A Note about Sugarbush Draft Horses

I see it over and over again, and no matter how many times it's said, it's still wrong. "Sugarbush Drafts are just an Appaloosa Draft Cross". Uh.... no. The Sugarbush Draft Horse was a breed created many years ago in Ohio. While the initial cross was made using Percherons to Appaloosas, in the many generations following, the breed has been solidified into a consistent type. Saying these horses are "just" a draft cross makes as much sense as saying that AQHA horses are "just" a Thoroughbred cross, American Cream Drafts are "just" a dilute Belgian, or that Morgans are "just" a grade.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial day Riding

Ah, a long weekend!  Ok, so a long weekend isn't really any different to me then a normal weekend.  And weekends are my busiest time of the week, but always in a good way.  Through out the week I am able to wander my way through chores, piddle with my training, and take frequent "coffee breaks".  Sometimes I even drink coffee, although when it's hot, I'm much more of the ice tea type.

So today, Leah came over.  She brought up her Pokey Pony and Jazu.  I of course felt this was a great time to explain to Leah why she needs a third horse!  And I have just the option for her... My new Stonewall colt (soon to be gelding) "O Stop Looking" (aka Streaker).

I mean, look at that form, and doesn't every one need a mostly white horse?  Ok, Jaz is grey, but grey isn't nearly as hard to keep clean as WHITE.

Truth be told, Streaker is amazing.  He was born with all the calmness one could ask for in a seasoned trail horse.  I swore it was because he's deaf, but I was wrong.  See, Streaker is splash white as well as a snowcap appaloosa, and often times the splash causes not only pretty markings, but also deafness when the white touches the base of the ear area.  Streaker's definitely does.  I'm not sure if he can hear in both ears, but he can hear, and comes when called (comes when not called too!).

And look at those striking blue eyes!  They are amazingly hard to photograph, since any light makes them reflect red eye, and changes the ice blue color to a more lavender.  Trust me though, he's got a set of baby blues to die for.

Add to it that he's got lovely conformation, and while his head is a bit plain, it's also very noble looking.  I'm not a fan of tiny little baby doll heads.  In truth, the most lovely type of horse head to me is a true roman nosed baroque type head!  LOVE those.  Streaker, he just got a normal head that fits his body.  Everything else.. WOW!

Granted, with horses of this coloration, both the excess of pink skin, and the homozygosity for LP (the main appaloosa gene) there are certain care factors to consider.  First, sunburn!  All that pink skin can be sensitive to sun.  Second, nightblindness.  He's homozygous, he IS nightblind.  He's very well adjusted to it, and horses don't really use their vision as much as we think they do, but the pairing makes for intersting maintenance challenges.  Can't turn him out at night alone, because he can't see.  Can't leave him out in the sun all day, because he'll fry.

Leah though has the perfect setting for him!  She has trees, and lots of them, and she has 2 other horses that can see well.  I've already gotten her to agree to take him for weaning.  His dam, Arden is a Teddy O'connor wanna be, and can jump any fence I have on the property.  She's a whopping 15.1 hands and has springs in her feet.  Best to wean this one off property, so for those who read her blog, remember to harass her for baby updates sometime after August!

As for our ride today, it was simply lovely!  Leah showed up, threw Jaz in with my boyz, put Poco in a stall, and started setting up the arena to her liking.  Ground poles came out, and I still had the barrels out (and have been using them!).  I drug my lazy holiday behind out, and checked with her to make sure it would be ok for me to ride a mare with Poco.  See, Poco is "sensitive".  He likes girls... he likes them a LOT... often times to distraction.  It really depends upon his mood each day as to whether it's better to pick a gelding, or to risk riding a mare.

Now, I'm a mare lover!  I'd gladly ride a mare over any other gender.  LOVE mares, and I love their attitude.  To me, geldings always seem a bit flat, personality wise.  Riding them becomes mechanical, and I have a tendency to become complacent.  My mares are taught to behave, and that being hormonal is NO excuse for acting up.  When working, you're WORKING.

I grabbed my "baby" Cayenne, and wanted to see how she'd do with another horse around.  Good call on my part!  She's been so good under saddle lately, but a well rounded training involves more then just arena work.  She's not ready to go off property yet, but adding in a distraction was perfect.  I found quite a few holes I need to work on.

Poco started out well, he was working nicely, and stepping out with gusto.  Not too much, not too little.

Ignore the junk in the background there.  The city recently got their backhoe stuck between my property and the railroad tracks. And both the stuck one, and the rescue backhoe have been there for over a week now.

I have to admit that I didn't get to pay as much attention to Leah's riding as I'd like.  Cayenne decided that SHE got to go where SHE wanted to.  One of the holes in her training.  About 15 minutes into our ride, my entire herd came up.  Poco and Cayenne were both distracted, and Cayenne really wanted to go say "hi" to every one.  For about 5 minutes, it was a very mellow struggle to get her to move in the opposite direction of the herd.  She never did anything bad, just shook her head and petered out.

She wandered over the ground poles very nicely when she would go over them.  Like I said, she's green as grass, and I found a lot of holes.  She preferred to either head to the herd, or go in the direction Poco was heading.  Asking her to go MY way wasn't her idea of fun.

I can't believe how cute she looks under tack!  Believe it or not, she's 14.0 hands or smaller.  I keep forgetting to grab my stick and get an acurate measurement, but I'm betting it's the later.

When we finished, we of course grazed the ponies on the side of the hill.  Both loved that idea, and both chowed down with gusto.  I have a whole list of things to work on with the Baby now, and she did learn that when "momma" (as I am her foster mother) says go THIS way, she won't get to go any other way.  With Cayenne it's best to not fight her.  I simply ride her to block her other options and wait out the tantrum (which involves standing still or maybe shaking her head).  At the end though, the Baby was TIRED.  Talk about wet saddle pads!

Check out the sweat dripping down her side!  And we never got out of a walk.  Her mane is braided up to keep it out of the reins, and to help keep her cool.  And never fear, that rein is just laid over the rail!

Memorial Day

Ah, summer is here, and Memorial day heralds it in.

Today, the BBQs are fired up, the lakes are packed, the boats are running, the fishing gear is out, and for us horsey types, the ponies are getting saddled and ready to play.  It's a long weekend!  What a wonderful holiday!

It seems so fitting to me that memorial day is filled with leisure and fun.  What a better way to celebrate our freedom.

But let us not forget that many men and women over the centuries dedicated their lives for this cause. This day celebrates the gift they were willing to give us, so that we could enjoy the simple things.  And not only our American troops, but all of our allies who have stepped up to be a friend in tough times.  From the German soldiers recently lost in Afghanistan, to the French in the Revolutionary war, and all our American sons and daughters, so many brave people have served, and have been willing to give their lives to keep freedom free.

For me, I would like to thank all men and women everywhere who make such a selfless act.  I don't care what language you speak, what flag you fly, or what your personal opinions are.  For those who have served the cause of freedom around the world, this day is for you.

As I sit here looking at the lovely weather - the sun is shining, a light breeze is blowing - I can't think of a more fitting way to remember so many, then to appreciate what it is that I received.  For those lost in battle, I hug a horse in your name, because for me, it was your dedication that made this all possible.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Slow Sundays

My day off!  YAY!

So, Katy seems to be doing a LOT better today.  I removed the wrap, and while she's still "off" she's able to stand on it.  Her poor leg was soaked with sweat from the wraps, and collecting dirt and grime, so I'm letting it air out.

She's in the paddock with Velvet.  I wanted to keep Velvet up, so she gets more interaction, as she seems to thrive on it.  This is why I am slimming down my herd.  With only Jae and I doing the majority of the horse stuff now, I have WAY too many horses to pay attention to.  I hate feeling like horses are getting ignored, so I hope to find them good homes where they will be pampered.

When I fed today, I noticed just how similar Velvet and Katy's coloring is.  Not much else, but their color, since Katy is a Sugarbush Draft, and Velvet is an Appaloosa with Arab ancestry. 
Look at the difference in the size of their legs!  It makes me giggle.  Velvet spotted me, and thought that meant scratches.  Of course she walked over and I obliged... I am well trained after all!

It's Katy's front left that is the problem.  See how she's holding it forward, and not putting all her weight on it?  Only a few days ago it was obviously swollen, and she was carrying it when it wasn't wrapped.  Today, she's allowed a bit of "outside time".  It seems to keep her calmer and happier.  She's with Velvet since Katy is the more dominant horse, but also a co-dependant horse.  Katy would run the fenceline if she didn't have another horse with her.

As for Rover, he's back on pasture.  Vet said it's nothing obvious, and to give him some time off.  If he's not sound next week, we'll pull radiographs, and look for a deeper problem.  Since I just dropped a chunk of change on Katy, I have no problem with waiting a bit before breaking the bank again.

Rover seems sound at a walk and canter, but can't maintain rhythm at the trot, even when he's just out in the pasture.  He has a lump on his leg, as if he stepped on himself, or someone else did it for him, and we think that is the cause of his lameness.  Weird though how he was sound at the start of the ride, then came up lame part way though.

So now, I'm putting off doing laundry and cleaning house.  I would MUCH rather be mucking stalls!  Sadly, I only have one horse in the barn, so it didn't take me long to clean up today.  Ah well, I can't play outside every day.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Training Horses

Today was a lazy day.  I woke up with no motivation, I went out, and it's HOT, rather humid, and then there's this pain in my neck.  No really, I pulled a muscle.

So, I decided I was only going to work one horse today, and today was Velvet's turn.  Empress Black Velvet (ApHC) is a beautiful mare, who carries a bit of extra baggage.  This is her with her 2008 foal, Velvet Equinox (Nox).  Velvet is a wonderful brood mare, and has been for most of her life.  Unfortuantely, she's not working out as a broodie for me.  Add to that the slow horse market, and I really don't need another brood mare.  Her only flaw is that her foals are short.  I mean Nox is LOVELY, but she'll probably mature to 15 hands at best.

Velvet was very much an impulse buy.  I had seen an ad for her, and my mother was looking for a black horse, and wanted a mare for the breeding business.  Velvet has a nice pedigree, so I decided to go look at her.  I arrived at this place to see horse upon horse, and not a blade of grass or bale of hay in sight!  Everything was thin, and everything was in sad shape.  The seller admitted that she had been boarding her horses, and was financially strapped so hadn't been able to visit.  When she did go see them, they were all skinny.

We snapped up 3.  Sadly we passed on one that we didn't think would live out the week, but took the ones that we thought would survive with feed and love.  I have to mention here that while I am a "breeding farm"  part of what I do is help horses.  I can't say rescue, because I'm not a non-profit.  I do take in unwanted horses, and do my best to fix them up into being VERY wanted horses.  I try hard to be logical about this, but Jae is awful about egging me on.  Usually when we hear about a horse in need, he's the first one to say, "but Heather, you can fix it, can't you?  Lets go check it out!"

Ladies, there are worse things then a husband who says no.  It's a man that is always saying "aww c'mon, what's one more?"
The other 2 have found great new homes, and Velvet I put into my own operation.  She was skin and bones and baby when she arrived, and was left to fatten up and foal out.  I rebred her, and we got the lovely filly above.  And now, Velvet is on the sales list.  I will not sell a horse that is not broke, unless I know I'm selling it into a good home that has the ability to train the horse.  I also prefer to keep tabs on all of my horses!  But making sure the horse has a great training is the best way to give it a good future.

So, while Velvet is supposedly broke, I don't find her to have a lot of training.  Her previous owner was a timid woman around the horses, and allowed Velvet, a very strong willed horse, to push her around.  Velvet is passive aggressive.  By this, I mean that she pulls small tricks to upset her owner, and then feeds off that negative behaviour.

A few examples:  Velvet was being taken out to pasture by my mother.  I can't recall what the problem was, but Velvet "accidentally" stepped on mom's foot.  When mom yelled, Velvet so calmly turned to look at her, then leaned onto the foot.  OUCH!  When asking Velvet to work, she will do everything to anger her handler, rather then simply doing what is asked.  With her last trim, she refused to lift her leg.  I know she picks up her feet well.  I know that she had no pain or issues to prevent her from picking up her foot easily.  Velvet just doesn't know any other way to deal with humans.

So I have been working with Velvet recently.  I started with ground work, both in hand and lunging.  When working her in hand, Velvet thinks that she gets to call the shots.  I am very serious about work time, and play time.  When leading a horse, that horse shall not try to graze, unless I allow it.  The horse should focus on ME, not everything else (safety issue here, a horse that is lolly gagging can easily step on it's handler).  We have gotten to the point that Velvet is very easy to deal with in hand, and most of her issues there have gone away.

So, we began lunging.  Now, my mother usually does the lunge training.  Nita is very calm and patient, and this works well with a horse that is learning.  Nita, my mother, began training Velvet, and kept having to call me over to help.  If mom asked her to reverse, Velvet wouldn't.  If mom asked for a speed increase, Velvet would reverse.  I picked up the line, and tried her out.  Yep, Velvet would work twice as hard to get out of work, as she would to simply do what is asked.  Do I blame her?  Nope... that's how she was trained!

Her previous owner was very consistent with putting Velvet away anytime Velvet would act up.  To Velvet's horse mind, this simply said "good girl, you acted up just like I wanted, so here's your treat!"

So, I had to untrain, and then retrain.  I showed Velvet that I would calmly and clearly ask for a response.  If Velvet gives me the wrong response, I ignore it, and simply ask again.  If Velvet gives me the right response she is praised!  If Velvet gives me attitude, then we kick up the work a notch.

I got her working in the gaits I asked for, but reverse was the kicker.  When I asked for reverse, Velvet would toss her head, duck inside the circle, and completely lose her rhythm or gait.  I began lunging Velvet into the fence, to teach her the reverse.  She fought me every step of the way.  From ducking in to speeding up.  Each of these mistakes was met with another request to "do it again".  Finally she would reverse.

I moved her back into the middle of the arena, and tried to repeat the request.  Nope!  Velvet would reverse, but that's ALL she would do!  Eesh.  After about an hour of this, I decided to quit on a high note, and try again the next day.

That next day, Velvet was back to square 1.  She had lost everything I had taught her.  When I tried to show her again, her mind went elsewhere.  She would rather run at light speed in circles, then to make any attempt to learn.  So, it was time to change the subject!

I brought out the ground poles and the barrel jump.  The ground poles are spaced evenly on the ground, and the horse is lunged over them.  If the horse isn't focused, then the horse will step on them, and horses usually don't care for that.  The barrell jump is just 2 barrels on their side, with poles that lay on the top of one barrel, and point to the ground at the other.

In this case I only had one pole, because it's lower, and gives the horse an option to choose to simply canter over rather then jump.  The horse shown is a 3 year old, so too young to be doing much more then what you see here, and only once in a blue moon.

The idea here is simple, when an object is in the horse's path, it has to pay attention to it!
And here is the 3 year old going over the ground poles.  Yes, it's Scorch again.  Scorch is rather flashy, and it's always easy to get someone to take pictures of him working!

Both pictures were taken from the same spot.  The barrel jump is just outside the shot on the right.  In this way I can choose to use one of the obstacles, or both, depending upon what the horse needs.

I also find that giving a horse obstacles like this sets the horse up for success.  I mean, it's not hard to walk over those poles!  When the horse does that, then they get praise, and learn to respond to positive reinforcement.  Believe it or not, but you actually have to train a horse to work for praise.  Horses actually work for the release of pressure, but we humans want to reward them.  Rewards are a concept that horses are not born with.

This is why so many horses become problems.  They get rewarded for things, so behave in a manner to get the reward again, not understanding our idea of working to earn something.  Horses think that pushing the human, or behaving in a dominant manner (like biting or kicking) should get them the reward, as opposed to performing a "trick" upon command. 

See, horses aren't dogs.  Dogs are predators, and horses are prey.  Most people unknowingly try to make horses into dogs - I know I did!  In the doggy world, a good leader is fair, and works to provide for their pack mates.  A pack leader provides food, and it is in charge of rationing that food.  In the horsey world, food is not provided by the leader.  The ground makes food!  A good horsey leader is one that makes sure it's herd survives.  Horses look for their leaders to be quick thinkers, exact about what they demand, and strong enough to live out the day.

This is completely backwards to what we humans do naturally!  So often I hear people say, "well I don't want to be mean to my horse!  He won't love me!"  Doesn't work like that.  If you're mean to your DOG, then your dog will assume you're a poor leader, since you're not providing for it.  If you're stern with your horse (since I do not advocate being MEAN just for the sake of it) then your horse thinks you are strong, and if it's hanging out with you, then it's likely to survive.  Horses love to have hard rules for things.

Oops, I digressed.  So, back to Velvet.

I began to work her over the obstacles, and I was shocked to see that this horse was loving it!  Now, she's not really good at it, but she was enjoying herself.  For the first time in her life, I think she was being challenged.  I asked her to jump, and jump she did... like a cow, but she still did it.  She was rewarded for this with hugs and praise and scratches, and of course, to get those I had to release the pressure of the lunging.  (see how I fit in the release of pressure with the introduction of praise?)

And since Kris was brave and decided to ride Velvet the other day, I decided that maybe Velvet just hates lunging, so I'll try to get up on her and see if that works better for her.  That was my plan for today, or so I thought.  Uh, we didn't get that far.

Today's lesson consisted of learning to take the bit.  Velvet felt that throwing her head, locking her teeth, and backing up were all good ways to get out of work.  HA! To me that just means "oh, so this will be today's lesson, eh?"

Yeah, I spent about 45 minutes putting on and taking off her bridle.  In the end, I got her to accept the bit twice with out hassle.  I really think that she wants to be a good horse, but she just doesn't know how!  When I work with her, I have to remain completely emotionally neutral.  If I get mad, then Velvet gets worse.  If I even just get flustered, then she gets worse, and feeds on it.  I must maintain the attitude that this is no big deal, and if she doesn't take it today, then she'll take it tomorrow.  I have time to spare.

I think that Velvet is learning though.  While she may not be learning the task I ask of her, such as taking the bit, or reversing on the lunge, she IS learning a new way to interact with humans.  Learning how to be a good pet horse is much more important then the tasks I ask.  Once she learns the concept, the details will follow quickly.

Hopefully I will get to ride her tomorrow.  She has no go button, and I don't think she has any steering either.  This should be fun.

Now where did I put my helmet again?

The Sugarbush Draft Horse

The Sugarbush Draft Horse Registry

Ok, I have referred to these horses a lot, but I'm not sure that I've ever posted the link to the breed registry site.  Full Disclaimer here, I am the registrar of the breed.  I'll give you some background into how I got involved with these horses:

I started out as a horse owner with a couple of "nags".  My (now ex) husband and I decided to buy horses for our first aniversary.  Aaron (the ex) had grown up on an Arabian horse farm in Saskatchewan Canada. I had grown up always wanting horses.  Needless to say, when we decided we needed horses in our lives, Arabians were the breed of choice.  He bought Jaz (Leah's boy now) and I got Boo.

We kept our horses at a boarding stable.  It was a lovely place, run by a crazy teenage girl.  The boys were still weanlings, with Boo being only 4 months old, and Jaz being 6 months old.  Within 2 weeks, this horse I had been eyeing came up for sale, a lovely grey TB mare named Ash.  Ash was "unrideable".  Yeah, I was in my 20s, young, dumb, and luckily I was also mostly unbreakable!  I bought Ash and taught her to ride while I learned to ride.  One of the rare cases where green + green does NOT equal black and blue!

After that, I waded through horses for a while, before getting involved in helping people with problem horses.  It was something that started by chance, I didn't seek it out.  After I split with the ex, I met the man of my Dreams, Jae.  Jae is wonderful, he's supportive, and he didn't know a thing about horses.  His only "horse experience" was working on the computer system for a race track vet in Ontario.

Yeah, for those of you who notice details, my ex-husband was a Canadian, and my better half is Canadian.  Not sure how that happened, as I'm living in TEXAS! 

So one day, over a cup of coffee at IHOP, Jae and I were talking about dreams.  I mentioned that I always wanted to breed horses that were good for amateur owners, but athletic enough to go up the ranks in the English disciplines, like dressage and jumping.  When I got my first horse, like so many other people, I got a horse I could afford, and thought "well I can't ride, so why do I need to spend a lot of money?  I just need a safe trail horse!

Within 3 years, I was jumping.  I lucked out in a big way, because the untrainable grey TB mare I bought for pennies ended up being a jumper at heart.  She jumps ugly, but that's because she doesn't even give a real effort until about 4 feet.... and I am stuck at 2'6"!  The last time I tried 4 foot, I broke my thumb... and it was NOT an intentional jump.

So, I kept thinking that most of us want a nice calm mannered horse.  We want a horse that can do what we ask with out pain or discomfort.  We want a horse that we can fall in love with, spend our lives with, and hey, if we decide to show, it can do that too!  Add in some pretty color, and it'd be the perfect horse!

I stumbled upon Appaloosas.  My good friend down the road had a lovely Palomino mare.  She had the most amazing gaits, but she was green as grass, and he was a timid rider.  I offered to put some hours on her for him.  As a full time student, I had time to blow, and who doesn't want to ride all the time?  Later, the neighbor mentioned that the mare was a solid Appaloosa.  I was sold.

The little mare was so calm and trusting for her inexperienced owner, she had lovely gaits, and she fit most of my criteria for the perfect novice type horse.  I started looking into Appaloosas, and found that this is pretty typical for the breed, and even more so in horses with high percentages of app x app breeding.  When Jae talked me into starting a horse breeding business, I naturally went for the Appaloosas.  I had looked at warmbloods in the past, and TBs, and so many other typical sport horse breeds, but none were consistently predictable and novice friendly.

So, after working with the Appaloosas for about 2 years, I was in love, except for ONE little problem (no pun intended).  I got stuck at 15.2 hands.  I know there are taller ones out there, but I was fighting the size.  While looking at taller stallions, I stumbled upon this picture:

Talk about WOW!

That is the Sugarbush stallion Sugarbush Harley Quinne.  He was a magnificent horse, had wonderful color, and looks like he has good conformation, all photo issues beside the point.  I began looking into the Sugarbush draft horse, and learned that there are a handful out there.  The breed was officially founded in 1982, but it has over 50 years of breeding behind it.  From there, I learned about the Stonewall Sport Horses.  These started as Percheron/Appaloosa crosses, and were created for carriage use.  Currently, Friesian stallions are being used in the breeding.

So, I thought, hmm... I like draft horses, I really like draft crosses.  I'll try a breeding.  I did.  I thought, one breeding, and worst case scenario, I'll have a nice pet, and can place it in a good home, but at least I'll know if it works.  I researched for over a year, and ended up producing this:

As soon as he was born, I realized that I had a LOVELY horse.  Yeah, he missed the spots, but who cares???  From day 2 he was showing me that he had some moves, and by the age of 3 months, I was completely in love with him.  I kept saying, I'll geld him just as soon as I see a problem. He's 3, and I haven't seen a problem yet!

I dabbled for a couple more years, producing both Appaloosas and a Stonewall Sport Horses here and there.  Then one day I decided that I needed to look into a good heavy stallion to produce more, and to just focus on the Stonewall Sport Horses.  I contacted the breeder of that lovely leopard draft stallion.

Everett Smith is the breeder.  He is a wonderful man, and was filled with knowledge that he was willing to share.  I asked him about a good stallion, and he informed me that the last Sugarbush stallion was available for sale.  Everett was looking to retire.  He is in his 70s, and the drafts were just a bit more then he was able to work with.  After a few months of talking, I somehow ended up leasing the last of Everett's herd, which included 2 mares - one in foal, and a Stonewall Sport Horse mare.

Along with the lease, Mr. Smith had asked me to take over the registry.  He wanted to see the breed continue, but drafts have fallen out of favor, and the breed had fallen to record low levels, only 12 horses left!  It would take a life time to rebuild the breed!  Unfortunately, in this day and age of designer breeds, the Sugarbush Draft Horse was so often mistaken for a fly by night draft cross.  This really hurt its image!

Well, when the horses arrived, I at first though, "WHAT have I gotten myself into?".  Then, with love and training, I saw what Everett had seen.  These are the most amazing horses I have known!  They have gaits like a warmblood, with reach and suspension.  They have the draft horse mentality, all love and effort, and not too much attitude.  And of course, they are simply lovely!

I have now thrown myself full force in getting these horses recognized by the public, and working hard to help resurrect the breed.  Luckily, the standard for the breed is pretty open.  Cross a Sugarbush to a draft, and you get a full registered Sugarbush.  Cross a Sugarbush to a light horse, and you get a Stonewall Sport Horse.  Cross that Stonewall back to a draft, and you get a Sugarbush with generational papers.  This allows the gene pool to stay open enough, while still maintaining the desired traits.

I have every intention of breeding a few of my highest quality Stonewall Sport Horses back up into the SDHR, but I won't breed horses that won't have homes, and the economy isn't supportive of heavy breeding right now.  Ok, that, and I have a TON of horses to work already.  The horses I have here are mostly offspring of O, or the one purebred mare that isn't related to him, and produced the other 2.  I would love to sell those mares to homes that are as obsessive about the breed as I have become, and would produce a handful of quality, well thought out foals, themselves.

So check out the registry's page and see more picture of these gorgeous horses!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Riding the Orphan, part 2

So, yesterday I restarted Cayenne under saddle.  Thinking that it was too good to be true, I decided to ride her again today, to make sure it is all still there.  It is.

She was perfect for 2 days in a row!  I tacked her up, and she stood like a champ, not giving me fits over anything.  I climbed on, and she walked out when asked.  Yesterday that was a bit of a problem, and Cayenne wasn't sure of the command to walk forward.  She got stuck at first.  Today, she walked off with a light touch.  She backed when asked, for as long as asked.  She turns on a light contact, and even kinda sorta turns with neck reining.  She's starting to learn, and I won't complain at all, since this is only day 2!

So, after reaffirming that all of yesterday's stuff was still there, I added a few new things.  She learned to do yo-yo's.  A yo-yo is a silly simple training device to keep the horse thinking about what will come next.  Most often what I do is while walking, I ask the horse to halt, back, halt then walk in rapid succession.  That is then worked up to walk, back, walk.  When the horse has all 3 gaits down well, it can be trot, back, canter, or any combination.  The idea is to keep the gaits and the transitions light and fluid.  It's also good for me as a rider!

Cayenne got the basics of the yo-yo.  Walk, halt, back, halt, walk.  That's as far as we got, but she gave 100% to it.  She has a little trouble with straightness, and tends to walk like a drunken pony, but that's typical for this level of her training.  If I work at it, I can ride her straight, but it takes a ton of effort.  I think working on perfectly straight is probably rushing things. 

I am trying to go at the pace Cayenne sets, and Cayenne is setting a very fast pace!  This is not normal for me.  I usually prefer to have many more slow easy sessions before adding in the advanced stuff.

Now, Cayenne is not perfect.  She did give me a bit of a head shake when she decided that SHE was done for the day.  She also tended to veer over to the gate anytime she thought she could get out of working.  I didn't have to work hard to get her going again, and a "good girl" and pat on the neck was good enough to keep her happy and enjoying the work out.

To finish off the lesson, I added in something new.  I try to do this with young horses that I am training.  I think of it like a preview on the next lesson.  For Cayenne that was trotting.  During her cool down laps (not that she really needed it, but warm up and cool down are something that shouldn't be overlooked!) we finished the last lap with a bit of trot, walked again, then a bit more trot.  I stopped her and got off, pleased with her, and of course got all mushy gushy with my baby girl.

Ya know, I usually prefer big tall horses to ride.  I like a horse that's between 15.2 and 16.1 hands, with 15.3 being my "perfect".  I have always thought that anything under 15 hands was short... so here I am riding a pony!  I hate to admit this though, but it's like a sports car.  Not much around ya, and tons of fun to drive. 

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Restarting the Orphan

I have been doing my "thing" all day.  Groceries, feed, supplies, website.......  basically anything that isn't horsey.  Ick.  But it has to be done.

So, I looked at the clock, and realized I was running out of daytime.  5:45pm!  Eeesh!  I tore around looking for socks, realize that some cat decided that my basket of clean laundry was now a litter box!  Man, that just makes me so mad.  Mad enough to.... wash the clothes again.  The kitties are all "barn kitties".  That means they showed up in the barn, were brought to the vet, checked over, dewormed, vaccinated, spayed/neutered, and then made into lovely house cats.  See, I had outdoor cats.  They died.  Each time it happened in my life it broke my heart.  When we moved here, I thought it was a nice little neighborhood, but tried to keep my kitties inside on basic principle.  Indoor cats live longer.

Something happened, I'm not sure what, and the kitties broke out.  The "kittens" (A group of 4 kittens left by their mother in our barn) all loved it.  Most of the cats were safe, stayed off the road, and they all seemed happier.  So, I let them stay outside.  Then Persphone disappeared.  Every one is back inside, locked in, and NOT happy about it.  The laundy is my punishment for jailing them.

At any rate, I found clean socks, threw on my paddock boots, grabbed a halter, and headed out to the FAR back corner of the property.  Yep, the horses were as far from the barn as possible.  I grabbed Cayenne, and wandered back up to the barn.

Now, Cayenne is my orphan "filly".  She's 5 now, or will be soon.  Evidently, when she was born, her dam prolapsed her uterus.  That's bad.  That's very bad.  The mare had to be put down shortly after.  There's Cayenne, a lovely little bay filly, who should have been a buckskin, super small, and just as happy as can be, but no mother.  Her pedigree is nice, but not the most fashionable out there (a bit older lines, but good ones, including Hotrodder's Jet Set).  Her owner was away at the Canadian Nationals, and there was no option for her.  He asked the vets to either find her a home, or put her down.  The vet immediately thought of me.

I get this call, "Hey Heather?  I have an orphan horse, can you take it?  I think it's a quarter horse, maybe it's black or bay?"  Yeah, I'm a sucker.  I said "Sure! Bring it over".

At this point I had just started dating Jae.  He had just talked me into getting into the horse business.  And to top it all off, I was supposed to meet up with my ex husband that day to settle somethings.  Yeah, guess who got put off?  Yep, you're right!  The ex.

Cayenne arrived at my house smaller then my dogs.  She was ADORABLE!  Here she is with my mother.  She's about a week old in this picture.

So, this little bundle of joy became "my foal".  I fed her, i let her wander around with me, and basically I tried hard to treat her the way a mare would.  Only difference is that I also taught her manners.

At around 3 months of age, she went to live with the "big" horses.  Mainly my gelding Boo, Leah's gelding Jaz (who was previously in my family) and Doodles.  Cayenne grew up to be a wonderful horse, and her only orphan issues were related to growth, and preferring humans to horses.  She still likes humans more.

But, my dear Cayenne didn't grow well.  While she drank a ton of milk replacer, it wasn't the same as mare's milk.  She was sickly, mainly colic and diarrhea from the milk replacer, and her genetics didn't help much either.  Her sire and dam are listed as 14.0 hands.  I'd be shocked if they were really that tall.

And this is the absolute cutest/scary picture of a baby horse ever! That's how she slept.  When she got tired, she simply collapsed, and slept until she was ready to play again.  I promise, she's perfectly fine.  I know she looks dead - she's not.

So, I waited to start Cayenne.  As a late 3 year old, she was 13.2, but wide enough to carry me.  I put the basics on her.  We spent no more then 15 minutes under saddle, and most of that was at the walk.  Then last year I was out of the saddle from March onward.  No riding for the baby.

I tried to get Cayenne started back under saddle a few months ago.  Brought her up, got her lunging, and she was doing great!  Then I lunged her with the saddle on one day, and she had a hissy fit.  She was in heat, she really wanted to check out the stallions, and did NOT want to work that day.  When she decided to take off like a rocket straight away from me, I rolled her.

No, I'm not a huge fan of rolling a horse.  I ONLY do it if the horse is bolting, or striking.  In Cayenne's case, it was more fluke then anything.  She ran, I tried to turn her, she reared as I pulled on the lunge line, and BOOM, Cayenne goes rolling.  On the upside, it did bring her mind back to earth.

The next day, I brought her back out to do some light lunging.  She was lame.  GAH!  The farrier was out the next day, and checked for a stone bruise.  She acted painful in both fronts, and of COURSE it was the weekend.  Yes, I can call my vet out on the weekend, but she was sound at the walk, and he deserves a few hours at least with his family.  It could wait till Monday.

Over the weekend I stretched out Cayenne.  I would grab a front leg and pull it forward and up.  Repeat with other front leg.  I would do carrot stretches, and I did a LOT of massaging and linament.  By Monday she was much better, so I prescribed 2 weeks off.  This week was the end of those 2 weeks.

So, there I was in the barn tacking up the smallest "horse" on the property.  Yeah, she's really a pony.  I told myself that I needed to stick her for height, but I forgot again.  I'm guessing about 13.3 or 14.0 hands.  I wouldn't be shocked to see 13.2 either though.

Put it this way, Jae is about 6'1".  Yes, that's as big as she is, but she's fatter now.  A LOT fatter.

I groomed her down, fly sprayed her, threw on the saddle and checked for fit a few times.  I can't believe that the western saddle I own fits her.  I didn't expect it to, but it's a good fit now.  Previously I had to double pad and use a shim, so I'm guessing that she finally filled out along the topline and I just never noticed my baby growing up.  I have to say, she stood like a champ for being tacked up.  I couldn't have asked for better from any horse.  At one point I actually took off the cross ties, and just left her standing in the alley while I grabbed a few extra accessories, such as sugar cubes to make the bit taste better, and a crop for some forward.

We plodded out to the arena, and I walked her up to the mounting block.  She saw it, and stepped right into position!  I checked everything agian, and then put a foot in the stirrup and laid over her, letting her take my full weight.  She closed her eyes and started napping.  I asked her to move off while still leaning over (handy trick if you're not sure how the horse will react).  Since I hadn't ridden her more then 10 times, and it has been over a year ago, I was playing it safe.  She was slow to walk out, but besides walking like a drunk sailor, she was fine.  We repeated this a few times, then I swung up.  Of course, Cayenne was still just perfect.

We made laps, we made circles.  At some point I gave up on the direct reining, and started showing her neck reining.  She gets it, because she mainly goes off my seat and legs.  Might as well just train her to neck rein now, right?  Saves us from going back to all that walk work!  I was SO happy with her.  Besides a few moments of pinned ears because we were NOT eating the hay left over from the boys being in the arena, she had no complaints.  I rode a good 25 minutes, making turns, working on straightness, halts, and backing up.  Not once in that whole time did she make a mistake that wasn't due to lack of training (my fault!).  My little pony was simply perfect.

I really don't want to sell this baby.  but if I find a home for her that's better then mine though, I will sell her in a heart beat.  I have no intention of breeding her, and well, she's really not breeding quality in my mind.  So, with as many horses as I have, I'd prefer for my baby to have her own people, and get spoiled even more, and every single day!  I do think she'd make a lovely little kid's pony, and could probably be a nice hunter.  I'll never have children, so, I'll be listing her on the website just as soon as I feel she's safe enough under saddle.  

At the rare this little girl is learning though, that shouldn't be long!  I'm SO happy with her, and I had such a lovely ride today.  I have no complaints, and I'm looking forward to riding her again tomorrow!

Another day, another horse in need

So, today was feed day. I buy feed by the half ton, in bulk. I have 39 horses and a donkey, so that's a LOT of mouths to feed.

Now, feeding the animals is a personal hobby of mine. I love to know what to give, how much to give, what nutrition works, what horse needs something a bit different. In truth, I work hard not to switch over the feed too often on my horses. Normally I get a wonderful feed that is made of barley, sunflower seeds, and soybean hulls. It's very high fiber (good for horses) and lower NSC. Now, it's not a "no" NSC diet, but it's great for growing horses and those that need to be built back up.

My little operation here has 4 employees. First of course there's me. I do the breaking, the backing, the medical, the training, the foaling out, and other major horsey tasks. I basically have a degree in biology (haven't received my degree yet because I want some extra courses that will make me eligible for vet school... just on principle). My studies were in genetics, and genetics bring out the geek in me - in a big way! I spent my life as a city kid, and when I got my first horse, from there I was hooked. I learned much of what I know the hard way, and have youth to thank for all of my parts still working properly.

Then my assistant trainer is my mother. She handles the young horses, and most often is the one that puts the basic ground work on them, including lunging and ground driving. Mom is incredibly patient and actually enjoys repetitive work. PERFECT for working with the youngsters.

Then there's Jae, my better half. He does just about every thing not horse related, and helps with the horsey stuff as well. When it comes to fencing, keeping the tractor running, repairing something a horse broke, or just holding the head while I climb on the first time, or being thrown around during a vet/medical treatment, Jae's the guy.

Last but not least is my father. Dad piddles. He's the guy that mows the lawn, paints the fence, and pets the new foals (which is actually a VERY important job, socializing horses!). He's great at getting scared horses to trust someone. He's also the guy who does the bills. Paperwork is something I HATE to do, so it's nice to have someone willing to do it.

Our program is pretty simple. We breed Stonewall Sport Horses. These are Appaloosa draft crosses, created by a guy named Michael Muir, and they gained popularity when he did a drive across the US to promote disabled driving (horsey type). I found out about them, and fell in love. See, my Appaloosa breeding program has always been for sport horses, and I got stuck at 15.2 hands. Too short for sport horses! I love drafts, always have, and the draft crosses are good sport horses. To me the switch was a no brainer.

Now, the Stonewall Sport Horse was bred up by a man named Everett Smith. A wonderful man, let me tell you! Mr. Smith has many years in the carriage business, and made a full draft horse with that purpose in mind. As a side effect he also created a great riding draft. I leased the last of Mr. Smith's herd, with the understanding that I will sell the last of them for him. I breed his stallion, Sugarbush Harley's Classic O, both to my mares, as well as outside mares. I also have the intention to produce a couple of Sugarbush horses myself. Now, with the recent Economic downturn, these relatively unknown breeds aren't moving so fast, so I am not breeding.

So, when I have open stalls, I take in horses in need. I do not like to BUY horses that are neglected or abused. I will rescue them, I will take them, but I really think that paying the person who is not caring for their horses is a BAD idea. In most cases it leads to them breeding another, or thinking that they are successful, when in fact they are simply bad breeders.

The caveat there, is that I WILL buy a horse from someone that needs the help and knows it. I've had people beg me to buy a horse from them because they have to sell one to feed the rest, and they just lost their job. To me, that's just being in a rough spot. I will give those types money. I was there myself once, and ended up giving away a handful of horses during my panic, before things settled out. My thinking was, place the horses in good homes while they are fat, healthy and happy, and not have to watch them starve if I can't get the income flowing again SOMEHOW.

Granted, that panic is what lead me into working with the horses full time. So it's not all bad. And the horses I placed, they have great homes with owners who adore them.

But right now I'm full. In fact, I'm a bit over full. I was full, and then my dear friend Sigrid Rico passed away. Her daughter contacted me and basically informed me that if I was WILLING to take Sig's horses then they were mine. I had a lovely filly leased from Sig (Olympic Dove) and I felt comfortable accepting the 2 older horses. The third horse was a known problem foaler, was bred, and had a chance to be placed in a home more suited for her then mine. Then I had the Stonewall foal mess up. Bred a mare for a 2009 foal, pastured her with the stallion that winter, since she wasn't doing well in the herd, and was the low horse, but got more then plenty of access to the round bale and grain when kept with the stallion. I thought "hey, it all works out".

Mare had ultrasounded as bred for a July 2009 foal, then in April, she looked open to me, so while trying to schedule an apointment for another ultra sound, I accepted a horse in need. I was positive she was open. I figured she had slipped the foal (her first breeding) and it had been too late in the year. Well, I had a lovely foal in 2010 from her. One more horse over the "limit".

So today, while at the feed store, the clerk there asks me if I can take in another horse. The horse was abandoned at a boarding pasture. Previous owners had the horse on pasture lease. The pasture owner couldn't handle that the horse wasn't getting the proper care, so told the owners that he'd take the horse instead of the money they owe him. Now this pasture owner, who isn't a horse man, has a horse. He has been feeding the horse, but supposedly it's thinish. It's a bay 3 year old gelding, appears to be broke, but needs weight.

The feed store guy said that the pasture owner would love to sell the horse for the $100 he's owed. He wants someone that can feed it! Well, feeding is something I'm good at. I take pride in getting that perfect balance of muscle to fat, with out having horses be TOO fat. And since I buy a crap load of feed from this place, the clerk thought I'd be a great match.

I'm over my limit. The horse needs a home. Sounds like an easy rehab and sell.

Yeah, I told the feed store guy that I'd think about it. *headdesk* I do NOT need yet another horse, but I can't say no if the horse is really in need can I?

Monday, May 24, 2010

How far we've come

I was looking through old pictures. Many were taken a couple of years ago. You can see the garbage, the unpainted fences, the broken fences, and the entire mess. I have mentioned before that we purchased our dream home, but it came with a lot of "extras". Garbage being the main one. These pictures are after much of the major clean up had already happened. Most of the trash was picked up, a lot of the fences had already been repaired, and we had even started painting a bit.

Now, we're in full swing, and things are starting to look better fast. The arena fence has been moved back. The pipe fences are mostly painted. The garbage is picked up even more, and much of the large debris is gone. AND, Jae has gotten a huge section of the new fencing up.

This is where I make my plug for Centaur Flex fencing. WOW, do I love that stuff. I am not paid by them, I don't get any bonuses for saying this, but it is the most amazing fencing I have ever seen. It took Jae longer to figure out how to start then it has for him to finish 200 feet. It's super easy to install, it looks just amazing, and the very best part? I paid less for it then I would have to do barbed wire fencing! Not that I would, but just for a comparison.  The cost per foot is very reasonable.

So, that I have something to compare, I'm posting pics of old and new. I always see what needs to be done, but every once in a while it's nice to look back on what we have already accomplished.

Ok, I had great intentions to finish this, but I completely forgot that I had loaned out my camera to my mother.  My parents are in Pottsboro, house sitting for a friend, and have a couple of my yearlings there keeping the pastures mowed.  Mary P is a wonderful lady who lives in Alaska for the summer, and Texas for the winter.  She asked my folks to house sit for her while they wait for their new house to come.

So now that I have my camera back, here are pictures!

Notice how the arena fence no longer blocks off the access to the main pasture (front right) and long pen (left).  That corner used to be a nightmare to get horses through, especially with a stallion in the catch pen (far right).  The "easiest" way to get through there was to use the 2 doors in the corner, and cut through the catch pen.  No more!  Now we have full access to the alley way.

Here's another:

This is looking over the catch pens out to the pasture.  Catch pens are in the foreground, long pen is on the left in the distance (with all the garbage in it).

And this, is looking directly down the alley today:

Much easier access to everything, although we're still not finished.  See that lovely Centaur fence in the back ground?  Yeah, soon all the barbed wire will be centaur!

In the future, we hope to remove that gate at the end of the alley, and move it to the front.  There will be another gate at the far end of the alley (not visible in picture).  This gives me a level of comfort when moving vehicles in and out of the pasture.  Drivers will have to go into the safe alley area, close a gate behind them, then move into the pastures and paddocks.  As a side benefit, we hope to run the alley area completely around the property, and be able to use it as an exercise track.

Forgive all the water hoses, I was filling troughs while taking photos!  Running water lines comes soon too, and I won't be dragging hoses every where!

And this is from the opposite side toward the house:

 And here it's taken closer, today.  Much of the garbage is gone, and most of the "stuff" stacked there is fencing.
Still a lot of work to do here!  That cute little black house in the distance is my house.  It's currently empty, and we've stripped the entire inside and are rebuilding everything!  The house was built in 1917, so it's almost 100 years old.  I just love it personally.  Little things like electricity had to be completely rewired (last update was in 1929) so the backside is primed, but unpainted, waiting for electric boxes, and such.

The barn:
Note the nasty ugly siding!  ICK!  The barn has 15 "stalls".  One is currently a chicken coup due to unsafe footing, one is completely bare, and is used to store tools for the moment, but will be a run in with paddock behind it for Spot, my stallion.  2 are storing hay, because the stall walls are NOT horse safe.  And the last is a tack "area" because it has no walls.  Soon it will be a real live tack room, complete with sink and A/C!  Unfortunately, the tack room will probably be another year before it's done.

And here's the upgrade to the barn:
WOOD SIDING!  It's a work in progress.  Soon the siding will be painted black, like the house, there will be white trim covering the seams, and there will be windows to each stall.  This is the back side, and the grassy area will be Spot's paddock.  You can just see the bare stall to the left that will be the run in stall.

We still have a lot to do, but looking at these pictures, it makes me feel better, and I think it's pretty obvious that in our 3 years we have accomplished a LOT.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

An update on Lameness

Katy is still lame. Rover is now in the lame category as well. Leah mentioned that the last time she was riding him, he seemed almost but not quite uneven on that foot as well. Thinking back, ya know, I thought he had a rhythm problem, but maybe it was also related.

So the next time the vet comes out to check on Katy, I'm going to have Rover checked as well. I'm probably looking at ultra sounds, x rays, and a full diagnostic on him, but it's best to know, so that I don't try to sell him to someone looking at him for a hard sport, and him not being able to do it.

As for Katy, she's still 3 legged lame when not wrapped. Now, when I wrap her leg, she walks like there's nothing wrong. It is her tendon, the one that runs down the back of her leg and across the back of the pastern. I'm looking at a LONG recovery time for this, and the worst part is that I don't have a clue as to what she did. On the bright side, Dr. G thinks that with a good rehabilitation, nice and slow, she will make a full recovery, and have no future issues with it.

Now, I have to say here that Katy is just lovely. Not sure why, but I never seem to get pictures of her, so today we are photo-less. She's a lovely black Sugarbush Draft mare, 3 years old, with roaning all over. She has a lovely head, a nice moderately long neck, and perfect balance in her conformation. She's so willing to do anything asked of her, and just is a sweet huggy type of horse.

I have Rover and Katy keeping each other company in the barn right now. Both on stall rest, both wrapped, and both getting bute for the swelling. On Katy, I have to wrap both front feet, so that her supporting leg doesn't take too much strain. Interestingly, I switch between cloth wraps for the supporting leg, and a support boot for it. Both are black. The vet wrap I have for the injured leg is black. Katy is black.

2 days ago, I had Katy turned out in a small paddock so she could socialize over the fence, and had no reason to move a lot. She still hopped around a bit, but I have to balance her mental state with her physical injuries. I was in the arena - next to the road - tilling, and some lady driving by stopped and waved at me. I drove over, and she asked if I knew that the horse was hurt, and had I called a vet! She was so sweet and very concerned. I looked, and sure enough, it was almost impossible to tell that Katy was all wrapped up, because her wraps match her hair, and her legs are already big and thick.

I explained to her that the vet had seen her, that she was on his treatment plan, and that she had black leg wraps on. She looked closer, and then said "Oh, I'm SO sorry, I just thought, you know...".

To me, it's kinda nice knowing that someone would be brave enough to stop and ask, rather then just drive by letting a horse be neglected. I thanked her, explained that to her, and told her she's welcome to point out ANY problems she sees to me with my horses. If only more people did that, and then called the animal control if they didn't get a satisfactory answer, the horse world would be a better place.

Granted, living with roads on 3 sides of my property, I get a lot of people looking, and have actually had animal control called on me before. In early spring, someone driving by saw that my pond was empty, and called AC. The officer arrived, and told us that he had a complaint that the horses in the main pasture didn't have any water. We gladly showed him the trough, inadvertently walking him past the hay room in the barn (which faces the driveway) and around the house, behind the shed, to the watering area. There is a hay feeder there, next to the BIG water trough with a float. Now, this area is convenient to me, but it is almost invisible from the road because of the buildings. The animal control officer chuckled, said obviously there was no problem as I had plenty of hay on hand, a place where they were obviously offered hay, and clean free choice water.

I explained to the AC officer that even if there WAS water in the pond, the horses wouldn't use it. My horses firmly believe that the pond is for swimming, it's for grazing in (the pond plants), but it is not water for drinking. Sheesh, it's not like the prissy ponies would lower themselves to pond water! If the tanks aren't kept scrubbed out clean enough for ME to drink from, then chances are good that the horses won't drink from them either.

I think it's kinda nice to live in such a horsey town, and the people here have not become immune to the beauty and majesty of these animals. They still care that the livestock is well cared for, and are willing to go through the trouble to get things checked on.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The joys of horse friends

Today I had friends over for a riding day. Leah brought her boys, and Kris came up with her boyfriend, Shane. This was my first time to meet Shane, and only second time to meet Kristen. Leah brought a few horses, and I supplied the rest. Today it was all geldings.

Our line up of horses included Poco, Leah's first horse. Poco is about a 14 year old gelding (I'm guessing). He appears to be part Appaloosa and Part Draft; he's appy colored, but short super stout, and has a lot of bone. I would guess Percheron, but the boy is only about 14.2 hands. Of course, he could be any of a zillion mixes, from POA/Belgian to Perch/Knabstrupper. I think he's absolutely lovely, and he has amazing movement. He's a good boy but wound a bit tight. Poco tends to be over reactive, although he's not the typical "spooky". Instead of bolting, he simply acts like a royal Pain in The... well you know. Leah and I both believe that Poco just has some extra baggage that he carries around mentally. In the last 4 years that Leah has owned him, Poco has come a long way. He went from being very dangerous, to being a bit quirky. Personally I believe that while he was too much horse for her in the beginning, Leah made the right decision to keep him. It has helped her grow as a horse person, and to become a great horse person very quickly. Nothing like a lot of horse to give someone the incentive to learn.

Then there's Leah's other horse, Jazu. He is an Arabian gelding whom she bought from us. My ex-husband and I bought each other horses for our first anniversary. Jaz was the horse my ex got. He was a funky colored boy with a plain head, and with Arabs, a plain head is not so great. While his looks aren't super Arabian, his mind is. He's a quick learner, and so easy to work with. When my marriage dissolved, Jaz became my mother's horse, but mom didn't have the time to devote to yet ANOTHER riding horse, so we leased him to Leah to keep Poco company. Leah needed a good steady type of horse, and while Jaz is a bit of a prankster, he's also a great horse, so Eventually Leah bought him. I can think of no better place for the boy, and I know he'll always have a great home. Not to mention it kinda works as good advertising for me. We got Jaz at 6 months of age, and he's turned into a great, gentle, wonderful horse.

Then there's Boo, Jaz's half brother (same sire). Boo was my first horse, and he's my super foof horse. He's that horse that catches everyone's eye when they show up, and I taught him to do just about every silly thing a girl can. From Spanish Walk to rearing on command. Yet more reasons why people think he's so "cool". Yeah, since I DO have it all to do over again, I'll never teach another horses much of that. Rearing on command can be a VERY bad thing. But, Boo's a good boy, and uses his talents for WOW, and photo opportunities, not for evil. He's also great as a lesson horse in the arena, but doesn't do so great when ridden in the herd. He's a bit buddy sour and really likes to have time with the girls. This week it's the draft mares that he's in love with, especially Rose and her daughters, Katy and Sweetie (The Sugarbush mares from Everett Smith).

Then there was Rover. Rover is one of my second chance horses. His previous owner wasn't pleased with him, and I think it was mainly due to his size. I love Rover, and think he's just about perfect. He's for sale, but he's a great horse to ride with others, or alone, so we threw him into the mix. Besides it gives me more chances to see what he does with other riders. And I did get to see some of what he does. Until today I always thought he was a perfect beginner horse. Now, I honestly believe that he's a nice gentle horse for a rider that has some level of skill. He responds so well to simple and subtle commands, and while he has nice small gaits, he can also extend into nice big gaits when asked. He's 100% heart, and all give. This is one of those horses that would kill himself to make you happy, but he has to make sure you're a leader before he'll even be bothered to try. Rover doesn't try anything bad. No buck, no kick, no bite. All he needs is someone with the skill to make him feel confident in what he's asked.

And last, but not least, is Doodles. Doodles is one of those freaks of nature that every one wants. My friend bought him out from under the kill buyer for $150 when he was a yearling. My father wanted a horse, so she sold him to us for $300 (cover feed/gas, etc). We raised him, broke him out, and he's been perfect for my father. Completely safe and bombproof. This is the horse that doesn't bat an eye at a plastic bag blowing in the wind right at him. Due to a comedy of errors, I ended up taking quite a few dressage lessons on him, and we learned that if you ride this horse, he meets your level of expectation. For a newbie, he's a baby sitter, but for an expert, he turns into a nice mid level horse. Unfortunately, Doodles has severe ulcers, and can never be shown, so his job is to be a great riding horse.

We started out with me on Boo, Leah on Poco, Nita (my mother) on Doodles, Shane on Jaz, and Kris on Rover. Shane hadn't ridden before, or if he had, it was so long ago he forgot most of it. Kris has horses of her own, and mom and I both ride regularly. Leah is a great driving force for me, to keep me riding for FUN, not just for work. Plug here, Leah's the absolute BEST barn buddy in the WORLD!

Today was all Leah's idea. To come up and play in the nice tilled arena, have fun, and give every one a bit of nice safe arena time, with not much thought involved. The weather almost cooperated. To start off, it was lightly overcast, but unfortunately there was a breeze. When that cleared, it was sunny, and I think most of us are a bit burned now.

The breeze didn't work so well with Poco. Plus my goats were out grazing my weed filled round pen (yeah, I need to till that eventually). Not sure why, but Poco was being very high strung, and eventually we decided that it's better safe then sorry, so we tacked Poco down. Leah then took Jaz, Shane took Doodles, Nita took Boo. A bit after that, Kris had a problem with Rover. She couldn't keep him on the rail. I hopped on Rover, and had no problems. I think it's because Kris rides a bit crooked (don't we all) and Rover is more trained then I thought.

Ok, he's also a bit pig headed it seems. I ride well, not great, and I have a lot more to learn, but well. Rover knows that I won't put up with crap, so he does what I want. Evidently he tested Kris a few times. Between the additional horses, and the new rider, he was "almost good". Nothing bad, but not exactly perfect.

About halfway through the ride, Leah put out barrels. Kris took rover through the barrels, and he seemed off. A second try (at a trot) and it was obvious that something was up. Rover had been sound up until this point. She hopped off, and I checked his leg. Right front was puffy and had a knot on it. AHHHHH. The last thing I want is another lameness.

So, Shane had enough, and decided to drink beer and watch the ladies. Heheh, I think he was a bit tired. That left Jaz, Doodles and Boo to ride. Not sure how it started, but some how we got talking about Velvet, and that she is for sale. So Kristen wanted to meet her. While I rode Boo, Kris rode Doodles, and Leah rode Jaz, Nita went to catch Velvet.

This is Velvet. Not the most flattering picture in the world, but she has mainly been a brood mare for me. I absolutely LOVE the babies she produces, but between my need to cut down, and her foals being too short, she's on my train up and sell list. Velvet is also a bit of a passive aggressive type of personality. She doesn't do the serious bad behavior, like biting or kicking, but she will threaten, she will also do things such as intentionally stepping on your foot. Now, Velvet has some bad history behind her. She ended up bred to her father at some point, then when I got her, she was a rack of bones. Her previous owner had financial issues, and trusted a friend to board her. When she checked her horses the herd was skinny. I mean on death's door skinny.

I bought Velvet in foal to a paint stallion, and she produces a lovely black and white tobiano gelding. That little guy hit the jack pot and now lives in a barn that's nicer then most people's homes. I then bred Velvet to my Appaloosa stallion Spot, and produced Nox, a lovely black near fewspot filly.

With the market the way it is, I want to get her riding and sold so she gets a great home before getting "too old" in most people's minds. She's only 13. I have recently been working with her on the ground, teaching her to lunge, because no one had before, and gaining control of her. She is one of those horses that feeds off negative energy, so the more angry she can make her handler, the more in control of the situation she feels. I am trying to show her how to cooperate during training, and that she will receive praise for it. I think it's working, but I haven't been at it long.

In the past 2 years, I have put 2 rides on Velvet. Both at a walk, and both for about 15 minutes. Kirs wanted to ride her, so I said "ok". Of course I made sure that she knew ALL of this horse's background, so that Kris could make an informed decision. We saddled her, and the saddle fit nicely. Velvet tried to refuse the bit, but in the end, we got her bridled up. Kris climbed on, and had a bit of a scare Velvet spun around but luckily didn't buck. I don't believe that she has a lot of buck in her, but it's hard to be sure with horses that have a history like she does. Her previous owner called her cold backed.

Kris ended up following Leah and Jaz around, and things were going well, until Velvet decided to drop and roll. Luckily Kris made it out of the way in time, with no injuries. Got Velvet up, and Kris lunged her out, then hopped on for a bit of "see, rolling doesn't get you out of work". We ended on a good note, and I wasn't aware that Velvet was ready to do so well under saddle. I think I'm going to start riding her myself now.

In the end it was a good day. I think we all had fun. Maybe Shane wishes he was fishing... but what the hey, right? All of us ended up sunburned, so that's a good sign that it was enough fun to spend way too much time in the sun!

Tomorrow Leah will be coming back, since she left her horses here, and maybe Kris will come back as well. I think I'll take Monday off to recover! Ok, probably not... I mean really, I work with horses for a living, how rough can it be?

Friday, May 21, 2010

How to get long manes and tails

Ok, one of the questions I am asked most often is "How did you get so much HAIR on an Appaloosa???"

Now this isn't a great picture, because he is moving, and his hair is flopping, but the horse pictured is Rorschach's Slow Burn. I call him Scorch. Scorch here is a 3 year old Stonewall Sport Horse stallion. His mane falls to his shoulders, and I don't keep it up, I don't keep him in pasture braids, and I let him run freely with my other boys, including an 1800 pound Sugarbush stallion.

Evidently a lot of people assume that horses with the Appaloosa gene can't grow hair. I beg to differ. I have 3 "types" of horses on my property. Appaloosas, both ApHC and IPSHR (sport horses), Stonewall Sport Horses (draft crosses) and Sugarbush Draft Horses (full draft), and I also have some horses of "other" breeds, including grades, quarter horses, and thoroughbreds. Of those horses, the ones that have a wimpy mane are most often horses with no appaloosa gene (LP).

A few things that you need to know. Horses who carry a dominant copy of LP (for more info on Appaloosa genetics see The Appaloosa Project) tend to have more trouble maintaining their long hair then others, and those who have black mane and tail hair are even more susceptible. Here's why: Appaloosa colored horses roan out. When a horse changes the pigment production from a color to white, the hair often becomes brittle and breaks off. For some reason, black pigment tends to make the hair more brittle then red pigment.

Armed with that knowledge, someone who desires to have a horse with super hair has options. First, to have a horse with long mane and tail, you usually want it to also be thick. Long on it's own isn't nearly as lovely as long and thick. Why do you think Gypsy Vanners and Friesians are so popular? Hair!

In order to have long and thick hair, a horse must have the genetics for it. With out genetics, you have no basis to build upon. There is no miracle cure, no magic bullet. Now, assuming your horse has genetics for good hair, but still doesn't have it, what do you do?

The absolute most important thing is nutrition. With out good balanced nutrition your horse can only build so much. You can't ask the body to make good muscles and good hair when you're giving it only a part of what it needs. So, make sure your horse is receiving proper protein, and the necessary amino acids and minerals to maintain a healthy body. "Common Wisdom" says that high protein makes horses hot tempered. This is not always true. I admit that it's likely there's a horse out there somewhere that reacts poorly to protein, but the logic behind that statement is the same as saying "My kid gets all hyper when I feed him a balanced meal, so I just make him eat candy all day". Protein is what cells use to run on; to grow.

Most people though, they tend to like cheap feeds. Sweet feeds, pure grains, and pelleted grains are some of the most common feeds for horses. All of these feeds are high in carbs - the same thing that sugars are! When the body breaks down the carbs, it results in sugars that make high energy. Regardless of the protein calue of these feeds, when the horse is pumped up on carbs, the horse will tend to be hotter. Lower "protein" rated sweet feeds and grains simply have more fiber fillers, but still have a ton of high energy carbs in them.

So, move your horse to a low NSC diet. These diets are very healthy for the horses, and have all the necessary parts to build good bones, muscles and HAIR! A good choice is a ration balancer. While each bag costs more then the cheap stuff, you feed so much less that per month you will be saving money. Other options are pure forage diets, such as pasture, hay, beet pulp, soy hulls, and the like. For me, I like the soy hulls. The feed I use is made of soy hulls, sunflower seeds, and barley. The barley is used for binding the feed into a pellet and is the least used product. Barely, as a pure grain is high in carbs, sunflower seeds are high in fat, and the soy hulls are high in necessar amino acids and fiber. Horses get the most nutrition from fiber sources (like hay) because of the way their body is designed.

Fat is also important, but in equal proportions with the necessary amino acids. Those amino acids are the building blocks. Think of it like a house. You start with wood, nails, concrete, and you end up with a lovely building. You can't start with grass, mud and twigs and get the same result; you need quality building materials, and you need them in the right proportions. Amino acids are the building blocks of life.

So, now that you have proper nutrition, the next thing is keeping what hair the horse grows! Often, when I get in a rehab horse, its mane and tail are in such pathetic shape that I simply cut it off. For me, this is the easy way to go about it. Trying to reclaim hair that has already turned bad is a nightmare. It's easier to start from the skin, and work out. I always leave enough tail hair though to allow the horse to swat flies, even if it's the ugliest little wisps of nothing.

Once you've begun your hair crusade, you need to make sure that the hair bed is in good health. I like to use Listerine to clean the mane bed and tail bone. This disinfects the skin, kills off all the bad microbes that cause itchiness, like fungus and bacterial infections. Many people recommend MTG, but I personally am not a huge fan of it. I think it smells horrible, it can cause reactions in some horses, and it can't be used in the sun. I'm in Texas, we always have sun!

I also use leave on conditioners in the mane bed and tail bone. They are as good for the skin as they are for the hair. I like to slather it in, and give a good massage, and the horses usually love this part as well. I try to treat the skin at least once per week, and it makes a noticeable difference in what hair grows in, and how nice it looks.

So, once you have some mane and tail, what to do to keep it? I have a few simple (or not so simple) rules.

1. Wash with shampoo only when absolutely necessary!

Shampoo tends to strip the natural oils from the hair. These oils protect the hair in the horse's living environment (i.e. sun all day, wind, dust, etc). For the most part, when I wash my horses, I am only hosing them off. Horses are washed before photo shoots, before a client views them, and before a show of any kind. I also do twice yearly baths with anti bacterial/fungal shampoo in spring and fall to reduce chances of winter skin maladies.

2. Only use baby oil or mineral oil when the horse is already WET.

And I mean wet with water, not sweat. Mineral oils (and baby oil is a mineral oil) seals the hair shaft. If a dry brittle hair is sealed in mineral oil, then no moisture can get to it, and all further efforts are wasted.

2. Use conditioner liberally on the roots, and mildly on the ends.

Not sure why, but every one wants to coat the ends of the mane and tail in conditioner. Maybe it's because the length is considered the important part? At any rate, you want to give the goods (conditioner) to the growing part, and make it as solid as possible for when it's the long part.

3. Brush only when you HAVE to.

Brushing breaks hairs. If you have knots, be sure to use a silicone free detangler, such as Mane N Tail detangler. Apply liberally, then work out the knots by hand. If you have a horrid knot, or a rat's nest, then wash it with shampoo to remove the mud that often is causing the knot, apply tons of conditioner, and slowly work it out. You will often need to wash and condition multiple times during the detangling phase. When finished, apply conditioner, and leave alone. For me, I only brush the horse's mane and tails when they are coated in detangler, and again, only when necessary.

4. Trim off dead ends.

Trimming off the scraggly ends, and burnt tips leaves the horse with an overall impression of more hair. It's an optical illusion, but it presents a more appealing picture.

5. ALWAYS remember that the roots are the most important part of the hair.

I use Listerine liberally, and have my own Listerine/detangler/conditioner mix made from low cost store bought items mixed together and shaken well. I apply this with a spray bottle directly to the roots, and massage it in. This keeps the microbes down, keeps the skin and hair shafts well moisturized, and in many cases adds a bit of body to the appearance of the hair.

Now for those appaloosa colored horses with black mane and tail, it is likely that the horse will shed it's mane and tail around puberty. Most commonly 2 to 4 years of age, but often with mares it happens when they are bred for the first time. You can't stop this process, and the hair usually grows back in white. Just take it with a grain of salt, feed the horse properly, and maintain the new growth like I mentioned above, and you will soon have a long flowing white mane and tail. In some cases the horses just won't GROW anything, and for these select few, I add an additional iodine supplement.


It is possible that this can cause issues with the unborn foal. If you do decide to use an iodine supplement, talk to your vet first, as there can be side effects. For me, I use an iodine salt that is most often sold as a cattle supplement, another that I have heard good things about is the supplement "Source". My vet has approved this, and I only use it on horses that the above methods do not help. Iodine has been thought to not be processed properly by horses with the LP gene (see Appaloosa Project for conversations on this).

Remember the most important thing to good hair is that your horse has the proper genetics and gets the right nutrition.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Looking back at how we started

Yesterday I decided to clean Rico up and get video of him. I didn't realize he had grown into being such a big boy. I actually had to check his birth date to make sure I wasn't loosing my mind, and he really is just a yearling.

See, Rico stands about 14.3 hands right now, give or take. I'm eye balling that but I'm normally pretty spot on. My other fillies from 09 aren't nearly that tall, but again, they aren't as old either. Rico was a March baby, the other Stonewall girls are July babies, and the Appaloosa filly is from May.

So we prettied him up, which included a bath and clipping. See those pretty legs in that picture, well naturally they are lightly feathered. I think that clean legs look much more professional, and are more likely to draw the eye. And those lightning marks stand out a lot more on shaven legs. (Aren't they pretty?)

So after that, We grabbed some video of him. Rico was the easiest to video to date. I think some of it was because I had a better idea of what I needed to tape, and the rest is that Rico is just that mellow. Ask him to move, and he moves, ask him to stop and he stops. He's a great colt.

I decided a few months ago that I am going to geld him. I wasn't sure, because he's so pretty, and so well mannered, but I think that being a gelding will be good for his career. Ok, that and I don't want any more stallions. And because I'm trying to slowly reduce my herd.

Yes, I'll admit it. When I had 4 people helping me, the number of horses I have wasn't bad at all. Financially we're able to support them, so that's not the problem. The problem is that I can't train and handle everything on my own to the level I want them to be trained. For that reason, I'm not breeding more horses at this time, and won't until I have my numbers where I want them.

So, I now have video footage of Rico and Scorch waiting to be made into a video. I'm very annoyed by the back grounds, and the STUFF that is everywhere. Unfortunately, I can't do anything about that....yet.

You see, we're renovating a trashed out piece of property. When Jae and I decided to buy property, we had realistic expectations. We knew our price range, and were trying to stay in it. We also though, knew what we wanted in the future, and what we hoped to one day be able to move up to. A strange coincidence during our property search ended up with me fat fingering a key, and bringing up results that I hadn't expected. I think I was talking about our total budget, and typed that in, as opposed to the amount that we were planning to spend on land. Our initial plan was to buy raw land, and then use the rest of our funds to build a modest house barn and arena on it. Land was the cheap part.

So, my mistake leaves me staring at the first listing. A property with 2 houses, a barn, an arena, a HUGE western type round pen (about 110' diameter) and 30 acres. The pictures didn't look good, but it ended up being on our way to view the other properties, so we decided to take a look. Granted, we didn't expect much. When we drove past, both of us went "wait, that's IT?"

See, the house was a piece of crap. The other house was a single wide mobile. The barn is a pole barn with rusting out metal siding. The arena has been neglected for a LONG time, and the round pen... well it has 3 foot tall sides. And to top it all off.... no care had been done in EONS. I don't mean normal care, I mean someone turned one of the paddocks into a junk yard. The fences needed work, the place needed to be mowed, and everything needed a coat of paint.

Besides that, we were staring at about 30 acres of the most amazing horse land ever. Lush pastures, rolling hills (in TEXAS!) scattered trees, and a big ol pond.

I called my real estate agent and told him we wanted to see it. Jae and I both were positive that this was our new home. When we went to view the place, the real estate agent did the normal thing, and wanted to show us the houses. Jae and I wanted to see the barn! We walked the pasture, checked out the arena and round pen, and were in love. Unlike most pastures in this area, that have dirt visible through the grass, this one was like a golf course.... with some weeds added for effect. The working areas obviously had a well made footing. So well made that the grasses and weeds trying to grow in it were failing.

The barn was a mess, the stalls hadn't been cleaned in years, and were standing about 18 inches above the alley, every thing was on a slope, but the stalls were HUGE. The "little" stalls were 12 x 12, then there were 4 lovely 14 x 16 stalls. To top it off, between the time I saw it, and the time we actually viewed it, the price had been dropped by 15K. Score!

We did the math, realized that we could afford it, AND afford the repairs, but it meant that Jae would be doing the work, and it would take longer. So, here we are, 3 years later, still doing the work.

Now, with that said, the work we've done is amazing. Enough so that neighbors of the town have stopped to say that it looks so much better. The junk piles are gone, the trash is picked up, everything has a coat of paint and is mowed regularly. The downside is that the renovations mean lots of equipment. Outside my arena I have box blades, tillers, mowers. Inside my barn I have a stall area (no stall walls) that stores the other equipment, like welder, cutting torch, paints and the like. We've stripped off part of the galvanized siding, and replaced it with wood, but we're not finished with that yet, so there is plain unpainted wood siding (see background of Rico's picture above).

We've fixed the driveway, made more drive (there was nothing leading into the barn) and the old owners were nice enough to leave us HUGE piles of asphalt. You can see those piles in the videos.

We moved and repaired fences. Currently we're building a new paddock for the stallions and geldings. Yeah, I run them together for the most part. At least when I can. Spot, the old boy, hates other males, so he can't be integrated. I keep trying, but he's just too aggressive. After the stallion pen, the rest of the barbed wire comes down, and the Centaur fence goes up. It's slow, but it is LOVELY to see it happening.

So while making all of these videos, and taking pictures of the horses I have to keep in mind that we're a work in progress. We've come so far, but we have so far to go, and the progress requires tools. I can either wait for us to be finished, or I can deal with it, and have "ok" quality videos. I figure if I wait for it to be perfect, I'll be waiting a long time, so I might as well get started.

Needless to say, here I am, started. I'm learning how to make videos, I've learned how to make a website, and I'm hoping that sales pick up. I would LOVE to see my babies in great homes where they would be pampered and loved. I've been using the past couple of weeks of rainy weather to update the horses, get current pictures, and actually DO the desk work.

I'd much rather be out riding!