Thursday, May 31, 2012

An Acceptable End ?

I want to start this post off by saying that Melissa and I are privileged to work with a group of great horse owners. Every one of the folks who send an animal to us have gone way above and beyond "normal" care of their horses, and have done their very best to provide exemplary care for their creatures. It is our sincere wish that each horse in our care could live a long, full life and pass peacefully with his friends around him like Ivan did in March. Although he went sooner than we would have liked, in truth Ivan had a storybook ending. 

Unfortunately we don't live in a static world. In reality, sometimes a horse's situation changes. Chronic conditions worsen. Quality of life factors come into play. And horse's aren't the only one who have to face changing situations. Sometimes their owner's face devastating, life changing or life ending events, and sometimes through no fault of their own situations arise whereby owners can no longer take care of their horses and pets. It's easy and politically correct to castigate pet and horse owners for not thinking these sorts of things through, but it's our opinion that he who lives in glass houses ought not to throw stones. How secure is your future ? Have you got a "disaster" plan in place for your pets ? If you get sick with a chronic, debilitating illness, lose your income, are forced to declare bankruptcy, or die an untimely death what plans do you have in place for your horses and pets ? And if you think these sorts of things can't happen to you, I'd say it's time to get your head out of the clouds and think again because they can happen to ANY of us. Horses are a luxury item and even by luxury item standards they can be extremely expensive to buy and maintain. The real bills have only begun once the purchase price has been paid.

I'd say that the general consensus is that most people believe that rehoming their pets or horses would be a better end than humanely euthanizing them. At one time I believed that myself and in many cases I still do.  But the other side of that coin is that you lose control of what happens to your pet or horse once it leaves your care. A percentage of them wind up living in such hellish situations that there is no question that an early death would have been preferable to continued life. It's also true that most animals in bad situations die in them. As much as I'd love to believe otherwise, most animals in bad situations are never rescued.  A horse that can still be ridden regularly can probably find a good long term home.  A pasture sound horse that will forever need a companion home only is completely different.

Here are some hard questions that we've had to think about with our own pets and horses.

1. What would we do with our pets and horses in the event our financial or medical situation no longer allowed us to care for them properly ?

2. If we had to choose between quality of life and quantity of life for our pets, which is the better option ? This can be a hard question to answer as there are a lot of gray areas in this discussion.

3. Is euthanasia a better and more dignified end than giving our pets and horses away ?  Another question that covers a lot of gray areas.

4. At what point have we financially done enough to ensure the best end possible for our creatures and at what point do we activate our disaster plans ?

These are hard questions and even though we've thought about them I want to be forthright and state that there are no easy or even correct answers here. In our case it depends on the horse, the pet and situation as to what the right answer is. The only thing I'm sure of is that waiting till the last possible minute when you're entire life is in crisis to decide these things is definitely not the right answer for either you or your critters.


Lighty, Alex and Darby

Tiny and Toledo grooming

Romeo in the morning fog

Silver, George and Gus in the morning sun

Thomas and Hemi

Snappy and Lightening

Wiz and Dutch grooming

Grand and Elfin

Baby, Trigger and Apollo

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Feeding Time

We get a lot of questions about feeding time.  A concern a lot of people have about group living is that their horse will not be able to eat their food without someone running them off and stealing it.  Or their concern may be the opposite, that they have an easy keeper that doesn't need to be eating other horses' food. 

For us we've found that the simple solution is the feedbag.  Each horse has their own feedbag labeled with their name. Using feedbags completely solves the problem of horses stealing food from each other simply because they cannot.  It also means any horses getting supplements and/or medications are sure to get it and not another horse.  The horses can eat at their own speed, be it fast or slow, and we know whether or not they ate everything.  They are also wonderful for the messy feeders that dribble food everywhere.  They just dribble it right back in the feedbag and eliminate the waste.  All in all we find it to be an ideal system.  This system allows us to feed each horse different amounts and types of feed according to the individual's needs.  We don't even use feedbuckets for horses in stalls anymore, they are also fed with a feedbag.

A lot of people don't like feedbags.  The big drawback for most people is that you do need to stand with the horses while they are eating.  Not to keep them from picking on each other but because they leave when they are done.  So you need to be ready to remove the feedbag when they are finished eating, otherwise you will be chasing horses all over the pasture to remove their feedbags.  This is not a problem for us as we use feeding times as an opportunity to check the horses over. 

Johnny and Rampal eating

We do go to the trouble of soaking feed for all the horses.  We have a few residents that have arrived at our farm with a significant history of choking and it seems to work out that we always have one horse like this in each pasture.  Some of the chronic chokers are young and tend to bolt their feed, others are older and have bad teeth.  Regardless of the cause chronic chokers really should eat well soaked feed.  This will not prevent a horse from choking, I've watched two different horses manage to choke on well soaked, mushy feed.  But it does usually keep a choke from becoming severe.  A lot of barns don't want to soak feed because it is a pain and adds extra time to the process, however we soak feed for everyone.

soaking feed with supplements ready to add afterwards

We scoop the feed for each horse into their feedbag with their name on it.  The feedbags have a solid bottom and mesh sides.  Then we put the feedbags full of feed in a little water trough to soak the feed.  After the feed is mushy we take the bags out, let the water drain out the mesh sides, and then add supplements and medications for the horses that are getting them.  Then the feed is ready to go.  It really isn't that hard, it just takes some extra time.

feed soaked, supplements added, ready to feed

We have a few horses that  do a partial stall board arrangement.  These horses come into stalls for a few hours each day to eat a big hay cube mash.  A couple of horses eat a daily mash year round while others only need to do this for 4 months in the winter when the grass isn't good.  It usually takes a week or two for the "seasonal" mash eaters to adjust to being stalled for a few hours each day and there is a lot of drama as they spin around in their stall and scream for their friends.  Then they finally realize that they don't stay in that long, they get to eat a yummy mash and things quiet down and they eat happily.  We know when they are finished because the calling starts.

 Snappy eating a hay cube mash

After the horses have eaten the feedbags are rinsed out and hung up, ready for the next meal.  For us we find this approach to be a very efficient system for feeding horses in groups and it allows us to feed a customized feeding program for each horse.

Through the years we have never had a horse that had difficulty eating from a feedbag.  A few need a  meal or two to figure out to put their head down and eat, but it only takes a meal or two for them to figure it out.  Most just put their head down and start eating the first time we feed them with a feedbag. 

We love our feedbags and have found a system that works well for us and the horses at feeding time. 

feedbags rinsed out

hung up and ready for the next meal


Elfin and Tony

Leo, Levendi and Chance

Sam and Chili grooming

O'Reilly and Lucky

Stormy, Clayton and Largo

Tony and Apollo grooming

O'Reilly and Thor

Sebastian and Renny chatting about something


Sunday, May 27, 2012

Herd Dynamics - The New Horse

I wrote a post a few weeks ago about herd dynamics during introductions.  In that post I described the typical personality types we see from members of the existing herd.  We can't forget about the newcomers though and how they respond to being part of a new group. 

Some horses make the whole transition so easy it is like they haven't had a transition at all.  These horses can live with almost any group of horses and instantly make friends and become one of the gang.  The chargers don't intimidate and fluster them, they easily and quickly defer to the boss horse, and become instant BFF's with the greeters.  It is like they go out in the pasture, high five everybody, and they are an instant member of the group.  Introductions are officially over.  If only it could always be that easy! Horses with dominant personalities are usually easy as well.  They simply take charge of things and the others accept it with no issues.  However many horses fall in a more gray area. 

The horses that really give you the sleepless nights are the ones that are submissive to an extreme when finding their place in a group.  This often is because they lack social skills as they have not been turned out at all, or have only had solo turnout.  Sometimes it is because they simply need to be allowed to take whatever time they need to find their place in the group.  Even the greeters can intimidate these horses at first.  They are being so submissive that just having another horse who is being nothing but friendly trying to constantly be close to them and in their personal space worries them.  The chargers send them over the edge.  The most common response we see from the super submissive types is they go into stimulus overload and find a place in the pasture where they can hide from everyone.  

Several years ago this response would drive Jason and I around the bend.  We would freak out, start second guessing ourselves and generally have a meltdown.  We would pull the horse from the group.  Finally we got smart and noticed a pattern.  When we would go fetch the horse that was hiding in the pasture well away from the other horses and take them in the barn, the horse didn't act any happier in the barn than they did out in the pasture.  We thought we were "rescuing" them because they were clearly not happy (or so we thought) but we were totally misreading the situation. 

The horses did not want to be taken away, they would pace and call in the barn.  This made no sense to us that they would be hiding in the pasture, but when we took them away and put them in s "safe place" in a  stall to rescue them they were even more miserable.  Often they would call repeatedly to the very horses they were just hiding from.  These horses were not wanting to be separated, but what they did need was time to acclimate to the group at their own pace.  Sometimes we will put these horses in a paddock for awhile with a horse or two from their group, but most of the time leaving them with the group works best. 

Amazingly we found that if we just let things alone, usually within a few days the whole situation was completely different.  As in completely, totally different.  These horses would start integrating themselves into the herd dynamics at a pace they were comfortable with.  They would stay close to the group for awhile and then retreat for awhile.  The time they spent near the group would increase while the time they spent away decreased.  They learned that if they ignored the chargers then they stopped charging.

Often within 2-3 days they are totally past any group separation at all which is a pretty amazing change. Sometimes it has taken a couple of weeks to reach this point. Within a month or two they act like they have been part of the gang forever.  That is quite a dramatic change from hiding off in a corner of the pasture as far away as they can get from the other horses.  Often after they have been in the group for about six months they begin to move up dramatically in the pecking order and can actually become quite bossy. These horses, without fail, become the most herdbound horses.

It still amazes me that a horse that would skitter away from the hay or the water trough if another horse even looked in their direction, or better yet the horses that would not even approach the hay or water if another horse was nearby, can wind up being one of the bossier horses in the group.  However we've seen it happen many times.  Twice we have seen it where horses that were described to us as always being the bottom of the pecking order wind up being the boss horse in their group.  Of course they didn't start there, but six months or a year later there they are telling everyone what to do.  You have to allow these personalities the time to integrate at their own pace. 

Too many people want to react like Jason and I used to react:

"Get him out of there!!"
"He can't handle being with other horses, he is just too submissive."
"He's going to lose too much weight and I won't torture him like this."

In reality most of these horses aren't submissive at all, and even though we interpret their responses as being miserable they want to stay out with the others.  They do need to be allowed to take their time becoming part of the herd dynamics.  Have I mentioned they need to be allowed some time??

I'm glad Jason and I watched and learned.  It has helped us read these situations a lot more accurately.  I also need to mention two very important things:  One is we have very large pastures relative to the number of horses in them so a horse never has to feel - or be - trapped.  Point two is that our pastures have excellent grazing the majority of the year so the horses can eat to their heart's content without having to be in the middle of the group. I can't emphasize enough how important these two points are to the process.  Taking either of them out of the equation would present challenges that would be hard to overcome.

Like most things with horses it is impossible to predict exactly how any horse will react in a given situation.  We've learned to be patient and to do our best to interpret situations based on horse language and behavior and not human responses.  This is much easier said than done, especially for us!  However I think the results speak for themselves, and anyone who visits the farm finds nothing but happy, content and well adjusted horses.  Even the ones that gave us some sleepless nights at first.


Lucky, O'Reilly and Noble

Johnny watching me from the woods (Wiz behind him)

Homer and Levendi

Lotus, Faune, Winston and Titan

Asterik and George

Renny and Fuzzy

Darby, B-Rad and Lighty

Tiny, Johnny and Rampal

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Another Installment of the Pony Wars

I have written many posts about the Pony Wars on the farm.  For any that have missed the prior posts on the pony wars here are the previous posts:

Pony Wars Continued

Pony Wars

Mares and ponies are a wonderful source of entertainment around here.  The mares seem to want to "own" their own pony while the ponies mostly try to maintain their independence.

Norman the pony is quite the ladies man, he always has been.  As I said to our wonderful vet the other day Norman's whole life is a win.  He lives with a bunch of mares who adore him and he also adores them - under the right circumstances.

If he were a person Norman would be described as a guy who likes to play the field.  Norman is good looking, he has a magnetic personality for horses and people, and he knows it.  Often Norman is the one who initiates the dating process with one of the mares.  Their facebook status would be "in a relationship."  Then the mare will start pressing Norman for more commitment, wanting to move in together, or get engaged, or heaven forbid set a wedding date.  Once they start wanting too much commitment Norman moves on to another mare. He is also buddies with Cuff Links.

Cuff Links and Traveller have always tried to maintain their independence.  Unlike Norman they find the mares too demanding, and they probably tire of the mares constantly talking about each other behind their backs.  This does not mean that the mares are not interested in them however.  Their facebook status is never voluntarily "in a relationship" with one of the mares.

Occasionally Cuffie goes along with being owned by a mare but Traveller never has.  Traveller hangs out with Silky a lot, I think because they have a nice, platonic friendship and she does not ever ask for more of him.  Cuffie has been claimed more than once but usually manages to regain his independence after a few months.  Maisie would love to be wildly attached to Cuffie but he never goes along with that plan.  Maisie has a fairly submissive personality and Cuffie is very bossy so she doesn't stand a chance at running his life. Cuffie and Lily were frenemies for a long time, but in the last several months they seem to have become more than that which is quite surprising to us.  Lily is the one mare that has never had a pony obsession.  However we often see these two grazing together peacefully so they seem to have forged a bond of sorts. I can only imagine that no one is more surprised by this than Maisie!

Cinnamon the pony is a different story altogether, probably because she is also a girl.  MyLight and Calimba especially feel the need to know about Cinnamon's whereabouts at all times.  If they don't know where she is their level of distress is alarmingly high until she is sighted.  Cinnamon is quite herdbound herself although more to the group in general than to any particular member.

And that is how the world turns in the world of mares and ponies!


Cuffie and Norman after having their teeth floated on Tuesday; they had a nice 20 minute nap together

Silky and Traveller

MyLight, Cinnamon and Calimba

Jason and I loved this cloud.  I think it looks like a dog sitting up on its hind legs.

Titan, Romeo, Silver and Lotus were in a hurry to join the other horses in the woods

Walden and Fabrizzio; you can sortof see Lightening and Thor behind them

Levendi and Moe grooming

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Spring into Summer

Some years it seems that everything comes on at once in the spring and the work piles up faster than there is any hope of getting it done. The weeds need to be sprayed, the hay needs to be cut, the grass and everything else seems to grow five inches a week and any crops need to be planted or otherwise tended and all of this needs to happen at exactly the same time. And of course the animals, which are our entire raison d'etre, need to be tended every day which leaves only a banker's hours to get everything else done. On this and every other working farm in Middle Tennessee the spring of 2012 was such a year. One of my blogger friends wrote recently that she was thankful for the rain...not only for the moisture it brought but also for the temporary break in the work. That would aptly describe the situation this entire spring here too.
Of course the horses take everything we do in stride and they seem to enjoy spending a good bit of their time watching us work like fools while discreetly following our movements (and no doubt making snide remarks about our task aptitudes) like a never ending peanut gallery. I usually wear a straw hat while I'm working in the sun and Melissa often remarks that it's funny to watch the straw hatted dude and his animal audience from afar.

As spring moves into summer and as we catch up with the leftover spring work we are very much looking forward to a steadier, more manageable day. We usually try to start our morning chores at or just before sun-up and we schedule any hard physical activities right after we're through with morning chores. This really pays dividends because it means we get most of our hard work done before the heat cranks up and we can focus on lighter tasks during the heat of the day. Summer days can be very long but the pace is usually a lot more relaxed than it is in the spring. If you show up on a nice day in March, April or May I am probably going to wave at you from the seat of the tractor and keep right on working. If you show up in July I'm probably going to stop what I'm doing and suggest a cold drink and a visit in the shade.

Depending on soil moisture and weather we try to put up as many cuts of hay as possible before cool weather comes. By far this is our hardest and most labour intensive summer task.  What are you up to this summer ? How does your household or horse routine change with the seasons ?


Chili and Renny

Faune and Gus having a grooming session while the sun was rising

Maisie, Calimba and MyLight grazing in the morning sun

Kennedy and Stormy



Tony and Baby grooming

Titan and Lotus

Elfin and Grand