"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo

Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Stallion Saga

So. As you guys may or may not remember, the barn where I've been boarding at since we moved to Frederick was a former breeding facility of Crabbet Arabians. When we toured the farm, they still had 2 stallions, the sire who was in his 20's and one of his sons, a Crabbet-American Cream Draft cross who had just turned 4. They got along well for the most part, per Elena, and were kept together in a 10-acre field at the far end of the property. There were 2 fields, each of 2-3 acres, between the stallion field, which we will call field 4, and the field where the rest of the horses were kept, which we will call field 1. The first small field (field 3) had great pasture and was usually used for introductions of new geldings so they could meet the herd over the fence, because normally the other small field (field 2) was kept open to field 1. Elena had closed it off so it could be rested, so no horses were allowed in field 2.

I'm missing some gates here but just so you guys can see how each field connects to another. 
I wouldn't find out about the shared corner between field 3 and 1 until much later.

I was comfortable with this setup: the stallions were far away enough that they couldn't even see the mares in the main herd. Field 4 only shared a fenceline with fields 3 and 5. 

Before I continue, here's my take on stallions: they can be awesome horses and I honestly prefer a well-trained stallion to mares or geldings. I owned a stallion for 12 years and eventually boarded said stallion at a barn where there were other stallions. My stallion ultimately ended up gelded: he'd never had an issue being ridden with other horses of all sorts including mares when he lived at home as our only horse. But living on a farm where there were mares was a bit too much, even when none were next to him. The second he started acting out under saddle when there were mares in sight, off went the testicles. As in, that same week: there was no way I was going to be fighting with his hormonal instincts if they were going to get the best of him. And so he was a gelding for the remaining 8 years of his life. And because he had been a fantastic stallion, he made a fabulous gelding. He was never bred and I had never intended to breed him even though he did have quality Paso and Andadura racehorse bloodlines. Why not geld him from the start? My grandfather had ingrained into me the the fact that stallions CAN be well-trained. My grandfather, who facilitated my riding and having a horse, bred horses in his heyday and none of his male horses were gelded. In fact, he kept stallions together without any issues. Why? Because these horses had jobs. They were working horses first and foremost. That they had testicles made absolutely no difference in their behavior because they had jobs and were excellently trained and handled. 

Most of the male horses at the barn where I boarded Lucero were stallions. (Only about 50% of Pasos in Latin American countries get gelded. Fact. If you're into Pasos, sooner or later you'll be riding a stallion. Not necessarily owning one because that's your call, but if you are looking for a gelding you will most likely be trying out a few stallions as well. Fact.) There were plenty of mares at this barn too and inevitably some were kept next to stallions. None of those stallions lost their minds or busted out of their stalls or paddocks to get to the mares: they all had jobs and were incredibly civilized and well-behaved. The main turnout shared a fenceline with one stallion's paddock. The fence was 10' high, steel pipe with heavy cyclone fencing. Turnout over there was not what it is here: the horses were turned out for a few hours a day. The stallion in the paddock didn't care. He might nicker at a horse in the turnout every once in a while, but most often he just minded his own business. I wouldn't have kept a horse in that turnout 24/7 next to a stallion but for a few hours a day, it wasn't a problem. And yes, I did board the one OTTB I ever owned, a mare, at that barn as well and never had an issue with her and the stallions.

One of the most amazing horses I've ever worked with was a stallion. Tamarindo, an Argentinean TB. I could ride him in the arena in a group lesson with mares in season around him and the most he would do was whuffle at one of those mares if she came close to him. That was it. His attention on me was undivided and I have never felt safer on a horse than I did on him. Why? Because he had had a job all his life: he had raced as a colt and gone straight into a career as a jumper later on. He had never been bred.

The key to a good stallion is to socialize him with other colts and/or geldings from the time he is weaned, and that you start working with him young. You give him a job from the time he is a baby. His job is first and foremost, even if it's just groundwork or clicker training: he MUST have something to focus on outside of his own self that also allows him to understand that the humans are to be respected. Quality stallions are broken to saddle and often have a performance record of some sort before they are introduced to the breeding shed as preferably mature horses (older than 4 years of age). A breeding stallion will have a designated halter for breeding and a very specific routine that is only associated with breeding: this makes it very clear to him that any other time that he is not wearing that special halter, his focus is on the humans.

Temperament is an inherited trait that can also be passed on. If your young stallion is an asshole and is completely uncontrollable despite quality training and proper socialization, his balls need to be cut off. No ands ifs buts about it. I don't give a crap about his color, conformation nor what awesome bloodlines that horse has. A bad-tempered horse has no business being a stallion: he will be dangerous to people, mares, geldings and even himself. Said horse should not be breeding mares and potentially passing on that nasty character. There are enough unwanted horses in the world.

The one thing you don't do is leave an ungelded colt unhandled for the first few years of his life because by the time you do start working with him, he will be a mess of hormones, muscles and strength. And it will just be a matter of time before that horse hurts you.

So my two mares were in field 2 for the first week (still another field between them and field 4) and then put out with the main herd in field 1. Field 2 was closed off to horses after that.

Stallions were in field 4 on the left, my two were in field 2 for the first week, then went out to field 1 with the rest of the herd. No problems whatsoever with that.
In March as the temperatures started to warm up, the mares all started to go into season. We had been at the farm less than a month when Charles and I arrived one afternoon to ride and I got the distinct impression that something was wrong. There was nothing going on to give me a visual impression, but it was just this gut feeling. We got our horses from the field and Elena found us when we were getting ready to tack up: the younger stallion, whom I will call Asshole, had been found that morning with the mares and he had bred every single mare that was in season. Including my two. He had jumped the 4' fences of fields 2 and 3 between him and the mares to get to them.

I felt this ginormous knot tie itself in my stomach. Elena said that there was a hormone that could be injected into the mares that would keep them from becoming pregnant and she would get some of this hormone through her vet for all of the boarder horses. (All of the boarders have mares and mares only.) It had to be given at the end of the month and she insisted it had no side effects.

I know about handling stallions correctly and how they should be kept and about mare estrus cycles because I'm always keeping tabs on my twos' but I knew nothing of this injection and preventing mare pregnancies. So I sat down with Dr. Google to look up information. On the phone, while still at the barn, because I was so panicked. I DID NOT want babies! I had signed a contract with G-Mare's previous owner saying that she would never be bred and I have no interest in having a Lily baby. If I wanted a baby horse, I would buy one. (Not a criticism to people who choose to breed their mares; it's just not something I'm interested in. Too much expense, time, and money (when done correctly) for me to want to spend, and possibly too much heartache if anything goes wrong.)

The information I found was actually the whole opposite of what Elena had told me so I called up my vet who agreed that for once Dr. Google was correct: the drug is called Lutalyse and it is a prostaglandin. You basically give the mare an overdose, which causes massive uterine contractions that expel anything she might have growing in there. Yup: it is an abortion injection. And yes, it does have side effects: mares sweat profusely while having those contractions and may even lie down from the discomfort. This usually lasts an hour and the mares are fine afterwards but in a worst-case scenario can turn into a full-blown colic. To be on the safe side, you want to give the first injection 11 days after the heat cycle where the mare was bred is finished, and you repeat a second injection 11 days after that. That should be enough to get rid of anything.

I chose to do the two rounds of injections with my mares, and if you're going to judge, you can just take all that judginess and go elsewhere with it. It is far more cruel to have to sell possibly TWO unwanted young mutt horses later on into an unknown and possibly horrible future, than to keep that from happening when they are still only a tiny cluster of cells. I'm posting about this so that if this happens to someone else who owns a mare, you know that there ARE options other than just seeing the mare through an unwanted pregnancy by a possible Frankenstallion.

Because there are people that keep horses like this one as stallions...
Not the one at my farm, thank God, but still. What the hell?
Photo from this post in Fugly Horse of the Day.

Friends, I introduce you to Asshole.
1200 lbs of rippling draft-cross muscle. If he was a guy, he'd be Tyler Durden.

In case you don't know who Tyler Durden is. Because Fight Club.
You'll see why: this all gets even better.
Comparison courtesy of Charles.
Both girls started sweating profusely within 15 minutes of receiving the first round of injections and my vet stayed with me for the first 30 minutes to make sure nothing went wrong. She advised me to turn them back out so they could walk around if they wished. They were both sweating all over their entire bodies by then, the sweat dripping down their legs and from their bellies. Lily was trembling and looking absolutely miserable while Gracie got this stubborn mule look about her: that mare is a beast. She already had one filly in her previous life so I'm sure this just felt like labor pains to her. But it was still impressive to see her tough out something that was most likely incredibly painful. I stayed with Lily for a bit, stroking her forehead, until she turned away to be alone. I stayed by the field gate for a while watching them, and saw when the real contractions came on: they were so strong that their hind legs buckled. Lily couldn't make up her mind whether she wanted to lie down or not and ultimately remained standing, while Gracie decided to start grazing anyway.
This is what your mare looks like 20 minutes after she's given Lutalyse.
After another 30 minutes, I left to go run errands and returned later to find both of them back to normal: the sweat had dried into salty streaks over their coats and they were acting like their usual selves. They both had mashes with electrolytes and a bath.

11 days later, we repeated the injections and 3 weeks after that, they both went into season again, like they were supposed to.

During that first week after he got out, Asshole was kept in a small paddock by the bank barn, away from all of the other horses. All of the mares were moved to Field 4 with most of the geldings staying in Field 1. The old stallion was placed with the geldings in Field 1: he had lost a ton of weight over the winter from being bullied by Asshole and this way Elena could feed him small meals over the course of the day so he would gain weight.

The problem ended up being this: Elena decided to put Asshole in field 3: right next to the mares! She put up heavy solar-powered electric cord above the fence but I was incredibly uncomfortable with this decision.

So uncomfortable in fact, that I moved my horses to the most remote field of all: field 5. The only way you could get into and out of field 5 was through Asshole's field or through the gelding field (field 1)...where the other stallion was currently living while he gained weight.

Not ideal. Field 5 still shared a fenceline with Asshole but the horses had to cross the property creek to get there and I figured maybe being with a group of geldings like Sunshine would keep my two distracted from the testicled individual in the small field next door. Field 5 also shared a pretty long fenceline with field 1, where the old stallion was, but the old stallion was honestly not a concern: he was polite around people and not prone to go through fences to get to a mare. The one who had been going through fences for the last 2 years was Asshole (I learned this from Robin after all of these problems started).

I was going out to feed my horses before work. Their stay in field 5 came to a fairly quick end when I realized that feeding my horses before work involved an additional hour of time: I had to hike across field 1, up the hill, then down the hill of field 5, across the creek, extricate my two from the other side of the creek where they were hanging out trying to be close to their mare buddies -_- then convince them to let me catch them...only to realize that it was probably NOT a good idea to lead two mares at once through field 1 where there was also a stallion. The elderly stallion was much better behaved than Asshole but still. I was already concussed once in a field and had no desire to repeat the incident while fighting with a stallion with two mares in tow.

So I had to feed my horses IN field 5, which involved tying the girls to the fence while I hiked BACK down the hill of field 1, got my grain, hiked BACK up the hill of field 1, and fed my two while standing behind them with a swinging lead rope, keeping the geldings at bay.

It was a fucking mission. I was exhausted after this ordeal and I still had to go home, shower, eat, and go to work to complete a 12-hour shift in the veterinary ER.

By the end of the week, Asshole was still in his field despite the in-heat mares peeing in front of his paddock on their side of the fence, so I put my two back out in the field 4 with the others. I needed to be able to access my horses without having to lead them through a field with a stallion.

I was incredibly frustrated with the whole situation but BO had promised she would geld Asshole if he got out again. So I left my mares in the mare field next to him and continued on with my life. And this is when Lily started to lose weight. It was shortly after Foxcatcher but you can't ignore the fact that the stallion's presence was also most likely a problem when you consider that she eats significantly less when she's in season.

About 2 weeks later, I realized Lily was in heat when, just like the others before her, she was going down and peeing on her side of the fence right in front of Asshole.

The next morning I went to the barn to feed my horses...and saw this giant sorrel horse in the run-in shed next to Lily: Asshole. I looked over at his field: he had literally busted through the gate connecting his field to the mare field, going under the hot wire. I called BO and had her come down to get her horse out of the mare field. I was able to get Gracie out before Elena came down: Gracie was not in heat but she had still been beaten up by the stupid stallion: her legs were covered in bleeding cuts. I doctored her wounds while she ate. Elena finally showed up and got Asshole out of the field, and I basically had to beat Lily away to keep her from trying to run out the gate after him. She was hysterical: screaming and carrying on for her lover, and I found myself yelling at her, "SEX DOES NOT EQUAL LOVE!" like she was a human teenager. I had this weird flashback of my mom having a very similar argument with me back when I was dating my bad-boy musician bass player in my 20s. It was creepy and eerie, and this is exactly why I don't have kids! The whole situation was ridiculous and I found myself not knowing whether to cry or break down into hysterical laughter myself.

It took a lot of convincing to get Lily to eat that day. I ended up having to stand right next to her with her ears touching my leg so that she would eat, and she still didn't finish all of her grain.

She too had cuts on her legs and also on her flanks from the idiot horse's plate-sized hooves.

And, you know, I had to go to work after that and try to focus on saving animals while being worried sick about my horses.

I called my vet and asked her to prescribe me a whole bottle of Lutalyse from Allivet. It ended up being on backorder so I ultimately waited almost a full 2 weeks for the bottle to arrive. It's not the end of the world if you give the shot a little late: you just want to make sure you give the first shot within the first 35 days after the breeding (it's the plan B to the Plan B. I'm so funny). Gracie had not had obvious signs of being in season when Asshole got out this second time, but I still gave both her and Lily their first round of shots AGAIN. Yay misery for my poor horses for a third time! (And I'm being sarcastic btw.)

Of course, since it was later during their cycle, they both went into heat a week later.

Elena had said she would geld him this time. Except again she didn't. Asshole was kept in the bank barn paddock for a day while BO rigged a sort of lane with hot wire to keep the mares in season from parking themselves right next to the stallion's field to pee. They'd just be about 15 feet farther away when they did it. (If you're going *face-palm* right now, you know exactly how I felt about this idea.) Elena used plastic posts and thin wire, the kind that you would use for an electric corral at an endurance event.
Like so. Because of course this is going to contain a draft-cross stud that wants to get to the mares on the other side if he busts through the real fence again, and of course this is going to keep a mare ho from just walking through it if she really wants to.
The old stallion did get castrated so at least now the farm was down to just one stallion. But still: the sex offender was still at large.

In the meantime, Robin tried working with Forrest, one of the yearlings, out in the mare field. Forrest is a sweet horse that loves people but he really has no respect for personal space. Robin was working with him on that. Charles and I went to turn Lily and Gracie out in the mare field after we had ridden and witnessed when Forrest ran away from Robin and started tearing around the mare field, getting all of the residents riled up. They all started running laps around the field. Charles and I still had the halters on Lily and Gracie and stepped out of the way. I ended up releasing Lily but Charles went up on the mound with Gracie to wait until things calmed down before releasing her. G-Mare stood quietly next to him despite the hullabaloo going on around them.

What ended up happening was that Forrest ran up behind Charles and Gracie, tried to get inbetween them, bumped Charles on the head with his own head and sent him flying. Gracie, instead of lunging forward at the impact, put to good use all of the groundwork I've drilled into her over the past 6 months and actually stepped backwards away from Charles so as to not step on him. In fact, the way she moved, she actually blocked Charles from getting stepped on by Forrest. I was incredibly impressed because that is NOT something she would have done 6 months ago, as we all know. Charles ended up with an injured knee (his formerly "good" knee) when he fell to the ground and Gracie ended up galloping around with the herd, her leadrope still trailing behind her. She eventually came to a polite stop in front of me, "Take it off please!" and I removed her halter and lead rope.

It wasn't long before all of the mares clustered at the top of the hill staring at Forrest as he continued to gallop round and round on his own. He disappeared amongst the trees at the bottom of the hill.

And we waited. And waited. He wasn't coming back up. He was still wearing his rope halter and trailing lead rope and Robin and I figured he'd gotten stuck amongst the trees. Charles had stepped out of the field and was resting his leg so he was safe. I went with Robin to go look for Forrest...and that's when we saw him go flying up the fenceline of field 5, galloping as fast as he could alongside Asshole's field.

The stallion got very excited and took off after the yearling and we lost sight of them around the corner. We went looking for the hole in the fence through which he'd gotten out of the mare field but we couldn't find it. Eventually we just ran back up to the barn, where Elena had managed to catch Forrest and was hosing down the several bleeding lacerations on his legs. He had two giant plate-sized hematomas on his ribcage and shoulder: Asshole had jumped the fence, landed on Forrest, and tried to kill him. BO had somehow managed to get the colt out of the field but the stallion was still running around: he was out in field 1 (which meant he had gone through TWO fences yet again) chasing after the younger geldings with teeth bared and ears flat, galloping as fast as he could after the slower youngsters. He had intent to kill.

I ended up going out to help Robin and one of Elena's sons grab two of her mares so we could lure the stallion away from the geldings. I may have taken my time with this because I really didn't want to be anywhere near a stud so uncontrollable that you need to bait him with mares just so you can catch him.

The rest is a blur. Asshole calmed down with the two mares nearby and stopped to graze; I was able to help open and close gates and Elena caught her stallion. I somehow got sucked into helping with Forrest, who had been dumped in a paddock so we could catch the stallion. The colt looked like shit. He could not lift his head higher than his withers and he had this sort of dazed look about him. He was very unsteady on his legs. Despite having been hosed off and cooled down over 30 minutes ago and having drunk water, his heart rate was still 90 and his skin remained tented when pinched. I checked his gums and they were brick red. His capillary refill time was 4 seconds. "He is in shock," I told Elena, "You need to call your vet."

For once she listened to me and she ran to the house to get on the phone with the vet. By this point I was so done with everything and I was worried about Charles, who had taken ibuprofen and was sitting in the truck waiting for me, but Robin was stuck there with Forrest and freaking out and I felt awful leaving her alone with the horse that looked like he was going to collapse any second. I kept offering him water but he had no interest in drinking more. He felt like ass. Elena took FOREVER and a half to come back out after getting off the phone with the vet because she wanted to look up on the internet what she could do right now for a shocky horse (the answer is nothing. You need your vet! So she can place an IV catheter in the horse's jugular and bolus fluids!) Charles finally came back out and sat on the ground with an ice pack on his knee while we all waited for BO's vet to come out, Elena muttering that she would geld Asshole THIS TIME.

The vet finally arrived, confirmed that the horse was in shock (go vet tech powers!) and expressed her concern to Elena that he looked like he was also neurological. Charles and I left around then. I was drained and I wanted to get him home.

A week later, Forrest is still NQR. His eyes have a glazed look about them and he still can't lift his head higher than his withers. He can put his head down to eat, but he can't really turn his head to look behind him either. He doesn't come up to greet people anymore and I haven't seen him running or playing around in the field since the day Asshole tried to kill him. He lumbers about, never faster than a walk.

I was incredibly shaken up by this entire experience: I had no idea that stallion was THAT violent, and if I had known that from the beginning I never would have chosen this barn. How does anyone try to run a boarding business with a horse that wild and uncontrollable on the property?

Field 3's fence was fixed yet AGAIN. One of the mares, a Palomino who had been in constant heat since Asshole had been placed next door over a month ago, had knocked down the electric lane: she had figured out that she could just walk through it if she wanted to. It got put up again, but it was put up flush against the existing fence, which defeated the entire purpose of the lane.

Someone explain to me how is that supposed to keep mares away from his fence?

Instead of gelding Asshole (he has a name but I don't want him to be searchable. I think, though, that you can now see why I decided to just call him Asshole??) BO put one of her mares in with him, thinking it would keep him busy. Distract him from the other mares on the property. Who on earth willfully breeds to an animal with that sort of temperament?

By then, I'd just about had it with all of this nonsense and told BO that I was moving my mares to field 1 with the geldings. Why? Because I thought field 1 was the only one that did not share a fenceline with field 3. (You have seen my little Paint map, so you know what's coming.)

The girls were happy with this decision and they ended up being out with the two new boarder mares, both dark bay TBs who were very sweet. I went home and slept, at peace with my decision.

Until we went back the next day to get Lily and Gracie out of the field. A creek flows through fields 5, 3 and 1. I couldn't see my horses anywhere up on the field's hill nor down by the creek close to the chute.

We found them off towards the other side of the creek, in a corner I hadn't realized the horses could get to because it was up a pretty steep bank. Lily and Gracie were standing under a tree there, ignoring all of the other horses...

...so they could be next to the stallion, who was on the other side of the fence. Ignoring his mare so that he could be next to my horses.

You can see where the creek flows from field 3 into field 1. That corner is where my two were standing, with the stallion on the other side. 
Yup, field 1 ALSO shared a fenceline with field 3. And both of my mares were in season again. It was their worst cycle to date: Lily was an epic nervous wreck and Gracie was extra stubborn and opinionated. I hadn't seen Lily be that bad in a long time, and Gracie was behaving like she used to when I first started working with her. G-Mare eventually settled back into her new easygoing self but I felt awful for poor Lily. She was trying so hard to please me but she was filled with anxiety over the entire world. I had finally managed to get some weight back on her between the omeprazole and the feed change, but it would literally melt off of her in 3 days that week: she would not eat in her desire to be next to the stallion.

I had something close to a panic attack and went home after our ride to start looking for barns. I started by contacting two or three and when I didn't hear back from them, I started contacting more. And more. I looked on Newhorse.com and on the Frederick Craig's List and on Google. I started out e-mailing and if I didn't hear from the barn owners by e-mail within 24 hours, I started calling.

By the end of the week, I had heard back from at least 5 barns and had two appointments set up, one which I ended up cancelling because the barn was too far. I really liked the other farm, both on paper and from what I had discussed with the BO on the phone and was pretty determined to move the horses THIS WEEKEND if we liked it in person.

On Friday we drove out to this new barn to check it out and Charles and I both fell in love. It was as good as I had thought it would be and board was the same as what we had been paying at Elena's. We made arrangements to move the horses this Sunday (today): the BO had the room and was fine with it.

I had an appointment with my vet for vaccines and to have Gracie's hocks checked (I had finally narrowed down her hind end wonkiness to either hocks or stifles based on upper limb flexions done by moi) that same day at 3:00 pm. I arrived at the barn at 2:30 to get my two out of the field, groomed, fly-sprayed and fed before Dr. L arrived. I like my horses to be presentable for the vet.

All of the geldings were hiding inside the bank barn, which I thought was kind of odd. I was both surprised and relieved to see my horses up on the hill actually eating grass for the first time since I had put them in field 1. The two TB mares were out with them. And so was a sorrel horse. Several of the youngsters are chestnut with blonde manes: all the offspring of the older stallion.

But wait...this was a really big sorrel horse with a long flowing blonde mane. And Lily was glued to this horse's side.

The Fabio mane is pretty unmistakable.
Yup: Asshole was loose in field 1. Which explained why the geldings were hiding.

There was no way in hell I was going to try to get Lily away from him by myself so I was able to snag Gracie, who was further up the hill with one of the TBs. G-Mare came willingly with me and I followed the fenceline down towards the creek. I was on Gracie's left, between the fence and her. I heard a whinny and looked over Gracie's back to see the stallion charging right towards us. Full-tilt galloping downhill, hooves thundering, mane flying. Gracie arched her neck and nickered back and I dropped her lead rope, ready to make a run for it on my own. Except at that moment Lily trotted around the stud, going between him and G-Mare, and caught his attention. (Coincidence or deliberate? I'll never know. But she may have just saved me.) He turned away and went back to grazing.

Gracie never left me so I just grabbed her lead rope again and hightailed it out of that field as fast as I dared without getting him riled up again. She came with me without faltering. My heart was pounding and I was having a hard time undoing the latches on the gates because my hands were trembling so hard. My adrenaline was through the roof. I was both livid and terrified. Stallions with that kind of temperament have no problem attacking a person they think is stealing their mares and after seeing him try to kill other horses, I knew this horse would have no problem trying to kill a person. And said person wouldn't stand a chance.

Thankfully Amanda, the other trainer, was at the barn getting a horse ready to ride. Of course this was the weekend where Elena had left with her hubs to visit family out of state and poor Robin was farm sitting (I had completely forgotten about this until I arrived at the barn and saw Robin's car). I told Amanda what was going on and she called Robin out. Robin called Elena on the phone, told her that Asshole was out again, and we rallied to get the mares away from him.

I tied Gracie to the trailer with a haynet to munch on in the meantime, and the three of us went out into field 1 with rope halters and carrot sticks in hand (as in the ones used for training. They are sturdier than whips.) As we made our way up the field, we were able to see the spot where Asshole had gone through the fence: he had simply taken down the fencing, going under the hot wire. Yup: he bulldozed right through the fence, literally.

Robin and Amanda each got a TB mare and Lily walked right up to me expectantly. The stallion was nearby but he continued grazing. I didn't put the rope halter on Lily since I knew she was his favorite (I'm not making shit up: how come he busts through fences every time MY MARE is at her peak, and not when any of the others are twerking their butts at him??) and there was a likelihood I would be targeted if I was leading her. I turned to follow Robin and Amanda, and Lily stayed by my side with nothing to hold her there.

There is something to be said about a mare that leaves her stallion of her own accord to be with you.

We actually made it out of field 1 and closed the gate to the chute before Asshole came trotting up after us. Calmly, to my surprise. But then again, he does know and respect Robin as she is the one that has been doing groundwork with him. This is not Robin's fault: she was asked to start working with him this year, now that he is a 4-year old. Remember what I said about stallions needing jobs from early on? This is exactly why! I commend her bravery. You couldn't pay me enough to work with a horse like that one.

I ran up the chute with Lily in tow, explaining to Amanda and Robin that my vet was going to be there any second, leaving them to figure out how to get him out.

I made it out just in time: Dr. L had just pulled up.

I'm pretty sure I had smoke coming out of my ears. My blood was boiling over this whole entire situation and my stomach felt like it was on fire. But I don't think I've ever been so happy to see my vet, because I was able to vent about everything that had just happened and she really, truly got it. She checked both horses and they were fine. I told her about the new barn and she was really happy with my choice: she confirmed it was a good barn and all of the boarders whose horses she treats there seem to be happy. And now I know that I can just ask my vet for barn recommendations, which is something I hadn't even thought of. Doh!

Lily got her encephalitis vaccine and I tied her up at the wash rack while we worked with Gracie. I still had no idea where I was going to put my horses: it would depend on where Robin decided to put Asshole. He obviously couldn't go back in field 3 and I knew that now that she was calling the shots, she wouldn't put him back in that field after him getting out even if he hadn't destroyed the fence in the process.

Dr. L did flexions and was able to isolate G-Mare's hocks: I had been completely and 100% correct. Her left hock was more sore than the right so we took 2 views of only the left hock to have as a baseline. We confirmed that she has arthritis in the lower hock joints (most common) which is a low mobility area, vs the upper hock, which has more motion and can be tougher to manage. We scheduled her joint injections for next week: Dr. L needs to order the supplies. I'll do a separate post on all of that, as I had enough of a general idea of how hock injections work to know that this was one of the best arthritis diagnosis you can have but I didn't know all of the details, not having ever had to do this with a horse of my own before.

Anyway, Asshole went in the roundpen with the plan to put him in the bank barn paddock where he always goes after he has escaped: it's too small for him to get a running start to jump out, and there are several fences between him and the fields. Amanda was still working with some of the horses in field 1 so she would help Robin move them to fields 5 and 4 after she was done.

I moved my two back out to field 4, as far away from the bank barn as I could get them. All of the geldings were moved to that field as well, including Sunshine, who will protect mares: he used to be the third stud on the farm several years ago. (I think he is the most classically Arab of the 3 stallion options that used to be at this farm, the one with the best conformation and the best-behaved. I don't have a clue why he got gelded first.) My two were back with Robin's mares (yes, because she ALSO has TWO MARES) and I left the barn for the evening.

The next morning I was surprised to discover Asshole still in the roundpen, which is when I snagged the photos for you guys so you could see our resident sex offender. There is a viewing platform on one end of the roundpen which allows you to look down into it, so I was able to get the photos from a safe spot far away from him.

Robin later told me that she actually had put him in the bank barn paddock but he had busted through the gates leading down the chute. Thankfully he had not been able to get through the last gate into field 1, where the TB mares were, but that's where Robin found him. She threw him back into the round pen, where he will stay until Elena gets back from her trip on Monday.

Today, we moved the mares to the new barn. We arrived, tacked up, and went for a trail ride on the new property trails (240 acres with at least 10 miles of trails!) and then put our stuff away and turned the girls out in the field BO indicated. They will be with only mares from now on: horses are separated by sex at this barn.

BO was bending over backwards trying to do whatever I wished when it came to introductions among the horses; I told her that I was fine with whatever she chose to do, thinking that I could not be more relieved to have my horses away from any goddamn stallions. Any alpha mare bossiness pales by comparison to what we've been through the last few months!

And now I wait 11 days so my horses can get their abortion prostaglandin shots again.

And that is everything that has been lurking under the surface that I had not wanted to blog about until now. And that, my friends, is how yours truly became a barn hopper.

You know what really pisses me off about the whole thing? That other than this stallion situation, that barn was perfect: close to home, accessible, beautiful, with the basics (small sand arena, lighted covered round pen) to be usable year-round, trail access and a short trailer drive from some really cool riding areas. The barn owners were laidback, approachable and did everything they said they were going to do (other than geld the mothereffing stallion...). We really loved it there and it's why I kept waiting for everything to work out so we could just stay there. But it's not fair. It's not fair to the horses or to us. And so I dropped Elena an e-mail to let her know what was happening and why, and moved the horses.

The new place is amazing though. It's the same price as the breeding farm and the same distance from home, except in the opposite direction, which will make it easier for me to stop by on the way to work.

And these are their trails...240 acres!

More to follow at some point this week. :)

I guess things happen for a reason?

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

WW: "Gaited Horses Can't Jump"

I beg to differ. :)

* Yes, she was warmed up w/t/c prior to being longed over this fence.
** We started smaller and went up to this height. Yes, I realize she doesn't have tight knees yadda-yadda. We're not going for shows; I'm just proving a point. ;)
*** No more than 3x over the fence in each direction: she has ringbone in her RF after all. These are all video stills.
**** Gracie enjoys jumping; this is not the first time we do this. I do a lot of interval-type training on the longe, either agility work over poles or longing on the side of the hill in the mare field because it's great cross-training. Every once in a while I'll raise the poles to small jumps for the cardio workout, like on this day. Lily was jumping 3'6" on the longe on this day (no, not "small jumps" in her case; I *wanted* her to crack her back over the jumps, which she did. Lily has awesome scope and a picture-perfect bascule). The highest I'll ask Gracie to jump is what you see in these photos, maybe 2'3". 
***** For the record, at the barn where I learned to jump in PR one of the best jumpers in the lesson program was a gaited gray mare, a Paso mix that looked just like a TB...until she moved. She had no trot, just a pace, a rack, and a very lateral, smooth canter. She could jump up to 3' from a standstill. Most of the little kids learned to jump on her because she was such a steady-Eddy + so comfortable to ride. Brave as fuck; she was always in the ribbons at jumper and equitation shows. She didn't know what "refusal" meant. Her name was Ceniza, which means "Ash" in Spanish.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Sunday Snaps: Zombie Spam

Because I haven't posted any Zombie pics in a while... :)

For newer readers, you can find Zombie's story here. As a kitten he died during the amputation of his rotten hind leg and came back to life. Hence the name Zombie.

Zombie and Aengus are never far apart. I belong to Aengus, Charles belongs to Zombie.
Aengus's story is here; he's the tabby, Zombie is the tuxedo.
Because cat yawns are the most hilarious thing ever...
I love that they're both in the same pose!
"I am 3/4s of a cat! See?"
Bathtub Zombie. He loves rolling around in there. Weirdo.
Clean saddle pads make a comfy cat bed.
Aengus giving Zombie swishy play-angry tail
"I will eat your remaining hind leg! Gimme!"
Zombie can outrun and outkick Aengus. With 3 legs.

Yup, he adores Charles.
He is very sweet with me too, but Charles is most definitely his favorite.
What would he be dreaming of?
Brains, obviously.
"Aren't I the cutest Zombie cat?"

Why yes, yes you are, Zombie!

Thursday, May 21, 2015


Last Monday both Charles and I were off from work. It was hot as blue blazes with temps soaring into the 90's. My heat tolerance this year is definitely NOT what it used to be: we have finally acclimated to the cooler climate of the Mid-Atlantic. 90 degrees with a 70% humidity used to be a "nice summer day" for me. On this day, I could feel my heart rate accelerating from the heat just tacking up. Proper hydration is now an absolute must!

Not-as-recent photo of Lily looking gorgeous.
Her summer coat has completely come in, and that tree in the background is lush with green leaves now!
I have ridden Gracie with her bit all of one one time after having her teeth done: she is so much better sans bit that I have switched her to Lily's S-hack recently. She has not been gnashing her teeth anymore when wearing the bit but she's still just plain happier without it. She moves out very willingly in the S-hack but is quite responsive in it; I had no issues stopping her or slowing her down. I gave Charles the option of one or the other and he decided to try her in the S-hack: he'd been riding her in the bit after her dental. He asked the very intelligent question of whether he needed to do anything different with the hackamore vs the bit. I explained that he had to be more conscious about releasing pressure, as I deliberately had the curb chain a little more snug than usual (loose enough for one finger instead of two) so as to have maximum brakes, and also told him about one-rein stops if he absolutely had to stop her in a hurry. 

We stuffed our saddle bags with water bottles and decided to just do hill sets on the road, since it's a little easier on the horses. But after 3 reps Lily seemed incredibly bored (not Gracie; Gracie has no issues with going fast no matter the surface or direction!) so we decided to go down to the trail hill.

On our way down the trail, we stopped to break off some of the lower tree branches sticking out into the trail so as to avoid getting whipped in the face on each uphill trip. I want to point out that Lily stood at the first branch stock still while I struggled with the leafy thing, and then moved on to the next branch to wait while I ripped it off with both hands. This mare would have lost her mind if I'd attempted something like that in the past! 

The trail hill, as seen from the bottom of the hill.
Taken on a different day, but just so you guys can see it.
At the bottom of the hill, we turned the girls around and let them canter all the way up. By the second trip we agreed it was way too hot to do anything too strenuous. We had them gallop up two more times then decided to take them over to the river. 

Charles's riding has come a really long way. Part of Gracie's improved recoveries is due to the fact that his riding is so much more efficient: he has no issues staying centered and quiet in the saddle, which is incredibly helpful to the mare. 

Him and Gracie would make it to the bottom of the hill before Lily and me, and each time they'd gait a turn around the small field at the bottom of the hill. I got this video for you guys. This is Gracie's medium gait, aka "singlefoot" to the KMH people. Please make sure you are not drinking anything while viewing. :)

He brings her to a halt with his seat at the end.

If you look closely, in the video you can see that the river wraps around the edge of this field, beyond the tree line. 

There is a way down into the river from here that we had noticed but had not attempted. The footing looked like it could potentially be quite soft, so I dismounted from Lily and walked on ahead: safe. I then asked her to follow me down and she did, no problem: her feet didn't sink into the dirt. So then Charles on Gracie came after. 

We found a small path through some bushes...and out into this gorgeousness. You can't see this from the field above.

I gasped. 

When I was growing up, I used to take Lucero down to the Bayamon River which flowed through the valley across the street from our property. The river was very wide and very shallow, with a clear sandy bottom strewn with pebbles, and it was one of the few places where Lucero would gallop for me. (#gaitedhorseproblems) My grandfather would often accompany me down there on foot and laugh while he watched us having fun in the water. There was a bend in the river where he used to stand that looked so much like this.

I swear I could hear him laughing in the background when we found this spot. It had been exactly a week since the 10-year anniversary of his death. He made every dream I ever had come true, from learning to ride to owning my first horse to ending up with the man I married.

It couldn't have been more fitting, to find this little patch of river on this particular day with Lily who was sent by him and Gracie who was sent by Lucero, and Charles with me.

We let both horses go into the water and drink. 

He looks like he's been sitting on a horse all his life.
Gracie drank water SO much better with the S-hack!
There was an adorable moment where Lily and Gracie insisted on drinking from the exact same spot in the river but Gracie moved by the time I got the phone out. Booo!

I mounted back up so I could take Lily further out into the water. There is supposedly a swimming hole in this part of the river and I was bent on finding it. Charles and Gracie followed. 

I just love this river.
The water here was almost up to her chest. 
Looking off in the same direction.

Gracie was having so much fun!
This was right after she stopped to splash and splash in the water with a front hoof.
Charles asked, "Do you think we can canter?" Not in that spot: too many rocks in the water. 

But further up ahead the water was clear and you could see that all there was on the bottom was sand and pebbles strewn throughout. So I asked Lily to trot and she burst into this sort of carousel horse trot (if there is such a thing) where she was high stepping, bouncing through the water which splashed tremendously around us. 

Charles followed suit with Gracie. We were both laughing and our shoes were thoroughly soaked. But who cares! 

We walked them the rest of the way back to the big tree, and back up the river bank. 

The girls, fully cooled off, insisted on galloping back up the trail hill and we were both like, "What the heck," and let them. 

We walked the rest of the way home. Gracie would periodically snatch a mouthful of grass and try to gait off. Charles laughed at her, "She takes a bite of grass, does a happy side-to-side head bobble like Aengus, and then speeds up!" 

Once at the road to the barn, I had Charles try and see if he could get Gracie to speed rack. She had offered it on our most recent ride and it had been an absolute BLAST. I wanted to both catch it on video and allow Charles to experience it. Here it is. She starts out racking, then canters, then does a sort of canter-rack mishmash, then goes into her speed rack for a few strides after she passes me before breaking into a regular canter.

And some stills from the video, so you can see what she's doing with her legs:

The girls received baths, electrolytes and mashes once back at the barn, and Charles went to snag some banana milkshakes for both of us from the Little Red Barn while I finished setting up feed for the week.

It was a perfect day!