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Stray Horses!

Stray Horses!

We went to get hay on Saturday from our favorite hay supplier, Grammy. We were down to about 6 square bales – yikes! – so it was past time. Grammy’s farm is down some winding country roads back in the boonies. We were heading home down one of those meandering, narrow roads when we saw a mare and foal in the front yard of a house. I often see horses and think, “Dang! Those horses are loose!” – only to realize that there’s a barbed wire fence around them. But this time, they actually were loose.

Stray Horses

Luckily, they were just grazing in the yard and didn’t seem inclined to wander…but we know from experience (twice!) that there will most likely be some wandering to come, and probably some road-crossing too. So we pulled into the driveway and knocked on the door. No answer. Bill tried to get close to the mama but she wasn’t having it. I went into the barn behind the house and tried to find a lead rope. I saw a couple but they were tied to the barn, obviously being used as cross-ties, but given the situation I decided since I’d already trespassed I might as well untie a lead rope too. So I did. I also noticed that one stall in the barn was empty with the door wide open.

I headed back out to the front yard with my lead rope and filled Bill in on the barn situation. Mama saw the lead rope and shied away. We decided we’d try to herd them toward the barn, so Bill got behind them on one side of the house and I went around the other side to keep them from just rounding around it instead of going into the barn, which was behind the house. They unfortunately ended up cornered against a barbed-wire fence. This was a little scary, since up to this point Mama had avoided anyone coming toward her. But she started grazing quietly and didn’t seem afraid, so I decided to just take it really slow and see if I could get closer to her, making it clear to her that I was aiming for her and not her baby. So I talked to her for a bit, then walked up slowly until I got a hand on her flank. She was okay with that, so I petted her side, then her back, then her neck, then her head…then got my hand on her halter. She very obediently lifted her head and let me put the lead rope on her. Then we led her and baby up to the barn and into the stall without incident.

We left a note at the front door telling the residents what we had found and what we had done, noting that we hoped the horses were actually theirs, and left our number. We haven’t heard anything yet. There was a sign in the barn with a name, the title “farrier,” and a phone number, which we wrote down. We have called the number a couple of times with no answer.

This incident, combined with the previous ones, has reminded us that we need to make sure that if our horses get out, whoever finds them will know where they belong. The sign in the barn was a good idea, and we’re thinking about putting one in our barn with our names and phone numbers on it. (We’ve considered halters with name tags, but we don’t leave halters on our horses so that wouldn’t be very effective.) It also reminded us that we need to step up our plans for an electric fence!

Food aggression update

Food aggression update

Thanks for all the suggestions in the comments on my last post about surprise food aggression. Separate hay stacks are the plan and I’m glad to see most of you seem to do that as well. One question though. Do you do as I do and drop the hay on the ground? I’ve heard we should try to keep it off of the dirt/mud/stone but does that mean I should buy four or five hay feeders (not round bale feeders but trough-style)? For now, it’s on the ground but I’m always looking for the better way.

Although that seems like this food aggression was an isolated incident, I always keep an eye on my position and as was noted in the comments, I am careful to not let myself get between two horses. I’m seen demeanor change in a flash. A common comment from those who have had horse accidents is “it happened so fast!” and we’d all be better for keeping that in mind.

Surprise Food Aggression

Surprise Food Aggression

Photo by Dave Herring on Unsplash

Yesterday I noticed some disturbing behavior as I let the horses out of the barn. We have a method of doing it that works pretty well for us, which has us releasing each horse mostly in the opposite order of herd position. In our herd, the order is:

1) Moonshine
2) Romeo
3) Valentine
4) Cash

At the moment, Romeo doesn’t have a stall (we hope to finish his new stall Saturday) so I take out a bale of hay and Romeo follows, without returning to the barn. Next goes Cash. He usually doesn’t want to leave the barn so he sniffs the ground, nibbles on stray pieces of hay, tries to get past me to explore the parts of the barn behind me, etc. But eventually he exits and then it’s Valentine’s turn. Valentine isn’t very aggressive at all but as he slowly exits the barn, it usually gives Cash enough momentum to leave too. Lastly it’s Moonshine, and she doesn’t stand for any lazy horsing around. By the time she gets to exit her stall I can tell she’s annoyed at having to wait so long for the others and each time she shoes them out to the hay.

Since each of the horses seems to have to fight for their position to enjoy the days ration of hay each and every day (even though the result is always the same – according to herd position), we split the hay ration into four equal parts, spaced well enough from each other so as to minimize sneak attacks. They play this little game that is not unlike musical chairs until I suppose they tire of chasing each other in circles and settle down to their own piles. On this particular day, I was putting out the hay and Mikki was letting out the horses. Figuring I had a few minutes before Cash would exit the barn, I gave the go-ahead signal to Mikki as I cut the twine on the bale. Romeo munched away as I carried Cash’s flakes to a location an ample distance from Romeo. But this time, Cash exits the barn right away and comes galloping up the hill to where I stand. This isn’t unusual. They’re often a little spunky after being in the barn all night and it was nice and cool out. But this time was different. Cash showed clear signs of agression – towards me! He came right at me, tried to push me aside and then spun around as if to kick me. Fortunately I was paying attention and yelled and jumped out of the way. I couldn’t believe it. I threw his hay down and he ran at me again. To be honest, it was a little intimidating…scary even. I am no match of a 1,000 pound horse.

So of course I’m wondering why he changed on this day; why he saw me as a threat to his food. Is it because he grows weary at constantly being on the bottom of the pecking order? I’m trying to think like a horse but I don’t know what I could have done to position myself as a challenger or as weak. He’s been fine since but I realize we’ll have to be especially careful to watch for this behavior going forward. It’s disheartening, though, because Cash has never been aggressive with us or the others.

Have you experienced this kind of food aggression?

Happy New Year 2009

Happy New Year 2009

Mikki, the Kid and I as well as Valentine, Moonshine, Cash and Romeo wish all of you a happy and prosperous new year! Here’s hoping it’s filled with positive equine experiences for all of us.

The CD winner is…

The CD winner is…

The CD winner is…d2cmom!

We assigned each post a number (sorry, Lisa – your two posts only counted as one entry) and had the Kid draw a number out of a hat. Number 8 was drawn, and the eighth post was d2cmom.

So congratulations, and contact us soon so we can send your new CD!

Thanks to all of you for posting. We enjoyed all the posts – they were some very good stories, and interesting thoughts. We hope you’ll keep them coming, even without a contest.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

R.I.P. Sad Elvis

R.I.P. Sad Elvis

Sad Elvis

One of the many posts I’ve been meaning to submit these past few days is one I was going to call “Our new dog Sad Elvis”. Elvis had been hanging around our house for some time now, the unwanted dog of a neighbor who refused to restrain him. He was a hound mix with full size features on short little legs. He got along with all of our dogs and cats and although he occasionally would bark at our horses, he did it infrequently and at a distance. This poor dog was skinny but we didn’t want to keep him from going home for meals. Eventually, though, we took pity on him and began feeding him. Most days he had been laying by our front door in the morning, shivering. So eventually we opened our horse trailer and put a blanket in there for him. Last week we decided to bathe him and take him to the vet for a checkup. And since his owner wasn’t taking care of him, we decided we’d try to find him a new owner. The owner had been looking for a new home for Elvis so this wasn’t out of line. We kind of wanted to keep him but we have four dogs already. He was “ours” in the sense that we were the only ones taking care of him.

Since he was now clean and since the weather grew even colder, we invited him into the house. He was a good inside dog and mostly laid around the house all day. Then on the coldest night of the season so far, we let him out before bed so he could go to the bathroom and we never saw him alive again. The next morning we discovered he had been hit by a car on a road not far from our house. Mikki pulled him off of the road and I angrily drove around looking for his owner (we had only spoken with him on the phone and he no longer took our calls). We finally found the owner and demanded he take care of Elvis’ body, which he did.

So Sunday was very sad for us. Even though he wasn’t our dog, he had become a fixture around our little farm and we’re going to miss him.

BTW, we called him Sad Elvis because hounds look sad and because of the popular Elvis song “You ain’t nothing but a hound dog”. It seemed to fit.

Horseback Apple Picking

Horseback Apple Picking

One of my favorite things to do in the fall is to pick apples. Growing up, my family and I picked apples at an orchard and then made applesauce, pies, apple brown bettys and more. With limited success, I’ve been trying to make that continue that tradition but frankly there aren’t many orchards in east Tennessee for some reason. So one of our plans is to plant apple trees in the pasture. The horses will love it and once the trees grow tall enough we’ll actually be able to keep some of those apples for the humans here on the farm.

Now if I had 100 acres, I think I’d have a big orchard. And how awesome would it be to pick those apples on horseback? If I ever get that chance, I will make sure a camera is at the ready. I can see it now…one for me, two for you, one for me, two for you (where you is whatever horse is under saddle :-)).

By the way, our horses LOVE apples. We’ve fed them enough that I wouldn’t be surprised to see some apples trees growing somewhere in the pasture. The big downside to feeding apples to horses, though, is that afterward your gloves smell yummy. Too yummy, if you know what I mean.

Not So Impressive

Not So Impressive

ImpressiveA very handsome horse caught our eye the other day (no, not as a prospective addition to our herd – we’ve reached our limit) – a big, muscled, Quarter Horse stallion. He was something else. Bill wondered why he wasn’t gelded, and if he might be used as a stud someday. I told him that the owner might go ahead and geld him, because he comes from the “Impressive” line. Bill, naturally, was confused by that: “Well, if he’s from an impressive line, why wouldn’t you breed him?” But unfortunately, it’s not an impressive line, it’s the Impressive line, as in “Impressive,” AQHA stallion and halter champion, famous for siring 2,250 foals. He is also considered to be the beginning of a bloodline carrying a debilitating and often fatal genetic mutation known as HYPP, for Hyperkalemic Periodic Paralysis. Sounds scary, huh? It really is.

I had to look up “hyperkalemic.” “Hyperkalemia” is an abnormally high concentration of potassium in the blood. This condition is caused in HYPP horses because their potassium regulation system is messed up. The controls get out of whack every once in a while (“periodically”) and cause a big surge of potassium. This causes the “paralysis” part of the name: potassium controls the voltage currents in muscle cells, so the potassium influx is sort of a “power surge” like the kind that can fry your electronics. The horse loses muscle control to some degree; the severity varies quite a bit, from little twitches to a fatal heart attack (the heart is a muscle too). Scary enough for you?

There are a few important things to know about HYPP. One is, it’s a genetic defect, so your horse cannot “catch” it; they are born with it. Also, the gene is a dominant one – only one parent has to carry the gene for it to be passed on to the offspring. Horses can have HYPP and show no signs of it; only a DNA test can tell whether your horse has it or not. As I said, HYPP is believed to have come from the Impressive line (the most recent count of his living descendants was 55,000 in 2003), so it’s most common in Quarter Horses, but is also found in the closely-related Paint Horse and Appaloosa lines, and of course can be found in other breeds if they have been cross-bred to Quarter Horses.

HYPP can be manageable, depending on the severity. Since it is a potassium issue, diet is very important. Also, stress can trigger an episode, so the horse’s environment and lifestyle are important factors. There are also medications that can ease symptoms and help prevent episodes.

A critical thing to consider if you or someone you know has an HYPP horse is that an attack can occur at any time, including when you are riding the horse. Any rider should be very experienced and always alert for signs, because your horse could literally collapse underneath you.

Now for the controversial stuff. How can HYPP be prevented or even wiped out? Obviously, since it’s an issue of genetics, if HYPP-positive horses don’t breed, the mutation can’t be passed on. That sounds simple, but while the downsides of HYPP are scary, the flip side of the Impressive line is that the horses bred from that line are highly muscled, very strong, show-winning horses. That’s how Impressive came to sire 2,250 foals – he was, indeed, impressive. So there will always be breeders willing to take that gamble for a desirably conformed horse. For now, the only control to prevent HYPP-positive foals is that when a horse is registered with the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA), its HYPP status is included in that registration. Any potential breeder will know if the horse is a risk or not.

Well, there’s my very unprofessional, Internet-educated opinion of Impressive and HYPP. If this issue might affect you, I encourage you to do your own research. I, for one, may look into having Romeo (Appaloosa) and perhaps even Moonshine (part Quarter Horse) tested. Even though they surely would have shown signs by now, my web research has once again made me paranoid.

Horses and Night Vision

Horses and Night Vision

Fresh off of Mikki’s post yesterday about riding with fireflies, the August 2008 issue of Equus magazine arrived in the mail yesterday with an interesting article about horse night vision. In “When night falls” on page 17, Christine Barakat explains that horses are capable of seeing just as well in moonlight as they can during the day, allowing them to explore and play all night long. And while we usually assume they sleep at night, horses don’t always sleep when it’s dark like we do. Although Ms. Barakat offers no source for her information, it’s an interesting suggestion. I’ve heard our horses galloping at night and they have large eyes so I guess it makes sense. Even so, I don’t know how much riding I want to do at night. I’m the driver and I can’t see very well in the dark.

Simulated night vision
Four hooves in the air

Four hooves in the air

We’ve been very horse-busy these past few weeks. I don’t know if a day went by without us spending time with our horses or going somewhere “horsey”. This weekend we went to a local horse show and watched our new horse, Romeo, compete in the barrels. He came in second in one class so we’re very proud of him and his rider (Dangerous D). I can’t wait to barrel race! I managed to capture a few cool photos at the event. It was VERY hot and humid but my camera appreciated the extra light. Normally these events are in the evening or after dark and it’s hard to get good photos from a distance.

The photo below is one of several where I caught all four hooves off of the ground. This reminded me of a controversy 150 years ago where people wondered whether or not all four horse hooves are ever in the air at the same time. It happens so fast, the human eye can’t tell without some technological assistance. In the late 1800’s, a photographer named Eadweard Muybridge rigged up a series or cameras and tripwires to capture a horse at gallop in sequence. The result was the closest thing to a movie ever produced at that time. I’m sure some money was wagered and won by some because Muybridge’s photos prooved there are times with all four hooves are in the air. Below is one of my photos followed by a still shot from a Muybridge sequence. If you click the title of this post, it will take you to a page that shows the sequence in motion. It’s 566k so I didn’t want to clog up our front page. Incidentally, the sequence in motion is one of the very earliest “movies” ever created. He produced several.

Horse Galloping

Muybridge still

The still version is above. View this full post to see the animated version.

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