Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Terrible Twos

The oldies discuss who eats and in what order
Given my parents' (and husband's) scandalous lack of a trust fund, my plan for funding two horses involves a lot of careful budgeting. The good news is that I am an organizational nerd who lives off of lists.

I took a few minutes yesterday and made "The Binder". I plan to dress it up more in the future, but for now it has two sections--one for Cuna and one for Courage (trying this name on for size).

Not exactly doing dressage yet
Each section has an expense list, a monthly calendar to track progress and events, a copy of their pedigree, and their race record. Cuna's also includes his USEF record. I'd like to add coggins, brand inspections, and potentially dressage tests, but all in good time.

Oh yes we have a pink halter

Good thing I got it done. I was thinking Courage' first big expense would be his farrier bill on Friday, but homeboy stuck his leg through the fence yesterday and I got to beef up my first aid kit. He'll be fine and I got to add something to my brand new list.

 I want to be deliberate about tracking expenses, so I have my expense sheet divided up in sections. I track the date I spent money, what I purchased, what payment method I used, and what it was for. So far, my divisions are:
Upkeep (board, feed, farrier)
Tack (obv)
Showing (straightforward)
Education (lessons, clinics, training rides)
Other (vet supplies, random stuff)

Here's the thing: with two, I don't exactly have an unlimited tack budget, so I'm forcing myself to economize and be honest about money coming in and going out. My budget tells me it's possible--I'm hoping my expense sheet keeps me focused on the budget.

If this all sounds miserable to you, well, you're probably not a compulsive list maker like myself. The other motivating factor is this:

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Road Goes Ever On and On

Part of trying to have fun with horses this summer has involved a long stretch of playing at the racetrack. I have always loved thoroughbreds and have no illusions of a budget allowing for made warmbloods, so I thought it was in my best interests to learn the ins and outs of the backside for that eventual day when I needed a new ride. It's not glamorous--I spent my early mornings brushing, washing, and cleaning stalls. I put horses on the walker and watched them go around the track.

Rocking a huge noseband
It's been educational for sure. I have loved interacting with a whole different set of the horse industry and seeing what it looks like for a horse to earn a living. I've also been able to observe how different horses respond to life under pressure. One horse in the barn I work/play at stood out to me. He was always calm and quiet. He dealt with new hazards in stride and didn't get agitated over silly things.

So I asked about him. He was a 2005 model TB out of California. He's a bit older and likely on his way to retirement. After some discussions with his racing connections, I figured that this fall, when he was done racing, if he was still sound, and if Cuna didn't seem to be improving, I would look him up.

And life went on as normal. I came to the track as often as I could and helped with the horses. I didn't pay too much attention to him beyond giving him neck scratches when I was early, which established that he was a personable horse. Plus he'd nicker to me when I showed up, which was adorable.
Hanging out on a race night
And then it happened. Last Thursday, I showed up at the track in the morning. The trainer greeted me with this: "Hey, your horse is retired. You can pick him up any time before the end of the meet."

I was a bit dumbstruck. It was certainly not how I expected anything to go. I mumbled something about needing to get the pieces in place and went about my day. I mean... I hadn't even mentioned to my husband that it was a remote possibility. I had nowhere to keep him. Plus, I'd been running budgets to see if two was even possible and while it was, I hadn't decided I really wanted to do it yet.

But what do you do? He was sane and sound with decent feet and an excellent personality. I certainly didn't come to the track to get a horse, but when this one fell in my lap, I couldn't say no.
Too cute

I talked to my husband, who was hesitantly supportive. It helps that I had already worked through numbers and scenarios (and pay my own horse expenses), so I was confident that I could do it. I scheduled a meeting with the owner of my proposed boarding facility for the following night after work and crossed my fingers that everything would fall into place.

And then I got a call from the trainer. "The trailer's here. Where can I drop him off?" he asked.


We got things sorted out, but the trainer needed the horse out of his stall sooner rather than later. I assured him I'd have it done before the end of the weekend and made it through the workday in something of a dazed stupor. I was late to the meeting with the facility owners. They couldn't have been more accommodating and gracious, and thought it was perfectly fine that I wanted to drop a horse they didn't know straight from the track off at their house the following morning. Whew. Squeezed in to our dream facility.

Of course, Redheadlins and I followed that up with the most logical move possible: PHOTOSHOOT AT THE TRACK. (Her idea, actually. I was all about trying to not be a total dork in front of the race people, but who can resist pretty bridles?)

Without further ado...

Meet Absolute Courage, pedigree here.

16.1 TB gelding
Light bay with a stripe
A buddy chewed his tail off this winter.

He was lovely for our shoot, posing politely and not even complaining too much about how confusing it was that we kept switching and adjusting bridles and taking him out and putting him back in and completely throwing off his whole routine.

Even though I already knew him from being around him, I was impressed. Cuna wouldn't have been thrilled with so much variation from established norms and this guy was just fine with it.
He was happy when it was over though

It still didn't feel real to me. I saw him at the track the next morning and he was his usual self. The trainer referred to him as my horse again and it all just seemed weird and oddly trance-like.I went to the tack store to pick up essentials (fly spray, lead rope, feed) and a man with a trailer met me there and followed me to the new facility. He unloaded, led him into a small dylot, and took the halter off. As he walked away, I stared at the little bay horse. Who was mine.

A giant stall
The first thing he did was lose a shoe. That made him feel a little more mine--he's already costing money. Woohoo?

After about five minutes of trotting and leaping, he settled right down and figured out the best rolling place, the water tank, and the feeder. We moved him into his stall for the night.

Looking cute in his wraps
I was out first thing Sunday morning. He had polished off his hay overnight and was rather confused as to why he didn't have a huge bucket of grain to wake up to. Regardless, I groomed him, wrapped him, and off we went. We just did some easy in hand exercises--walking and halting and yielding his shoulders in the arena. Any time he wanted to get distracted, I asked him to do something.

Loving the field
Wouldn't you know, he was lovely. Focused, calm, gaining confidence. Eeek! I pulled out a ground pole and walked him over it a few times. Then I was running short on time, so I took him out to handgraze a few minutes. He didn't even make it into the field. He just dropped his head and started devouring grass as soon as he could reach it. Pretty sure we can turn him out soon. 

Retired race horse meets retired jumping horse
His final adventure for the day was getting turned out in a small dry lot with horses across the fence from him. He wasn't sure of what to make of it, but by the time I left it looked like they were going to be friends.

Needless to say, I'm both excited and terrified. I think the excitement will win out. He's a super cool horse and I am just thrilled to have him with me.

He's already good at posing
The only thing I'm not thrilled about is his barn name. On the backside, he was known as "Big Papa". I don't love it, so I'm calling him "new horse" for the time being, but encouraging everyone I know to think up something else. He has such a cool personality. He needs a cool name. Suggestions in the comments?

Friday, July 26, 2013


Rumblings in my world. Hope to have it all sorted out soon. Hold on to your hats!
Or tails, as your situation warrants

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Here We Go Again (Hoof Whoas)

Please laugh at my funny pun in the title. :-p

Anyways. I'm breaking my personal rule again and talking about hoofcare. Here goes.

Cuna has stereotypical crappy thoroughbred feet. We tried to do some work on them this winter, but pretty much as soon as his shoes got pulled, his feet fell apart and it was a no go.

Living it up
Enter semi retirement.

Our farrier came out and pulled Cuna's hind shoes so he could be safely turned out with other horses. At the time, he looked at his front feet, but declared them to be ok and set another date to come and check.

A few days later, I noticed that Cuna's right front looked all manner of funny, with the hoof wall coming over the shoe and the nails suspiciously loose. Before I had time to call the farrier about it the next day, Cuna did a wild stallion gallop around the pasture and left the shoe behind.

Our farrier was out again last night, supposedly to put the shoe back on. He and I stared at Cuna's bare right front. Cuna had done quite a number on it, chipping out both sides and leaving a lopsided toe. Hmmmm.

The farrier chewed and spat. "How long is he on vacation for?" he asked.

"Mid September," I said.

He got that face that tells me he's thinking, then said, "We should probably just leave his shoes off."

It's not blood. That's fly goop to keep hives away.
Basically, due to the nature of a big, grassy pasture, Cuna's hooves get wet, then dry, then wet, then dry. That cycle causes some natural expansion/contraction of his feet. The problem is that the nail get bent out when the hoof expands, then don't come back in when it contracts. This sets him up to lose shoes and potentially get injured as the sole of his hoof make contact with the shoe.

I feel pretty apprehensive, based on the fact that Cuna has never been able to go barefoot successfully. That said, I'd be thrilled if it worked out. It's cheaper for me and it has to be nice for him.

The best part was walking him away from his appointment and seeing how comfortable he looked. The last time he had his shoes off was that horrible day at the vet and it was sheer agony for him to stand without shoes.

He's come a long ways. He's pasture sound, fat, and happy, loving life in the herd. Here's hoping he can do that barefoot.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Tough Questions

While Cuna spends his time recovering, I have plenty of time to think. I keep running back over this year. It's been a horrible year for him. I wonder what I would have changed to make it better, and the answer is always the same.

There's nothing I could have done for him.

That bothers me. All of us hate to see our beloved creatures hurt. To see the extent of what Cuna has gone through this year in the course of just being a normal horse, I have to question what I'm asking him to do.

Everything I've asked of him, he's done before. His care has been excellent, start to finish. He's always tried his heart out for me, whether it was a dressage lesson or keeping up with a horse a third his age while he tied up in the hills.

I'm at the point of wondering when enough is enough. I have watched my beloved Cuna Matata be crippled to the point of not walking not once, but twice, both times for no apparent cause.

Maybe I'm overreacting to unrelated incidents because I have too much time on my hands. Or maybe, Cuna's trying to tell me something. He came into my life when I needed him most, and changed me into the rider that I am today. For the first time in years, I came out this spring and was relaxed and confident on horseback. All the credit goes to him on that score.

In a meta sense, it feels like he came to me for that very reason. He carried me through things I thought I would never overcome, and now he's telling me that he needs to rest. I don't want to emotionally overreact, but I also want to listen to him.

In light of my post the other day about clarity in decisions regarding the vet, I guess I wanted to go a step further. How do you know when it's time to let a horse retire? If you haven't retired one yet, what signs do you think you'd be looking for? What does equine retirement mean to you?

Friday, July 19, 2013

Back in a Saddle

In a strange twist of fate due to having awesome friends, I got to ride two(!!) horses today. First up is a lovely bay mare that ran at the ** level eventing, but had to be retired due to soundness issues. She belongs to a cool local breeding farm now and is set to have her first baby next year. She's super out of shape, but has a great mind and OMG SO MANY BUTTONS!

Me on Gracie, Lins on cool dressage horse 
She's long and lean like Cuna, but oh so flexible and light. Even though she has no muscle tone, she tried really hard and gave me some super nice work. I kept it to walk/trot out of respect for her condition, but we had snappy leg yields, shoulder in, transitions within the gaits, and a niiiiice stretchy walk. I informed redheadlins (who got me the ride in the first place) that we should all have ** horses. They are quite nice.

After a series of adventures involving the power company, we were off to ride at the next barn. I was reunited with Gunner, the cool little appendix gelding.

Trotting around
He is a good boy, but he does like to curl up behind the bit and I do like an artificially soft horse. I decided to ride more forward and flat and take very little contact and see if I could reduce the amount of curling we did for the duration of the ride.

It went very well. We warmed up on a loose rein, walking and trotting until he relaxed and went forward.

Still ahead of the vertical
Lots of trotting.

As he relaxed, I was able to pick up some contact and start asking him to do more interesting things. He was having a bit of a spooky day, so I tried to be more interesting than the surroundings and he settled right in.

I have a terrible habit that is fostered by my love of forward horses--I like to give really imprecise canter cues and not really ride the transition. Gunner doesn't let me get away with it because he has such a lovely lengthen trot that he just rolls right in to. Today, I sat up, held the contact, and asked precisely. Wouldn't you know, he picked up a lovely canter and didn't even try to drop to trot.

 And then, since redheadlins is playing with a fancy new phone, I bring you sweet time lapse (maybe?) photos.

And super cool jumping shot:
Yeah Gunner!

It's not my best equitation ever, but for not having jumped an actual jump since April, it's not bad. Maybe I'll get brave next time and you know, jump a vertical or something crazy. We'll see. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Critical Information

Modeling the crossties
I think most of you know Jen from Wyvern Oaks. She faced the horse owner's nightmare situation with the passing of the beloved Oberon this past weekend.

The situation got me thinking. I don't have the luxury of keeping Cuna at home, so if something happens to him, the odds are quite good that I won't be the first one on the scene. I adore my old man horse, so I've been making a point of very explicitly spelling out my wishes in case worst comes to worst and I'm not around or somehow out of contact.

J, our boarding buddy, is the first one who needs to know. She and her family are generally first on the scene and I've been quite pleased with the level of care they provide. In addition to being upfront and explicit about what I do and do not want done to Cuna, I have provided an emergency backup number to reach me at in case my phone is out of service or on the fritz.

Making faces for the camera
In addition, I have gone over the same information with my husband (also my emergency backup). That way, if I am unreachable, he can make decisions for me and know that they are exactly what I wanted.

These aren't fun conversations. It's easy to want to gloss over information to hide from our emotions, but it's so important to be sure that this information is out there before it becomes an issue.

It's easy to forget that my standard of care is not the same as everyone else's. In order to make sure my horse is taken care of, I have to take responsibility to get the information to the right people so they have it if they ever need it.

Herd life
I don't anticipate having these problems and I'm pretty well addicted to my phone, but I always want to overcommunicate this information to make sure that no matter what happens, Cuna gets the best care possible.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Riding and Not

Given that I spend the larger part of my days pestering Redheadlins right now, I managed to snag a ride on one of her regulars. Meet Gunnar, a cute bay appendix gelding who I think is 8 or 9. 

Gunnar has come a long ways under her tutelage and it was quite fun to play with him. He has a lot of buttons and is a completely different ride than Cuna. I have to pay a lot more attention to my balance and keeping my core engaged, but he rewards me with some really nice work.  

It's a European thing. Really.
The first time I rode him, we hopped over tiny crossrails a couple of times, but my riding gear was somewhat... lacking... so we didn't do much. This time the jumps weren't set and it was too hot too be dragging stuff around, so we focused on some really nice flatwork. 

Maybe next time I'll be more prepared and we can jump some actual jumps! How fun. :) 

In a field
Things are changing slowly on the Cuna front. When I showed up at the barn today, he was WAY OUT IN THE FIELD, grazing. That's a big step for him. He doesn't like to leave the barn behind. He seems friendly with the horses over the fence, which is good because he got his hind shoes pulled today. Very soon, he'll be in with the buddies and living the good life.

Beyond cute
While we were waiting for the farrier, we played dress up. Someone is still looking adorable. 

The plan is the same. He's hanging out til after Labor Day. In September, we'll reassess and see how he's feeling. If he's good, we might work lightly this fall. If other than perfect, he'll continue hanging out through the winter. He's in a good place right now and I don't want to mess with it. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The New Normal

My life feels like a twilight zone. 

Drying from a good rinse
I'm not riding, not prepping for anything. I'm not hanging out at a show barn 7 days a week and I haven't worn stretchy pants since... Wednesday last week? Cuna, in keeping with his reputation as "the easiest horse in the world" is adjusting quite well to the new place without causing any drama. The on-site owner isn't horsey, so he doesn't feed into my would-be obsessiveness. 

Instead, Cuna is just a horse living in a field. He's happy. He has food, friends, and water. He does love having me come out and scratch his itchy spots, groom him, and put fly spray on, but that's our relationship right now. That plus cookies.

I'd be completely crazy, but Redheadlins is keeping me entertained at the track. I do love petting shiny horses and watching them go fast. I'm back to the show barn for some work this week and maybe I'll get to ride a few.

The best view
Honestly, I haven't hit the part where I'm dying for a ride yet. Right now, the only ride I want is this one:

These cool summer mornings are making me crave our long solo rides in the hills, exploring new trails and galloping ridge lines. I miss knowing I'm on the best horse in the world and that he'll take care of me no matter what. 

I miss seeing the world through his red ears.  

So good at cuddling
This is a phase and things will change sooner or later, but I don't know what to make of it. I'm letting the stress and tension ebb away. I'm trying new things. I'm working out. I'm sitting on the floor and cuddling with my little beagle without worrying too much about the future. Cuna is where he needs to be right now. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

New Digs

This Saturday was the big day. I showed up to the barn after spending a couple hours at the track (yay racehorses!) and gave Cuna a thorough grooming and bath. The new place doesn't have a proper washrack, so I wanted to make use of the nice one we had. I even conditioned his whole body. He glowed like a copper penny and felt like a velveteen plush horse.

Then it was time to go.

J came and picked up Cuna. He loaded and hauled like a champ after we convinced him that yes, he really did have to get in the trailer. I followed her to the new barn with all the stuff Cuna needs for the next couple months in my car. It really doesn't take that much for a horse to stand in a field.

We unloaded. I started to lead Cuna around the perimeter of the fence to show it to him, but he kept snorting and prancing. I laughed at his antics and pulled the halter off.

He promptly gave himself the grand tour. 

So much space to move around!
A cute barn!
Friendly people
What's that? A buddy?
Two buddies??
 Once he got settled, I put his fly mask back on and got his stuff moved into the tack room. I only brought really exciting things like fly spray, his fly sheet, and my grooming kit. I think I'll take a wash bucket out soon and call it good.
This horse needs cookies.

Cuna supervised the whole process. He's starting to train J and her family to feed him cookies.He thought it was especially great to poke his nose in through the window and get treats, although he was pretty confused as to why he wasn't in the barn.

After the initial excitement, Cuna acted like he'd lived there his whole life. He relieved himself, checked out the fence line and nibbled on the grass.

I thought I would be worried about him, but I think he's going to be just fine.

I checked up on him again on Sunday, and he's doing really well. Today he should get initiated to the "herd" (of two) and his vacation begins in earnest.

I brought him here because I thought he needed it, but I'm realizing that I probably need it even more than he does. The two of us can recover together.

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