Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Justin vs armor and horse-eating manhole covers

Finally got the pics and videos from Justin's rides this weekend.

First up, a delightful video of how truly terrified he is of armor.

And in case you were wondering, yes, manhole covers do eat horses.

 Radar ears spot dangerous manhole cover, twelve o'clock.

 Evasive action! EVASIVE ACTION!!!

 Whew! Manhole cover safely avoided. That was close!

Several manhole covers later (where hubby learned not to stare at the manhole cover, and to nudge Justin forward at the slightest hesitation), we have a slightly different outcome.

 Manhole cover, you say? Over there?

 Oh hm, I could dodge...

Nah, never mind, that would take to much energy. I'll just (STOMP!) walk on over it, I guess. 

Goofy, but trainable. He's growing on us... :)

Monday, May 28, 2012

I need another horse like I need a hole in my head

But my husband... now HE needs another horse.

After the big jousting tournament, Lysts on the Lake, we had a pretty serious sit-down discussion about horses. Saga is really not the greatest jousting horse - he's still nervous about the armor and the hits, and he's VERY fast (too fast) down the lane. But I didn't buy him as a jousting horse, so... we're pretty happy that he managed to joust at all.

In addition, I haven't really ridden Saga since January, because every spare moment hubby was either taking lessons on him, or working on jousting. I'm fine with riding Reddums and all, but he's pretty limited in terms of jumping (about 2'3) and dressage (that gaited thing again), which is really what I like to do. Plus, at the end of the day, Red is HUBBY's horse, and he and I just don't click like he and hubby do. Besides, I want to ride MY horse. That's why I have him after all!

So we started looking around, not very seriously. We wanted a draft cross or QH or Iberian cross, gelding, between 15.2 and 17hh (16 - 16.2 being the ideal), between 6 and 10 years old. I figured it would take us AGES to find one that fit those criteria, and then of course it would have to have the right mindset, reasonable training, and "click" with the hubby.

Naturally, the first horse we looked at seems like he might actually work out.

 Meet Justin (name to be changed if he stays with us). He's a 10 year-old Standardbred/Percheron cross, 16.1 1/2 hh. Yes, his butt really is that big.

 We have him on trial for 2 weeks to see if he'll work out. Justin is solid bay, except for about 15 white hairs on his forehead. Color-wise, we have a matched pair. ;)

 Yesterday after we brought him home, we went on a nice trail ride.

 The wildflowers were GORGEOUS! We rode past a huge field of Mexican Hats blooming, and had to stop and take a pic (neighbor on his new horse is on the left, hubby and Justin in the middle, and Fuzzypony on Taran on the right). 

When we got back from the ride, hubby decided to see how Justin would do with having a sword waved around his head... no problem. He smacked some trees, the quintain... no problem. Then he picked up a quintain lance and waved that around... no problem. Finally, he made a run at the quintain at a walk... then a trot... and then...

My favorite parts? When Justin starts to pick up the right lead and then fixes it, and the fact that hubby can ride down the lane at a nice canter on a loose rein. Yeah. I think this could work.

Bad confo shot. He's uphill and really short-coupled, and Andrea tells me he's got a nice shoulder. He's got rock-solid bare feet. His neck is rather short though, but so is Red's. It's not a deal-breaker.

Justin apparently has a lot of dressage experience, and got a 70% at a first level schooling show. The buttons are definitely there, but he takes a bit of effort to get him going, and he's not super-sensitive by any stretch of the imagination. His jumping experience is very limited. And the big booger is that he tends to look at random things. He doesn't spook, just stops and refuses to move forward. So far he's looked at a bench and a picnic table, but he really gave several manhole covers the hairy eyeball. So tonight we took him for a walk down the street, which has about 20 manhole covers on it. By the end, he was happily stomping on them with no problem. He also stopped dead when trotting toward some logs, but hubby smacked him on the butt a few times with a crop and he moved on. Hubby is doing a really good job with a "haha, very funny, now GET OVER IT" attitude, and it seems to be working. I suspect he just hasn't seen much outside of the dressage arena, and he's getting acquainted with the big wide world. So long as the random things to look at get fewer and further between, and he pays attention to his rider's demands to move past it, it seems like he might be OK.

Having said that about looking at random things, hubby put on some of his armor today and Justin didn't even bat an eyelash. He tacked up in his jousting saddle (which mostly fits), got on, and went around bashing trees for a while at the walk and trot. He then picked up a quintain lance and repeated yesterday's WTC exercise. He finished on a perfect canter run with a solid hit, and no spooking whatsoever. It took us MONTHS to get Saga to this point with the armor, and Justin's doing everything on the second ride. Very promising!

We have him for two weeks though, so we have a little while to decide if he's really a keeper.  So far it's looking good, but we're trying not to get our hopes up too much. We're planning to go to a jousting practice, as well as cross-country schooling and a couple of jumping lessons. We'll see how it goes!

Now, where the heck are we going to put another horse?!?!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Just like your high school student council meetings, only without any decisions

This Tuesday was "the big meeting" - the one where our tiny city would decide the fate of horse and livestock ownership for its residents.

Only, that's not how it turned out.

Apparently, decision-making works differently than I had thought. This meeting was actually just a "discussion" of complaints (another one) which the Planning Committee would listen to. After that, the Planning Committee will meet (who knows when), discuss the discussion, and make a recommendation to the City Council. The Council may or may not decide to take action based on the Committee's recommendation. So... we've got a long way to go until things are decided. Which is good and bad - it mostly means that we'll have to pay attention and attend a slew of meetings over the next 6 months or so.

Politics are fun, eh?

I think every horse owner in town, and several livestock owners (donkeys, goats, and llamas) were at the meeting. That's AWESOME! It means they're paying attention and are concerned. We started out positively enough, with everyone writing down their concerns on a Post-It, once issue per sticky, and putting them up on a white board in front of the room. Then we all organized the stickies into categories for discussion.

Things fell apart after that. We tried to agree that part of the goal of out town is to preserve our rural heritage, which includes livestock ownership. Most agreed, but one person (a horse owner?!?!) did not. That item got tabled. We had a discussion about mandatory registration of livestock with the city, and mandatory vaccinations. I pointed out that the state had no such requirement, so why would we? Mind you, I'm not terribly opposed to registering my livestock with the city (namely so that in an emergency like fire, they can get them out), but I don't want to be FORCED to do it. Same with vaccinations and worming - I vaccinate and worm, but far less than most boarding stables require because I have done my research and this is what I am comfortable with. I understand the risks to my horses (both to vaccinate and not), and it's an informed decision. Others may disagree, and that's OK - I'm not going to force you to vaccinate and you're not going to force me. Agreed?

Haha. If I learned anything from this meeting, it's that you can't get more than one person to agree on pretty much anything. Makes it rather hard to make any sort of decision, you know?

And of course, if you get two horse people together, they can swap stories for HOURS. Imagine a room full, all of whom want to have their opinions about pretty much everything heard. At the end of the two-hour meeting, we really hadn't accomplished much. But two things became clear:
There have been general complaints about a couple of things: manure left on streets and on the trails, horses being ridden off the trails, and horses being ridden on the trails when the trails were wet. There was a meeting of horse owners back in December where these things were discussed, and since then, the City has not received a single complaint about any of those things. Score one for the horse owners!

The second issue took me a while to figure out. Toward the end of the meeting, one of the folks toward the back of the room said that he was really upset about how this was going, because the key issues that needed to be addressed - flies, manure, and smell - had not been. And he wanted to know what he was supposed to do about these issues when he'd talked to the neighbor that was causing the problem and the issue was not resolved. Another gentleman sitting next to him spoke up and said the same thing. The problem was so bad he could not sit outside because of the flies, and the stench was so bad his grandkids didn't want to go outside to play. What was he supposed to do? Another woman spoke up and asked if we could limit the number of horses per acre. EEEEK!

As they talked, I realized what was going on. These folks were the neighbors of the guy down the street who, at one point, had 10 horses in a 1/4 acre paddock. When it rained, the horses were hock-deep in mud, manure, and flies. So not cool, in my opinion. The neighbors had talked to the guy, and apparently they felt like not enough has been done to address the problem. There's an enormous pile of manure that stinks in the heat and wet, and the flies are a huge problem. I think there are four horses there now, but there's a privacy fence so I really cannot tell.

We all left the meeting feeling like things were unresolved, I think, but at least we know the cause of the problem. I've talked to the neighbor with the horses - he says the manure is composting and doesn't smell, and that he's got out fly traps and such. In reality, flies are a part of livestock ownership - my horses are on Simplifly, plus I've got traps out that I replace pretty regularly, but still, there are bugs. Manure doesn't have to be such a problem, though. I have a couple who take almost all of my manure (I compost some for the garden and for the track and pastures, and YES IT SMELLS), and I believe we are allowed one truckload of "lawn refuse" per week at the city dump. In other words, there are mechanisms by which you can get rid of your manure. Just do it already!

So where does this leave us? I believe the neighbors of this guy are going to file a nuisance complaint with the county, and also something with Animal Control. When hubby gets back, he and I are going to take the guy out for coffee and ask how we can help. I'm willing to help shovel manure to get things back to square one, if it means that he will keep up with it and make some changes that satisfy his neighbors.

On a good note, I did get to talk to one of the ladies on the planning committee who wanted to limit the number of horses per acre. I took her aside after the meeting and pointed out that there was no hard and fast rule, it all has to do with management. There's a single horse down the street on about one acre that's almost completely trashed - only weeds grow and he's fetlock-deep in mud when it rains. And then there are our four on two acres, and you practically cannot tell we have horses. Our pastures are green and mown, there aren't any piles of horse poop to be seen (except in the back corner, where the manure pile is), and while there are flies, there aren't many. I invited her over to our house to see how we run things, but reiterated that mileage may vary and it's all about management. I think she heard what I had to say, although I am concerned that our neighbor down the street with one horse may be told that her management practices are not acceptable.

Small-town politics. Sigh.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Dealing with runny poo

I know, I know, y'all are just DYING to read a post with this title... but trust me, the alternatives were worse.

Since Cash came to live at Wyvern Oaks a little more than a year ago, we've been dealing with on-again-off-again diarrhea. He'd be a little loose for a few days, then fine for weeks. Or he'd have flat splats (gross) for a week, and then be loose for weeks before and after. He'd be fine for a month or two, then we'd start all over again.

With my vet's advice, I tried a ton of different things. I took him off ground flax and magnesium, both of which can cause loose stool. I gave him alfalfa. I changed hay. I stopped the alfalfa. I changed hay again. I tried turnout on grass, and no grass. I changed feeds. I had his teeth done. I had him checked for worms (none). I PowerPac'ed him anyway. I had him checked for sand (he had a little), then used SandClear as directed. I tried aloe juice, in case his stomach was bothering him. Some things seemed to make a little difference - for example, the SandClear firmed things up for the week he was on it, but once I took him off, he had diarrhea again. But for the most part, it would come and go with no explanation. So. Frustrating.

Finally, I wrote my vet a long, detailed email about what I'd done on which dates, and what had helped and what hadn't. Apparently, his on-off problems were quite atypical of the most common issues - sand and worms. Ulcers generally do not cause diarrhea, so my attempts with aloe were in vain. Some horses are sensitive to flax and magnesium, but since he was not on either of those, we could rule them out. And while he is older, he still has all his teeth and they are in good shape (except one), plus he is on a high-quality senior feed with lots of fiber, so diet should not be causing the problem.

We were left with two possibilities. The first was tapeworms, which Panecure will not get. I bought him a tube of Equimaxx and dosed him right away. The second was somewhat more worrisome, and also somewhat more likely, given his history of colic. Something, such as an entrolith, benign mass, or even cancerous tumor, could be causing inflammation of the cecum, which is where water is absorbed. Inflammation interferes with water absorption, resulting in diarrhea.

We talked options. A blood test is unlikely to show any abnormalities, since organs have to be something like 70% damaged before anything will show up in the blood. Ultrasound is out of the question, since you can't see that far into a horse. Exploratory surgery is really the only way to determine what's going on, but at 24, he is not a candidate. Besides, regardless of what the cause is, the treatment is the same: low-level steroids to reduce the inflammation. We started off two weeks ago with 10 Dexamathazol 1x/day, and tomorrow we go down to 1x/day. We'll probably try to get him to 1x every other day and then stop altogether to see if I can treat him only on an as-needed basis, but based on my vet's experience, that's pretty unlikely.

So far it's working - he hasn't had a single runny poo since we started the Dex. The good news is that it's working, and he's no longer at risk for dehydration... the bad news is that it's working, which means that there's something going on inside. My vet reassured me that he's had a handful of older horses with similar symptoms who have lived for years with low doses of Dex - he's treating a 27 year old mare right now. Frankly, I'm shocked Cash has made it this far, since we've had so many instances of really awful colic through the years (I actually went to the vet's to put him down once when he was 17, after an awful night where they thought he had ruptured his intestine. Somehow, he pulled through.). Plus, he's a pink-skinned horse, and it's pretty amazing we haven't dealt with skin cancer yet. And... have I mentioned that he's sound? Simply, totally, and completely amazing, against all odds!

Given all that, I'll take one pill per day, if it means he can keep doing cool stuff like this:

Photo courtesy of Azulox Photography. TW is aboard. Go Spotted Pony!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

And then there was JOUSTING!!!!

Despite the rather impressive storm on Thursday night, the first day of jousting ended up being quite nice. In the morning was the beginner joust, which Cash was supposed to take part in... only his rider's saddle slipped on the first run, and that was pretty much the end of that plan. Cash can be... shall we say... speedy down the lane, and after that mishap it became apparent that retiring would be the better part of valor.

(No, nobody bothered to inform Cash that 24-year-olds are supposed to be "old and slow." Somehow he missed that memo, I think.)

Next up was the Skill at Arms. These are feats of skill that knights used in medieval times to train for jousting and fighting - for example, hitting a quintain, slicing cabbages on posts, or throwing spears at a target. The hubby rode Red for this, since he's quite maneuverable and easier to rate speed-wise than Saga is. As usual, Red was a star and hubby did quite well.

That afternoon was the first round of jousting. Over the course of the weekend, each competitor rode three passes against eight other competitors, for a total of 24 runs. It doesn't sound like much, but those lances are pretty heavy! Not every competitor got to joust against everyone else (there were something like 36 jousters total), but riders were allowed to decline certain pairings. For example, there are a bunch of us here in central Texas that joust against each other pretty regularly, and the organizers did an amazing job making sure that we got to joust against folks from other places.

Saga was pretty amped up, so before each joust, I'd tack him up and take him into the arena to warm him up. The first few times, it took almost half an hour of steady trotting before he was even a tiny bit interested in taking a break. This despite the twice-daily handwalks he was getting! There's no substitute for turnout, that's for sure.

During the actual joust, it's a bunch of standing around until it's your turn, and then it's a huge adrenaline rush to get your runs in. Some of the better-trained jousting horses will stand at the entrance to the lane until their rider cues them to go, but Saga hasn't learned that trick yet - AT ALL. In fact, he's pretty much of a brat right before the run, so I lead him up to the lane, get him more or less straight, and then let go when the other rider is ready. I think the lane reminds him of a track start box, because he takes off like a shot. I've been working on him to do a nice collected canter down the lane, but it's a different story when you're riding one-handed in full armor holding a lance in a competition than when you're at home. Fortunately, the hubby is pretty game to ride whatever Saga gives him, and he's got quick reflexes!

Because I was heading Saga for the entire weekend, I don't have any pictures or videos of any of the runs. There are some professional shots, but I won't be able to post those until they're all in and we've purchased the ones we like. But... be patient, and I'll get them eventually.

The hubby had three passes on Friday, six on Saturday, and fifteen on Sunday. Saga was so-so on Friday, pretty good on Saturday, and then really good for twelve of his fifteen passes on Sunday. The last three passes, however, were sort of a train wreck - by that point he was just really done. Oh well - everyone stayed on and nobody got hurt, so it was all good.

The high point of the weekend for the hubby, however, was the mounted combat Saturday morning. There was a melee of 38 riders - the biggest in hundreds of years - all trying to bash each other with padded foam swords. And when I say "padded swords," what I mean is 1 inch diameter sticks made of rattan (a type of bamboo), covered in high-density molded foam. These things are heavy, weighted like real swords, and they pack a wallop in the right hands. My hubby has been doing ground combat with similar weapons for over 25 years, so he's pretty good at it. Put him on Reddums the Feerless Attack War Pony, and they make a pretty good pair.

The key in the mounted combat is to have a quick, maneuverable horse that isn't afraid of others. Red's small size and nimbleness means that he can almost dance around the big draft horses while hubby clobbers their riders. He can zip in, deliver a hit, and be gone super-quick. And the fact that Reddums is Head Pasture Boss means that he will cheerfully mow down a horse that's three hands higher than him, ears pinned to show them who's boss. You can practically see the little bubble above his head that says, "GET 'EM, Dad, GET 'EM!!!!" as he zooms from horse to horse.

Reddums takes on a 17+hh Belgian and wins! Photo courtesy of AzulOx photography.

And in this particular melee, they were unbeatable! Reddums was the last one standing after about ten minutes of hard combat. Cash did pretty well too, since he's super-maneuverable, but he's not as willing to engage as Red and his rider doesn't have as much combat experience.

Final tally - third of the Texas Division for skill-at-arms, first in the Texas Division and Overall for Mounted Combat.

More pictures as I get them. For now, it's good to be home with nothing planned on the horizon. Well, except for possibly a dressage show on the 27th, and a joust practice June 9th... and kiddo #2's high school graduation in between!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

T-minus... er, where was I again?

I think I left off last Thursday, when we were still one day out from the start of the tournament. Whew, it's been a long couple of days, with no Internet access and not enough sleep for anyone. It was fun, but I'm pretty glad it's over.

Thursday night was another official jousting practice. Hubby was not riding, as he had done a practice earlier in the day. I headed out to help after work, but didn't get a lot of pictures. Red was the demo pony for the final mounted combat class, and ended up spending most of his time pretending to be a couch while other riders rode past and practiced their maneuvers against his rider.

Afterwards, Red tried to further his couch-potato-ness by eating our dinners. 

After dinner, we helped with the jousting practice, handling lances, holding ponies, and providing water to the jousters. It really does take an army of ground crew to make a joust work!

About halfway through the practice, we started to see lightning quite close, and hear thunder. Riders were told to dismount, and that practice was being canceled due to the weather. Someone checked the forecast on their cell phone, and discovered we were under a tornado watch. They announced over the loudspeakers that we were to take shelter in the cement-block bathrooms if the tornado sirens went off, or if we heard a noise like a train. So much for an uneventful practice!

We began to help the jousters disarm and get them off their horses, when suddenly the wind picked up and rain started coming in sideways through the covered arena. The wind began howling, and the solid panel jousting lane started coming down in the wind. We quickly got the remaining riders off their horses, as the thunder built and the lightning came down so quickly the sky was nearly daylit. At this point, the wind and the driving rain were so loud we were screaming at one another just to be heard, even though we were standing quite close. 

I began to worry about the temporary stabling - a huge tent with temporary stalls in it - that housed most of the jousting horses. I went over to ask the event organizer if we should think about evacuating the horses out of the  in the case of an actual tornado, or if it looked like the tent was going to come down. I had just shouted my question when I saw a tide of people running from the other side of the arena toward the bathrooms, screaming "TORNADO!!!!!" 

What to do? There were a bunch of people running for shelter, and others standing there holding horses by the reins with no idea of where to put them. I did the only thing I could think of, and started yelling at people to pull their horse's bridles off and turn them loose, then get to shelter. I think I pulled five or six bridles off of horses that had been left by their handlers, and pulled several others off of horses whose owners would not leave them. I would have stayed longer, but someone grabbed me by the arm and told me to get out, so I did.

I was almost doubled over as I tried to run across the walkway from the arena to the bathrooms, the wind almost slamming me off my feet and the rain hitting me so hard I had red welts on my face afterward. I arrived, soaked and out of breath, to find a bunch of people already in the shelters. I passed out the three bridles I was holding (I didn't even have any clue which horses I'd taken them off of), then stuck my nose out the door to see how the arena and tent were fairing. There were still a few people in the arena stripping tack off of horses, and I felt really bad that I had left them. I watched the tent closely and realized that it was hanging on pretty precariously. A couple more people arrived, and I asked if they knew anything about the tent. They said that some folks were pulling horses out because it looked like it was going to go. 

I was not about to leave our four horses in a tent that was coming down, so I took a deep breath and ran  over to the tent. That's when I discovered that my muck boots had sprung not one, but three leaks! Talk about sucky timing. Soaked socks notwithstanding, I arrived to find almost all the horses had already been evacuated to the arena, except our four and a couple more. I have never in my life been so glad that I leave halters with leads on the stall doors, and we were able to quickly halter them and get them out. Another horse we pulled out with a rope around its neck, because we couldn't find its halter. We turned everyone loose in the arena and then went for more. We found a couple of panicked horses in outside pens and brought them in too... and then took a moment to breathe.

The arena was wet and slick. There were almost 60 soggy, spooked horses wandering around, safe but looking rather worse for the wear. We were soaked through to the skin and shivering. I had about two inches of water in my boots, which handily drained out with every step. But... nobody had been hurt, and all the horses were fine. We huddled together for a few minutes on the lee side of the arena, and then the storm began to abate.

People began to leave the shelters as the wind died down. The task became separating horses out, finding halters and leads, and figuring out who belonged to whom. Our four were hanging out in a cute little herd, with Red, Saga, and Taran protecting Cash from anyone who came near. I eventually found my hubby and we caught our guys, then stood for a while and waited for the rain to stop.

Soggy but safe.  Sorry about the photo quality - my iPhone was soaked in my back pocket. It actually had some issues working for a couple of hours, until it dried out some.

Hubby holding a very soggy Saga, Red, and Taran. 

The temporary stabling actually survived, although all of the stalls except for the middle ones were inches deep in water, as were the aisles. Most of the horses (including ours) spent the night standing in soaked shavings, because there was nowhere else to put them and no way to replace the shavings at that hour. A few folks who were camping lost their tents, but several kind souls invited them to stay in their hotel rooms, so everyone had a dry place to sleep. I was lucky to have a dry change of clothing in our camper, which I put on before driving home (I did have to wring my socks out when I finally peeled them off). Hubby stayed on site in the camper, but luckily it was just a gentle rain the rest of the night.

I found out the next morning that there wasn't actually a tornado anywhere in the area - someone thought they had heard a tornado siren, and panicked. So while technically all the excitement was for nothing, I'm glad it happened the way it did and we got the horses to a safe(r) place. 

Besides, there's nothing like a little Texas storm to kick of a weekend of jousting!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

T-minus 2 days till JOUSTING

I got a ton of pictures from yesterday afternoon/evening, but they are really awful since I used my iPhone and we were inside. Fuzzypony did manage to get a few decent videos of Saga on his jousting runs, so I'll share those.

Red did not have a good day. Since he's the resident jousting expert on our crew, he's often the first choice as go-to pony. I think he got a little overworked and fed up, and ended up dumping his rider. I found out later that he had been saddled for over four hours when it happened, so I really cannot blame him. I had no idea that he was being ridden yesterday, so the responsible parties had a good talking-to. That's one of the things I hate most about loaning your horses out - even if you know the riders and they're good, they don't always handle your horses the way you want them to be handled. Fortunately, hubby and Red had the opportunity to take a lesson this morning, and apparently Red was very good.

Cash was once again the star participant in a class on how to maneuver your horse in mounted combat. He cheerfully sidepassed, backed, and spun around all the other horse, neatly ducking and evading everyone.

Looking pretty spry for an old guy.

Demonstrating how to take wrestle your opponent off their horse. First, sidle up to them...

Next, throw your arm out to clothesline them...

And tidily knock them off balance!

Later in the evening was the first real joust practice. Before the performance joust this weekend, where we hope to have a large audience, we try to pair everyone against everyone else for at least one run. That way we test out the procession, the AV equipment, pairings, riders, armor, etc. There is SO MUCH that has to happen to pull this off smoothly, so practice is good.

This picture doesn't quite do the scene justice, but there are about a dozen mounted, armored riders in this pic, taken while folks were warming up in the arena. It was a madhouse.

A French knight gets some help armoring, while the camera crew records the moment.

Knights waiting around for their runs. Most of the horses are drafts, or draft crosses.  

Hubby and Saga did three practice runs last night, against three different opponents. We didn't get video of the first run, but here are the second two.

There were no hits in this pass, but that turned out to be a good thing. Hubby's opponent had been having issues getting her horse down the lane, so a good run without a spooky hit was OK.

The last pass was AMAZING. Smooth start, solid run down the lane, great hits by each jouster. Note the fistpump at the end of the run! That's the way it's supposed to be.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

T-minus 3 days until JOUSTING

The big joust is this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. If you're in Central Texas and you read this blog and want to come, tickets are on me! Just ping me offline and LMK when you'll be there.

The three days before the joust are classes, including riding classes, jousting classes, and mounted combat classes. We're loaning our horses out to a very, VERY good rider, TW, for some of these classes (she's from Colorado and couldn't bring her own horses). Reddums participated in a class on how to fall off your horse. Shockingly, he was in high demand as a horse to practice falling off of - I guess being short comes in handy sometimes?

Red was somewhat confused by this whole process. There he was, standing perfectly still, and PEOPLE KEPT FALLING OFF HIM. You can see by his ears that he's put out by these eediots who can't even manage to stay on an immobile horse. I mean, sheesh.

First, riders practiced falling on a mat. Then they moved to falling from being draped over a horse. Here's the instructor, TW, demonstrating the process:

Step 1: Belly flop over the horse. She did point out that if you're in this position and about to come off, something has gone horribly wrong. 

Step 2: Leaning over a bit more...

Step 3: Tucking your head to roll...

Step 4: The actual fall...

I'd give the landing a 9.8.

Here's a video of one of the students practicing the process:

For the grande finale, the other instructor rode Red at a walk past the mat, to demonstrate falling from a moving horse. Red, who is no dummy, stopped DEAD as soon as he felt his rider begin to "lose" his balance. Fortunately he was close enough to the mat to make the fall work out, but we all laughed at how put out Red was about losing his rider. At the walk.

Saga was ridden in one of the two jousting class. Apparently he was feeling pretty lazy, and his rider was concerned about his unbalanced canter, although she said he felt 100% in walk and trot. I ended up getting on him in the evening, and it was like riding a keg of dynamite. There was a ton of stuff going on in the arena - lyst ropes being set up, plastic bags everywhere, people riding in full armor, a golf cart zooming around - and he was bouncy. However, we made good use of that energy and did a lot of lateral work to see if he was off either direction, and he wasn't. He settled down and we did a little canter work, and everyone agreed that he's unbalanced and strung out, but not hurting anywhere. He seems to be a tiny, tiny, bit short on the LH, but it is consistent and more like a muscling problem than something wrong with a joint or tendon. Again, we're going to work on building his strength up with transitions, sidepassing, and backing, as well as cavaletti and such. Just not this weekend!

The REAL star of the day, however, was Cash. I think he's officially not retired anymore - certainly HE seems to think he's not. Over the last couple of months, we've been upping his workload a bit - 3-4 rides per week, WTC and a little lateral work. He's been doing amazingly well - stuffs his head in his bridle and is ready to work. Yes, he's stiff, but we give him a long warm-up and do a little canter early on to loosen him up, and he's really happy to work. He's even been doing passes at the quintain at home, and a little mounted combat work. I decided to bring him to the joust, since there were a couple of classes that he could participate in with the appropriate rider. He was actually our first jousting horse, although it's been a while since he's done it.

Yesterday was the first of the jousting classes, where riders worked on seat and position. TW (the one "falling" off Red in the still photos) rode him. Of course I was a horribly nervous horse mom - I mean, she's a great rider (way better than me) but still... you worry. But then I got this text from her:

"I am completely in love with Cash. He is AMAZING!!!! You should be a very proud horse mom!" 

Apparently they rocked the class and she had a blast. She loved how sensitive he was and how easy he was to maneuver ("You can half-halt with one finger, and do a leg-yield just by shifting your weight!"), and she said she completely forgot she was riding in a side-pull after the first five minutes. The jousting instructor (who is even a more amazing rider) even got on him to demonstrate a few lateral movements that are handy for jousting, and he even offered a few piaffe steps (before y'all freak out, Cash was schooling piaffe/passage steps about 100 years ago). Of course I wasn't there to see any of this, but I'm really, REALLY hoping that someone got pictures or a little video of it. That's my boy! He got a long hand-walk last night and a bute just 'cause, but looked fantastic and half his age. Everyone is keeping a very careful eye on him, but so far he's settled in like the pro he is and is everyone's favorite pony. I'm pretty sure that I'm going to have to check trailers and suitcases to make sure nobody tries to smuggle him out at the end of the tournament!

I will try to provide daily updates, but didn't get home last night till after 11, so I'm a little behind. Fingers crossed for another great day!

PS. Found another scorpion corpse last night when I got home. That makes SIX DEAD SCORPIONS!!!!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

And now there are snakes!

I grew up in south Louisiana, land of venomous snakes. Water moccasins were the most common, and of course there were plenty of copperheads, and a few canebreak rattlesnakes thrown in for good measure. Despite this, I actually like snakes. I used to "babysit" my science teacher's pet king snake in middle school, and I had a rat snake for a couple of years. I also used to volunteer at the Nature and Science Center, in the herpetology area. So I can recognize venomous snakes pretty well, and I find the non-venemous ones pretty cool.

Quick note: Snakes are venomous, not poisonous. The best way to remember that is if you eat it and you die, it's poisonous. If it tries to eat you and you die, it's venomous. Also, all venomous snakes in North America, with the exception of coral snakes, are pit vipers. They have pronounced triangular heads, thick, flat bodies, and pupils that are slits instead of round (not that I recommend you getting close enough to see it!). So they are super easy to ID, even from a good distance.

So when I came across this big "stick" crawling across the road yesterday, I hopped out of the car to check it out:

Meet the new (harmless) neighbor! Click to enbiggen.

This guy is probably a Texas rat snake, or possibly a bull snake - their markings are quite similar, so it's hard to tell. However, given past experiences with this guy in our back pasture, and this guy in our shed, I'm hoping that it's the same snake and our house is part of his territory. Rat snakes eat rodents (yay!), are non-vemomous, and tend to stay away from people, so I'm really glad to have him as a neighbor. Having said that, I wouldn't try to pick him up or anything - snakes are very strong, and even the shyest wild snakes will bite in self-defense, so it's best to just let them go on their way.

Out of curiosity, now that y'all know there are scorpions AND snakes at my house, would you ever come visit if you just happened to be in the area?



Maybe I should blog about cute bunnies instead?

Saturday, May 5, 2012


Between the fleas and the scorpions, I couldn't take it anymore. We'd tried all the "natural" solutions to bugs, namely, diatomaceous earth, chrysanthemum spray, and bathing the pets to drown the fleas. We seemed to be getting ahead for a day or two, and then the fleas would come back. Also, after seeing four scorpions in four days, and being stung by two of the little bastards, I'd had it. In a fit of angst, I called a pest control company that we'd used for the termite inspection on our house when we bought it two years ago. I think I said something like, "I don't care if you use radioactive waste, just please, KILL THEM!"

The guy came out on Wednesday to spray. He explained to me that scorpions are really, REALLY hard to kill, because their exoskeletons are pretty much impermeable (yes, we knew that. The Interwebz are a wonderful thing). The goal really is to kill off their food supply, then hope that they move elsewhere, like outside, in search of a meal.

Random factoids: Scorpions can live for 10-15 years. ?!?!?!?! They also carry their babies around on their backs until they are old enough to be on their own. Ok, bugs don't normally give me the creeps, but looking at a picture of a mama scorpion and her babies is officially creepy. Gah.

ANYway, Wednesday when I came home from work, there was one scorpion in the barn aisle that was on its last legs. I gleefully smushed it. I found another in the hallway, belly-up. I did a little happy dance. Wednesday night while we were watching a show on TV, one came limping across the living room floor. My husband promptly clubbed it to death with a shoe while I screamed "KILL IT! KILL IT!". There was another dead one Thursday morning, and a final dead one Thursday afternoon. Total body count that I know about: 5. I'm hoping there are an equal number that died somewhere cold and alone.

Belly-up and really, really dead. You have no idea how happy this makes me.

Friday, I called up the pest control guy and told him that I loved him. I think that might have been a first for him.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Finally! What's "wrong" with Saga

Saga went to the vet on Tuesday for a full lameness eval. I dropped him off before work and got a call around lunch time from my vet with an update. I pounced on the phone, heart in my throat. Was it the stifle? Suspensory? Bone chip? My brain ran through all the awful possibilities, but my vet started off the conversation with...

"He's not lame."


"But... he WAS lame! Really! I swear it! On Saturday!" I'd written her a long email with the dates and details of what had been happening with him for the last 6 weeks. She'd reviewed the rads and ultrasound from March. She'd longed him for 30 minutes, WTC both directions, flexed him, and palpated him, and... nothing.

He was not positive to hoof testers. (Hooray!)

He did not respond to back or SI palpation. (Yay!)

He did not respond to palpation to any of the tendons or ligaments in either hind leg, nor was there any noticeable lameness in sand on the longe. (Woohoo!)

There was no longer any fluid over the right stifle, like there was in March before we injected the stifle. (Woot!)

So... what was the problem?

I swore up, down, and sideways that he was uneven behind at the trot, and was having trouble picking up the right canter lead. He was also having trouble in the corners on the right lead canter, and was refusing to sidepass right over a pole on the ground. She asked if I could come ride him for her, so I zipped home to grab tack, then sped out to the clinic.

I saddled him up and rode him at the trot and canter in the arena. He DID feel uneven behind... just a tiny bit, but I'm used to riding Cash, who is consistently a smidge uneven behind (due to a permanent injury), so I know what it feels like. He kicked out in the right lead canter transition, and I had to try three times to get the correct lead. (Interestingly, he never missed a lead on the longe. Hmmm.). He had some moments where his hind end sort of got away from him... I don't know how to describe it really, but it's like one leg just gets left behind for half a moment. Again, it wasn't bad, but it was there.

My vet agreed that she could see what I was talking about, and so did the other two vets that were watching. But, his footfalls were even and stride length was even. I could only feel the issue at the trot when posting - not when standing in two-point or sitting. Since I don't have an arena with cushy footing at home (I wish I did!!!), we headed out to the field where the ground is rock-hard. I trotted him again on a straightaway, and he was actually really quite good behind. Definitely not as lame as he was on Saturday, but still... something just a smidge not quite right.

We ended up flexing him on both hind legs, and he finally, FINALLY showed a few uneven steps coming out of the flexion, on both hind legs. Maybe a .5/5, but nowhere near lame enough to block. We discussed options - work him and try to make him more lame, or try hock injections. He's 12, and he raced as a 2 year old, so there's pretty much a 100% chance he's got some arthritic changes in his hocks. Besides, I'm just so tired worrying about him. So we went ahead and did it.

(And before you ask, I went through the agony of to inject or not inject years ago with Cash. I'm at peace with my decision, although I know others might have chosen differently. I believe it's the right choice for Saga given his age and current workload, and the fact that I'm monitoring him closely. 'Nuff said.)

Yesterday, on the vet's advice, I took him for a 2 mile hack. We did a teensy smidge of trot (felt pretty darn good!) and walked the rest of the way. The biggest change, though, was the fact that he walked slowly down small hills when asked, and tucked his butt under him. He also walked slowly up the same hills. His usual MO is to charge down hills with his hind end strung out behind him, so this is a HUGE difference.

I won't know for a few weeks how much of a difference the injections make, but the vet also suggested a number of exercises to help strengthen his hind end. We're supposed to walk and trot over poles or cavaletti, work on backing, and do lots and lots of transitions. We'll do some stretches too, and see if that helps his overall flexibility. I will also be working with a dressage instructor on me, since I'm a little worried that I'm causing the problems with the canter transitions!

The vet cleared him to go back to work immediately, which means that he can joust next weekend. He'll get a medium workout tomorrow, then a practice joust... and then, starting Tuesday, it'll be show time!

Fingers crossed that we've found the problem and a reasonable, sustainable solution that will keep him comfortable and still let us have some fun.