Wednesday, December 31, 2008

American Museum of Natural History Exhibition of the Horse - Enjoyable and Informative!

Yesterday was a trip into NYC for the family. My husband, the boyz and myself took the train into Penn Station to go to the Museum of Natural History. One of my Christmas gifts was to get to see the Horse exhibit and of course the kids went to see the dinosaurs. I offered the boyz a chance to see the Horse exhibit but I got the reply, as any self-respecting 5 year old boy would say, "no Mom, I want to see the DINOSAURS!"

So my husband herded the boyz towards the dinosaurs and bid me an enjoyable, peaceful show.

I entered the world of the Horse. The first image you see is a large projection screen with a handsome bay horse, moving in glorious slow-motion. Every muscle rippling under his shiny coat, the majesty of the beast invites you to learn more about it.

The exhibit begins with the prehistory of the horse and touches on the evolutionary process that brought the horse from tiny forest dwelling 5-toed creature to the plains roaming grazer we are all most familiar with. If you wanted to get an even more complete visualization of the horses' progression through the eons, the hall of prehistoric Mammals in the museum's permanent display has a really detailed and well presented display for the horse. I highly recommend visiting that as well after viewing this show.

Next, we are led to the places in time where the paths of early man and equines crossed. In the beginning horses were merely a source of food. Then it is thought men next harnessed the animal's strength to carry and pull loads. But it was in the moment man chose to make himself the object carried by the horse that history was dramatically changed.

By bringing the two together, the brains and cunning of man and the strength, speed and loyalty of the horse, ancient and increasingly modern civilizations were pushed into newer levels of advancement. Some of the interesting objects that were in this part of the exhibit were a Samurai's saddle, an equine gas mask from WW1 and a beautifully restored horse-drawn fire engine!

Moving through the show, it was very briefly explained when horses' were first given shoes. I felt this part of the exhibit could have been given a bit more embellishment. The wearing of horse shoes was another major change and advancement into the usefulness of the horse. It would have been interesting for even the non-horse familiar to see some of the many different shoes horses have worn for various reasons and purposes. Even comparing a Thoroughbred's racing plate to a draft horses' shoe is cool for kids and adults!

There was much to see for the modern horse and it's more recreational/sport/business use. Racehorses, both Thoroughbred and Standardbred were well-featured. Rodeo and ranch horses, show jumpers, polo ponies and therapeutic riding horses also had their place. I was surprised there wasn't a bit more visual display regarding the Olympic participation of horses. I may have missed something, but Dressage and Combined Training seemed only a written mention.

A video monitor showing various horses used in sport in different countries was very interesting for me. In this presentation, racing Mongolian ponies, the wild and colorful Palio de Siena in Italy and The Japanese mounted flag capture games were some of the featured events. However, the replay of Secretariat's incredible finish to the Belmont Stakes that brought him the Triple Crown was the high point of the show for me. I remember watching the race when it was run in real-time as a kid and every time I see it, I get chills!

The show wrapped up with a neat popular breeds interactive display where you could use a touch screen to view several of the most common breeds of today. It was especially fun for me since I personally know the Percheron representing his breed on the display! There was another room with a video show of a therapeutic program and some other pictorials on the wall but it was packed with viewers and I noted it was near the end of the show so I only briefly observed it and moved to the finish.

Of course, the end of the show lets you exit into the well-placed gift shop. I usually move through the gift shop quickly (especially with the kids in tow) as it's a cash trap. However, since this show is closing this Sunday, January 4th to go on the road, most of the souvenirs were 50% off to get rid of the inventory -especially the items marked Museum of Natural History. Woo-hoo! I bought a T-shirt, keychains for me and the kids and some toy horses for them as well. Must remember museums may offer similar bargains when we plan to attend future shows. The closer to the end of the shows run you plan to go, perhaps the better the deals in the gift shop!

In my opinion, it was entertaining, interesting and good for those well educated in all things equine, those who have a little horse knowledge and those who know little but wish to gain more insight into the only animal other than the dog who has given so much to mankind by working side by side to benefit us all.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Q-Link for Equines, Hmmmm...

I opened an email today from one of a few riding gear shops who send me their online specials. This ad baffled me. At first glance, I thought this was a free keychain with purchase offer. Then I read further and saw it's some kind of new-age energy balancing gadget - Q-Link Equine. Supposedly you put this object on your horse somewhere and it will have a calming effect and help the horse to focus by balancing his "biofield".

Uh, okay. May the Force be with you.

I went to the website to try and understand exactly how this thing is supposed to balance horsies' chi. No explanation made scientific sense to me, I even looked in the human version section. Still sounded like using crystals and astrology to me. When I saw the price of this nifty little ticket to equine sanity I nearly coughed up my coffee. $199.95!! Nearly $200.00 for this?? I have a better idea for that $200.00, how about spending it on a few more riding lessons and work with a qualified professional to address your horses' problems? How about spending it on a vet check to determine your horse has no health problems that are affecting his attitude?

Call me a skeptic but I can't believe this thing is the miracle worker they say it is. Anyone out there know of this? If you have used it, what was your take on the results? (and if you did buy it, were the results so dramatic it was worth that much money?)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Furball makes a Snow Angel

It snowed... and snowed... annnnd snowed.

Seems a good 4-5 inches or so. Without snowball pads, riding Monty ain't happenin' but since I haven't been able to get to see him in a week, I made my exit and headed to the barn. The barn workers were in the process of plowing and dragging the grounds when I got there. I glanced at the riding ring behind the barn. Not bad, looked like they plowed it out so maybe I'd be able lunge him a bit.

I was the only boarder there. No surprise. I grabbed a fistfull of horse cookies from my tack locker and my lunge line and went into the barn. The handsome hairball
was standing with his butt to the door. He glanced over his shoulder at me with a look of scorn and ignored me. Oh boy, I felt the chill and I don't mean the weather.

"Sorry Buddy", I muttered. As soon as I slid the latch he turned around with an expectant face and I popped a cookie right in his mouth. "Ah, much better, aren't we", I chuckled and slipped the halter over his ears. I clipped the chain of the lunge line across his nose and led him out of the stall.

I took his sheet off, popped another cookie in his mouth and we walked the length of the barn out to the arena.

Well, only half the arena was plowed. I cast the lunge line out to Monty and he started walking on a circle. One complete circle later he had muddy snowballs packed in his shoes. I figured that. Then I said to him, "C'mon, lets make some prints in the snow". So I walked him over to the unbroken snow and let him play. He put his head down and walked with his nose pushing the snow. Then he stopped and started pawing at it with his front legs. Then he made a circle, dug a bit more and to my surprise, he buckled his knees and went down for a roll in the snow!

I laughed as he made a big, furry, horse-shaped snow angel. Then he got up and shook himself off. We walked around a bit more, then I let him take another try at lunging. He walked out to the circle, gave a huge buck in place and then calmly walked in to me as if to say, "I'm done". I let him end with that.

We went back in the barn and I cleaned out his hooves. I took some time to clean up the melanoma situation under his tail, which is a nasty chore in the winter. Then I spent some quality time just scratching all the right places and rubbing his nose. In between scratches, I would surprise him with another cookie. By the time I put his sheet back on and returned him to his stall, I think my week's absence was forgiven.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Back In The Saddle

Tonight was lesson night again for the boyz. It was soooo cold. They are troupers, the cold made them complain but they wanted to ride even with the chill. The Master asked how Harrison was after last weeks' lesson. I told him of the child's comment about "it's like falling from your bike, you just get back on". The Master said, "Really? Wow, I'm impressed". Harrison's only thought was maybe it would be better to ride a different pony this week, since the one he got bucked from, "Bandit" was "not so nice". So, he got his request:

This is Harrison riding Donny. Harrison was a little more apprehensive, especially when Donny trotted for him. Donny has a much more forward trot than Bandit and it caught Harrison by surprise. But even with his newfound respect of falling, he didn't bail out on the lesson. He kept at it, although with a little more walking than trotting this time and was happy with the ride.

This is Devon riding Bandit. He had his usual good lesson and told his brother afterward, "yeah, I straightened him out for ya, Harrison."

Little Boys Ride English, Too

As I shop for the holidays, I have looked for horsey things for my sons. And I have learned that this sport SERIOUSLY discriminates against little boys. The only toys and gear I can find for little boys is stuff for western riders. My children ride english. There are no little Rodrigo Pessoa playsets. There is not one boy rider doll out there. I can give them all my vintage Breyer horses and tack, but they have to use a cowboy with the english saddle.

When looking for gear, I would say 98% of all english gear is made for little girls. All the cute pony stuff comes in pink and purple. The stuff in blue is powder blue and obviously feminine in design. I looked for inexpensive, little kid's half chaps for them. They wanted the cute ones made of washable suede with a cartoon pony head embroidered on them. They came in pink, purple, powder blue, brown and pink, pink and purple, black and powder blue, and one set in two shades of brown. I had to settle with the brown. Even the black and powder blue looked girly. My kids would have LOVED red, or navy blue and red, even hunter green. Maybe if I'd gone for real suede I could have found solid navy or hunter, but the cost was MUCH more and I have to buy TWO of everything each time.

If you shop for riding clothes, jodhpurs come in "childrens" sizes, but many of them have styling features designed with girls in mind. Such as a low-rise waist. My boys don't need low-rise waists. Why doesn't some enterprising designer create some schooling gear in camouflage print or dinosaurs(and NOT in pink)? I'd snap that up in a second.

There is a catalog I love called Wild Horsefeathers which sells all things horsey for kids. But there is almost nothing geared towards little boys who ride english. I know the numbers don't support carrying an extensive line for boys but a few items more than nothing would get my dollars.

Every time I have conversation with professionals in the Hunter/Jumper world, when I tell them both my boys ride and ride english they are surprised. One Hunter/Equitation judge I know was glad my kids ride english and told me he'd like to see more boys in this sport.

Anyway, rant over. Good thing I'm an aggressive shopper. I'll find what little is available and if the price isn't ridiculous, I'll buy.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Falling Off

Thursday night was the weekly lesson night for the boyz. It was good to see both of them were raring to go and ride since we've had head colds galore since the weather changed. As soon as I walked in the door from work, my husband and I helped them into their jodhpurs and mud boots, added another layer to their clothes and piled into the SUV for the drive out to the farm where they take their lessons with the Master. The weather was a whole lot of awful and I was expecting traffic to be a beast but surprisingly it took the usual 30 or so minutes and we were there.

When we arrived, my husband gathered the big duffle bag with all their gear, helmets, half chaps, gloves and stirrups (yes, my kids each have their own set of safety stirrups to swap onto the schoolie saddles for their lesson to save time fiddling with adjusting the leathers to just the right length each week.)I took both boys to the office to pay for the lessons and find out who they were riding. In the office, they were each handed a homemade chocolate chip cookie and told which ponies they would ride.

Nice. Nobody ever offered me cookies. It's good to be a little kid.

The Master was heading down the aisle of the barn as we were heading out to the indoor arena. He told me my husband was waiting for the kids to get them into the rest of their gear, and I had to fetch the ponies. Yes, knowledge of horses is a double edged sword. I am now the groom to the young princes. There was a girl grooming a horse in the aisle. The Master said, "You remember J, don't you?" it was a girl I've known for a long time who rides with the Master. "Sure", I said,"How are you, J"? She answered, "Great, wow, I can't believe how BIG your boys are! They are so cute. And they take lessons with the Master?"

And I looked at my kiddies. Munching on cookies and smiling at the Master. The Master caught me looking. He said to the boys, "And you NEVER give me a hard time, right?" Of course, they shook their heads "No" in unison. Then he said to them, "and what do we say to students who don't listen to me?" I watched their reaction... a slight pause... then Devon piped up, "We tell them, HEY, you don't mess with our trainer Master!"

We all cracked up! The Master was tickled. He high-fived Devon and said, "I LOVE these kids". And off they went with him to get dressed. And off I went to saddle ponies.

When they were mounted and their lessons began. Each boy takes a lunge-line lesson at the same time, one with the Master, the other with another trainer there, Miss L. Then each week they switch so they both get to ride with the Master. The idea is to eventually have them both off the lunge-line and able to take a semi-private lesson together. By now, the rain really started to pour. The arena is one of those dome-roofed structures that are a kind of tyvek sheeting stretched across a metal armature. When the weather is rainy and windy, the rain water blows across the arena roof and makes a whishing "zipper" sound. It also makes a rattly noise from the wind. The ponies should be used to it but you could tell they weren't happy. In fact, one time our lessons were cancelled because the horses were just too spooky in the indoor from the wind sounds.

The lessons were proceeding smoothly, the kids are really good with posting now, and they were trotting on the lunge line very nicely. The Master had Harrison trotting around when suddenly his pony tensed up, bucked and sent Harrison to the ground. It wasn't a scary fall, the child landed in the soft dirt on his bottom but the pony got scared when he lost his rider and jumped away from the Master who was only focused on getting to Harrison. And as he jumped back, suddenly there were pony hooves dancing around my little boy.

The pony must have felt or known his rider was underfoot, he tucked both hind legs up in a big hop and scooted forward. My husband and I were about to rush out there when the Master looked at us and hollered to stop and wait.

He talked quietly to Harrison, then the child got up, brushed himself off and he and the Master started slowly walking in a circle, with the pony trailing behind. They were quietly talking. I figured this was a good time to walk out and take inventory.

I knew Harrison was okay, I’ve seen enough falls to know when it’s bad. I also know why we were told to hold back from coming over to him. Sometimes parental concern can back fire and the child gets more upset because of the parents' reaction. But I wanted to see where his emotions were at. As I approached, they both looked at me, Harrison’s dirty face broke into a small smile and I returned it with, “Congratulations. You are a real horseman today.” The Master whispered, “He’s ok, now I need to put him back on”.

I nodded and walked back to my husband. The Master boosted my son back on the pony, his brother and Miss L stopped their lesson to applaud and dad and I gave a big thumbs up.

By the time they rode over at the end of the lesson, the Master had convinced Harrison that he had tried to jump a huge oxer in the center of the ring and next time he’d make it to the other side! My son was proud of himself, He told us in the car afterward that when you fall down, you have to get up. It’s like when he falls off his bicycle. He said quitting is failing and he was not a failure.

I agree with the Master, I love these kids, too.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Snow and a Ghost?

We had our first snow over the past weekend. Nothing major, just and inch or so, enough to sugar-coat everything and set the mood for the season. The kids were excited (duh!) and couldn't wait for the chance to get out there and enjoy the white stuff. After we completed the morning's errands of picking out a Christmas tree and buying a few more decorations to add to the yard display, they went into the backyard to tear up the blanket of white and I left them with my husband to go see about riding Monty.

Driving to the barn I was kicking myself for not asking my farrier to put "snowball" pads on my horses' shoes. There was just enough on the ground to ball up very quickly in Monty's hooves and make riding too treacherous to attempt.

When I got to the corner before the left turn into the driveway, I could see into the riding ring behind the boarder's barn and noticed it had been dragged and was clear of snow! Big Love to our barn manager! He plowed and dragged the ring for us as soon as the snow had stopped!

I collected my tack and gear and saddled my furry beast. Monty turns into a white yak every winter. I didn't bother clipping him this year, partially due to lack of motivation and because I have this feeling it will be a cold, nasty winter. He spent last winter just wearing a turn-out sheet for the entire season as he had his heavy horse hair "sweater" on underneath. The sheet keeps him clean enough, since it's next to impossible to groom that coat.

We went into the back arena. The ground was surprisingly soft, considering how bitterly cold and windy it was. I figured we'd get in at least 30 minutes of walk/trot and quit with that. Turned out it was good enough for a 20 meter canter circle at the far end, too.

After we warmed up and worked, I cooled him out by walking him around the farm. We strolled past the annex barn, down the driveway to the stable in the back and then around the big horse trailers parked by the turn-outs. I took him in loops around the trees by the turn-outs but there was enough snow on the ground by the trees that he collected snow in his front shoes and I felt him wobble as we headed back to our barn. I dismounted and sure enough, horsie had snowballs packed in his hooves.

I'd recently bought a small riding case that clips to the saddle and this was the first time I used it. I figured it would be good for lip balm and tissues (rather than my sleeve or the back of my glove - ick!) Good thing I tossed a hoof pick in it. Digging those ice balls out of a shod hoof is tough. But I managed to chip it out and hand walk him around the cleared driveway. Monty was happy to come back in the barn and untack. His Sunday bran mash was freshly made and waiting for him.

Now, 3 days later, the temperature here is 61 degrees! That's a 30 degree differnce! I've been stopping by the barn every evening just to treat a bit of thrush in two of Monty's hooves. Monty was sweating with just the sheet on in the barn last night. I would have left him without the sheet but figured then he'd wind up outside in the light rain they predicted with no clothes when they turned him out in the morning. So, I left the big barn door open about 6 inches as I walked out. I know the barn owner likes to keep everything closed in the winter but considering how warm it was, I opted to give the horses a little air as it was so stuffy in there.

One kind of creepy thing though, it was windy last night. The way the barn is located on the property, the wind often makes a whistling or moaning sound as it blows past the barn. Last night, for the first time, the sound wasn't coming from the front of the barn, it sounded more towards the back.

After I finished with Monty's hooves and put him back in the stall, I wandered past the other stalls, checking water buckets and if any other horses were a bit sweaty under their sheets. For some odd reason, the door to Dandy's stall in the middle of the barn was wide open. All the doors were shut but that one. Odd because it's an unwritten rule that all doors must be closed no matter if stall is occupied or not. And as I walked past that stall, the moaning wind sound happened, right outside the window of the stall!

I don't know if there are ghosts, spirits or what but the hair on the back of my neck stood up. Dandy died in that stall EXACTLY a month ago last night. Was that sound his spirit? Why was the door open? Was I going to see a horses' ghost?

The horses didn't seem to notice but it was enough for me! I quickly turned and left. Dandy, if you were there in spirit last night, rest in peace, and please don't spook me like that!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Changes in Horse Behavior in Colder Weather

As I read around the blogs and posts these days, it seems so many people seem to be lamenting that their usually calm and steady equine companion has been possessed by high spirits and nonsense. Welcome to late fall and winter.

The following are some thoughts and suggestions about working with horses in colder weather.

Change in the temperature, weather and season has a way of making old timers act like young fools and schoolmasters forget even the simplest of movements. There seems to be a heightened awareness and alertness to every sound, smell and sight and especially to what other horses are doing.

Some of this might be responses to instincts that are hard-wired into the essense of being a prey animal. In the wild, horses will migrate to warmer places and more plentiful food sources at this time of year. Wild horses would also seek out places where they are better protected from predators as prey animals have fewer available food sources when the weather turns colder, and they need to eat more to maintain body temp. So perhaps, there is a ancient survival mode that kicks in when the seasons change, increasing horses' sensitivity to sites and sounds as a means by which to protect themselves against predators. An increased flight drive so to speak. In addition is an urge to migrate, to move - a restlessness that we have rendered unnecessary by providing a stall and food but that still may exist and cause frustration for horse and handler.

Perhaps it's also the constant tingle of a chilly breeze riffling the longer fur. If the touch of a fly is an annoyance on the fur, imagine a cold breeze penetrating the coat to the skin. And a fully clipped horse will most certainly want to get moving to generate some heat to adapt to the disadvantage of being rendered naked! Unless a horse is working hard or showing during the colder weather, it's preferable to use one of the body clipping styles that allows maximum fur coverage with minimum cooling and drying efforts after working.

On a normally phlegmatic horse, a creative rider will use this newfound energy and alertness to find exercises to distract the horses' mind. A good example is to create a maze of poles on the ground and walk, then trot the horse through and over them. Patterns for such can be found in several training exercise books, such as Dr. Reiner Klimke's book, Cavaletti: The Schooling of Horse and Rider over Ground Poles". Many horses tend to have improved concentration when they have to focus about where they are putting their feet. This is good because a rider can move into the ground pole exercise at any time during their ride that they need to bring the horses' mind back from daydreaming.

Many people like to use lungeing before they ride to get the nonsense out and then mount up. This is useful but much has been made of the abuse of this practice by overdoing it in order to render a horse exhausted to compensate for the rider's shortcomings. Lungeing before riding is best done fully tacked, so the horse knows he will be asked to work. The person lungeing should ask for the horse to perform the basic gaits for perhaps 10-15 minutes as a warm-up. If the horse bucks and plays on the line, they should keep control but ignore it and ask calmly for the horse to settle down. The horse should never be forced into galloping and bucking around by excessive urging, thinking this will hurry getting the goofiness out of him. In fact, that may very well have the opposite effect. The horse might have been quite willing to lunge in a well behaved manner for a few minutes then proceed into under saddle work nicely warmed up but after being agitated by being chased around the line will be so rattled under tack that working productively will be difficult at best!

Sometimes , especially in an older horse, the colder weather can bring on increased stiffness and creakiness in the joints and body. That can be incentive enough to act up and hope you'll get off their aching back! There are now numerous supplements on the market to address joint issues. This might be a time to discuss dosage with a vet. A vet might tell you to change the dosage, sometimes what is the average dosage on the package is not enough for a particular horses' needs.

Some horses appreciate being rubbed in with a little liniment just before work, to bring the blood up to the surface and create a sensation of heat. The slight increase in blood flow to a commonly stiff exposed area, say the hocks, from a short massage and application of liniment can often improve their attitude and get them to work faster. This should never be done under boots, bandages or areas covered by tack, as the increased heat from working can produce irritation, blister the skin and create sores and other problems.

Another thought to consider is the increased sensitivity to the cold of the metal bit. Imagine putting a frigid bar of metal in your mouth, across your tongue and touching your teeth. No one would blame a horse for wanting to avoid that! If you can try a rubber or plastic (such as a Happy Mouth) covered version of your usual bit, it might make a difference since these bits are not such conductors of the cold. Otherwise, the simple act of warming the bit before bridling is a gesture of kindness sure to be appreciated. Even on the coldest of days, the bit will warm up reasonably quickly in your bare hands. It's far better to get your hands cold for a few minutes than to put a freezing cold bit in your horse's sensitive mouth. Your horse's well being is what's most important, don't you agree?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Tack of the Day - shopping

While we are all in shopping mode this time of year, It's always fun to see, "what's out there", especially on the web. Here's a great, fun site that changes their featured bargain every day. It's Tack of the Every day at noon EST they change the featured item and bonus item and some of the bargains are excellent. It's hosted by my other favorite place to shop, Bit of, whom I highly recommend for variety of merchandise, great website and super helpful and friendly staff.