Tuesday, July 5, 2016

My Two Faces

Out for a ride on my OTTB Halawa Moon
I was a late arrival on the Facebook scene,  joining to catch up with classmates and long lost friends. Most of the world seemed "connected"; so I figured I'd wade into the world of social media. Along the way I discovered the vibrant horse community, and only realized later that two equestrian worlds existed in Facebook-land.

One world consisted of horse people of many levels and disciplines, but most of the posts were idle chatter regarding  training tips, what to feed your hard keeper, and distorted selfies of owners and horses faces. Some posts were interesting and many quite humorous.  I was awed by the number of Thoroughbred enthusiasts out there, especially those promoting and sharing OTTBs, or off-track Thoroughbreds. Then a post crossed my radar and I discovered a darker world, the world of horse rescues, auctions, kill pens, and kill buyers. All-breed and Thoroughbred rescue groups posted daily and weekly pictures of horses in peril, on the brink of heading to slaughter.

After joining a number of off-track Thoroughbred groups, I was drawn to the OTTBs at the feedlots and auctions. I joined the rescue groups working every day to get these horses to safety. With little money to spare for donations to rescue groups, I try to stay on top of horses needing networking. I've helped "bail" a few horses when I could afford to, but spend most of my Facebook time doing my damned best to network horses needing new homes through the numerous successful rescue groups out in cyberspace. And I am still amazed weekly by the "horse warriors" who rise to the occasion, saving so many horses, week after week, day after day. My hat (or helmet) goes off to their perseverance.

At the end of a day, home from the barn, I log on to Facebook and check the status on "my horses"; the horses that are still needing a safe place to land. I now know the schedule of auctions from Pennsylvania to California. A lovely bay Thoroughbred gelding, with panic in his eyes, ran loose through the notorious Sugar Creek Auction in Ohio. Susie Gordon's photographs stunned me and brought home the plight of horses at auction. Hip number 465's face haunted me. I saw him in my sleep. A group of amazing people worked through the day and into the night to save a group of horses. Number 465, a nine year old Thoroughbred gelding, was safe. I sobbed with relief and made a vow to become more involved and work harder to rescue horses stuck in the slaughter pipeline.

So now I have two Facebook faces; one with happy pictures of me and Harley, sharing our fun times together. And then there's my other, grim, serious, desperate face; the "horse warrior" trying to save horses in immediate need of help--slaughter bound, auction bound, Craigslist freebies, and our wild mustangs being systemically eradicated by our government agency, the Bureau of Land Management and the welfare ranchers they are beholden to for the beef on your table.

John sees me sitting at the computer with tears in my eyes. "Someone need rescuing?", he says. "No, they're safe", I tell him. He replies, "Just remember, Harley is safe. He would have eventually been heading north on a truck. And Ruffy? She too would have headed that way. We saved them."

I urge fellow Facebook and equine friends to become involved, take a stand, take action, email or call your legislators to pass the SAFE food export act. Over 140,000 U.S. horses went to Mexico and Canada last year, headed to slaughter. Put the available social media to work doing some good for our animals. After you finish posting happy horse thoughts, post some horses needing help. If you have the spare change, donate to a 501c that attends auctions weekly. There are so many to choose from, too many to post here. If you want more information, message me on FB--the happy chick with the happy OTTBs will gladly get you started in the world of social media rescue.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

April snow showers?

Harley, Ruffy, and Rolex

I can't believe I'm using winter blankets in April. But since the horses are all blowing their winter coats and we're having a snow storm, I feel obliged to give them some shelter from this weather. By five p.m. they had seen enough of the white stuff and were ready to come inside for a warm dinner.

Vance, our octogenarian resident Standardbred who would prefer to be outside in most weather, even wanted to come into the barn. In fact, he was waiting at the top of the hill!

This crazy weather has wreaked havoc with some horses leading to many colic cases. Fortunately, knock on wood, ours seem to be doing fine and drinking enough water. But of course, I obsess about their diet and well being as poor John can attest.

I found the first few ticks, one on me, one on Rolex. Maybe this snow will keep them at bay for another week or so. I always enjoy those first few warm rides when the sun is shining, the leaf buds add a spatter of color into our world, and the biting insects have not yet arrived. Here's to spring--let's hope it's right around the corner.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Only ride out as far as you are willing to walk!

Everyone was overcome with spring fever. Harley and Rolex seem to have experienced some role reversal over the winter. Now she is Miss Spookypants while Harley is (relatively) the staid old hand. Well, at least that was the case for the first half of the ride...

We needed to detour from our planned loop due to the amount of ice on the trail in some cool, protected areas. Rather than risk someone slipping and being injured, we decided to head back via the road. Harley was leading the way, albeit like a giraffe, craning his head in the air, and with a springy walk bordering on a a prance. But he and Rolex seemed to be doing fine until some kids playing behind a house sent Rolex into a tailspin. Before anyone could get tossed to the pavement, we jumped off. But I'm not so sure we were any safer with both horses spinning around in circles. And the worst part is the lack of courtesy and caution on the part of drivers. Some barely slow down, and some hardly leave enough room should one of the horses wheel into the road. Isn't it common sense if you see an animal, the size of a moose, prancing in the street to slow down? Where is the common sense in these drivers? How did they manage to pass their drivers' test if they have no clue about driving near horses?

Harley and Rolex faced other demons as we made our way home: barking dogs running along a fence, donkeys, chickens, and the piece de resistance, a flock of guinea fowl that emerged, squawking up a storm. Unlike the chickens and turkeys our horses are used to, guinea fowl tend to screech, unnerving both Harley and Rolex. Mr. and Mrs. Prancypants had worked themselves into a dither where every little thing had them wheeling in circles.

Our horses were in a lather, our arms were soaked from walking alongside with our sweating steeds. My feet were beginning to get damp and slide around in my Mountain Horse insulated boots. I could feel blisters starting to form on the bottoms of my toes. If I'd known I'd be walking three miles, I would definitely have worn different boots. So word of warning to all you trail riders out there: only ride out as far as you are willing to walk!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

And our vacation begins!

The snow is melting and the horses are shedding. March is almost here and we've tapped the maple trees. Another winter under the belt.

We're off to a lazy start for vacation. After last year's constant hammering of snow, we're glad to be not be shoveling through knee deep drifts to the manure pile!

The horses have wintered nicely--good coats, nice condition, and sassy! Our feeding regimen seems to work well; lots of high quality hay, a forage balancer, rice bran, and beet pulp. Granted, they have not done a lot except play in the pasture, but spring is just around the corner. So Harley and Rolex, get ready to hit the trails! And Ruffy, there's a driving harness heading your way!

We took Harley and Rolex out for their first trail ride together in weeks. Starting out, things were a little dicey as noise from next door had their attention. But once we hit the woods, the pair settled down and took turns leading the way. A quick turn up the power line eliminated balking and backing at ABC Farm with its menagerie of chickens, goats, and a dog. Better to pass them on the way home! Although I have to commend Harley for walking past their tractor, running with the bucket in the air, a few weeks ago. He gave it a good look, but no silly stuff.

With most of the snow melted, and only icy patches, the trail riding should be really nice soon. Of course, then we'll be dealing with muck, but soft muck is nicer than frozen hard ground.

Now is the time to start looking for some replacement winter boots. I've tried to Shoe-Goo my Mountain Horse Active Riders, but it didn't seem to work. Nothing like walking down to get your horse and having icy cold water seep in around your feet. Ugh!

Friday, February 5, 2016

Harley's vacation ends

Harley thinks he's on vacation, and he might be right. The longer he goes without work, the more of a challenge he can be to ride, especially if we go solo. After three weeks off, I needed to end said vacation!

The last few weeks of January consisted of ice and rain followed by beautiful spring-like weather. I had to keep reminding myself that winter was far from over!

The long warm days convinced me I'd better take advantage of the weather and throw a leg over my horse. Except I admit to being a bit worried how he would be with so much time off. I chickened out riding and opted for a walk down the road instead. This would allow me to "take the lead" and should he be a whirling beast, I wouldn't have to bail off. He stopped almost immediately after we left the barn, but with urging, we made it all the way to the bottom of the hill where he could see, "Ack! Cars!"
After having a good long gander down the road, we resumed walking and made it down to Orris Falls. Not bad for starters. And we ended on a good note.

The next day I decided to ride him. Of course, the wind was howling when I left work. "Oh God, this will be fun" I thought. "Well, worse case scenario, I walk him--again."

While I tacked him up, he had a little lunch and only whinnied once for his girls. And even with the blowing leaves, we managed to reach Orris Falls without a stop. Oh, I watched him think about it as he slyly peered to the left and swiveled his left ear, but lots of leg and reminder tap, kept him moving forward. Unfortunately, the trail under the hemlocks was still quite dicey with lots of pooled water over ice. So we didn't go too far, but it was a trip away from home, all on his own. He only did his racehorse jig a couple of times but came back to a walk nicely. I was proud of him. Heck, I was proud of me! After waffling over whether to ride or not, I was glad of my decision--it boosted my confidence, and Harley's!

The gang being silly

Thursday, February 4, 2016

A little bit of winter--morning mayhem

We finally got a little snow, but only six inches or so, enough to make the horses happy. They love being turned out in the morning to a fresh snowfall. Hi--ooo Ruffy, away! Yes, they are crazy OTTB's and no matter what anyone says, there's nothing like a cold winter morning to bring out the freshness in them.

Harley rear, bucked and kicked until all the kinks were worked out while Vance, stood sedately, observing the mayhem around him. They see me coming with the hay sled signalling it's time to be silly!

I had to keep an eye on their antics to be sure I didn't get clocked. Having my hood up put me at a disadvantage, limiting my visibility. I told John, "You know, it might not be a bad idea to wear a helmet when I deliver hay on days like this!"

And since I haven't ridden this fuzzy beast in weeks, I'm sure the first ride should prove interesting. Lucky for me, and them, lots of turnout gives Harley a chance to burn off some extra energy before I get on him.

Lucky for me, Harley would never make it on the bronc circuit--his bucks just aren't that big. There's Ruffy, in the top right corner after tearing back up the hill for fun.

Ah, things finally slowed down a bit. But Harley and Rolex still want to get Vance into the game.

Winter can't be over yet, although this snow is now nearly all gone except for spots under the trees. Spring-like weather is teasing us and tempting me to go for a ride.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Where is winter?

With no snow in sight, and 50 degree days, the riding remains awesome for December. After last year's winter, this reprieve is much appreciated, but how long will it last? Are ice storms waiting to descend on us in the following weeks? The horses are still finding grass to nibble on and that has reduced the amount of hay they usually consume this time of year in the pasture. I only refill the hay wheelie bins once they are depleted, and that seems to be no more than every 2 to 3 days!

We spent most of Saturday putting up our new shelter canopy after the old one wore out. Thankfully, it was covered under Shelter Logic's warranty, but we decided to upgrade to heavier fabric this time around. Before the sun went down, we got in a little ride with Rolex and Harley. It seems I've been too busy doing maintenance to get in much riding and I forget how quickly darkness descends after 4 o'clock!

Ruffy had a long lining lesson with John last weekend. Although she hasn't been exercised much over the last few months, she did quite well--only a few little hissy fits. John has hopes of tracking down a harness that will fit our girl so her driving training can continue. Of course, we'll need to find some kind of conveyance as well, but we haven't reached that step yet. Stay tuned for more on driving adventures!

I am attempting to continue No-Stirrup November with each ride whenever possible. Other riders posted this as a goal, and they inspired me to do the same--an achievable goal, providing Harley's of the right frame of mind!

Friday, November 27, 2015

No-Stirrup November

I saw a blurb about a fundraiser for Lope Texas challenging riders to ride without stirrups and raise money through sponsors. I decided to sign on and see how much I could accomplish in one month. Since I don't really have any horsey friends at work to back me,  I'm on my own. Without an indoor arena, or even a fenced ring, and a mount who can be a bit "fiery" with the blustery fall weather, my No-Stirrup November has been a bit sporadic. I'm forced to pick and choose where along the trail might be a good spot to drop the stirrups--not some place Harley usually spooks. And I need to assess how he's behaving on any given day--would I be courting a disastrous flying dismount? If I'm going solo, I tend to err on the side of caution. Without his trail buddy Rolex alongside, bravery flies out the window. One day, he paced sideways, back and forth in the crossties, whinnying for Rolex. I thought, "Boy, this is going to be some ride--maybe I shouldn't even try." But I didn't chicken out. We rode behind the barn in the flat area, trotting and circling, working on transitions, while the wind swirled leaves in the air. I decided he was settled enough to hit the trails. And surprise, surprise--Harley was great! I even dropped my stirrups a few times as we walked and jogged along. And you know--my position felt better without stirrups!

I've got only a few days left now to complete my No-Stirrup November. It has boosted my confidence as well as helped my seat and position. So now I just need to make a point of doing it more often, maybe a little on each ride. A little niggling voice has always told me that I needed to get the gumption up to drop my irons. I guess the Lope Texas challenge finally forced me to drop the irons

But can I just make one teeny tiny request? Maybe next year they can do "Sans-Stirrup September" when we still have long days and warmer weather?

So Lope Texas, you will be receiving a donation from me for the time I spent turning my legs to jelly aboard my handsome OTTB Halawa Moon. 

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Another Saturday afternoon at the rescue

4:30 pm on a Saturday afternoon; I'm glued to Facebook watching updates pop up saying which horse still needs rescue funds. I feel like I'm participating in an E-Bay equine auction, only I'm watching the amount drop--the dollars still needed to bail a horse out of the kill pen. With only so much to spare, I try to weigh where my paltry amount will do the most good. Which horse(s) are in the direst position---just an hour or so away from getting on a truck headed to a slaughter plant in Canada or Mexico.

Photo by Sarah Goocey Photography with Copper Horse Crusade

The horse named Josie--the owner of that tagged halter in the pile pictures--was one of the lucky ones. She was rescued from slaughter by Julie Copper of Copper Horse Crusade. But this haunting photo brings to mind the piles of shoes and other belongings piled outside the gas chambers at the concentration camps. Let's face it--that's exactly the same thing our horses are facing. Halter removed, bolt to the head, and that's that, execution is done. Only the first strike doesn't always work; sometimes it takes three or four before the horse is dead. No, it's not humane and that's part of the ongoing battle.

First, we need to pass the SAFE Act (Safeguard American Food Exports). Our horses were not bred with the intent to be sold as meat. They are given wormers, anti-inflammatory medications, steroids, hormones, all kinds of pharmaceuticals not safe for people to consume. So why is it we are still shipping horses to Canada and Mexico, who in turn, sell the meat across Europe and Asia? What is so hard to understand the fact that their meat is UNSAFE?

Every week, numerous rescue groups spend their weekend photographing, posting and sharing horses from auctions and kill pens around the country in a desperate attempt to save as many as possible. With three hungry mouths of my own to feed, and a tight economy, I try to do my bit when I can, whether it's sharing the info across the web, or giving what I can to save some poor soul from slaughter. I can't sit by and let this happen. As I write, one horse remains at Moore's Equines for Rescue, a lone john mule. His partner, the molly mule is safe. The people that buy from Moore's (he's the kill buyer) do a phenomenal job, but it's hard work with a lot of desperation and emotion. I suspect the kill buyer is making a profit off of those like me who can't sit by. jacking up the price he would get by the pound. Sounds sleazy, but what else can be done--he gets his cut, the horses get their lives. The horses win in the end, and that's what matters.

So it's another night at the auction page.  As of 5:59 all 29 horses and mules with a 6:00 deadline are safe. I'll sleep tonight without being haunted by the face of one last mule, boarding the wrong truck.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Out on a breakfast ride

John and Rolex lead the way.

If you've never packed breakfast and headed out on your horse, you're missing some fun! We had breakfast rides at my summer camp. A counselor roused you from your bunk, told you what horse to go collect from the pasture. We saddled up and rode off to a destination where breakfast awaited, usually consisting or orange juice, cold cereal, and the trail rider's favorite--Pop-Tarts.

We didn't get started as early as we planned. The sun already cleared the power line, well beyond just cresting the slope! The day was shaping up to be another steamy one--so we skipped bringing along the thermos of coffee, just Pop-Tarts for us, and carrots for our trusty steeds. Our destination, depending on how the ride went, was someplace where the horses could graze while we munched our Pop-Tarts. Unlike my camp trips, where we tied the horses to trees, our OTTBs have not had said training--yet another skill they need to learn, right up there with ground tying.

Being Thoroughbreds, ready to go and on the alert, the horses tuned into any sounds emitted from the brush. One never knows when a killer turkey, squirrel, or deer may pounce on an unsuspecting horse! While holding onto the horses, we munched on our Pop-Tarts, wishing we had some coffee to wash down the dry, pasty breakfast.

An aside: yes, that's an impact vest I'm wearing. We have decided we don't bounce back so well any more. So like helmets, it's now part of our riding attire. I must admit to not liking how hot it seems, plus I feel like I'm strapped into a corset or bustier!. Hopefully, I won't need it, but it will be there should I take another spill. And let's face it, riding horses, especially hot-blooded ones, will eventually lead to another fall. I challenge anyone to say otherwise!

The horses, hearing the crinkling of Pop-Tart wrappers, assumed we had brought along tasty treats, such as sweet carrots! Our noisy wrappers caught their attention. They averted their eyes from scanning the woods for "monsters" and stuck their noses were into our breakfast. "What, no carrots, ma?"

"Not to worry, my beauties." I had carrots in the saddlebags. And honestly, they were more appealing than the Pop-Tarts. I guess it's a taste that will always take me back to a time and place--the Vermont hills and summer camp. But I think I'll adapt to a more nutritious and flavorful meal on our next breakfast ride. And, I'll bring coffee! And maybe our steeds will stand for hobbles or tying--as long as no demons lurk in the underbrush.
Part of being a horseman or horsewoman is to never stop learning and to maintain the ongoing schooling for both horse and rider. There's always another skill to master; another technique to try. Our horses are used to the hustle and bustle of the track, so large trucks don't scare them, but a deer bounding through the woods, a turkey trotting over the trail...that's scary stuff! But with time and exposure, they get better and better. Maybe by my next breakfast ride, Harley will ground tie for me---providing no monsters appear!

Rolex says, "Good carrots, ma!"