Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Herd dynamics II: The followers

Yesterday I posted about herd leaders, so today I want to talk about the followers. I always cheer for the underdog, so these guys are my favorites. Perhaps that's why all three of our followers have been my horses? Hmmm, suspicious...

I'd rather be sitting on your couch - Paddy. He's definitely not boss over anyone other than Cash (and Cash wasn't worth bossing anyway), but that's mostly because he hasn't got time for other horses. He knows that the people are the ones with the food, the treats, the extra treats, and possibly carrots too. His main goal in life is to be where the people are. I've found him in the carport at 6 am (all gates shut, all fences up, I have no idea how he got out), waiting for me to come out and feed. Or he could come in the house and get himself a snack in the fridge if that's more convenient. I'm pretty sure his goal in life is to convince the humans that he should live up in the house and enjoy all the amenities. And sit in your lap while you scratch that itchy spot on his chest.

The last thing you see before you end up with a Haflinger in your lap

I can't function on my own - Saga. He was so pathetic that I felt sorry for him. He was actually boss over Taran, but not because he tried to be bossy. Taran just knew he couldn't push Saga around, so he didn't try. However, poor Saga simply didn't know what to do with himself. I remember Red was gone one weekend and Saga just stood by a tree the entire time.  He didn't eat, he didn't go to get water, he just stood there and looked really depressed. Without an alpha horse to keep him on schedule, he was lost.

I shall pretend to be alpha, but I'm really the lowest of the low - Cash. Poor guy... in the 18 years I've known him, he's never been boss over any horse for more than about 5 minutes. He puts up a good show... from the other side of a fence. When he was boarded, he was either on private turnout  semi-private turnout with the other weeniest gelding in the barn, and even THAT horse would beat him up. He's just not a fighter.

But, unlike Saga, he's perfectly capable of functioning on his own. Maybe it's from all the years of private turnout? He and Saga were BFFs - Saga would share his food (even grain!) and protect him from the others, and in return Cash would lead their little herd of two. Cash was inconsolable for months after Saga's death, which was heartbreaking to watch.



Interestingly, as Cash has gotten older, he's no longer able to be on his own. He's now strongly bonded with Red and cannot function without him. At their retirement barn, they have their own pasture together, they have stalls right next to each other, and they are always brought everywhere together. Apparently this is common behavior in older horses - they bond strongly and have a difficult time with change.

Must be separated by a fence at feeding time though

What about your follower horses? Do they fit into one of these categories, or do they have different personalities?

Monday, November 23, 2015

Herd dynamics pt 1: The boss horses

One of the coolest things about keeping your horses at home is that you get to see them interact, and you get a much more intimate sense of their personalities and herd dynamics. Sure, you see a little bit of it if you board (or you hear it from the staff), but it's different when you can see them right out your back window. I thought I knew our horses well - after all, I'd had Cash for 13 years before we brought him home - but seeing them 24/7 brings it to a whole new level.

In our little herd, there are two distinct types of horses - leaders and followers - but there are different types of each.

The benevolent dictator - Red and Brego. It's surprising how similar these  two are, despite their obvious physical differences. Neither of them have ever had to try to be the boss, they just are, and they know it. They don't lord it over anyone either - a simple glare or pin of the ears, and everyone else falls in line. I've never seen either of them kick or bite anyone. It's like they're so alpha that they don't even have to mete out discipline. As long as everyone does what they say, there is peace in the world - and nobody ever doesn't do what they say. But here's where the benevolent part comes in - both of them will share. Not grain, but they'll both allow others to share hay if they're in the mood - Red would share with Cash and nobody else.

Sharing is caring (the black blob on the left is Brego, I promise)

Being alpha comes with its own set of problems, though. You rarely get to lay down to nap, because you have to stand guard all the time. You have to be a true leader at all times, which means keep everyone else on a schedule, because they are looking to you to tell them what to do and when. There are times to eat, times to nap, times to go get water - you've gotta keep track of those things because everyone else is depending on you to make those decisions (Cash and Saga literally did not know what to do if Red was not around to tell them. They almost couldn't function without him). It also means you have to be a bit of a loner, because doing something as simple as grooming with another horse might be seen as a weakness. I've actually never seen Red groom with another horse, and Brego I've only seen doing it once or twice with Paddy - whereas the others I will see grooming a few times a week.

A rare napping moment.

One thing we were very careful about when we had Red and Brego at Wyvern Oaks at the same time, was never to turn them out together. Red's now 23, and we simply didn't want him and Brego to get into a fight trying to out-boss each other. Fortunately, Red and Cash are now together in their own little herd at the retirement barn, and Brego's got his little group here. Everyone gets to be alpha and nobody gets hurt.

The bachelor alpha - Oberon. He was actually boss over Red but he never led the herd. He was pretty much a loner - always off by himself. It was almost like he didn't know how to interact with the others, but he was also a PMU baby so maybe that had something to do with it? Red ended up continuing to be herd boss and stayed out of Bo's way (as did most of the others), and Oberon just sort of did his own thing - he was alpha but not at all a leader. It was the oddest relationship I've ever seen.

I don't have many pics of Bo, and none out in the pasture, so this will have to do.

The bully - Taran. He wants to be leader so badly but he just doesn't know how it's done. Unlike the benevolent dictator type, he will go out of his way to pick on any horse lower than him (Cash, Saga, Paddy). If anyone comes in with bite marks, it's Taran's doing. Many times, I've watched him pin a horse against a fence and bite or kick them, apparently just for fun. He herds the others and will chase them too, because he can. It's like he's trying to demand their respect, but doesn't understand that respect is earned. He simply doesn't seem to have what it takes to be a true leader like Red or Brego, and the other horses know it. Interestingly, he's never disciplined for his actions by the alphas - I've wondered if we had mares, would they keep him in line more?

A rare moment of peace.

Is your horse a boss horse, and if so, does he or she fit into one of these categories? Do mares have entirely different categories? Share your stories!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Or we could go with Plan C: Take up golf

Last night I had my first lesson with Brego. I felt like a sack of potatoes, but overall it was pretty good, if exhausting. Trainer and I discussed plans moving forward, and I headed home like usual.

Then, coming off the trailer, Brego caught his toe (the one where the abscess on his coronet band blew out on in May and has been growing out since) on the ramp and ripped off a HUGE hunk.

Not surprisingly, he's now dead lame.

I should have put a tape measure on that, but it's about an inch of hoof missing.

See the laminae on the inside? Poor guy.

Since I'm so good at taking care of feet, I flushed with betadine, crammed some goo and themerasol in there, and stuffed it with gauze. What you can't see is that there's half a piece of gauze crammed under his toe too. In other words, he's going to lose the entire hoof wall below where the horizontal crack is (which is the original abscess line). 

That just looks painful.

Sooo... yeah. I'll be taking up golf. Or maybe crocheting. Or finger painting. Or I could just start on all those house projects I haven't gotten to.

Unless anybody has a horse they want me to lame ride?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Really not the news I was hoping for

The vet finally made it out to see Paddy today. I need to have my armchair vet license revoked because he's lame on the RF, not the LF. In fact, he blocked exactly the same way he blocked 18 months ago when he had a soft tissue injure in that foot. We don't know exactly what it was that he injured or how badly, but right now the assumption is that he re-injured whatever it was.

My vet would like to do an MRI, and I would too, mostly to see exactly where the problem is and just how bad it is because that might give us some idea of long-term prognosis. However, nobody can accurately predict the future, so even if he has a giant tear somewhere for the second time, it's possible that he could come back 100% and as long as I keep him on good footing, he's sound for the rest of his life. Or he might never be sound again. Who knows, it's a crap shoot either way.

So, you guys know the drill for soft tissue injuries. A month off with limited turnout, a month of tack walking once he's sound at the walk, then work him back up. Three months minimum, all the while desperately crossing your fingers that he doesn't re-injure it. Then waiting each ride to see if he'll hold up or not.

Don't worry, he still gets most of the cookies.

On the bright side, I have a Brego to ride. I'm really looking forward to it, although I could wish it was under different circumstances. He's very talented and has a ton of training, I'm just going to have to remind him of that. Our first lesson is tonight, and I expect to be doing lots of energizing walk-trot transitions (thanks, Megan!)

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Plan B(rego)

You might have noticed a lack of updates about Paddykins' thrush-based lameness. That's because I had a "yay, all better!" post all ready to go, after we'd had a great dressage ride on Thursday and a fantastic trail ride with hubby on Saturday.

Then Sunday, he was lame. This time on the left front - and it's an altogether different kind of lame that the thrush problem.  He's mostly fine on straightaways, but struggles badly on turns, and positively refuses to trot. I suspect soft tissue injury in the foot, because it's very similar to how his other S/T foot injury (on his RF) presented 18 months ago. There's no heat or swelling anywhere, but something is most definitely not right. The vet was due out yesterday, but had to reschedule for tomorrow.  In the meantime, Paddy's been on stall rest and limited turnout. Fun times.

So there I was Sunday morning, watching my plans to move up to First any time soon dissolve before my eyes. And then I realized... hey, we do actually have another really talented dressage horse, just standing around eating ('cause hubby has been gone so much this fall). Before poor Brego quite realized what had happened, I'd groomed him, tacked him, and we were on our way for a little spin.

It's the first time I've ridden Brego since we tried him out in August 2014. To say he's a bit different than Paddy would be the understatement of the year. Paddy's like riding shotgun (and therefore hanging on for dear life) in an Audi Quattro rally car, where the driver is a kid who is doing donuts at 100 mph in the parking lot but really questions why you have to practice this boring stuff. Brego's more like piloting a Sherman Tank, where you're the cocky (yet apparently clueless) gung-ho new guy and the rest of the crew has 10+ years of experience and 187 medals among them, and would really rather be sitting around eating Cheetos and telling stories.

Me: Hey, big guy, how about we trot?
Brego: *stuffs Cheeto in mouth and starts licking cheese dust off fingers* Huh?
Me: Trot?
Brego: *sighs* I remember back in Massachusetts, we were off on a hunt and trotted for TWO WHOLE MINUTES.
Brego: OK, OK, just a sec... jeez, don't get your panties in a wad about it. I swear. *shakes head and rolls eyes*

Not the ears I'm used to. Also, it's a long way down.

Of course, once you get Brego going, he's a total dreamboat to ride. Those years of experience and 187 medals come is really handy... it's just that getting him to dust all that knowledge off and motivating him to use it is a little... exhausting.

(Hey Megan, you know those walk/trot transitions for a lazy horse that you talked about? Yep, we're on it.)

Oh and also, I'm having to re-learn how to ride. Because Brego's movement is so big compared to Paddy's, he's throwing me around. I feel like a total noob. However, it's really amazing to ride an actual balanced canter.

So, since hubby stole my horse for two jousts this summer, I'm stealing his horse for the foreseeable future. Poor Brego, he's got no idea.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Poor unloved, unfed dog. Really.

Nobody here ever feeds me. Look at my empty bowl. Le Sigh.

And if they do, it's just (organic, grain-free, limited ingredient, $$$$$) dog food. It was gross, I had to dump it on the floor.

I tried to beg for some of these delicious homemade kolaches instead.

I mean, look how good I am. I'm even sitting!

But Dad just ate them in front of me and told me how delicious they were. How cruel.

Mom told me I wasn't getting anything else, so I had to eat my spilled food off the floor. Poor me.

Mom apparently didn't understand my message that this food is gross, so I had to dump it again this morning. But I'm not eating it off the floor, because that's icky.

I am reduced to begging for crumbs off Mom's plate. Poor me.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Brego's broken tooth

Before we got him, Brego had a cracked tooth that turned into an abscess that ended up as a sinus infection that he had to have flap surgery to clear out. The story is here, if you want to read it. We kept up with his every-six-months visits to a specialist equine dentist, so we were surprised to see him quidding hay early this fall. We had the dentist out immediately, since we were quite concerned that Brego might lose a pound or two if he didn't have his full chomping capabilities.

As it turned out, the tooth next to the one he had removed had cracked and was causing him some discomfort. We found a second surprise when we took x-rays to try to see how extensive the crack was: Brego had a mass in his skull, at the site of the old abscess.

Side view

Top view

The radiographs were sent off for a secondary consultation, and the results were mixed. The consensus was that the mass was not an immediate threat, and had likely developed after the flap surgery. However, if we tried to remove the tooth, there was a good possibility that the process would disturb the mass, which could cause significant problems and a potentially even a follow-up surgery to remove it. Our dentist recommended taking Brego for a standing MRI before we attempted to remove the tooth so that he would be able to plan the surgery around the mass, or plan to remove the mass as part of the surgery if necessary.

There was, however, a second option. Apparently, up to about Brego's age, horses are able to lay down enamel over broken or chipped teeth. We could give it a month or two and wait to see if he might be able to repair the damage enough to keep the tooth. We agreed that this would be the preferred option, so our vet showed us how to do daily "tap tests" and "breath tests" to make sure there was no sign of infection (horse heads should sound hollow when tapped, and their breath shouldn't smell like something died). We opted for this option, since it seemed like the best and safest for everyone. Brego didn't quite understand the tap tests, although he did appreciate the daily cookie he got after Hubby thumped his skull every morning.

Last week when we had the vet out to look at Paddy, we also checked up on Brego. BEST NEWS EVER - he managed to lay down enough enamel to keep the tooth! You can see that it's broken off just below the gumline, but there's no redness or swelling, and there's also no sign of pain.

The inside 1/3 of the tooth is broken off just below the gumline - but it's looking great! 

We'll continue to keep an eye on it, but hopefully Brego will stop eating rocks or whatever he's snacking on between meals, and we won't have any more dental fun.