Thursday, June 30, 2011

Long Week

I have to admit I'll be glad to see this week come to a close. There have been a lot of lows but it has not felt like there have been many highs. I say that, but as I look at the pictures I just uploaded and see the happy horses grooming each other I know it hasn't been all bad, it just feels that way.

Whenever we have to euthanize a horse it takes a lot out of us. There is so much that goes along with the end of life. There is our own grief and our own emotions to deal with, no one likes to make that decision. But it isn't like euthanasia just happens, in situations as with Regis there is a lot of thinking, agonizing, over-thinking and always feeling like it is taking up space in your mind as you try to come to terms with what the right decision is. Then you have to talk about it what feels like a million times. The decision needs to be discussed with the owners as obviously the final call is not ours but theirs. Then it needs to be discussed with the vet and arrangements made. In the end it feels like we've thought about it and talked about it non-stop for a period of time and it is mentally exhausting. Add grief on top of that and mentally you feel completely drained.

I saw our vet again today for a horse that seemed to be headed towards a case of cellulitis (her owners told us she has had cellulitis before). Obviously you want to head something like that off at the pass so we had more quality time with the vet. I said to him today that it felt like we couldn't see or talk to him enough lately.

The crowing point of the day today was dealing with a cast horse. Missy, the adorable bay pony, decided it would be a good idea to roll right next to the run-in shed. Not only did she end up wedged against the wall of the run-in she had her hind end in a low spot and she was stuck. I saw her walking near the run-in while I was scrubbing a water trough. A few minutes later I happened to notice she was still down on the ground by the shed. I thought this was odd so I went to investigate and found her stuck and unable to get her feet under her to get up. I put a halter on her and tried to help her get some traction but had no success.

Jason came to our rescue. He managed to squeeze himself in between her and the shed and while I helped her front end he somehow managed to basically lift her back end. Missy got up and very gingerly started walking away to rejoin her friends. It was obvious she was very sore so I buted her and called the vet (again) to let him know we might need to see each other (again) tomorrow. We've checked her several times this evening and she is doing her usual things, grazing and hanging out.

Missy is up there in age, pushing 30, and she already has pretty good arthritis in both hind legs. She lived and worked on a dude ranch for most of her life and they pretty much worked her into the ground. Luckily for Missy she is now owned by a very kind family who treats her as the treasure that she is.

I didn't need anything else to fret about but now I have added Missy to my worry list. It just comes with the territory when you have a farm full of special needs horses. Needless to say I am looking forward to better days ahead.


Faune and Stormy grooming over the fence

Chimano and Fonzi grooming

Maisie and Lily grooming

Kennedy, Clayton and Toledo

Lily and Cuffie

Tiny, Stormy and Rampal

Heading out, single file: Lucky, Lightening, Noble, Slinky, Snappy, O'Reilly and Spike

MyLight and Missy

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Thoughts on Weight

The topic of weight has come up in my conversations with people a lot lately in a variety of contexts. Weight is a subject where everyone seems to have a different opinion. It is one of those topics where if you ask three different horse people to pick out a horse that they consider to be an ideal weight they will all pick a different horse.

One area that I spend a lot of time thinking about weight is actually when I'm pondering things about soundness. When you spend your days amongst retired horses you tend to spend a lot of your time thinking about things related to soundness. I do find myself often having the same general discussion with my horse friends, with that discussion being something along the lines of lameness becoming more prevalent at younger ages.

There are any number of theories that can be discussed on this topic ranging from breeding practices to the number of horse shows some horses are asked to attend in a year. One thing that I seem to notice a lot of, and I tend to be pretty unpopular when I bring it up, is weight.

To be direct it seems in my opinion (gotta put that disclaimer in there!) a lot of horses seem to be overweight, overfed and underworked. The standard for what is considered to be good or healthy weight seems to keep slowly creeping upward. When I was a kid bombing around on my pony I remember good weight was seeing just a hint of the last couple of ribs, and the rest should be very easily felt.

By today's standard it has become a sin to be able to see any rib at all. In addition the standard also seems to be moving from being able to very easily feel the completely unseen ribs to having to having to press a bit to feel them. So the net effect is we're asking our horses to do the same types of things such as dressage or jumping or reining, but now we're asking them to do it carrying around 100 more pounds. And we wonder why they are retiring younger or why they need so much support and management to keep working. Granted some horses seem to be able to handle this just fine, but when you spend your days among the ones who didn't handle it fine you can't help but think about these things. An hour of work 5-6 days per week along with a few more hours shuffling around in a small paddock for turnout each day, combined with an owner that is obsessed with keeping their horse's weight up, has become the norm for a lot of horses. From my perspective with a retirement farm it doesn't seem to work well for a lot of horses.

On the subject of weight in general we have found with the residents here that we almost can't make a horse too fat. There are some easy keepers here that I wish we could get some weight off of but I never have to worry about anyone being upset about that. On the other hand if someone feels like their horse is even the slightest bit underweight boy will we hear about that (and it isn't like we have a farm full of skinny horses here!). When a horse has a chronic issue like arthritis or a soft tissue injury which would be more comfortable for the horse, being a little on the fat side or a little on the thin side?

I want to clarify that I like a nice round horse as much as the next person. And we do have a couple of hard keepers here that I would like to see gain a few pounds. Their owners tried hard at getting weight on them prior to retirement and we're trying hard as well. But I do find it interesting the significant differences in reactions that people have when they think their pet is even the slightest bit too thin and when their pet is flat out overweight. I think the reaction that surprises me the most is when someone's horse is in a perfectly acceptable weight - no rib can be seen at all for example - but they still want more weight on the horse. Or they look at one of the fatties and say "he looks really cute, I wish my horse would look like that."

Often what these people are reacting to is the lack of a topline. At some point any non-working horse is going to lose their topline. Some naturally keep a nice topline for a long time when out of work and others do not. The older the horse is when it retires the faster the topline will disappear. Let's face it, as they're wandering (or even running) about the pasture they are not concerned with lifting their back and engaging their hind end. They're doing all the things we were asking them not to do in their training - lifting their heads, dropping their backs, bulging shoulders, not traveling straight, etc. In other words the horses don't care if they use themselves "correctly" while out in the pasture. Thus what some people think is lost weight is actually lost muscle. You have to get a horse pretty overweight to fill in areas that would normally be covered by a layer of muscle filled in with adipose tissue (fat). I'm saying very clearly this is not a good goal.

One other thing we often talk about with people when it comes to weight, especially in aging horses, is about being able to see ribs. Some horses not only lose their topline but their backs will drop as they age with some horses ending up with a full swayback. Often this dropping of the back is accompanied by an expanding of the ribcage as the tendons and ligaments around it begin to relax with age. This is often called a hay belly or a pot belly. This is another example where putting enough weight on the horse to the point where you can't see any rib is a mistake, the only thing you get out of it is an obese horse and that isn't a good thing. With these horses it is almost impossible to achieve that "just right" look when it comes to weight. If you get the ribs completely covered they look like an over-stuffed sausage, but of course if you can see any rib at all people automatically label them as thin.

My last thought when it comes to weight, or maybe this post is more about being overweight, is that the fat horses are not the ones that live the longest. How many fat people do you know in their 90's? Well the same goes for horses. There are a few that manage it but they are the exception, not the rule.

So there you have it, my rambling thoughts on weight and horses. I'm thinking this will be one of those posts that has a lot of dissenting opinions! :)




Thomas and Hemi

Homer and Baby

Lucky and Lightening living the ultimate life of a horse - this of course involves being as dirty as possible

Silky, MyLight and Missy watching me get breakfast ready early one morning

George had an itchy spot; apparently Asterik found this interesting to watch

Stormy and Clayton

Rampal and Rocky


Sunday, June 26, 2011

In Memory of Regis

Yesterday we said goodbye to Regal and Royale, better known as Regis. He was young, only sixteen years old, which makes his entire story that much more heartbreaking. Our history with Regis was very short, he only lived with us a little over three and a half months, but he made a big impression and reminded us of some important life lessons.


Regis was an incredibly stoic horse. I've only ever known one other horse that was as stoic as Regis. His stoicism allowed him to cope with the myriad of problems that he faced, severe ringbone and navicular up front, and off and on inflamed hind suspensories as a result of compensating for the issues in his front legs.

Regis did not have to make a big trip to our farm, he lived just a 20 minute trailer ride away. I remember the day we went to pick Regis up and meet him in person. He had a big banner on his stall that said "Happy Retirement" and he looked at us through the stall bars with his ears pricked forward and curious.

He walked to the trailer for the short ride to his new home and for the first time I saw him move and saw his level of lameness. Despite how he walked Regis did not act like he had a problem or a care in the world. He happily loaded on the trailer, his ears staying pricked forward the entire time. When we unloaded at the farm he stood for a moment taking everything in and taking special interest in the goats. He then walked to his stall and started eating hay like he owned the place.

Regis checking out the goats on his first day

Our first day with Regis was a true glimpse into this horse’s character. Despite all of his issues and all of the reasons he had to be grumpy, unfriendly and uninterested in life he was the exact opposite. If Regis were a person he would be one of those people with some type of severe disability that goes on to accomplish amazing things and making people marvel and wonder how they did it.

Regis lived life to the fullest, and despite his state of lameness once he was introduced into his new group of friends he established himself as the new boss in about five minutes. It seemed that every day we lived with this horse he did things he shouldn't have been able to do. He was also the type that knew no boundaries and when watching him play hard with his friends we would stand there wishing he would stop, knowing he would pay the price for his exuberance for several days.

This became the pattern with Regis, cycling between his good days (which any other horse would have considered bad) and his bad days. Pretty much everything that could be tried to get Regis comfortable had been done during the year prior to his arrival at our farm. Surgery, various special shoeing jobs, joint injections, daily pain medication, his owners literally spared no expense. Anything that anyone asked them to do they always said yes.

I mentioned earlier that Regis reminded me of some important things. I said to his owners yesterday that I believe that people and horses come into our lives for a reason, a season or a lifetime. There were two important reasons why Regis came to our farm and into our lives. One of them is that just because you think you can address a horse’s issues and get them to a better place it doesn’t mean that you should. I do strongly believe that if we had asked Regis to keep going as he was for 9 to 12 months while we made some key changes in his management that the odds were good that he would have gotten to a better place and could have had a couple more years of retirement. However life is about the journey and not the destination. The price Regis was paying and would have to keep paying for several months in order to get to that destination was just too high. It would have been wrong for us to ask this kind and incredibly stoic horse to keep dealing with the issues that had been plaguing him for so long.

Regis enjoying a nap in the sun on a sunny spring day

The other important lesson that Regis reminded us of, and it so important, is that not every horse gives you that clear signal that they can’t do it anymore. People often ask “how do you know?” Sometimes it is a clear answer, especially when the horse is going downhill not just physically but mentally. But sometimes, as is the case with Regis, they never lose their mental edge. They never lose their appetite, their spirit doesn’t dull, they still manage to keep up with their friends, and it makes it so tempting to keep pushing.

Regis and Noble

After much agonizing over the decision, Jason and I came to the agreement that it was wrong to ask this horse to keep going. After talking it over with his family on Friday, who thankfully were in complete agreement with our thoughts, Regis did something we had never seen him do. Jason had spent a few minutes petting Regis and afterwards, Regis walked a few steps away and laid down – and not in a relaxed way but in a way that said “I’m ready to not do this anymore.” I told his owners I might just be reading too much emotion into what was already an emotional and stressful day, but I do wonder if Regis picked up on the change in our attitudes and finally took off his game face and let his guard down. It was as if once we made the decision that he didn’t have to keep doing this anymore he was relieved. He stayed down most of Friday afternoon and evening, but he was back up and out grazing with his friends Saturday morning as usual. I will always wonder, was that his way of letting us know it was the right decision, or was it just coincidence and he would have done it anyway, causing us to make the decision?

Although I’m very sad I am also very relieved. Euthanasia is a way to take an animal’s pain away and make it our own. I’m glad that Jason and I and Regis’ family were able to give him that final gift. He had quite a name to live up to in Regal and Royale but he did it without even trying right up to the end.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Truck Waving

I was driving along in the truck the other day, waving back at the other truck drivers I passed on the road who were waving at me. Sometimes I have deep thoughts while I'm driving. My deep thought the other day was a one I have pondered before but never really answered. Why is it when I am driving a truck people in other trucks always wave as we pass each other on the road? Is it assumed that all people who drive trucks are some kind of kindred spirits and were we to find ourselves standing in line at the convenience store together we would immediately start chatting?

When I had my recruiting company and was hating corporate life I went through the same phase that many people do, trying to buy toys to make myself forget about how much I disliked my job (I disliked my own company - that was successful!). Every year I would get myself a fancy new car, each one nicer than the one before. I was still unhappy despite whatever vehicle I was driving but I guess I was testing out the definition of insanity. You know, the one that says insanity is doing the same thing over and over again hoping for a different result.

Getting back to my point, I can state with authority that, for example, BMW drivers do not wave at other BMW drivers. The same goes for Infiniti drivers and Mercedes drivers, they do NOT wave at each other as they pass on the road, or maybe I should say they didn't wave at me. So why do people driving trucks wave at other people driving trucks? Anyone know the answer?


I took this picture just because I love our new farm and I enjoy looking at it in pictures.

Lucky and O'Reilly hanging out

MyLight and Silky

Romeo and Gus


Winston and Faune



Clayton and Stormy


Cuff Links and MyLight

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Jason 0 Raccoon 3

Some of you will remember that Bear got badly damaged a few weeks ago by a raccoon. You'll be pleased to know that Bear is healing well, but I am less than pleased to report that until a few nights ago I'd never laid eyes on the perpetrator; this despite the fact that we know he's living well on cat food in the barn. Those who know me know that I'm not much of a hunter and I don't ever shoot anything just for the fun of it. But this coon had hurt Bear and we made the choice some time ago that he would have to go.

Well, long story short, the other night just before bed time while we were putting the goats in Melissa opened her tack room door and there he stood, a huge, healthy and sleek male raccoon, big as life standing there eating cat food. The barn was empty and I knew we'd never get a better chance. I told Melissa to keep an eye on him while I came over to the house to get (and load) an appropriate firearm. This SHOULD have taken no more than a few seconds, and had we not just purchased our very first gun safe, I'm pretty sure it *would* have taken no more than a few seconds. But we had just purchased a new gun safe, and instead of a few seconds it took a few minutes....quite a few minutes actually, because I couldn't get the gun safe open for love nor money ! By the time I got back to the barn with gun at the ready the raccoon was laughing at me from somewhere in the next county. Chalk up one for Mr. Raccoon. (Melissa here; while waiting for what seemed like an eternity for Jason Mr. Raccoon ate the cat food and then proceeded to start throwing things around in my tack room. The tack room always looks like a bomb went off in it these days and I've stopped bothering to clean up the mess as it just gets created again the next evening. The raccoon especially loves to throw around my tack cleaning supplies and brushes. When he had wrapped up another pleasant evening of eating cat food and destroying my tack room he shimmied his way up to the loft, shimmied back down by the wash rack and exited through the wash rack window.)

A couple nights later I got a second try. Once again the barn was empty, and this time Melissa caught him coming in the window in her wash rack and she watched him shimmy up the beam and into the hay loft. This time I was slightly more prepared and I got into the gun safe pretty quickly. Unfortunately, I grabbed a single shot .22.....not the best choice when dealing with raccoons (or anything else), but I'm a fair shot and I did have the presence of mind to grab a few bullets...three actually....on my way out. I correctly assumed we'd find him a few minutes later in the tack room eating cat food and when Melissa opened the door I discovered I was right ! However, I didn't have long to look at him because he scurried up the beam and disappeared into the hayloft just as I got off my first shot. No matter, still had two in my hand, so I loaded up and prepared for round two.

Have you ever seen (or played) the shooting games found at a carnival, where a small target will appear for a split second before disappearing and reappearing in a different and unexpected place ? Well, that's exactly what Mr. Raccoon did as he poked his head down from various parts of the hay loft to look at me. And eventually I took the bait and shot, missing him again.

At this point, I'm down to one bullet and I know I need to take a different strategy or this raccoon is going to get away from me again. This time, instead of getting baited into taking a shot, I decided to wait for him to exit the barn via the wash rack window. I figured he'd be moving pretty quickly, so I sighted in on the beam I figured he'd have to shimmy down. After a few minutes of poking his head down at me from various places, that's exactly what he did, too. But he was moving quickly. I put a bullet right through the center of the beam he shimmied down; the problem was he was headed out the window by that time, chittering at me the whole time. Three shots, three misses. And one raccoon who's ever fatter than he was the last time I saw him. Sigh.


Thor and Lightening

Murphy and Clay

Fuzzy and Clay

Dutch, Wiz and Murphy

Sebastian and Chili

Darby, Alex and B-Rad

Missy, MyLight and Cuffie

Maisie having an afternoon snooze

Rampal, Johnny and Tiny

Toledo and Rocky

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Cyclists and Stock Trailers

Last weekend seven time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong was in middle Tennessee leading the Harpeth River Ride. The route for this ride goes right past the farm in College Grove each year.

Jason hooked up the stock trailer to go buy another batch of replacement boards. When he returned from his errand I jokingly asked him if he had seen Lance Armstrong. He smiled his Jason smile and said not only did he see him but he almost ran him over with the stock trailer.

I looked at Jason in wide eyed horror. You have to understand that with Jason this could very well be a true story. Jason is one of those people that has bizarre and crazy things happen all the time.

Jason realized I was thinking this might have really happened and quickly explained. He was going around one of the uphill blind curves on the road and a pack of cyclists were coming from the other direction. Apparently one of them didn't realize Jason was coming in the other lane and had swung very wide and was halfway into Jason's lane. There wasn't much Jason could do to avoid the guy given there is no shoulder and he was pulling a 26' stock trailer.

Finally at the last second the cyclist looked up and realized he was cycling right towards Jason and the stock trailer and was way over into Jason's lane. He swerved over and disaster was avoided. (On a side note I have no problem sharing the road with cyclists but I do wish they would all obey the rules of the road like they are supposed to. Why do some of them think they can ride along in the wrong lane and everything will be fine?)

I made the comment to Jason that he had no idea the national headlines that would have followed if the cyclist had been Lance Armstrong and if the collision had not been avoided. Jason and I started laughing and making up possible headlines for what could have happened. "College Grove Farmer Takes Out Cycling Legend with Stock Trailer." "Canadian Transplant Runs Into Lance Armstrong with Stock Trailer." We came up with several more but you get the idea.

Another day of living dangerously in the life of Jason.


Alex, B-Rad and Darby making their way through the pasture in single file

Silky on the move

Winston and Faune trotting through the pasture

This picture makes me ask why? Why stand there and pick at overgrazed grass around the gate when you could just walk 30 feet and graze on the good stuff. I don't get it. Chimano, Fonzi, Gus, Silver, George

Cuffie taking an afternoon nap

Missy and MyLight

Kennedy napping

Chimano and Gus

Toledo and Rocky

Maisie and Lily