Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Mouths to Feed

G & her family have been gone since July 5.  Her three horses, two cats, and one pony are pretty self-reliant, but needed a human caretaker for the 3 1/2 weeks the family was away.  I gladly volunteered my services, and, as always, things did not go 100% according to the plan, but everyone fared well and I hardly know what to do with myself now that the family is home & I'm not making my twice- or thrice-daily visits to Tischer Creek Farm.

The plan: Belle the pony stays in the barn during the day due to her allergies, and goes out into the "dry lot" paddock with a shelter and hay for the night.  The horses, Paco, Gimi, & Sefi, have free grazing in the back pasture at night and are locked in the paddock area during the day.  All the equines get a handful of vitamins and a sprinkling of grain in the mornings.  Cats get fed twice a day and can stay either in the house or out as they prefer.  It sounds so simple!

The reality: The weather was ghastly, with oppressive heat & humidity for nearly two weeks.  The horses were dripping sweat by noon, and even the pony's stall was stifling (though at least shady).  Oozing horse fly bites needed doctoring, and stinky feet needed thrush treatment, and overheating horses needed hosing and fans to stay comfortable. My planned twice a day visits quickly morphed into three times a day so I could check on everyone more closely in the dangerous heat, and I kept the horses stalled for all or part of the days as well, which meant 4 stalls to clean instead of 1, 4 water buckets to dump, clean, fill, & haul instead of 1, and very appreciative horses (which makes the effort so absolutely rewarding)!  Several mornings Paco, Gimi, & Sefi had to be chased out of their stalls to go back outside for a few hours, when they would have preferred to stay in the barn (though the mornings were the most tolerable part of the day).

Gimi and Sefi, the "little ones," are just three year olds and have minimal experience with hosing.  The several days that I attempted to cool the horses down by hosing were interesting, to say the least.  Paco seemed to enjoy it the most, and Gimi quickly figured out that he liked the cold water on his chest and shoulders, and *really* liked flipping his nose through the spray and splashing me, but Sefi wanted nothing at all to do with the scary water-spouting snake.  Belle didn't really like it, either, and so I left those two to sweat (you'd think they'd figure out how good it felt!) and concentrated my efforts on the more appreciative boys.

After their hosing, I scrounged around to come up with enough fans for everyone and managed to snake extension cords through the barn aisle so each horse had a fan for his/her stall.  Sefi was of course afraid of her fan, and I don't think ever really got used to it, as she mostly stayed on the half of the stall away from the fan.  Gimi fell in love with his fan, and stood blissfully in front of it with his forelock blowing in the breeze.  Paco & Belle seemed somewhat indifferent to their fans, although both of them managed to knock their fans around when I wasn't there and cause a bit of a ruckus.  I was a bit apprehensive on leaving them to their own devices after my first attempt at "be-fanning" the barn, as Paco's & Gimi's fans were floor fans balanced on the garbage can (!) and the mounting block, respectively.  I was nervous about the multiple extension cords, and the capacity of the electrical circuits, and flammable nature of barn contents, though I raked all the loose material out of the aisle, made sure the stall doors to the hay & bedding were firmly shut, and even unplugged the radio and the fencer for good measure.  Upon my return that evening, Gimi, who I most suspected of getting into trouble, was completely innocent of any wrong doing, and Paco, who I thought the least likely to bother anything, had managed to knock his fan over (or, it fell over on its own, also a possibility).  But, no damage was done and the horses seemed as comfortably not-hot (I can't say "cool") as I could have hoped.  I somewhat refined my fan technique on subsequent afternoons, and did finally get a good working set-up which seemed to balance air flow and safety, as well as put fans in the shed Belle uses at night and the big horses have access to during the day, so that even if I didn't bring them in to their stalls, they had some fan action if they wanted it.  And you can probably guess, but I found Gimi standing with his nose just on the inside of the bars directly in front of the fan on more than one occasion!
Belle & her fan - gotta love baling twine!  She did manage to knock this around a bit but no damage done. 
The horses and I came to a mutually agreeable arrangement for coming in, going out, applying fly spray, donning fly masks, administering thrush treatments, and doctoring the oozing fly bites, and our visits slipped into an easy routine.  The cats got progressively more desperate for attention (I did pet them & talk to them!  Every time I came!  Really!) and got to the point of following me everywhere, meowing pitifully, except when I would bring the dogs along and they would fluff up, hiss, and run under the porch (poor kitties - so traumatized!).  The strange little insects called fly predators arrived in the mail as promised, and I let them hatch before spreading them about as directed.  This was my first experience directly with fly predators, and I have to say, I do think they make a big difference in the leg-biting fly population, although they don't seem to have an impact on the deer or horse flies (which I think makes sense, as those flies breed in water and the fly predators eat the eggs laid by flies in organic matter like manure, moist ground, old hay, etc).
Gimi, Paco, and Sefi wondering if I am going to feed them. 
Luckily the weather broke, and I was able to quit all the hosing/fans/stalling rigamarole this past week.  I did a little temporary fence repair where two wooden posts had broken and the whole fence was leaning precariously, and after the initial look-see (Gimi studied it pretty carefully), the horses left my handiwork alone (whew! I don't think the fence was packing much of a punch as far as I could tell with the fence tester, but I will fully admit I was too chicken to touch it).  I "fixed" the gate with a bungee, and found the little red wagon to be a real back-saver when it came to hauling the buckets of manure around.
The broken wood fence and my "fix" with T-posts.   Thank goodness I was able to find posts, post pounder, caps, insulators, electric rope, screws, and a drill that worked!  Nothing like nosing around in other people's stuff :) 

Ah!  The barn aisle all neat, clean, and tidy - I love that! Now imagine this with blue extension cords & fans all over the place, some balanced on things they probably shouldn't have been... not such a pretty or satisfying sight (and why didn't I have my camera that day?!). 
So this is what it's like to have your own place?  I think my McGyver is ready to roll - bring it on!

Dental Day

Well, the dentists (a two doctor team) came to town, and Meadowbrook was the place to be!  We had several horses haul in, including two that came down from Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, and I fetched Paco over from Gesa's as well.

The crowd of horse owners, one tag-a-long husband, and two pre-vet students congregate outside the dental rig.

It was a whole day affair, but my only "victim" was Cricket this year.  He is nearing the end of his dental care career, however, as most of his teeth are worn to the point of being minimally useful for munching anymore.  I figured this was the case, but I wanted to be sure that none of those almost-expired teeth were loose or infected or otherwise needing attention.  There is not much to be done when a horse uses up his teeth, other than feed him lots of healthy food that doesn't require much chewing.  So, his summer diet of lots of green grass is perfect, but winter will be tougher this year than last.  He will continue to eat beet pulp, senior feed, and alfalfa pellets, and I will likely add in a fat source for extra calories.  He eats hay, and actually doesn't drop, or "quid," at all that I'm able to tell, but at this point he's probably not masticating the hay effectively enough to extract all the nutrients & calories out of it that he could.  And, he packs hay/grass into the spaces between his old teeth ("diastema"), which so far isn't a problem but can lead to infected gums and/or teeth, so I'll need to watch carefully for any changes in his eating behavior or a putrid odor emanating from his mouth.

I hate to say it on a steamy late July day, but it is already time to start thinking about winter, at least for Cricket.  Now is the time to get some extra weight on him if I can - he is too thin for my taste already with his ribs slightly visible, BCS 3/9.  These few weeks of awful heat and humidity that we've had, plus the record hordes of flies & other nasty biting insects, have really taken a toll and I've seen some weight drop off many of the horses this month.  Every afternoon that the horses spend in the barn to escape the unrelenting sun, heat, and bugs, I put extra food in front of Cricket and so far he's doing a good job of eating most of it.

Unless a problem arises requiring more dental work, such as pulling an infected tooth, this will be Cricket's final dental "maintenance."  I didn't get any pictures of Cricket's session, but here's one of Paco getting "tuned up."

Dr. Bowman works on Paco.

My zoom is broken, but this is Paco, Rhio, & Cricket hanging out like best buddies.  Cricket & Paco had never met, and they sniffed noses for a long time as if saying "Hey, I've heard all about you from Rhio!", "Yeah, me too!", "Let's go graze."  The introduction was a complete non-event. 
Killian supervising the goings-on with an expert eye.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


I was a bad horsey mom for most of June.  I barely had any time for my boys at all, and Red drew the short stick just by virtue of not living right out my backdoor.  So when this past weekend turned up without any plans, I decided it was time for a pony party!

Saturday morning, before the worst of this horrid humidity we're currently sweltering through hit, I tacked Red up and took him for a spin.  As I had with Rhio, I found that I needed a tree branch fly switch to make the ride at all tolerable, but with that at the ready, we had a lovely ride.  I think his right hock might be bothering him again (already!), though, as he seemed a little off at his slow trot.  Of course, at his big trot he felt fine, as all that momentum "hides" the little hitch in his giddyup.  We lucked out and the skies stayed cloudy for nearly all our 7 1/2 miles, but as soon as that sun came out, it was way too hot!
You can see the foaming sweat coming through the mesh of the fly mask ears. 

Red is not my heat-tolerant horse, and he was extremely sweaty upon our return.  The first of the pampering pony party began, and Red got a full bath with shampoo and I even did his mane and tail.  He quite enjoys baths, at least when it's hot, and was then very happy to go stand in a stall in front of a fan.  I brought the rest of the crew in to escape the heat and flies for the afternoon, and left them all contentedly munching hay while their forelocks blew in the fan-generated breezes.

Red spent his nights grazing down the tall grass in the round pen, and the afternoons in the barn trying to beat the heat.  He got his feet treated for thrush (seems to be all cleared up from spring, but a maintenance treatment seemed like a good plan), his bridle path clipped, his mane braided, and just generally preened, petted, and pampered.  He loved every minute of it!  I worried a bit that the boys back at his farm would ostracize him upon his return, smelling sweet and looking all shiny and clean.  My fears were assuaged, however, when Peepers and Jimmy came running & whinnying to the gate to meet him last night.

It was so hot that the thought of riding him the 1 mile home was completely unappealing until about 8:30 pm last night.  It was still hot & humid, but at least the sun was mostly down and it's slanted rays didn't have the power of midday anymore.  I jumped on Rhio with the bareback pad, still in my bathing suit from my swim in the lake earlier in the evening and with sandals on my feet (kids, don't do this at home!), and ponied Red home.  The flies were terrible, and I was trying to swat them from my bare legs & feet, and both horses' heads, while holding Rhio's reins in one hand and Red's lead rope in the other.  You can guess how well that went!  Out of desperation to get away from the flies, I let the boys trot their big trots and we went flying down the middle of the road.  On our return journey, Rhio & I were trotting home beneath a red sky and it was somehow magical.

Red & Rhio enjoying the fans.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A July Cool Front = Time to Ride!

This week has been gloriously cool and breezing, giving us all a respite from the unrelenting heat & flies.  The horses seem so relaxed, and of course it has been lovely riding weather.  On Tuesday, Rhio and I headed out for our first solo conditioning ride in a very long time (almost 6 weeks!).  It was only in the upper 60s and mostly sunny with a light breeze, so I thought we'd be pretty safe from flies for the most part and off we went.
Heading out the driveway

The neighbor's are cutting hay, which is now in our indoor arena awaiting unloading.

Rhio argued, and then moped, about going out alone, but pretty soon was merrily trotting along with his ears pricked as usual.  We were trying out the attempt boot repair on the Renegades, and a few miles in to the ride he suddenly seemed "off."  His right front boot had turned on his hoof, so I hopped off to fix it.  At this point, I realized the adhesive I'd tried to repair the boots with was clearly not up to the job and the cracks were already bigger & badder than they'd been to start.  Quickly revising my route, we opted to do an out-and-back just on gravel roads rather than the "big loop."

After that one boot adjustment, and many, many glances down over his shoulders to check boot status, we had no additional difficulties and completed our 9 mile route easily.  The boots are definitely in worse shape after those miles, though, and I am debating whether to attempt another repair with some other kind of adhesive, or just give up on them.

Poor boot

It turns out I was partially correct in my assumptions about the fly situation.  Along the open road, the flies were minimal and neither one of us was bothered.  As soon as we hit a stretch of road with trees along the sides, however, it was a deer fly frenzy.  Poor Rhio did not have the fly mask on (my fault) and was being driven progressively more insane by the flies.  I was doing my best to slap the ones I could reach, but they have a nasty habit of landing somewhere where I can neither see nor reach them, and my only clue to their presence is Rhio's frantic head tossing.  Slowing even to a slow trot was miserable, the flies were swarming & biting us both, so I broke a bit of leafy branch off as we passed by a likely looking small tree and proceeded to "beat" my horse upside the head with it.  At first he thought I was offering him something to eat, and kept turning & trying to grab the leaves to munch on.  He quickly realized the utility of the branch, however, and seemed to welcome my waving it around & bonking his face with it.  The rest of our ride was much more peaceful, fly-wise, and I discarded that branch only when we got home to the barn.

Rhio's opinion of being gooped, daubed, and slathered with various ointments before being turned back out (SWAT for his bitten sheath, sunscreen for his sensitive pink nose, and desitin for his scratches-prone pasterns)

Friday, July 8, 2011

24 Days

Yes, it's been 24 days since I've ridden a horse. My last ride was our camping weekend back in early June. Since then, we had a run of very bad weather, I was in a wedding, and I spent a glorious week at the cabin with family. Today was the day to break my "fast" and Rhio seemed as pleased as I was to be out.

We began in the outdoor arena, as I knew the flies were incredibly bad. I figured the arena was probably the least buggy place to ride right now. Rhio had other ideas, however, and was incredibly distracted during my attempt to work on "skills.". I abandoned that rather quickly and gave in to our mutual desire to just get out there and move. We headed down the road, and sure enough the flies were horrible. We could only tolerate them for about two miles, but we were both so happy to be "going somewhere" that it made it worthwhile.

And by the way, don't believe it if you are told that a horse will go where its nose is pointing. Rhio had no trouble trotting in a straight line while biting at the fly on his shoulder.

After our brief but strangely fulfilling jaunt, we spent some quality time with the hose, the barn fan, and a mane comb plus some detangler. My horse doesn't look neglected anymore, and he discovered how nice a fan blowing can be.