Sunday, November 29, 2009

Facebook and a Close Call

Jason has started a Facebook page for the farm. If you type in Paradigm Farms in the search box on Facebook you will find the page, and of course you will want to become a fan! The Paradigm Farms fan page is far from complete right now but each horse has his or her own folder for pictures. Right now there are only a couple of pictures per horse but we'll be adding and updating pictures regularly. The world's cutest fainting goats also have their own folder of pictures as does Sparky the donkey.

For the most part the last few days have been very routine and very pleasant. Our gorgeous fall weather has continued on, with lovely days of 60 degrees and sunny. My horses have been ridden so much lately I am sure they are hoping for some cold, rainy days asap!

I say for the most part the last few days have been pleasant because I had one of those scary reminders of how easy it is to get hurt around horses on Saturday. Jason and I were out getting the hay feeders ready in the pastures, and we even put hay out for some of the horses this weekend. I always know winter is officially heading our way when it is time to start feeding hay. Anyway, Jason was driving through one of the pastures on the tractor and I was walking to the gate to open it for him. He changed gears on the tractor and sped up, and the noise and the change in speed spooked one of the horses (I'm not going to give a name!).

I heard the tractor and looked up and saw the horse spook. He started running and never even saw me (he was looking behind him with his head turned and not ahead) and slammed right into me, head on, at a gallop. I tried to jump out of the way but it happened to fast and I didn't have time. Thankfully he only had a couple of strides to get going. Jason, who got to watch the whole thing, said that as soon as the horse realized he had hit me he basically did a tap dance trying not to step on me. He hit me head on with his chest, of course I was slammed to the ground and then I rolled on impact, and unfortunately wound up underneath him. The next couple of seconds I don't really remember clearly as I had the wind knocked out of me, I just remember seeing horse legs and hooves above me. I did get stepped on once on my leg and maybe on one of my arms judging from the bruise, but that might just be from when he initially ran into me. Luckily I have nothing but scrapes and some impressive bruises to show for it, and of course every muscle in me hurts - a lot.

I always shudder when someone says something along the lines of "my horse would NEVER . . . " because I know from experience that it can happen any time, with any horse. Anyone who makes such a naive claim about a horse simply hasn't spent enough time around enough horses. In the years we have been running a retirement farm this is actually the second time I've been trampled by a horse in the pasture, and that was also an accident that would be next to impossible to replicate again. I do believe there are many quiet and bombproof horses in the world, and I would even put this horse in that category. However, no matter how much we work with them and how much training and exposure they have, they are, in the end, still horses.

Thankfully that whole incident was less than a minute of time out of an otherwise great holiday weekend. The bruises will go away and although right now the aches and pains are still getting worse, those will go away as well. I have no hard feelings at all towards the horse, it was an accident and the poor guy tried hard not to make it any worse after he realized what was happening. Although I wasn't moving nearly as sprightly as usual for the rest of the weekend I still enjoyed every minute of it. I hope everyone had a nice weekend as well. This week is shaping up to be a busy one around the farm. Have a great Monday and remember to find Paradigm Farms on Facebook!

Clay and Chili; Clay is a Quarter Horse who raced on the QH circuit before becoming a trail horse. Snappy is a Polish bred gelding who competed through the four star level in eventing under the guidance of Mark Todd. He was later sold to someone in the states, and after a cross country crash he converted to a new career in the hunters.

Slinky, a large pony who specialized in pony equitation

Lucky, a Quarter Horse cross and retired trail horse

Lightening, an Arabian and also a retired trail horse

The pet cows enjoying a quiet afternoon
Two very dirty grey horses, Lily and Cuff Links. Lily is a Quarter Horse/Warmblood cross and retired jumper. Cuffie is a Welsh Pony and retired pony hunter (medium)
Ivan wins the dirtiest grey horse in this post hooves down. Actually he wins the overall dirtiest horse award, period, the other side was equally as bad if not worse. Gross! Ivan is a Thoroughbred and retired Grand Prix jumper. Maybe he should go for a second career in mud volleyball or something.

Some of the big boys walking through the pasture. Thomas is the one cut off on the left, Trigger in the center, Apollo is mostly hidden behind Trigger, Homer is the grey hiding behind Apollo, then Ivan, and Baby in the very back behind the tree. Thomas is a Holsteiner and retired dressage horse. Apollo is a Hanoverian and also retired from dressage. Trigger is an Appendix Quarter Horse, Homer was bred and born in Ireland, and Baby is a Warmblood/Thoroughbred cross, and all three are retired show hunters.

Same group of horses. Thomas, Trigger and Apollo in the front with Homer and Ivan in the back. Levendi is the horse somewhat hidden behind the tree. Levendi is an Oldenburg and retired show hunter.

Apollo, Homer and Ivan

Faune is a Selle Francais and retired show hunter. He is affectionately known as the Big French Guy.

Winston and Trillion grazing together. Winston is a Thoroughbred and Trillion is a Dutch Warmblood, both are retired show hunters. Trillion was consistently one of the top horses in the country in the 4' hunters and was circuit champion at the Winter Equestrian Festival. In the back Ogie and B-Rad are grazing. Ogie is a Thoroughbred and retired eventer, B-Rad is a Belgian Warmblood and retired show jumper.

Sky and Norman grazing together. Sky is one of my horses and Norman is a retired pony hunter.

MyLight is a Thoroughbred and retired dressage horse

Baby is one of the fanciest hunter movers I have ever seen, and I look at a lot of super fancy horses every day! When he is relaxed and does his big, swinging, toe pointing trot across the pasture it is really something to see. Baby is a son of the well known hunter stallion Jupiter.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Day Pictures

You get used to not having holidays (or really any day) off when you run a farm. My Thanksgiving present to Jason was I handled all of the morning chores by myself so he could have a bit of a break. The horses were all exceptionally pleasant and cooperative, and it made for a very nice morning. The weather was pleasant as well, sunny with a light breeze.

The horses and dogs gave me several nice Thanksgiving day pictures and I have shared some of our scenes from around the farm below. It is hard not to reflect on how many things you have to be thankful for when you look around you and see so many happy animals and so much beauty.

I have a long and lengthy list of people and things I am thankful for. I am thankful that I love my job and my day to day life. I am thankful to live on a beautiful farm surrounded by so many creatures: horses, dogs, cats, a donkey, goats. I am thankful to have so many people from so many places trust us to care for their beloved pets. I am even more thankful that they give us the opportunity to provide a high level of care and that we don't have to cut corners. I am thankful to have wonderful vets, an amazing farrier and great help on the farm.

I am eternally blessed and thankful to have the most wonderful, supportive and loving parents anyone could ever hope for. They support me through everything and I would be lost without them. Anyone who has met them knows how truly blessed I am to have such amazing parents.

Last, but certainly far from least, I am so thankful to be married to Jason. There are no words to describe how much of a blessing he is to me. He is the half that makes me whole.

I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving and has much to be thankful for.

The Big Boys took some time out from their antics to pause and reflect on all of their blessings in life today (yeah, right - they live in the manner they feel they deserve!). Baby and Ivan are standing by the fence. In the middle, L-R, Trigger, Homer, Thomas and Levendi enjoy some 'down time.' Chance is in the very back enjoying some down time as well.

Same group of horses except Elfin joined them. Elfin is standing in the back grazing.

A few of them spotted me coming with food and they started to get up. Except Trigger decided it was time to nap harder and went all the down on his side. Tony is grazing to the far left. In the front pasture Chili and Lightening are grazing together.

Homer and Chance telling Trigger he had better get up or he will miss the big meal.

Clay, O'Reilly, Chili and Slinky grazing together

Even Bella the Border Collie was taking it easy today

Trillion, Faune, Winston and Sebastian grazed quietly

Bear and Trooper were busy investigating things around the pond

Trooper looks very happy here

Bear in front of the pond

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Riding Updates and More Playful Horses

Thank you everyone for all of your kind words about Bridget. It means a lot to me and I know that so many of you can truly empathize. However, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I am thankful to have had Bridget even though I wish our time together had been longer. Riding her was truly a privilege, and just being around her was a gift. I wish our riding years had been longer, and I wish her retirement had been longer as well. However she had six great years of doing whatever she wanted to do, whenever she wanted to do it, and I am glad I was able to give her that time.
The horses have certainly put a smile on my face many times this week though. Today I had my best ride ever on Sky. She's been getting stronger and has started to develop a topline, and our under saddle work is reflecting that. Today she was truly on the bit, back lifted, pushing from behind, and soft through the bridle both at the trot and the canter. We still can't keep it together all of the time yet, and I do think a lot of that is just strength and conditioning, but she is definitely getting the concepts. I was able to sit her trot well for the first time today. It can often feel like sitting on a jackhammer, but with her back lifted and round I had a much better place to sit and it was great. The biggest bonus was that we were able to accomplish this for a good bit of our canter work as well. Our transitions still leave a lot to be desired but they keep getting better. Overall I am thrilled.
Bonnie has also been on a roll lately. I realized today that our good days are superb now, and our 'bad' days are nothing like they used to be. Consistent riding is still a key component of success with Bonnie and I still struggle with that at times, running a farm is both time consuming and physically tiring. As I cantered around on her today she gave me one of those canters where you would head to a 5' oxer with all of the confidence in the world. This horse has so much talent and it is a nice feeling when I manage to tap into even a little bit of it. When I look back at where we were in April and compare to where we are today I realize how far she has come. I still struggle with the concept that she is the right horse that arrived at the wrong time in my life, but we keep managing to make progress in spite of my shortcomings. (For more about Bonnie you can read this post.)
Of course nothing is more fun than watching happy horses. Aside from the Big Boys and their constant antics it is hard to capture the horses doing anything more interesting than grazing. I see all of the horses playing and romping from time to time, but rarely do I have my camera and my hands free at these times. Today I saw some of the horses running for no other reason than it was fun and they felt good. The best part was I had my camera!
In order of appearance Asterik (Holsteiner), Trillion (Dutch Warmblood) and Winston (Thoroughbred) running along. Next is Lightening (Arabian) who comes running along on the other side of the fence to check out the excitement. Then Sebastian (Connemara/Irish Draught) and Faune (Selle Francais) come galloping along, with O'Reilly (Irish) accompanying them on the other side of the fence.

Leo, Apollo, Homer, Ivan and Levendi grazing with Elfin peeking out from the shed

Apparently Chance finds Thomas to be very boring Traveller in the front watching me take his picture. Behind him Norman, Sky, Bonnie and Sparky the donkey are oblivious to my presence.
Lily was only about half way awake when I took her picture
Homer strolling through the pasture
Baby coming on the run followed by Levendi and Homer
Tony and Levendi coming over in hopes of a treat
MyLight followed by Buffy and Lily
Trigger, Homer and Leo grazing
Thomas and Chance
It is rare to see Ogie be this affectionate with another horse; here he is snuggled up to B-Rad while he dozed
Asterik and Trillion

Sunday, November 22, 2009

In Loving Memory of Bridget

I had to say goodbye to my wonderful mare Bridget. It actually happened about a week ago, but I have not been able to talk, or type, about it. Most people who are close to me still don't know about Bridget's passing.

I've felt a lot of emotions in the period leading up to that day, and in the days since. Sadness, loss, regret, relief, turmoil, peace, emptiness, closure, and sometimes nothing at all. I guess I didn't really know what to feel, or what to think.

Bridget in September 2008

I knew the day was coming, that I was going to need to make "the decision" at some point. Bridget was only 17 years old, and she had been retired for six years. Bridget had more than her share of soundness issues, and she had them pretty much from the day I bought her at four years old. Most of her problems were compensatory problems that stemmed from her feet. She also had some sort of metabolic condition that absolutely stumped every vet and farrier that every saw her.

Bridget hanging out in my arena in January a few years ago

The better and more lush the grass was, the better Bridget felt on her feet. As the grass would start to deteriorate every year, she would get more and more uncomfortable throughout winter. Then, when the spring grass came in, when most horses would be at their highest risk from grass, she would do a complete turnaround and feel better and better. She had every type of test for Insulin Resistance, Cushing's, etc. over the years, in fact had many of them done more than once by different vets. She never came back positive for any type of condition and it frustrated and puzzled every vet that touched this horse. And LOTS of vets touched this horse, I even took her to Rood & Riddle in Lexington, KY TWICE.

Bridget on the left with her daughter Lexi in the middle; no family resemblance at all!

When I bought Bridget as a four year old I bought her out of a field. She had been backed at one point but had spent most of her life living out in a field getting little to no care. The only thing that reflected this was her feet. There were horrendous, giant toe cracks in both front feet, as well as significant dishes in both front feet, they were contracted, completely out of balance, had thin soles and walls, one front foot was clubbed . . . there was really nothing to recommend them at all. The vet who did her pre purchase exam said that I would obviously need to get her feet addressed, but he felt like a good farrier should be able to manage them.

Lexi, Bonnie and Bridget in June of this year

I wasn't too worried about it since I was going to be working with THE farrier. The one that all of the expensive show barns used, the one that all the vets recommended, the one that I paid $300 per shoeing. I bought Bridget because she had a wonderful temperament even though she was very green. I didn't have much money to spend as I had other financial priorities at the time, and I wasn't looking for my next super fancy show horse. I knew I wasn't shopping with that kind of budget and just wanted something fun. I had just sold my a/o jumper as I simply didn't have time to keep her fit for that level of showing, nor was I riding enough to feel confident riding to the bigger jumps anyway.

Bridget packing a little girl around in the short stirrup division; she jumped even better over a real jump but unfortunately I don't have any other jumping pictures on my computer

I had Bridget shod by THE farrier, and continued to have her shod by THE farrier for several years. Her feet never seemed to get any better. The cracks, the dishes, the club foot, the contraction . . . nothing ever improved. Everyone kept telling me I was so lucky to be working with him and to have him keeping my horse comfortable on those awful feet.

Bridget rearing while chewing on hay at the same time; food was always a priority

As far as her abilities, Bridget ended up being far more than I had ever thought she would be. Over the first winter I had her I took dressage lessons regularly, and with my h/j trainer we did nothing but gymnastic jumping exercises. Bridget went from having an average jump to a 10 jump in a few short months. She won everywhere, in all of the divisions we showed her in, at the A shows. She won in the professional divisions and the amateur divisions. She had absolutely no spook in her whatsoever, never looked twice at a jump, needed absolutely zero prep to go to the ring, and had a gorgeous jump to die for over every jump, every time.

Bridget and I hanging out at a horse show

I went happily on my way, enjoying my wonderful horse, and being glad that I had the farrier to patch her together. However after a couple of years the patches seemed to stop working. She would be slightly off, and of course we would see the vet. Over the next few years she had some brief lay-ups, had her stifles injected, had her hocks injected. Whenever she would seem sore, a specific injection seemed to take care of the problem, at least for awhile.

More hanging out a horse show

I would always ask about her feet, asking if they were contributing to the problems. No one ever seemed that worried about them, even at Rood & Riddle. I have come to the conclusion after my trials with Bridget and with running a retirement farm that messed up feet to a greater or lesser degree are just a part of life in the horse world. I think the vets are so used to seeing feet with problems they don't address them as aggressively as they should. When I made the correlation between her soundness and the grass we started looking at various metabolic causes, but she did not fit any mold. She caused many vets to throw up their hands and shake their heads in frustration and disbelief. Over the years Bridget had every shoeing package known to man, various bar shoes, pads, wedge pads, glue on shoes . . . you name the shoe/pad combo and it was on my horse at some point. I started going through farriers like toilet paper. It was frustrating, it was expensive, and it was emotionally exhausting.

It got to the point after a few years where she was off more than on, and every day when I would get on I would be holding my breath wondering if it would be a good or a bad day. One day I started thinking about how much money I had spent, and what I was putting my horse and myself through. I realized that I didn't care if I could show anymore or not. I just wanted to enjoy my horse to whatever extent I could. I made the decision to basically retire her, although we still did a bit of trail riding sometimes. I pulled her shoes and started learning everything I could about feet.

Because of Bridget and what I learned through our trials I won't make the same mistakes with another horse. I think I now own every farrier book and manual ever published. I will not ever attempt to patch a horse's feet together again. I'm not saying there may not be bar shoes and pads in my future with one of my horses, but I will know exactly what the plan is for long term gain and IMPROVEMENT of the feet, not just putting a band-aid on a problem. If I had known when I bought Bridget what I know now, I could have managed her whole situation better. She would still have ended up retired far too young thanks to the mystery metabolic problem, but I could have managed the effects of it a lot better.

Because of the saga I went through with Bridget I ended up learning so much about managing a horse for long term gain instead of short term gain, and I will be forever grateful to her for that. If only I could have learned it all sooner. I liked it better back in the day when I thought vets and farriers were to be 100% trusted because they were the experts and I was not. However, I am now much more educated and able to be an advocate for my horses and not just a check writer. I am also, in my opinion (for what little it is worth!), more educated than the average horse owner about farrier work and now trust that I can do a much better job of both picking a farrier and knowing if they are doing a good job. I am so thankful to work with my amazing farrier, and we've worked together happily for over four years now.

Bridget started to get ouchy a lot earlier than usual this fall. I thought it would stabilize but it kept getting worse. I had made a promise to her and myself several years earlier that I wasn't going to go down the 'what if we try' road anymore. I'd tried it all anyway. When she could no longer be reasonably comfortable as a pasture puff then I would make that hard decision. I felt like I had a weight hanging over my head for a few weeks. Jason had to listen to me endlessly wonder about if I needed to be thinking about this, if it was time. Finally one day he asked me what I would be telling one of our owners if it was their horse. That brought me up short. I thought about it from that perspective for a minute and tearfully answered that some major decisions would need to be made. I talked about it with my vet and farrier, and they both agreed that from a comfort perspective, Bridget was not comfortable and getting significantly worse every week.

I briefly went back on my promise to Bridget and started wondering about "what if we did X,Y and Z." However I did manage to realize that all of those things would be only for my benefit, only because I did not want to make that decision. So I picked a gorgeous day, and gave her a whopping dose of Bute (a gram or two of bute did nothing for her). Jason didn't really like that but I said I wanted her last day to be if not pain free, at least a lot more comfortable. I thought about pulling her out of the pasture and spending lots of extra time with her. But I didn't. I was a sobbing, crying mess and Bridget was very happy out with her friends, having such an easy time getting around because of all the bute.

Shortly before the vet arrived I brought her in from the pasture and gave her a huge meal in her feedbag. She was always an easy keeper, and although she lived for grain she got very little. So on her last day her feet felt a lot better and she got to eat a lot. Then she passed very peacefully, and I was calm and composed until after she passed. I lost it at that point (again), but Bridget was not burdened by my feelings. She had a great day until her last moment, and now she is pain free, as she deserves to be. It was so much harder to make this decision with my own horse. I've been through this with a few residents, and it was always hard, but I could make objective decisions. Until Jason told me to step back and look at it from the perspective of someone else's horse I was floundering around in indecision. Jason gently guided me to where I could see clearly.

Bridget lives on in her beautiful daughter Lexi, who looks so much like her mother. Bridget gave me so many amazing gifts during our 13 years together. I always hoped she would live to be a grand old dame with me, that I wouldn't have to let go so soon. I still don't know what to feel, right now I just feel sadness after reminiscing about some of our time together. I like it best when I either feel nothing or have moments of peace and closure. Bridget was an amazing horse, and I am a better person for having had her in my life. For the most part she did all of the giving and I the taking. I am glad I was able to give her a nice retirement. She loved being a show horse but she loved just being a horse even more. She was so content being a part of her group and grazing, napping, playing and grooming with her girls. She was definitely always a princess though. She hated to be dirty and never rolled in mud, only in clean shavings or grass. She was clean right up until the end. I miss her.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Typical Scenes Around The Farm

So much for avoiding dirty horses with the gravel! I always thought Lucky rolled after eating because he was conveniently located in dirt or mud. Apparently that was not the only motivation.

Lily and Missy grazing; nothing too exciting here but a typical scene of horses quietly grazing

O'Reilly and Lucky enjoying a grooming session.

Trooper and Bella playing. Trooper is our 3-legged black lab mix and Bella is a border collie. Don't feel sorry for Trooper, he is always the instigator and loves to play rough and run hard. He usually wears Bella out!

Chili, Teddy, and Silky grazing. Chili is a Quarter Horse and he worked cattle and was also a trail partner. Teddy is a Quarter Horse retired from dressage. Silky is a large pony who showed in pony equitation.

Snappy, Lucky and Mr. O'Reilly. Snappy is a Polish bred gelding who competed through the four star level in eventing, and then he became a winning show hunter. Lucky is a Quarter Horse and retired trail horse. Mr. O'Reilly is an Irish bred gelding retired from the jumpers.

One of my favorite pictures of MyLight. She is such a sweet mare and I love her expression in this picture. MyLight is a Thoroughbred and retired from dressage.

Harmony and Missy grazing together. Harmony is a Thoroughbred and retired polo pony. Missy is a large pony and spent most of her life working on a dude ranch.

Thomas walking through the pasture. What a handsome guy he is! Thomas is a Holsteiner and retired dressage horse.

Ogie and B-Rad hanging out. Ogie is a Thoroughbred and retired eventer. B-Rad is a Belgian Warmblood and retired jumper.

Trillion and Faune grazing. Trillion is a Dutch Warmblood and Faune is a Selle Francais. Both were perpetual winners in the Regular Working Hunters and they even competed against each other.

Asterik and Winston grazing. Asterik is a Holsteiner and he showed on the A circuit in both the hunters and the jumpers. Winston is a Thoroughbred and retired show hunter.

Homer, Trigger and Baby. Homer is an Irish bred gelding, Trigger is an Appendix Quarter Horse, and Baby is Dutch Warmblood/Thoroughbred cross. All three are retired show hunters.

Homer, Leo, Elfin and Thomas. Leo is a Dutch Warmblood who competed through 4th level in dressage before becoming a show hunter. Elfin is a Thoroughbred and retired show hunter.