Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Every horse owner knows the look of attention, when a horse focuses on a distant element. Some horses look in fear, some in curiosity. Major is fascinated by things.

He likes to stare off into the distance, seeming to take in the scenery and situation. Then I read that writer Merri's horse, Jose (The Equestrian Vagabond, great blog) does the same thing.

Major is also truly fascinated by two things we pass almost every day:

The first is the property next door. It is next to the stable, and has lots of fruit trees and grass, with a nice house in the center. Major walks up to the gate, with the No Trespassing sign, and longingly looks in. He'll just stand there and look until I urge him on. Does it look like horsey paradise in there?

The next is a fairly new addition. A new boarder brought in two horses, including a mini. The mini is white, fat (and getting fatter) and adorable. I can't remember his name, so of course I call him Peanut. Major LOVES Peanut. He wants to visit and nibble faces through the fence. I wish they could play, but that could be disaster, I'm not sure Major could play nice with something so tiny.

still life with geese
He also loves to stand in water and admire things/contemplate life/whatever he is thinking. Down at the lake recently we stood in the water for 15 minutes. He looked a the geese (not afraid, just watching them swimming) and out at the boats. He does this at the small pond we also ride to.

Lately I've let him stand a bit longer. As long as he is not procrastinating (which he also likes to do, it is a fine line). I figure we all need our silence, our time to contemplate the universe. Is that what he is doing? Probably not that profound, but who am I to say. I'll take these quiet moments and do the same.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

supplements and feed

My Dad, every time the talk turns to horses, wonders why Major doesn't eat oats. "But that is what horses are supposed to eat," he says. I try to explain, but it is too complicated. "But he gets apples, right?" he questions. Yes, he gets apples. That seems to keep Dad happy, horses are supposed to have oats and apples, poor Major gets only one of those things.

Of course, my father grew up in the city, and has never been around horses, but Hopalong Cassidy and the Lone Ranger must have imprinted on every child of that generation. What horses eat has gotten so incredibly complicated. When I got Major I was so nervous that I needed to do everything right (of course, I've still made lots of mistakes in many situations, and know there is rarely a "right" way with horses, just the way that is working, for now).

In the beginning I did consult with a nutritionist, who I've also heard speak at Expo, and I really liked her advice. She didn't advocate any special brands or anything too complicated (though my situation/horse isn't very difficult). I haven't changed much, because Major seems healthy and happy, with all the healthy indicators: good weight, plenty of energy, good feet and a shiny coat. He gets a good quality grass hay, and always has plenty of that to eat.

But every month I turn into a drug dealer, and make up his baggies. Those of you lucky enough to keep your horse at home don't have to deal with this, you can scoop each day. But my boarding barn will feed if you've got everything organized, so I make up a month of bags. I keep all the ingredients at home, just easier with the tight spaces at the barn. I make up bags and listen to the radio and wonder why my horse eats more balanced than I do.
Organized supplements, orange labels are psyllium for the 1-7 each month.

sophisticated storage techniques for minerals and salt.

His first supplement is California Trace, which helps balance the trace minerals lacking in hay. Not exact (unless you get your hay tested) and of course there are other similar products on the market, but I like it being a local product. I like the added biotin for hooves too. I add some Omega Horseshine, which is ground-stabilized flax. I could get straight flax seeds, but this has been easier to store (as flax can go rancid pretty quickly). Good for skin and coat. Then salt. Just plain salt, a 50 pound bag is about $7, lasts a long time! For his basic requirements he'd have to eat a 2 pound block every month, which he certainly wasn't doing, so I just add it to the feed.

Of course all this (which is only about 3/4 cup of stuff) needs something tasty to put it in. And luckily Major loves something simple: beet pulp. I just add a scoop to the bags (about 4 cups dry). The barn adds his baggie to his feed tub, adds water, lets it sit while they fill the cart with hay, and feed. It has been simple.

The first seven days of the month he also gets psyllium. Last I read, psyllium doens't have any studies proving it's effectiveness, but Dr. Langdon Fielding, a well-respected vet close by at Loomis Basin, recommends it. Where Major grazes is well-drained sandy decomposed granite, so I'll be on the safe side with this.

As a total treat, Major will get some grass hay pellets. He thinks a mash of this is the best thing ever after a ride. When it is cold out, I'll make a warm mash, knowing it probably makes me feel better than the horse actually needing it.

Last time I calculated, it costs about $25 per month on supplements. The beet pulp and grass hay pellets last a couple months, so about $13 per month for those. So approximately $40 a month, which isn't cheap, but Major is doing well. And I'm really glad when I see some of the amounts of supplements other boarders use, and how they switch from item to item in search of the "perfect" recipe to fix their horses feet, or put a shine in the coat, or calm their behavior.

My Dad came and visited Major, but I only had carrots for him to feed. Next time I'll get a tiny bag of oats and apples, so he can feed Major what horses are "supposed" to eat.

Monday, September 26, 2011

fall trail in pictures

I did a trail ride in photos this spring, pretty amazing difference almost six months later. Fall certainly seems to have arrived...

My cat helper was quite talkative when I asked her for the saddle pad.

Once again the wheelbarrow of leftovers is a hit with Major.

Usually this trail is avoided, the off-road trucks have ruined it. It is tough going even for sure-footed horses.

This trail is more like it, but everything is so bone dry.

A once great road to trot on, now eroded, but not as hot on the first cloudy day of the season.

Yes, we fit under this tree, but I'll be going around, it is leaning too precariously!

The trail down to the canal, better trust those trail-horse feet!

The very fun Canal Trail, visible under 2 feet of water.

Looking left, all water, no trail access.

Looking right is even worse, no trail at all.

Major thought it was fine, and stood in the water, snorkeling and playing, for about 15 minutes.

Message in a bottle? Strange things on shore, lots of flip flops.

Coming home, unexpected amaryllis flowers. Old homestead? Who knows.

Spots of color in the dust, these amaryllis are more variegated than I usually see.

This was the first full day of Fall, and it certainly tried to prove it. The weather was a little bit of everything, with some sun, then clouds, and even some rain. The brisk morning gave way to a warmer afternoon, but with that tinge in the air, knowing colder days are coming.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

laughter and guilt and love

On a lighter note, horses have such an ability to make you forget your problems and focus in the moment. And they'll catch you if you aren't paying attention.

I graze Major along a dirt driveway, almost no cars, and I admit I'm pretty lax. And I'll admit this has happened before, and it makes me laugh (yes, bad horse owner). Major is grazing and steps on his dangling leadrope. He never panics, but he's also not the most clever. Not clever enough to move his foot, just doesn't care. He continues to eat grass, ever tightening the short leadrope, and is "stuck" there till he moves a foot or I help him. And laugh at him.

Walking back to his pasture, I have to open a tricky gate. Most times it's no problem, but I had my hands full and Major dove for some spilled hay. I was just about to correct him and lift his head up, when he came up with a big chunk of leftovers and a cute look on his face. I know it's not guilt as we know it, but he knew he was in trouble. I couldn't help but laugh as he chewed the hay and the horse in the paddock behind him looked on beseechingly, hoping dinner was arriving. So Major won that battle, but I acknowledge that happens sometimes!

I got it! yummy
too bad guy, I got it first

Usually Major sees me drive up to the stable, looks up, and keep eating. Loves me not! I walk up the hill, whistle, get the halter and walk up to him and catch him. A couple weeks ago he was so cute. I walked up the hill and he looked up, neighed and cantered up the hill to me! He loves me! Some other times he comes to my whistle (and carrot), but not with the cantering enthusiasm.

Now, I'm not truly delusional (most of the time). I think the time I spent hand-walking had convinced Major I was a great food person: I just kept catching him and taking him up and down the road to eat the good grass. Why the grass outside his pasture is more delicious, I'll never know. And different times he prefers different weeds. Early this year it was the plain green grass (not sure what it is), then he moved on to the clover. The crab grass is pretty yummy, but right now this tall weed with leaves is his favorite. And the purslane (what I've always called pigweed). Outside his pasture it is yummy (his preferred food in the arena) but in the pasture he doesn't eat it. I am sure some of it has to do with the amount of sugar in the grasses, but the rest?

Add it to the list of strange and quirky horse behaviors. Major makes me laugh, just with his silly squiggly-blaze face. I'm sure everyone has their own list of strange/cute/silly/just weird things their horse does, they're just so endearing.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

sunday moment

I planned a fun ride with a friend (and Major's buddy Friday). Alas, as horses do, Friday managed to hurt himself and was headed to the vet. So just Major and I headed to Avery.

We'd just done this trail, and this time Major was listening much better. We got to Rattlesnake and found some grass snack. We continued on, good cantering on the dirt roads. Partway to Avery I was done. Not tired, and Major was fine, but I had wanted to be out with a friend, and my heart just wasn't in it.

Heading home I met two friends, and we talked a moment. She relayed to me that a mutual friend had gotten some very bad family medical news. I was shocked and saddened, and walked home, my usual thoughts about trail miles, GPS and average mph forgotten.

Back at the ranch Major got an actual bath then all dirty again rolling in the arena. And I called to check on his buddy Friday, who had spent the morning at the vet, where it looks like his injury luckily missed the joint.

Of course very different, but both sad and scary experiences, a reminder how everything can change so quickly. It might be a cliché, but most clichés stem from truth: keep your family, friends, pets close in your heart. And to make sure they know. Because in a moment...

Friday, September 16, 2011

high as a kite

After a fast 6 miles over rough single track, Major fairly bounced down the road leading home. This after dragging him down the road to start the ride. Sigh.

Once at home he had to wait, and get untacked, then get his boots off, then be hosed off, then wait for me to organize and put things away. Probably for all of 10 minutes. I came out of the tack room to a swirl of dust, since he was prancing in place next to the tree where he was tied. He isn't usually so silly, I think the not-riding-much mixed with cooler-almost-fall-air is the culprit.

I untied him and went to lead him down the the arena. He tried to throw in a head-toss and tiny buck, not happening dude! He got shut down pretty quickly. We led through the gate, turned around to close it, started leading, and more ridiculous behavior started. I am not a fan of holding onto a 900 pound kite on the end of a 9 foot leadrope, so big discussions followed. After a few minutes he was backing away nicely and behaving, so we proceeding to the arena.

I could tell I still had a piece of dynamite next to me, so I backed him up, untied the lead, made him back some more, then gave him the cue to go. And go he did! Some pretty spectacular bucks, snorting, running, looking my direction to see if I was going to do anything. "Go ahead buddy" I told him. He kept going for quite a while, before finding a patch of weeds. I let him eat a minute, then whistled and he came right to me. I put him in his paddock (carefully) and he again had fun running around, and making me and another boarder laugh at him farting and scaring himself.

It is so fun when you see them enjoying themselves. Even after a good ride he was happy. Me too.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

basic math

Take one in-shape horse. Add two weeks off just being hand-walked and eating grass. Factor in a 98 degree day. Add horse's friend. Equals: quite a wild ride!

Heading out Major was completely sour. He would just stop, I'd ask him to move, he'd try to remind me that we had been eating at this area of grass for two weeks now. I reminded him that now he has a job to do. He was not happy. At the trailhead he was practically asleep, and as his friend Friday walked into the forest, Major would have been perfectly happy turning around for home.

Out on the trail we walked along, both horses a little lazy. Then we came to a little uphill, I asked Major to move along, trot out a bit. I got a canter and a bucking kick towards Friday, while I heard Friday trying naughty things too. After that, there was no stopping the attitude. Both horses were pretty wired, and we let them move out where we could (which is not enough places, rutted trails and all). This time there was no switch when we were heading home, everywhere was excitement. One trail goes to the right, I diverged when Major wouldn't listen, and took him up to the left on a steep off-road vehicle track. Both horses emerged on top, snorting and blowing idiots.

At one point we were heading down a slight incline, trotting, when Major took off cantering. I was trying to slow him before the sharp turn and downhill. I got him stopped, turned around to see my friend finishing battling her horse who was trying to get his head down and buck! After a breath, she commented "We're good riders." Right then, I wasn't sure. I noted that I was pulling on Major's face, fighting to making him listen, etc. She reminded me the horses were now under control, we weren't giving in to what the horses want (running home madly), and we were still on top. I'll concede that point!

The rest of the ride was pretty good, heading home they were mostly listening, and when we turned them away from home to do one last good uphill, both were quite well behaved! Major had been so good all summer, but all the time off was certainly too much, even though necessary. Even with 24/7 turnout, he needs to move.

At the end of the ride it was still 88 degrees. I know this even after dropping my phone while stopping my GPS, from on top of the horse. Whoops. iPhones don't bounce, but I think the dust cushioned it, Major didn't step on it, and another ride was complete. We'll see what the next time brings.

Monday, September 12, 2011

riding in L.A.

What is it with horse people? Or is it just me? We just love to ride, and when an opportunity to ride came up when I was visiting Los Angeles, of course I took it!

oh no, no helmet!
Riding somewhere else is always so different. This guy was pretty sluggish, and I think only a treeless saddle would have fit his broad withers. He does need to lose some weight, I'd suggest a slow-feeding net. He did have good reach and extension, and was fairly gentle, but obviously had not been ridden in a really, really, really long time. I could ride bridleless, since he was slow, and we weren't really going anywhere too quickly. No shoes or boots, obviously some tough feet. As you can see though, he was pretty sour and was about to start rearing, so I climbed off and went inside.

Now this guy could use a few pounds, but his small stature is just about right for me. I think the addition of some beet pulp and a good worming would really help. Has never worn shoes, but does need to be taught about safely crossing water, as he had an accident in which he became mired, and it took them a really, really, really long time to get him out. He may have some fears you'll need to work through. Natural horsemanship should work wonders.

(If you can't ride your horse and have to travel 600 miles to a family event, at least have some fun. Last time I was at the La Brea Tar Pit museum was when I was about 10, and it was so cool. It is still cool.)

Friday, September 9, 2011

rider I.D.

After Haiku Farms great (and fun) crisis safety posts (seriously, mandatory reading) I thought about this subject (and many others, like could Major outrun Zombies? totally)

I have good horse ID, great tags I ordered that are attached to saddle and bridle (all the time) and mane (when camping).

But what about rider ID? I have my info inside my helmet, but what if someone doesn't want to take it off after an accident? I have my phone on me, but what if it was smashed or lost?

I really don't worry much about that, even though I often ride alone. But better to be prepared! There are lots of options out there, and I could have ordered more tags like the horse ones, but wearing them as a necklace would drive me crazy. I chose instead to order from RoadID. They have lots of options for custom safety ID, bracelets, shoe things, ankle straps. I chose the smallest, least intrusive option, the wrist ID slim. Plus it came in orange.

Plus the ability to add whatever lines of type you'd like: name, town, contact numbers, insurance info. And an extra line for a saying or motto: could be inspiring, or reverential, or just geeky fun. Mine says "To Boldly Go..." If you don't know, well that's just wrong, but it's Startrek, and yes, it's awesome! There is an interactive version of the ID with web access for even more info, but I went simple this time.

Easy order, quick service, nice design, (did I mention orange?)

I would suggest to order slightly larger. My wrist fits in the small measurement, but it doesn't have a clasp and is tight to fit on over my hand. But I can order just the larger band for cheap, but for now feel a tiny bit safer. I also ordered the Wrist ID sport for my SO, is velcro and a bit larger, though very nice. But no orange...

Thursday, September 8, 2011

relief and finding inspiration

I was hoping when I got to the stable today that Major's leg would look ok, but that piece of worry was still in the back of my mind. With relief it looks good, so we'll start working again, though probably slowly to start. It doesn't hurt to be cautious.

Maybe because of how I've been thinking lately, but I read some words I really liked. You never know when you might see or read something inspiring. A special spot on the trail, a gorgeous view, a moment in time with your horse. Other bloggers write some really great stories, and there are books and magazines filled with anecdotes.

Instead I found the words I really liked in a catalog. A random Ralph Lauren catalog showed up in my office. It has beautiful people in amazing clothes, but of course I flipped through it for the few horsey photos. (As an aside, for all the gorgeous photography, the horse pictures weren't that good.)

Near the end of the catalog is an 8 page layout of horses and dogs, called Kindred Spirits:

Animals have been our greatest guides—
braver than knights
protective, possessive
devilish, like children, yet surprisingly wise.

They show us that time is so often wasted
on fears that could be courageously faced

And that love, real love, cannot be lost
only waiting for us, on the side.

So hold tight to your companions
with all that you have.
For animals know far more
than we know.

I like this. I especially like the second paragraph about time and fears. I could think of quite a few things in my life that can fall into this category. Which is something to consider, an inspiration for change.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

a hesitant ride

Two weeks off: one week just from being tired, another because Major's leg was swollen. He never did have any lameness, no heat, didn't seem to rest it more. I gave it a week to look better before I called in the vet. And a week to the day his leg was tight and looked good.

So I wanted to do a short ride today to check it out. Major thought we should just hand-graze and walk, like we'd done for two weeks! We headed out, a bit draggy, and with me constantly questioning each step, did that feel strange? Was that a stumble? We headed out into the forest after a couple laps of the arena. After two weeks off my horse just walked on a loose rein, no silliness. I was pretty pleased with that. But still hesitant, and I know Major sensed my apprehension. I got off about 30 minutes into the ride, just to check, all seemed fine. Major was certainly wondering what was going on, not wanting to follow me, maybe thinking my apprehension was directed at the trail, and not him. I convinced him all was ok, and we continued.

On a trail ride there seems to be a moment when it clicks in the horses mind "we're going home!" I should check this point against my GPS tracks, is it halfway? What makes this same trail now the going home point? Do they sense a change in us? Often I make lots of confusing turns to discourage this behavior, but I wanted to keep it short. And Major was pretty glad to be heading home, so we did more trotting than I'd planned on, even if it was vertically (jigging along).

Once walking nicely, we got home without too much worry. The leg looks fine, he trotted over to his dinner, and returned to me for his final piece of carrot. I'm still nervous (I'm a worrier on this type of thing) but all I can do at this point is check his leg tomorrow, and go on from there.

There are some bloggers (namely Eventing-a-Gogo) dealing with some much bigger issues, and it makes my worrying very small in comparison. It is trite but true: horses are too fragile.