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Author: Mikki

Goodbye to Our First Horse

Goodbye to Our First Horse

We’ve said goodbye to too many of our beloved animals over the past couple of years, but this one hit the hardest. We have lost Valentine, our very first horse.

Sixteen years ago today, Bill gave me the best Valentine’s Day gift a girl could ever ask for (in my opinion, anyway): an all-black, 16.2H Tennessee Walking Horse named Clever Power. He came from champion bloodlines and you could tell just by looking at him. Oh, he was stunning! And so very sweet. We gave him the barn name “Valentine” because it just fit so well. Many of you followed our adventures over the years as we kinda-sorta became horse people, starting with that first wonderful horse.

Our herd grew, shrunk and morphed over time as we added and lost equines: Moonshine came to us to be Bill’s horse, we learned that she was absolutely NOT the horse for us, and we found Romeo and Cash; Moonshine went to be a bucking horse at a rodeo (told you she wasn’t the horse for us, lol); my dad found a little mule he couldn’t live without, so Jazzy came to live with us; then we unexpectedly and tragically lost Cash a little over three years ago. Wow, that was hard, but more was coming.

We haven’t kept up with this blog over last few years, and I apologize for that. Our lives have changed so much, and the focus really shifted away from the horses. We of course still had them, loved them, our lives still revolved around them (I never thought I’d care so much about the price of hay), but we hardly ever rode anymore. A few months ago, my best friend asked if Romeo could come live at her place because she needed another “easy” horse for her mom to ride. I readily agreed, since he was just a pasture ornament at my place. He was also a bit of a bully over food, and Valentine was suffering because of it. He always had trouble keeping weight on, and if Romeo chased him away from the food, well, by golly, he didn’t want any trouble. He just gave up and got skinny.

About this time, we started noticing other troubling symptoms with Valentine. He always had kind of an ungainly walk – his gait, when you found it while riding, was absolutely amazing. He was the Cadillac of horses. His normal walk on the other hand, was a sight to behold, and not in a good way. That’s why we didn’t really notice at first when he stumbled now and then, but he got progressively more clumsy. Then one rainy day, he slipped walking down the hill to our barn and couldn’t get up on his own. He was thankfully unharmed but it took the tractor to get him up. We thought it was a fluke but it happened again a couple of months later; we started to leave him in the barn when the weather was bad, so he wouldn’t run the risk of slipping in the mud. Shari (not just a horse person but a 20+ year vet tech) had some theories, but we were still hoping maybe he was just getting older (he was 21 at this point). Then he went down on flat ground on a dry day and couldn’t get up without our help. Then we got serious trying to find out what was wrong with him.

The leading theory was EPM (equine protozoal myeloencephalitis), a neurologic disease that you can read about here. I don’t want to get into that too much because it’s still incredibly painful to think about, but I’ll just tell you that he went through a lot of testing and therapies trying to pin down what was wrong and try to make him better. The long and short of it is, we never really knew what it was for sure, and he didn’t get any better.

Things really got bad the week of Christmas. I prayed that, for at least that week, we wouldn’t find him laid out in the barn when we came up there on one of our many visits to care for him, and that we wouldn’t have to make the hard decision to let him go any time that week. Thankfully, he made it through but we knew all that week that the day was coming soon.

As you horse owners know, it’s no small thing to put a horse down. Truthfully, if Valentine were just a dog or cat, we would have taken him to the vet much sooner, and just buried him in the back of the pasture, Christmas or no. But given that he was a 1200-pound animal who was having trouble walking, it wasn’t so easy. We had to find someone with a backhoe who was available during a holiday week, and find a place that would be easy to get my big boy to, before and after the event. We also had to protect our only other remaining equine, Jazzy, from falling into the hole once it was dug (which she undoubtedly would, being as curious as a cat).

The first task was easier than I expected. Our first choice, the man who took care of Cash for us, was out of town on vacation, but Shari’s mom had someone doing work at her house who agreed to come out the same day, dig our hole, and come back the next day to move Valentine and fill the hole. He just left his backhoe in our pasture. He was so kind.

The next decision was harder. We wanted to put him next to Cash, but that site was at the top of the hill, and quite a distance away. Even at his best, after a huge dose of anti-inflammatories and steroids, Valentine couldn’t safely make that hike, and I couldn’t bear the thought of him having to be dragged there, even if it wouldn’t matter to him at that point. So we found a nice spot downhill, a spot where we often saw him grazing when we looked out our kitchen window.

Tuesday, December 28. It was a beautiful, warm, sunny day. We had our absolutely wonderful vet, Kristina, come out at about 11:00 am, and Shari came too. At this point, we didn’t know if we were really going to make the hard choice, or if we’d give him a bit longer. We had decided that if we wanted to give him more time, we’d just barricade the hole to keep Jazzy away.

We didn’t give him any of his meds, so Kristina could see what he was like at his worst. She examined him, evaluated him, then gave him a LOT of steroids and a good dose of pain meds. He perked up a lot, but it was clear that he was nowhere near good. Another factor in our decision was that a snowstorm was coming in the next couple of days, and at this point the poor guy had to live in the barn aisle; he couldn’t even go into his stall because of the risk that he’d go down in a small space. If we let him struggle on, he’d have to brave the cold weather in a relatively unsheltered space.

This was an indescribably hard choice to make. One thing that helped so very much was that our vet is Christian; the four of us prayed over our decision. After a couple of hours of prayers and tears for us and treats for Valentine, we knew what the choice had to be, and felt mostly peaceful about it. I made Bill leave (he has issues with needles) and the three of us carefully led my boy out to a soft spot not too close to the hole. Kristina gave him his first shot, of sedative, and I gave him one more apple. Then she gave him the beuthanasia injection. He had one moment of what I’d call surprise, then went down directly on the soft wood chips. It was almost gentle, and as went as well as it possibly could have. I was with him every second, touching him and talking to him. Bill came back a few minutes after, and we all cried over him, reminisced, and said our goodbyes. Then Bill and I left and my dear, sweet, wonderful, irreplaceable best friend Shari stayed to call the backhoe guy and take care of the final steps.

The days after were even harder than I expected. Poor, poor Jazzy…Valentine was her very best friend, and since Romeo had gone to Shari’s, she was all alone. She grieved too. She also ended up escaping a couple of weeks after, and we still don’t know how. We haven’t found any place she could have gotten out. We ended up giving her to someone we know well who has two young sons to spoil her, cows for her to guard, goats for her to avoid – mules apparently don’t like goats, who knew? – and a potbellied pig who is in love with her. She’s settling in well over there, after a few bumpy days getting acclimated, but I don’t have high hopes for the pig-mule romance.

It has been six weeks now since we said goodbye, and some days are still hard. The barn is eerily empty – there was a horse in there the day we moved in more than 16 years ago (owned by a friend of the previous owners; we agreed to let him stay for a while), and until Jazzy left, there was never a day that we didn’t have equines to care for. Today, of course, is an especially hard day, and May 18 will be bad, too – Valentine would have been 22 years old this year. But I treasure the days I did have with him. He was the best boy, and I loved him, and I thank God I was allowed to have him for the time I did.

Will we have horses again? I honestly can’t say. Today, my answer would be no. Maybe Valentine was our first horse, and our last horse. But you never know.

Winter Blues

Winter Blues

Rusty horse welcome signOkay, I admit it. We are fair-weather horse people. When the temperature gets below seventy or so, we have no interest in riding.

There. Now you know the truth.

I don’t know about where you live, but here in east Tennessee, winter is just plain ugly. It doesn’t snow much, so you don’t have the icy but beautiful snow-covered landscape. It’s not warm like Arizona or Florida, so you don’t feel the urge to saddle up a horse and ride across the sand with the sun on your back. Tennessee winter can be summed up in one word: “muddy.”

Although it really doesn’t get very cold (although Bill would disagree with that assessment),  and in fact there are occasional warm days (in the 60’s), riding in winter here is just too much of hassle unless you’re really serious. Or if your horses, unlike ours, stay clean all winter. Because here is the number one reason why we don’t ride in the winter: two of our three horses (and the mule) stay covered in mud all winter long. To ride, you would first have to clean a horse. That is enough of a chore if the mud is dry – you could spend a good half-hour or more just brushing off the dirt where the saddle and cinch would go. But more often than not, the mud is still wet, because apparently Romeo and Cash think they are elephants. Or hippos. Or maybe just plain pigs. After a night in the barn, drying off (and flaking off), the first thing those two do when they hit the pasture is find a mud hole to roll in. (And, by the way, it’s not just mud.) Warmer than Minnesota it may be, but it’s still not warm enough to bathe a muddy horse. So, no riding.

Nothing else having to do with horses is much fun in the winter, either. To tell you the truth, we kind of just want to hibernate until spring, so going outside to do anything is really unappealing. Like I told Bill the other day, there is no joy in horse ownership in the winter. So our poor horses are given the most basic care we can get away with all winter long.

Here’s the thing though: we will pay the price come spring. When it finally does warm up and green up and dry out, we will want to brush off all that winter mud and slap our saddles on those now-gorgeous horses and head down a trail. But after spending all winter eating hay, rolling in the mud, and generally acting like a wild herd with no interference from the humans, our horses will be far from ride-worthy. So instead of spending those first glorious days of spring on the trail, we will be riding in circles in the round pen.

That is, after we put the round pen back up, that is. Because the other thing we don’t like to do in the winter is fence building. So when it first warms up, we will be finishing the fence where the round pen panels have been serving as “temporary” fence (long story), so we can reassemble our round pen.

So right now, we’re warm and toasty in the house and only feeling only slightly guilty for neglecting our poor horses in favor of staying as warm as possible, but I know we’re in for many weekends where we stare wistfully at trucks pulling horse trailers, heading off for adventure while we are spending all our time just catching up.

I sure hope we can catch up in time to have a few weeks of good riding before it gets cold and muddy again. Sigh…I hate winter.



The beautiful Moonshine

Sometimes, even the right thing to do is a very hard thing.

We realized months – no, make that years – ago that we had too many horses. Only two of us ride, and our herd had grown to four. For people who can barely find the time for the basics of horse ownership, having two extra horses to keep in shape is just not practical. Besides, one of them was just beyond our abilities to ride: Moonshine.

I have probably mentioned in the past that I work for a veterinary clinic. One of our clients just happens to own a rodeo business. My best friend and co-worker, Shari, thought he might be interested in another bucking horse. You might also recall that bucking is kind of a specialty of Moonshine’s. After a few weeks of trying to get our heads (and hearts) around the idea, we finally called the rodeo guy and he was indeed interested in a good bucking horse, particularly a pretty mare with papers. He just happens to specialize in paints, and Moonshine is a solid-bred paint. So one Saturday in July, we brought her over to his huge, beautiful farm. It was so hard to do, but it made it easier that she went to a place that loves horses and cares for all of them. We also learned that they are just like us, and keep horses pretty much forever, whether they need them or not.

Three months later, we are happy to report that Moonshine has successfully fulfilled her role as a rodeo bucking horse. At the farm, she joined a herd of three other horses that had never let anyone else into their group, and the four are inseparable. Strangely enough, she isn’t the boss of her new little group!

The boys missed her for a couple of days…or at least missed the familiarity of her being around. They seemed to adjust very quickly to her absence. Cash took the opportunity to declare himself herd leader, but I suspect that’s only the case in his own mind. I’m sure the real leader is Romeo, but he’s the quiet tyrant type. He lets Cash think he’s boss, but slaps him down now and again when Cash gets too overbearing. Valentine and Jazzy just try not to get in the way, as usual.

So that’s where our herd stands for now. We are planning to make one more cut – Cash – but we are in no hurry. The only way we can part with a horse (or dog, cat, goat, chicken, etc.) is for the new place to be a perfect fit. If that comes along, we’ll let him go. Otherwise, he’s here for life, with the rest of the misfits.

Horses Like Honey-Nut Cheerios

Horses Like Honey-Nut Cheerios

You’re probably wondering why we’re feeding a horse Honey-Nut Cheerios.  Well, it’s to mask the taste of the bute.  And why are we giving someone bute?  Well, let me just tell you.

Monday night, we got home from Chattanooga late, as often happens when we go to the “big city.”  And guess what?  It was snowing.  It was supposed to be well below freezing that night, and not get above freezing the next day.  You know what that means, right?  That’s right, a sick or injured horse.  Since we have four, plus a mule, someone would surely oblige us.  Sure enough, when we let the horses in, Romeo was limping.  It was dark, late, and he was covered in mud.  But, he was just as enthusiastic about his food as ever, so we decided it might as well wait till morning.  Shame on us, I know, but there truly wasn’t a darn thing we could have done.

Tuesday morning, we let everyone else out and got him out into the sunshine where we could see.  Poor thing was still limping, occasionally holding up that leg, and the muscle in his flank was twitching – he was definitely hurting and we needed to find out why.  I did mention he was covered in mud?  No problem, we could hose it off.  Did I mention it dipped below freezing and wouldn’t get above freezing until sometime on Wednesday?  So no hose.  Luckily, we have a de-icer in their water trough, so we filled a bucket and I started dumping water on his right rear leg.  It wasn’t long before we uncovered the problem – a hole in his leg, just below the hock.  At this point we decided that both Romeo and I would be happier if the water we were using to clean him off was more than just above freezing, so Bill went to the house to fill the bucket with warm water.  I got out the Dawn and cleaned off all the mud I could.  There was a fairly deep hole about the size of a quarter.  (I would post a picture, but sadly, my co-author is a tad squeamish.)  It was oozing pus and smelled kinda bad.  (I do hope Bill isn’t reading this.)

At this point, I would recommend horse owners to call the vet.  A wound like that requires a very good cleaning and antibiotics ASAP, not to mention pain meds.  So keep that vet on speed dial.  I am very fortunate to have spent the last three years working for a vet, so while I am far from qualified to diagnose and treat serious injuries, I felt that I could probably handle this one.  I took pictures (the ones you won’t be seeing) and headed over to the office.  I described his symptoms and showed around the pictures, and the consensus among professional staff was a burst abscess.  He probably got stuck with something several days beforehand, and it got infected.  Because of the mud plastering his leg, we didn’t know anything about it until he started limping and by that time, the infected, closed wound had burst.  Poor Romeo!

His treatment plan:

Antibiotics.  Ten days’ worth.  We got a powder that we can mix into his feed.  No problem, he likes it fine.

Clean and Wrap.  We (well, I) scrubbed the wound with surgical scrub, applied drawing salve to the wound and wrapped it well with cotton and vetwrap. We’ll leave that on for three days total, then start using Wonder Dust plus wrap until it’s good and closed up.  No problem, he is so tough!  He dances a little bit but mostly lets me do whatever.  As you can see, pictures of the wrapped leg are okay.

Tetanus shot.  No problem – again, he is one tough horse. (Bill couldn’t watch though.)

ButeBute.  I got tablets to crush and mix into his feed like the antibiotic.  The first day, no problem.  I didn’t have any oats, so I used – you guessed it – Honey-Nut Cheerios.  I added a bunch of molasses and some chunks of apple, and it smelled pretty darn good.  I put a little Strategy in for good measure, and he ate it up!  Yay!  The next morning, same thing (he was supposed to get it twice a day for two days, then once a day for three).  After that, he was onto me.  He picks at it but never really finishes it off.  Luckily, he’s feeling much better, so if he doesn’t get it all down, that’s okay.  He’s still getting all the antibiotic, and that’s the important one.

Stall rest.  Boy, does he hate that.  He just can’t be out sloshing around in that gross mud, though.  Sorry!  I think we’ll put him out tomorrow (Friday).  It’s been dry for a few days and tomorrow is supposed to be warm and sunny.  And the hose is working again, so we will be able to clean it well. Oh, and it looks A LOT better now.

Romeo On Stall Rest
Romeo on stall rest with handsome purple wrap.

So that’s what’s going on at our barn.  Lessons learned: Horses always get hurt at the least convenient times.  Mud sucks.  Cold weather sucks.  And horses like Honey-Nut Cheerios – at least before you put yucky medicine in them.



Cash with muzzleWe came back from vacation to find our refrigerator dead, our sick dog not eating, and one of our horses – Cash – lame.  I noticed Cash limping the second night after we got back; I hadn’t fed the horses the night before.  Apparently he’d been “walking funny” for a few days but my dad didn’t think it was serious so didn’t mention it, and Bill had only seen it the night before.  Since it was kind of an overall soreness and not any one foot, we were at a loss as to its cause.  I called my horse expert friend, Shari, who thought it was EPM (Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis, a neurologic disease that can present as weakness, lameness and dizziness) but thought I should call the vet.  I did, and she immediately thought it was founder.  Shari came by that night, and after seeing my horses and pronouncing them all FAT, agreed with the vet.  The vet came by the next morning and confirmed it.  Unbelievable.  We have almost NO pasture, mind you.  We got some pretty good hay, and they eat quite a bit, but apparently between the good hay and the the little bit of grass due to the excess of rain we’ve been getting, they put on some pounds.  Oh, that and the fact that Bill and my dad did NOT cut back the amount of grain the horses have been getting this summer.  We usually give them half of the amount they get in winter for the summer, but Bill’s a little soft-hearted and didn’t want to deprive them.  I wasn’t around to enforce it, due to my bum foot.  So they got a little pudgy.  Cash, being a long, lean horse, both carried the weight well (he didn’t look fat) and suffered more for it (his bone structure can’t handle the extra weight).

The good news for Cash is, we caught it early.  With a few adjustments and minor treatment, he should be fine in a few weeks.  Number one: bute (anti-inflammatory) for a few days.  Two: NO MORE GRAIN till winter.  Three: a grazing muzzle.  That’s the doo-hickey on his face in the picture.  He’s handling it surprisingly well.  I thought he might go a little crazy and try to get it off, but he hasn’t.  He’s learned to graze with it on – they can still eat, there’s a small hole in the bottom where grass can poke up into it and they can suck water through – and he doesn’t seem to mind it at all.  We did have to add some padding where the buckles are because it was rubbing bare spots on his face.  (We used one of those sheepskin seatbelt covers, cut in half, one half for each side.)  The vet says three to four weeks with that on and he should be good.

We’ll keep you posted.  And the lesson here is, founder isn’t just for spring. Watch that weight!

So Long to Our First Barn Dog

So Long to Our First Barn Dog

On Monday, we had to say goodbye to Jack, our loyal Jack Russell terrier.  My parents and I bought him as a birthday gift for Bill in 1998.  He was, as we liked to fondly call him, “the worst birthday present ever.”  Being a Jack Russell, he liked to bark at anything and everything.  To be expected, but so annoying!  As a bonus, for his first few months with us, he peed in the house and would not stop, culminating with an incident during a move from one house to another when he peed on our bed right before we fell into it, exhausted. Believe it or not, he survived that night, and that was the last time he ever peed in the house until his final illness.

He turned into a pretty good dog, though, and we loved him a lot.  He was our only dog when we moved here to Tennessee in 2005.  He adapted from city dog to farm dog quite well – he LOVED it here.  His favorite place, other than on the couch in the air-conditioned house, was the barn.  He had a thing for horse apples and hoof trimmings.

Last January we took him to the vet because we were afraid the Buddha belly he’d developed was more than just fat.  Alas, we were right.  It was fluid buildup due to liver failure.  The vet thought he probably had liver cancer.  We started him on diuretic medication to make him more comfortable and began to wait for the inevitable.

A year later, he was still plugging along, but he had developed diarrhea and started peeing in the house.  Took him back to the vet and discovered that he was now also in kidney failure.  We put him on SQ fluids and a special diet and waited for the inevitable.

The diuretic stopped working a couple of months later so we stopped giving it.  His breathing got to be more labored but the tough little dog hung in there.  He started having problems eating too, and after a really tough couple of weeks, he virtually stopped eating altogether last week.  We reluctantly agreed that the time had come.  So on Monday, July 25, we had to say goodbye for good.  Jack was 14 years old and we’d had him for more than 13 years.  Wow, was that hard.  Knowing it’s coming doesn’t make it any easier.

RIP little Jack buddy.  We’ll miss you.

My Boots are Back On!

My Boots are Back On!

BootsYay!  One step closer to resuming normal life.

Bill was out of town and Cash turned up lame (more on that later) so I had to do some horse stuff, and I didn’t want to do it in my tennies.  So I thought I’d give the boots a try, and I got them on!  More importantly, I got them off again later, with no pain.  I wouldn’t call them “comfortable” quite yet, but I’m not going to complain.

I Kissed a Horse Yesterday

I Kissed a Horse Yesterday

Horse HugNormally that would pretty much be an everyday occurrence for me, but since I broke my foot two months ago, I haven’t been able to even get near one.  I wasn’t able to put any weight at all on my right foot, so I was using a “knee walker” to get around.  The grounds around our barn and pasture are way too uneven to take that thing over, and doing it on crutches would have been just asking for more injuries.  But yesterday I went back to my doctor for a checkup, and he told me I could ditch the crutches and scooter!  I’m finally walking on two feet again!  Albeit in a boot still, but I’m so glad to get rid of that scooter.  So when we got home, my dad took me up to the top of the hill in the John Deere Gator, and I walked over to the fence where Cash obligingly let me rub his head and neck and muzzle and smooch his velvety nose.  Ahhhh….horses smell so good!

Broken Foot = No Horse Stuff.

Broken Foot = No Horse Stuff.

Broken Foot Pink CastSometimes I wonder if I’m meant to have horses.  Given my tendency to clumsiness, maybe not.  Here’s the latest:  On March 26, just as the days were getting warmer and the fields were getting greener, and Bill and I were looking forward to washing all the winter mud off our horses and saddling them up again, I broke my foot.  I wish I had a cool story – maybe something involving a rodeo and finally giving Moonshine her day in the sun – but the sad truth is, I slipped on a used puppy pad.  Yep, that’s it.  We have an old dog in kidney and liver failure who is a bit incontinent, so we keep puppy pads by the back door.  I hadn’t picked one up out of sheer laziness; I stepped outside, over it, to let the littlest dog out, and when I stepped back in, I forgot all about the darn thing and stepped right on it.  Turns out they’re pretty slippery.  We went to the emergency clinic (it was Saturday, of course – all emergencies happen at night or on weekends) and the PA on duty said it was just a sprain. On Monday the radiologist called and said it was definitely more than a sprain.  By Wednesday my foot was in a pretty pink cast and I was on crutches.   (After about a week on crutches I switched to a knee walker – a wheeled walker you put your knee on like a scooter. Much better than crutches!)  I wasn’t allowed to put any weight on that foot until the orthopedic doc gave me the okay on April 27 – now I can stand on it (on both feet, not just that one) but still can’t walk on it.   The doctor says at my next appointment I may get the okay to walk on it.  Two months off the foot all together.  Two months of SPRING.  What bad luck!

And you’ll note it was my right foot…no driving.  I also cannot go anywhere with uneven ground: for instance, to the barn.  I certainly can’t go into the barn with a horse, since I wouldn’t be able to maneuver out of his way if necessary.  Can’t feed them or water them or even pet them!  Poor Bill has had complete responsibility for all the farm chores all this time.  Except when he traveled on business, then my poor dad had to take over.  I never thought I’d miss feeding horses in pouring down rain, or shoveling stalls, or scrubbing buckets…but I sure do now.  I can’t wait to be on two feet again.  Even after I’m allowed to walk again, I suspect I’ll baby my foot for a while and probably won’t be riding for another month to be sure.

If any of you have broken a foot or leg, I’d love to hear your recovery story/advice.

Now I Feel a Little Bad About Deworming My Horses

Now I Feel a Little Bad About Deworming My Horses

I have a bad habit of holding things in my mouth to free up both my hands. This afternoon I stuck the cap to a tube of Quest Plus dewormer in my mouth – with the inside of the cap facing my tongue. I couldn’t even see a trace of the gel (it’s orange) on the cap, but I sure did taste it. NASTY!! Made my tongue and lips numb too. I did feel bad giving it to Valentine after that – but keeping him parasite-free is more important than saving him from nasty-tasting stuff. So be sure to worm your horses on a regular schedule, preferably under your vet’s advice…just don’t put the cap in your mouth.