several excellent treatises in the subject so rather than go in to a lot of detail I refer you to Hillary Clayton, Jean Luc Cornille, Jean Claude Racinet, Phillippe Karl, Gerd Heuschmann, and Mary DeBono, the Feldenkrais practitioner who has applied the work to horses. All of these riders have studied the biomechanics of movement and the neck; knowing their work and their conclusions is vital to understanding how the neck functions. I don’t want to write a textbook, and lucky for me I needn’t, as these riders/writers/vets/body workers have already done so. I *would* like to show you how understanding and applying their work has changed the necks and shoulders of the horses in my care.

Mar 13, 2013

Good bye Zeus

I had to put one of the boys down in February. Today I want to write about him.

His name was Zeus. I bought him sight unseen after seeing an ad and talking on the phone with his owner. He was 15, a KWPNxRID cross. I was so interested in how he sounded that I put him on Paypal that very day and picked him up a few days later. One of my daughters went with me. He was not exactly like his pictures had portrayed him.  “Mom!" she cried.  "You bought a gigantic white donkey!"

Not that I could blame her. I couldn’t deny that he was not exactly beautiful. He had been on trial, had been on the back burner, was thinnish, dirty, scraped up, unfit and out of shape. He was sound, but had no muscle and was straight shouldered and kinda ewe necked. He had a gigantic head and gigantic feet. 'Clunky' was somewhat of an understatement.  He was grey. His dad was E’sops Fable, a beautiful KWPN stallion, and his mom was Carragawn Lady, an RID. He was his mothers son, that's for sure. He had been an eventer and was a good honest jumper.  I ignored her, we loaded him up (he was not very obedient but gave up eventually) and took him home.