Boot City and I made the decision a couple weeks ago to end Pablo’s, our donkey, suffering. He’s been increasingly lame over the past few years and had gotten to the point of spending nearly half his time laying down. We had Pablo for 16 years, but we don’t really know how old he was when he came to live with us. He was given to me by a coworker who had to basically trap him to get him into a trailer and bring him over. It was another year before we could touch him and while he became quite affectionate, the moment he saw a halter or any type of “equipment” he became nearly impossible to get near. Someone had clearly been mean to him and donkeys do NOT forget.
So, Pablo was euthanized on a hot Thursday evening and a local animal cemetery (I call them the pet undertakers) picked him up.
Side note. People often comment about how idyllic our lives must be living on a farm. Let me tell you, it is not idyllic in the way that people who have never lived it think it is idyllic. We take our animal husbandry very seriously and believe wholly in making difficult decisions when it isn’t always the easy thing to do. We have seen a lot of death in the 16+ years we have lived on our tiny farm.
On Friday morning when I was doing my morning chores, I noticed that Jaguar was less interested in his breakfast than usual. I actually had been noticing for the past month or more that he’s had a smaller and smaller appetite. He had lost a bit of condition, but nothing alarming. He was showing some small signs of discomfort (not eating, standing in a corner, not as lively as usual) but these signs were not terribly obvious. I knew in the back of my mind that he was just getting closer to his time.
The moment my car crested the top of the driveway on Friday evening, my heart sunk and I exploded into tears. I knew before I got out of my car that he had been colicking and it looked like for quite some time. His face was scraped up from thrashing. He was covered in sand and sweat. His sides were heaving and his nostrils flared. He was exhausted and in a tremendous amount of pain and it was 105F. The next few hours were surreal. Calls to the vet. Calls to Boot City (who was on his way home). Calls to my Mom. It was an easy decision to end his suffering. The rest of the logistics that surround the death of a thousand pound animal are not as easy.
Our property is nearly solid limestone and doesn’t allow the burial of any of our animals. I’m grateful that I live in a place where services exist to easily remove a dead horse (or goat, or dog, etc.). The man who picked up Jaguar was incredibly kind and understanding and I’m forever grateful to him for doing that terrible job.
I didn’t feel like I could really grieve until his body was gone and even now, days later, I feel like I’m walking around with this clearly obvious gaping hole in my being. But I’m not, at least not physically. And people who see me don’t know that I’m grieving for a partnership that lasted three decades. I want to wear a t-shirt that says “I’m sad, my horse just died”, but I also want to be alone with my grief and not share it. I need the people I’m close to to understand just how hard it is to process this grief, but anyone who has been through it already knows.
And yes, I get it, he was just a horse. I understand that the love of an animal isn’t the same as the love of a human. I know that the privilege of having horses is a luxury. However, that doesn’t make my grief any less real. In many ways the loss of an animal is harder because it is a decision that I made. It is an accumulation of decisions I’ve made about the care and well being of my horse for the past three decades. I know I did right by Jaguar. I know that he knew to the very moment his life left his body that I loved him with all I had. His eyes pleaded for us to end his suffering and so we did.
The loss of Jaguar is the final stage of my grief for the loss of my Dad. Jaguar was the last tangible thing that was just between Dad and me. Of course I still have my Mom and my Brother, but it was different with Jaguar. Jaguar connected us in a way that was different from anything else and that connection lived on in Jaguar’s every nicker, his adherence to a schedule and to every new and different thing he was willing to try.
I am a better person to have loved and been loved by Jaguar Juniper, 1993-2022.
The journey with any hobby (or general thing that takes tons of practice and constant improvement) is rife with turning points. Some of those turning points are for the best and some are for the worse. Thankfully this post is about a turning point that is GOOD!
I don’t know if it was a conscious decision at first, but I have made it an active one for the rest of 2022 to be the year of Coco Chanel. While working through Simon’s ailments it didn’t seem fair to put pressure on him to go hard on the weekends and endure long trailer rides so he’s having a year of horse yoga, fitness and general veterinary visits until we get him put back together.
Coco, on the other hand, is in her prime. She’s ten this year. (I fear even typing these words….) She’s sound, at least she has been all year and is as I type these words. She’s talented. She’s pretty. And she’s going to horse shows! I blogged after our show in February in Katy, which was a great growing experience, but I didn’t come away from that show feeling super great about our long term future showing. She was much hotter than I’d hoped. She was anxious. She got around the courses, but I didn’t see the spark of fancy I had hoped for. We have been lessoning almost weekly and it has been going great, but it was going great before Katy, too.
Definitely looking the part!
For the past few years there has been a USHJA/USEF rated hunter/jumper show in Fort Worth that I usually miss because I’m in Montana the week leading up to the third weekend in May. I went to the show during it’s inaugural year with Sterling, but hadn’t been back since then. Well, this year we made it happen again! My plan going into the week was to take Coco to the show facility late Wednesday or early Thursday to get acclimated, then show over the weekend. As things often do, they changed. My trainers convinced me to take her early Tuesday morning as that was the only day the rings were open for schooling. So my trainer schooled her on Tuesday and then we opted to have my trainer show Coco on Wednesday.
Slight rewind, Coco went to stay with my trainer for a couple nights for training rides the weekend before the show. She got two training rides then I had a lesson and brought her home a couple days before the show started. I could already feel some more polished buttons after only a couple training rides, so it wasn’t a hard sell for me to be OK with my trainer schooling and showing Coco at the show.
My trainer showed her in three over fences classes. The first, a warmup, was good. Coco looked anxious, but she jumped around fine. The second course was MESSY. Coco was MAD she had to go back into the ring to show. She was mad it was hot, She was mad there were flies. She was just cranky and it showed! I don’t think she’s had a full-on hissy fit like that before, so truth be told I’m glad it was with my trainer and not me. Trainer skillfully corrected her, but made her do her job and it was totally fine. Third course was fine with a lot more good moments.
Coco with both show trainers, one in the irons and the other providing guidance from the ground.
The primary thing I noticed consistently in all her trips was that Coco was working the bit a LOT. I ride her at home in a D-ring Herm Sprenger Duo. This is a super soft bit and I prefer to keep the bit I use at home to be as light and easy as possible since that is what is in their mouth nearly every day. I rider her at lessons and shows in a Neue Schule Tranz Angled Lozenge D-Ring. When I rode her in a lesson on Thursday before showing on Friday I asked my trainers what they thought about her bitting and they said, almost simultaneously, that they were already planning to talk to me about changing her bit! Great minds! Since she already knows the Duo we planned to switch back to it.
I bought the Bemer blanket for Simon, but I like to use it on Coco at shows, so she got some Bemer time after our Thursday training ride. I really think it contributed to her calmness the rest of the show.
Getting her Bemer time.
Friday came and I got to the barn fairly early so I could get her braided (I think I’m one of like 4 people who braids their own horse) and have plenty of time to chill out (and work) before my division went. My barn had 8 horses in my division (which had 21 in total) so we had to coordinate when each horse would go to spread our trips out over the duration of the division. Side note about horse shows, when there are more than about 5 horses in a class they separate groups into “rotations” where 3-5 horses take turns doing their courses (there are usually 2 or 3 if there is a warmup option), then start another rotation until everyone is done. Back to our regular programming.
We went in the first or second rotation and our first trip, a warmup, was great! Good pace. Good distances to the jumps. It was all good. Not great, but solid. The second and third trips had a few bobbles like getting to close to the jump (chipping) or taking off too far away from the jump. In all the trips Coco was chill and happy. She clearly was happier in the Duo than she had been in the NS bit, so I was glad we made that change. We also did our flat class (this is where all the horses are judged on how well they move, it’s based on foxhunting so the horse should move in a way that uses as little energy as possible so it will have energy for a long day of hunting, this explanation could be long so I’ll stop now) after everyone was done with their jumping courses for the day. I am DELIGHTED to say that Coco got second in the flat class! She FANCY! We placed in our warmup jumping class, but not in our division classes. This may be a pattern……
So cute. I just love seeing these pics of my sweet girl all grown up!
The second day of showing we just had 3 jumping classes; the warmup course and 2 division courses. Pretty much the same as the day before, our warmup was smoothest and the 2 division courses had some bobbles. I’d have to go back and look at our placings, but I’m pretty sure I used to do this with Sterling, too. I’d have a decent warmup course then they would get worse every time I rode again. Thankfully with Coco, the second trip tends to be the worst and the third one is better but not great. The mistakes I’m making (because it’s all me, Coco is just doing almost EXACTLY what I tell her to do) have their basis in my greenness to jumping and her greenness to jumping. The hunters are hard because every single step and jump matters and the steps between the jumps make the difference in how well the jumps happen.
This is where the turning point is coming. I can feel it. Literally. My eye for distances is getting SO much better, but I seem to choke in the show ring. I feel it getting better, but it’s not there yet. It is HUGE that Coco was so much quieter in the ring at this show. It’s a big environment with a lot going on outside the ring, in the stabling, and around the venue (The Pro Bull Riders PBR was having their World Championships at the same time as the horse show, talk about a mashup of crowds!) plus the weather changed quite a lot in a couple days. She handled it like a pro. She literally didn’t have a spooking meltdown until the moment I loaded her on the trailer to go home and she saw the pens FULL of bucking bulls. Needless to say she jumped on the trailer and was ready to get the heck out of Dodge!
October Hill’s Coco Chanel
We are showing again this coming week and I really really really hope that the changes coming are good and we have some solid trips with few mistakes. I’ve watched and rewatched our videos from this past week and she looks so good 90% of the time. I just need to give her the ride that will make her look that good ALL the time! Regardless, I’m grateful to Coco. My husband. My family. My trainers. My friends. All the people and the horses who afford us the ability to participate in this amazing sport!
I’m elated to finally have a good’ish update about Simon! If you have not been following along, the short version is that he’s had ongoing soundness issues in his hind end and symptoms of pain causing him to be a bit more fractious than normal and avoiding laying down. Last fall he got hocks and a stifle injection. It took more than a month, but after those injections he started to look a lot more sound. He’s been stepping up under himself with both hind legs much better than he had in months.
In early January he collapsed in his sleep (while standing) a couple times and I scheduled another appointment with my veterinarian. A few days before that appointment I was able to get a video of him rolling and getting up. The video shows how he has quite a difficult time getting up. I’ve seen him try for 5 minutes or more and have to rest before finally being able to stand. It’s gut wrenching and so stressful to watch.
Dapper in the hunt field.
Thankfully the most recent appointment proved to be informative and we seem to be on a path towards wellness. She did another lameness exam which showed that he is in fact sound on his hinds now, but still has quite a bit of pain and/or discomfort in his back. She also noted that he was even more fidgety and sensitive to touch than he’s been the past few visits and it has gotten progressively worse every time she’s seen him. While I don’t like hearing that, it was nice to hear her confirm what I’m seeing and feeling with him. Some people see him and think he looks fine and that I’m being overly sensitive about there being issues, but hearing this from my vet confirmed my concerns.
We discussed treatment options and agreed upon back injections at the site in his spine where a couple of processes were barely touching on his radiographs from October, injections in his Sacral Iliac joint and testing for EPM. An alternative care provider I’ve used in the past told me that she thought he has EPM, but my veterinarian at the time didn’t agree so we didn’t test. He passed, and continues to pass, the balance tests for EPM, but my vet wanted to rule it out just because his struggle to stand from rolling was so pronounced.
Back injections. It is kind of freaky to see just how long the needle is for those injections! Also, evidently all the women at my veterinary clinic have amazing hair…..
While he was getting his injections we got to chatting and I asked what she thought about PEMF. I’ve read a lot about it and listened to other veterinary podcasts with mixed opinions about the efficacy of the treatment. My vet said, without pause, the PEMF would change Simon’s life if he could get it regularly. The challenge for me with PEMF previously has been finding a practitioner who is close enough to come regularly. The wheels in my head started turning because I know some horse owners who have been singing the praises of the BEMER blanket. The BEMER is more of an at-home PEMF option that produces a lower level treatment, but it’s affordable and easy enough to use for an individual to purchase. A PEMF machine easily costs upwards of $10,000 and the BEMER blanket costs less than $5,000. I asked my veterinarian what she thought about the BEMER and she reiterated that it would change Simon’s life, but she thought they were more than $15k so not really an option.
I took Simon home from that appointment with directions for 5 days off work and then to get him going again as the fitness is key to his hind end soundness. I pondered and researched the BEMER blanket and opted to pull the trigger and order one a couple days after the appointment. I worked with Hillary who is a somewhat newly minted BEMER rep and has been using it for a couple years. 10/10 recommend working with her!
It arrived the day a snow/ice storm rolled in, which was perfect since I’d be working from home for a few days. I used the BEMER on Simon twice a day for 4 days, then once a day until Coco and I left for a horse show. Because of the storm and being out of town I wasn’t able to ride him again until mid February (injections etc were in late January), but let me know tell you. He was a completely different horse than I had sat on in over a year!
Getting his BEMER on. Many thanks to Hilary for helping me with my purchase!
When a horse gradually becomes unsound or issues develop it can be difficult to pin point when things started to go south and this is very true of Simon. I don’t think his struggles are related to any one thing, but I’m confident that the wreck we had hunting in Missouri in 2020, thousands of miles in the trailer, and some conformational challenges, and recurring gut issues are what got us to where we are today. When I rode him a couple weeks after the second set of injections and after starting using the BEMER he was happy and willing to go forward with a tiny tap of my leg. For months he’s swished his tail and bobbed his head and ground his teeth every time I’ve asked him to move forward, change gaits or move off leg pressure. He was never head-bobbing lame, he never bucked, he never bolted, but there were myriad signs he was uncomfortable. Our ride this week was positively magical. I felt like I had my 2018 horse back. He even did lead changes the best he has EVER done them.
The same day as our great ride we got the EPM results and they are negative. That is good news, but I still think we have some sleuthing to do to figure out why getting up is so hard for him. I’m planning to invest in stall cameras so I can see if and when he either lays down or falls down at night. Usually only a couple mornings a week does he look like he’s lay down at all (indicated by having shavings on his coat or in his tail). I’ve asked Boot City to check when he comes in at night and he hasn’t seen him lay down yet.
Chilling while we wait for a hack class.
I don’t think keeping him sound is going to be a linear path. We may or may not need to provide the same injections again and the timeframe for repeating injections going forward will probably change. He does seem to be responding to the BEMER treatment, so I’m grateful I have that and can keep up regular treatment. Plus I can use it on Coco and Jaguar which can’t hurt them! My work plan for him is going to be doing strengthening work and staying closer to home for the next few months at least, if not longer. The long trailer rides seem to make him anxious and exacerbate his discomfort and anxiety. He’s not an obviously nervous horse so I have to pay close attention to his demeanour to determine when he’s stressed and anxious.
I adore this horse and am so happy to have my horse shaped teddy bear back. I’ll do whatever I can to maintain his comfort and happiness and hopefully have many years ahead in our partnership.
Coco turns the ripe old age of 10 this year. I took things vvvveeerrrryyyy slowly getting her started for myriad reasons ranging from resources to preservation of soundness, and now I’m feeling quite behind in her development. Added onto that the COVID year(s) and my focus on foxhunting and she just isn’t where a 10 year old show horse should be in terms of dependability and consistency at shows. Not that Coco has any idea or cares at all!
With my increased flexibility at work and being able to lesson more regularly, it felt like it’s time to “hit the road” this year. I’m still not planning on showing a lot comparatively, but really anything is more than we’ve been doing. We had a great time at Tyler in October and made some huge progress so I was excited to head to Week 2 of the Winter Series in Katy last week. The show goes 4 consecutive weeks, but we only had the bandwidth for one week and we made that week count! We showed in at least two over fences classes every day from Thursday to Sunday and a couple of hack (flat) classes intermingled.
I’m not going to dissect every trip, or really even every day, but suffice it to say there were some really really good things and some not so great things. It is interesting to develop this horse and notice her similarities and differences from horses I’ve shown previously. My first show hunter was a thoroughbred that was bred to show not race. He was always a bit excited the first day of a show and generally settled more and more each day. Coco has proven to be more up on the first day of showing, pretty nice and consistent each additional day, but once she hits her proverbial wall she gets cranky. I’m still figuring out the “wall”, but I suspect last week had to do with the weather and being stalled for 5 days when she’s accustomed to 12 hours of turnout every day. It was sunny and glorious Wednesday to Friday, then a windy cold front blew through on Saturday. She was surprisingly good to show on Saturday, but she was DONE on Sunday.
What do I mean by DONE? Coco is a bit on the sensitive side and we are starting to get to a point in her development where she has all the basics and we need to work on the nuances of polish and detail. I’ve never really had a finished horse to show, so this is new to me and my habits tend to be to ask big questions which result in big answers. On Sunday Coco came out of her stall after spending the night with a tarp flapping against the building all night, a significant drop in the temperature and no turnout since Tuesday. I think she was tired and just a bit frazzled. So when I asked a big question (slow down, lead change, etc). She had a big response either by ignoring my aids (not slowing down) or not doing a tidy lead change (I looked down and didn’t ride straight). She needed a calm, relaxed ride to assure her she was fine and I gave her a frazzled ride.
I was frustrated with myself on Sunday because I knew I didn’t give my horse a fair ride and since it was the last day we didn’t end on the best note. However, it was a huge step forward in our development as a team overall. When I went back and watched the videos from Sunday the trips look 5 million times better than I would have imagined. When she was slow, she was absolutely beautiful. When I rode her to the fences well, her jump was perfection. The bobbles that felt like they were disasters were truly just bobbles. Things often feel so much worse than they look.
Outside of riding, it was a great week. I enjoy getting to know the other riders at my barn during shows. I don’t see most of them very often since I keep my horse at home and haul in for lessons on weekends. I braid Coco myself at shows because it gives us some nice relaxed time together and my braids are getting better again after not having done it much for the past few years. Oscur made friends with every single dog he laid eyes on! We even got one of the indoor arenas to ourselves after the show day ended one night and let our dogs off leash to run around the jumps, which was adorable.
Our next show will either be Pin Oak in late April or Fort Worth in mid May. We may try to make it to a local unrated show in between, just to get more time off the farm and at a horse show, but we shall see. Even with the frustrating and disappointing moments I know how fortunate I am to even be able to dabble in this sport and to have such a quality horse to ride!
I may be the only person in the entire state, but I really kind of enjoy Texas’ winter storms. I’m also amongst a very privileged minority who have been blessed with no power outages during winter storms in the nearly 16 years we have lived at our property. Yes, I count my blessings after each storm.
Why do I like these awful storms? People in western cultures are exceptionally terrible at stopping. Stopping to “smell the roses” or just take a break and Boot City and I are no exception to this “busy-ness”. Winter storms force us to stop and focus on the little things like food, shelter and water for ourselves and the lives we take care of on our little farm. We have to haul water (the barn pipes freeze when it gets below freezing for more than half a day), haul hay, feed, clean stalls, repeat for however long the cold snap remains.
As I type this my whole body is sore. My arms. My neck. My hands. My knees. All the parts, but there is a satisfaction that comes, at least for me, from the aches that come from real hard work. I absolutely love having my horses at home. I can’t imagine not being in control of every single facet of their lives and know all their idiosyncrasies, and ailments and their favorite scratches. etc. I also know how they react to winter weather. Coco gets cold when it’s below 40F. Jaguar gets cold a lot easier in his old age than he did 5 years ago. Simon is fine in the cold, but he’s always on the thin side so I blanket him to try to prevent him losing calories from keeping himself warm. Gene is a sturdy island pony, so he’s warm unless he’s wet or in the wind. Pablo is the lowest on the pecking order and won’t stand for wearing a blanket, so I have to be sure he’s somewhere he can get away from wind and weather.
Fortunately, everyone fared well in this storm. I opted to turn my horses out every day for at least a few hours. Only Simon has shoes and unshod horses tend to have better grip on slick footing (unless they have special shoes) and they all were fine. I find it is better or their mental and digestive health to get some time to move around even in bad weather. They ran and bucked and kicked and played, even Jaguar! But they were all ready to go back to their stalls when the sun started to climb behind the hill at sunset.
The winter storms always feel like a season reset on the farm and for that I’m grateful. The weather in Texas will warm up now and all chances for snow and ice appear to be gone until next winter. I’ve already started preparing the heavy blankets for summer storage and planning the spring cleaning in the barn. Coco and I are headed to a horse show this week (YAY!) and will hit the ground running for spring cleaning after our return.
I have no idea if I’ve blogged about this at all, but a couple years ago the trainer I showed with hung up her trainer hat and moved to Florida to pursue a slower and less dramatic life away from horse showing. She’s living her best beach life these days! The timing was in some ways terrible and in some ways really good for me. She lived and trained near Houston, so I only saw her at shows or on the very infrequent long weekend I went for lessons. Coco was just getting going and Sterling was out on lease (that turned into a happy purchase!). As a relative newby to jumping I have long known that I needed more consistent lessons and had some starts and stops with lessons at various barns near where I live. However, none of them quite scratched the itch for me.
Schooling at home
Fast forward to winter of 2019/2020 and I finally bit the bullet to find a barn closer to me for more regular lessons and hopefully some horse showing. I knew a few people who ride at Bay Yard Farm in Argyle so I looked more into their program and really liked what I found. They have a solid regular lesson program, multiple trainers so if some are gone horse showing you can still get lessons, they attend most of the rated shows in Texas but also some of the fun and desirable out of state shows, and (one of the most important to me) their program is ideal for adult amateurs. There are kids in their program, but it’s not a pony/eq/junior focused program.
I’ve been taking lessons with off and on regularity since January 2019 and am LOVING it. I mostly take Coco since she is my show horse and my veterinarian has suggested that lots of smaller circles are not ideal for Simon’s funky stifle. In 2019 and 2020 we went to a few unrated local shows and really enjoyed the experience. 2020 was a horse show mess, so we didn’t pursue the rated shows at all that year, plus I was traveling with Simon to foxhunts A LOT.
[caption id="attachment_1715" align="aligncenter" width="300"] We interrupt this horse blog for a photo of the cutest horse show dog.
We finally made it to our first rated show with Bay Yard in October of 2021 and had a BLAST! Coco is fairly straightforward at shows, but she’s definitely a different ride than she is at home. We showed four days and got into the ring as much as possible with no expectations for ribbons. I wanted to give her good rides and develop consistency. She had quite a few green horse moments, but nothing disastrous. I was pleased with the overall show experience for her. The other riders, trainers and staff at Bay Yard made the overall experience really special. Everyone is supportive and there is a tremendous amount of camaraderie. Coco was incredibly well cared for and I’d be lying if I denied that having grooms felt like the ultimate luxury!
Princess being spoiled at the horse show
Coco is a lovely and incredibly talented horse (thank you Wendy at October Hill for breeding and selling me this special girl!), but she’s a very different ride than I’ve ever had in the past. I joke that Simon is like driving a Rolls Royce and Coco is a Ferrari. She’s quick and catty like a cutting horse, but athletic and scopey. Usually this works in her favor, but it can also make for some drama that seems to come out of the blue. She also can have a less than stellar work ethic. On my own I can be lazy about holding her accountable for her work ethic. The lessons and guidance from Bay Yard have made a huge difference for both of our focus. I’ve never shown her consistently so we both have a lot of lessons to learn in the show ring. She’s 10 now, so hopefully she’s over youthful shenanigans and we can work through the green ones constructively.
She’s a cute show hunter! PC Jerry Mohme
Next week we are heading to Katy to show at Great Southwest Equestrian Center for their Winter Series. The weather looks amenable to outdoor showing and other than a weird blowup last week, Coco is going nicely. My lofty goal this year is to lesson and show enough to move up to the Adult Amateur division. I know she has the scope for pretty large jumps, I just need to be able to be an effective pilot!
I realize that Thoroughbreds all change age on January 1, but I still like to acknowledge the actual birthdays of my horses. Now, I’m not one of those crazy people who forces my horse to wear ridiculous birthday hats (Amanda), but I do give extra dinner or special scratches or something. Plus it’s a nice time to reflect on the time each horse and I have had together.
One of the first photos I saw of Simon!
Today, Simon turns 8! I first brought him home a couple weeks before his 3rd birthday so this makes FIVE years together! As per usual, in some ways it seems like he came home yesterday and in other ways it seems like it has been much longer than five years. What first sold me on Simon was his chill. An accomplished riding friend went with me to look at and try him on like January 2. It was less than 45 days since his last (of 2) race, he was 3, it was unseasonably cold in Texas (I think the high that day was in the 30s, if not colder) and we rode him in a pasture. Even with the perfect recipe for a baby racehorse to go bonkers, we could hardly get him to canter! Partially because he had no idea what we were asking of him and partially because he just didn’t want to go forward.
The day he moved to my house. I love that I got his fancy leather halter with the nameplate from his birthplace in Kentucky!
I bought Simon with the purpose of filling Jaguar’s shoes as my hunt horse and he’s done that exceeding my expectations. He’s whipped in, gone first flight, gone third flight and hunted in seven states! I’m biased, but he’s always one of the most attractive horses at a gathering. He has a soft, kind eye. A fun big blaze. He’s tall, dark and handsome. He moves as nicely as he looks. He jumps beautifully. He’s game to try most anything I ask of him, including foxhunting and moving cattle within days of each other. Plus he’s gone on hundreds of miles of trail rides. The only thing he hasn’t done is go to a horse show.
Hunting in Georgia
I’ve mentioned previously that he’s had some soundness struggles and we are still figuring out what is ailing him. A couple weeks ago he was standing outside my office, asleep with his buddies, and he collapsed. I’ve had a sneaking suspicion for a while that he does not lie down to sleep very often, if ever. He often has rubs and scabs on his front legs that match exactly the movement he made when I watched him fall down in his sleep. He also has a difficult time getting up from rolling. I’ve seen him try 5-10 times to get up from rolling and even have to lie still for a minute to catch his breath to try again. So, today (his birthday) we are visiting our veterinarian (again) to try to figure this out.
Moving cattle in Montana. PC Gretchen Pelham
If you google these symptoms you’ll find diagnoses about lameness, neurologic issues and general weakness due to illness. None of them exactly seem to match his symptoms. I’m (I think) hopeful that it’s a pain/lameness issue that we can diagnose and treat. I’ve had a PEMF practitioner tell me he seems like he has EPM, but when I asked my vet about that (years ago) he thought it was silly. He did the tail pull test, which Simon passed with flying colors. Simon does stumble a bit, but usually only at slower gaits and it’s never gotten worse or even changed in a few years. Plus he’s always been very sure footed while hunting and trail riding on uneven terrain.
Trail riding with Quila
Additionally, Simon has had some disposition changes over the past year. He used to be always chill, sweet, easy going and never spooky. Now he’s more grumpy with other horses, spooky, bitey for certain things like grooming and tacking and generally a bit anxious. I don’t think our year or two of traveling around the country did him any favors. I’ve learned that he is an anxious traveler. Plus the hunt we ride with in Texas now is a 240 mile round trip, again likely not advantageous to a nervous traveler. He is still mostly sweet and easy to be around, but something is definitely up.
The Best Booper
As is always true with horses, I have a feeling that this one appointment isn’t going to find and fix the problem. I think there is a more systemic issue going on that will take time, perseverance and patience to find and (hopefully) fix. I’m hopeful that we can continue his work under saddle, but will do whatever I can to help him get back to (or as close as possible) 100%. Please send him some good vibes/prayers/fill in the blank!
Ufta, 2021 was a YEAR! A lot of good, but it didn’t end well.
Jaguar colicked again the week between Christmas and New Year’s. Thankfully it turned out ok, but still required a night at the vet’s facility. And frustratingly, I think it very easily could have been prevented.
Boot City got me a truckload of sand for my arena for Christmas (YAY!) and the day the sand and a car part were delivered the horses were exceptionally frisky. To get them out of the way of the truck at the last minute I threw out a small flake of hay as a distraction. It wasn’t until the truck was driving away that I realized I had put hay out and Jaguar was turned out. He’s been off hay since he colicked in January 2021 when we determined he can no longer eat hay. I watched him for a minute and he seemed to have no interest in the hay so I didn’t think about it again until that afternoon when he wanted into the barn. I fed him some soaked cubes because it was only 3p and he usually goes in at 5p. I came back to feed and put the other horses in the barn around 5p and he was noticeably uncomfortable. By the time I finished feeding he wasn’t eating, was restless and pawing. Of course this was the same evening a few friends were coming over.
He likes to come to the front door. I don’t want him to get hurt falling on the tile, so I won’t let him come in.
I called my vet’s office and spoke to the on-call veterinarian who advised giving him banamine then watching to see how he acted after an hour. My friends arrived just after I administered the banamine and we had a lovely chat for about an hour when I looked out the window to see him in his stall run rolling, not a good sign. I had already asked Boot City to hook up the trailer, just in case, so I called the clinic to let them know he hadn’t improved and that we were on our way. My friends left graciously, understanding the situation and we got the old man loaded into the trailer uneventfully.
We arrived at the clinic around 6p (thankfully it was an early arrival, usually this happens at zero dark thirty and no one gets any sleep) we unloaded and headed into the treatment area. The on-call veterinarian got him sedated and talked us through her plan of the usual tubing, fluids, etc. Due to his age he is not a surgery candidate so I made sure we had similar expectations for his treatment options should things go poorly. She let me know that she’d follow up with me later in the night, but no news is good news. I got a text around 9:30 or 10p that he was comfortable and seemed to be OK.
Jaguar and Simon already had dentals scheduled for the next morning, so I headed back to the clinic bright and early with Simon. By the time we got there Jaguar was done with his appointment! He had even been a good patient for his teeth, usually he’s AWFUL. My regular veterinarian had been out of town and our appointment was her first upon returning. She told me when I got there that the on-call vet had told her about Jaguar coming in so she had also kept an eye on him on the stall camera overnight. I LOVE my veterinary team!
It’s been a few days now and Jaguar seems to be back to his normal self. We have had a few wild temperature swings, which is when people swear horses start colicking more and he was fine through that. I’ll add, though, that I don’t believe in those temperature swings causing colic. I’ve read a lot of veterinary research and they have never found a correlation between temperature or pressure changes and colic. The more likely culprit is that owners change how they manage their horses when the weather gets bad; more stall time, less exercise, same water offering, etc. I make it a point to keep the management of my horses the same regardless of weather. I may add hot water to their water buckets when a freeze is impending or put them in the barn earlier when it’s pouring rain, but they still get turned out regardless and I feed all my adult horses soaked alfalfa cubes and beet pulp every day. Only once has one of my horses colicked during crazy weather (tornado warning) and it turned out that horse had been eating acorns by the bucketful.
Jaguar’s one of three rides in 2021! He is the camp counsellor for Gene’s baby horse boot camp.
Hopefully this is Jaguar’s last trip to the vet’s office for a few months (years?!) for anything other than dental maintenance. I learned my lesson and won’t leave ANY hay around him EVER again. I’m grateful he didn’t get an impaction, just gas likely caused by eating something he hasn’t eaten in 12 months.
The alliteration in the title is really the only funny part of this post, but I couldn’t help myself!
Last winter, Simon and I had an incident while visiting another hunt. I came off and landed on my head and Simon got wrapped in hot wire and (understandably) kind of lost his shit. We both had some time off after the incident and both seemed to get back to normalcy pretty quickly. Not long after this I was having a lesson on Coco with my jumping trainer and, while chatting, the trainer mentioned something about Simon being kind of wonky in his hind end.
All of this information sat in my head marinating for a couple months. Simon didn’t feel off and he wasn’t exhibiting any significant behaviour that would indicate he was in pain. No head bobbing. No bucking. He wasn’t girthy. However, I still couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t quite right. There were more subtle signs like being clumsier than normal. Just a feeling that he wasn’t moving out like he used to. He’s also been grumpier, not the easygoing horse I bought in 2017.
After my trip to Montana in May I scheduled a visit from a body worker for both Coco and Simon. Coco was totally fine and just enjoyed her massage (no one is surprised!). Simon, however, proved to be a bit of a hot mess! He was VERY sensitive to work on his back, more on the left than the right. His butt was sore. HIs poll was sore or at least sensitive. And his neck was sore. We made a plan to have him worked on regularly and also to have his saddle fit evaluated as soon as possible.
Trail riding in Eastern Montana on the Moore Ranch. STUNNING views!
So we did that for a few weeks and got his saddle adjusted (she assured me the saddle fits well and adjusting the flocking was all he needed) and he definitely improved, but he was still quite sore in his back and not showing enough improvement to believe that we were fixing the issue. In July he had a full lameness exam. I REALLY like my veterinarian and appreciate that she doesn’t start by throwing her entire medical bag at a problem. She did a bunch of flexions and it was pretty obvious that his hocks were sore so she recommended injections. There was no talk of doing any kinds of radiographs or scans. It was a very easy “yes” to do injections. It turned out that his hock joints were quite dry, so had likely been sore for a while. As with all joint injections he got a few days off and went back to work and definitely seemed more comfortable.
We gave it a couple weeks before he saw the body worker again. He was definitely better, but still sore in places we thought he wouldn’t be with successful injections. Ugh. We opted to put some more fitness in his plan and keep up with body work. Improvement was good, but there was still room for more.
A few weeks ago I videoed a ride to see what he looks like and noticed that his right hind wasn’t stepping up under himself like his left hind was stepping. I sent the video to my veterinarian and she agreed, so we scheduled another appointment for a second lameness exam. The appointment was a couple weeks out due to both of our travel and work schedules and in that time quite a lot of white hair was coming in on both sides of his withers indicating a possible issue with saddle fit. I sent photos to my saddle fitter (whom I love!) and she was very concerned so made an appointment to come out within a couple of days.
The angry white hairs that tattle on poor saddle fit. Photobomb by Jaguar!
The good news was that the first thing the fitter noticed was that his back had much better and stronger muscling than it had a few weeks prior. The bad news was that muscling was why the saddle was bridging and and not sitting balanced on his back. Thankfully Simon’s saddle is wool flocked so she was able to adjust the flocking for him. The gold standard of when a horse is comfortable is when he/she licks and chews. I’ll never tire of watching my saddle fitter work with my horses and after she adjusts the saddle and sets it on their back they lick and chew, when only minutes previously they were tossing their head and showing tension in their jaw. Simon licked and chewed and we were ready to roll with a well fitting saddle (while also knowing it may need to be adjusted again as his back continues to change).
In mid October Simon had his second 2021 lameness exam. My veterinarian again did flexion tests on both hind legs. I try to stay out of her way and not ask a million questions during her evaluation. She often has a veterinary student intern accompanying her so I just eavesdrop on their conversation and learn quite a lot. His symptoms indicated an issue with the hock and/or stifle joint(s) and (THANKFULLY….I think) a soft tissue injury was not suspected. Unsurprisingly she recommended doing radiographs this time around. She took images of his right hock and stifle only because there were no noticeable issues with his left hind. She found a bone spur in his hock and a less than ideally conformed stifle. Since his hocks had been injected fairly recently we opted to leave them alone for now, but she did inject his right stifle.
Taking it easy before a foxhunt. He’s the most photogenic horse I’ve ever owned. Such a handsome boy.
While we were at it, my veterinarian suggested getting radiographs of Simon’s back. This was a funny conversation. My veterinarian also rides and she told me that she did radiographs of her horse’s back, just because she can, and found a few spinous processes touching. Now she’s always worried his back hurts even though he is completely asymptomatic for kissing spines. She confessed that sometimes she regrets having taken the radiographs when they weren’t warranted. So when she asked me if I wanted to get radios of Simon’s back I told her I didn’t unless she thought it necessary. We laughed and she said she thought we should just to be sure if any of his back soreness was related to that and not his hind end hurting (fun fact; a LOT of horse back pain is a result of hind end lameness).
So, she would take a radiograph of Simon’s back and we’d all run to the computer to see what it showed. The first one, of his withers, was perfectly clear. YAY. The second one, of his mid back, showed only 2 vertebrae close enough to each other with an ever so slight indication of rubbing. Not enough to diagnose kissing spines, though. YAY. The last one, of the last 1/3 of his back towards his hip showed no impingement whatsoever. The veterinary takeaway is that the 2 vertebrae with the narrow joint space may be slightly uncomfortable since they sit directly under where the saddle sits, but most likely that will resolve with alleviating pain in his right hind and getting him super fit.
The overall takeaway from the exams are these:
Simon will always require maintenance in his hocks and stifles
He shouldn’t do a lot of jumping and small circles
Foxhunting is really kind of the perfect job for him with these issues
He should be kept as fit as possible and equibands were recommended
His maintenance probably won’t be linear
Thankfully this is a good job for Simon! He’s such a good boy in the hunt field!
I went into this second lameness exam with my eyes wide open to the fact that he may come out of it requiring extensive time off, full retirement, some kind of surgery, or some other really extensive issue. I’m moderately relieved to find what we found and know that it’s manageable and he can keep his same job. I’m a little bummed that he probably won’t be able to do the Take2 Hunters because he is SUCH a lovely mover and jumper, but we haven’t completely written that off. As chill as he is, he may be able to school over fences very little and be calm enough to show.
There is a great deal of discussion in the world of hunters and jumpers right now (USHJA and USEF specifically) about how to define “amateurs” in the sport. Lots of talk about being a sponsored rider or a social media influencer or doing various barn activities for pay and whether those things prevent someone from being an amateur. And quite frankly, I think it’s all dumb.
Lets back up a little bit and I’ll share a bit about my and my family’s background in horses. I grew up in a very horsey family in Montana. My Dad grew up on big ranches and rodeoed in his younger days and when I came around he was active in showing Snaffle Bit horses (basically NRCHA now) and cutting. My Mom’s family raised and showed a LOT of Quarter Horses when she was a kid and she showed as well as rodeoed. She even went to college on a rodeo scholarship. When I was young she was doing mostly barrel racing, but she switched back to showing stock breed horses after I went to college. Before I was born my parents had race horses. Mostly Quarter Horses, but I think they had a couple thoroughbreds. Some of the mares they ran were broodmares that produced horses I rode as a kid.
Mom showing her homebred gelding, Casey a few years ago.
A few of my aunts and cousins are also still pretty involved in rodeo. One was Miss Rodeo North Dakota before I was born. One broke multiple arena records in barrel racing a couple years ago. One won the Goat Tying at the College National Finals while on a rodeo scholarship at Montana State University. Both sets of my grandparents raised horses in some form or fashion. My great grandfather was one of the founders of the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma. My Dad was on the Montana Board of Horse Racing in the 90’s.
Dad cutting in Idaho on Athena Beau. Probably in the late 80’s or early 90’s.
My first few horses were more rodeo types. They ran the barrel pattern and did pole bending, albeit pretty slowly. We went to lots and lots of nearby playdays and rodeos. I also participated in 4-H, which was when I got exposed to showing Quarter Horses and was hooked from age about 10 to well past college. I also showed a reiner the last few years of my Youth career in AQHA and NRHA events. Quite a lot when I was 16-18 (it was the only thing I was into that my Dad actually liked, so he was more on board with letting me show more, LOL!) Fast forward to adulting and I’ve been showing hunters in local, regional and A rated shows in Texas since about 2013 as well as foxhunting since 2010.
Coco and me at a local show during the summer of 2020
I say all this because I think I have a pretty unique perspective in that I or my family have participated in a LOT of various equestrian organizations and events. And I think defining divisions based on amateur versus professional status is a huge waste of time and resources for all organizations that do.
Jaguar and me reining in Montana in the late 90’s
A person’s ability to ride well has absolutely nothing to do with how they earn an income. It has to do with natural ability, time spent in the saddle, good instruction and getting out there and doing the thing. If we want our sport to be attainable for the “average” person to participate we have to make it more affordable. And one of the best ways to make it affordable is for participants to find ways to cut costs. That may be exercising horses for their trainer, repping brands that give them tack/apparel/feed/etc, giving riding lessons, and other similar activities that would currently prohibit them from being an “amateur” in USHJA/USEF competition.
How do you “fix” this? While I don’t have a slam dunk answer, the basic idea to start from would be to separate divisions by Rider achievement OR Rider age OR Horse achievement OR Horse age OR any combination those things. I’m not going to spell out a rulebook in a blog post but the premise would be similar to what eventing does now, but with more separation. The AQHA has a Leveling program that is also a good starting point (but they also separate amateurs and pros, so throw that part out).
For Rider Achievement separation, riders would be required to win a certain number of blue ribbons or points or something to participate in classes with fences higher than 2’9″ and on up for fence height (I don’t do jumpers so I don’t recall the fence heights, but something like the .9m). Require those ribbons/points to move to the next fence height. If someone doesn’t show in their achieved division, say 3′, for 3 years, they have to “requalify” to jump that height again, but you could let them do it within the show season and then move up as soon as they get it. There would also be different Levels at each rated jump height. This would separate the rider showing 3′ at 4 or 5 shows a year from the rider showing 3′ 25 weekends a year. Depending how the levels were differentiated (points would make this easier than ribbons), it could also keep the Rider who only shows at a few of the big shows (Devon, Indoors, WEF etc.) but wins those big classes from being eligible to compete against the infrequent weekend warrior.
There could also be age separated classes at each height division if Riders generally felt like that was needed. I know in some of the stock breed associations there is a whole division for riders over 50. I don’t know that that would work and/or be necessary with divisions separated by achievement, though. However, if all the governing body had to do was keep track of show results to separate divisions, it would make the separation of divisions a whole lot more objective, which to me would be a lot more fair.
Photo by Jerry Mohme. Showing my first thoroughbred in the hunters.
The Horse Achievement division could really remain similar to what is in existence with the Green and age divisions. It would be great if horses imported from Europe with show records could come with their record and not “get” to start over in divisions for which they are overqualified, but I don’t really have a dog in that fight so I’d leave that to the US based breeders to influence because they are the ones who really get the shaft there.
At the end of the day, the hypothetical advantage that professionals have is that they show often and on many horses. If divisions are separated by achievement, riders who don’t show much won’t compete against those pros or amateurs who show a lot. And it might even encourage trainers who have clients with limited resources to take them to a rated show here and there because they would actually have a shot at a ribbon when competing against those who show as infrequently as they do. And that trainer could even show and not have to go up against a Liza Boyd or a Nick Haness just because they give beginner riding lessons.
Hit me in the comments. I’m sure this will be fruitful for discussion.