Friday, December 30, 2011

A Perfect Winter Ride.

I had the pleasure of going on a hack outside on Tuesday. It was perfect - there was finally enough snow to provide a bit of a cushion from the frozen ground and since I had the day off, I was able to get out while there was daylight. On top of that, I had arranged a hack date the day before, so everything was perfectly in place.
Headin' out. 

It was right around 0°C, so it was also a perfect temperature. I didn't start getting cold until almost an hour had passed which is pretty impressive given that the ride was all at the walk.

Despite being at the walk, I think it was a great ride as it wasn't in an indoor and the deep-ish snow plus uneven terrain was great to get Will picking up his feet and therefore exercising those stifles.

Me trying to make funny noises to get Will's ears up.

I appreciate the ride that much more since the temperature plummeted yesterday and we are currently hovering around -20°C. Hard to imagine we are supposed to be back in the positive by Saturday. This year just can't get itself straight.

Now, for your dose of cuteness. The following pics are our two new-ish barn kittens. They are now big enough to start venturing out more and more...which means they are getting in more and more trouble! One night I was grooming when Willy scooted ahead suddenly. I saw the grey tabby scrambling up his back from the opposite side. Kitty got bucked off :-/ (Willy was a pretty good boy though - he bucked a couple times on the cross-ties but didn't pull on the ties and he settled down quickly after). 

Ok, so we are fostering potentially bad habits here. ;-)

This girl was born to be a horsie back-warmer!

A much safer option for a warm place to sleep.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Carrot-Thyme Flan

This recipe comes from today's post on Allotment 2 Kitchen. I have an overabundance of carrots so it was just the thing to throw together today.

I thought the purple carrots made a striking addition to the top but I didn't grate any as it would have turned the colour of the dish.

Prior to adding the custard.

I follwed the main recipe fairly closely but did make some substitutions based on what I had around. I addded some of our homemade spice blend in addition to thyme and used buttermilk. I also found I need a touch more of the custard, so I used an extra egg and a touch more milk. I don't think these changes affected the flavours too much.

Finished product.

The taste is surprisingly light and fresh. I thought it would be much more carrot-y but it's actually quite subtle. A nice dish.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

How to Carve a 30lb Frozen Turkey.

Nothin' to it!

We missed out on our local chickens this year as the farmer had sold out by the time I got around to ordering. So I decided to get a couple extra turkeys. They mentioned having a lot of really big ones - 30lbs or more, so I said sure, throw one of those in.

One of the suggestions from the farmer was to bring it to a butcher and ask them to saw it in half or quarters, if I just wanted a chicken-sized quantity of food at one time. We thought we'd just try cooking that one for Christmas dinner instead of the more reasonably sized 18-pounder I had originally planned on.

Well, not only would the big bird not fit in my Calphalon roaster, it barely fit in my oven! It would have been much too close to the elements to cook properly, even with convection. I was starting to consider which butcher to try bribing first.

Then this morning, Alex asked me to get the saw in the garage next to the back door. He was doing dishes at the time, so it was an odd request, but I felt sure it was going to be Alex vs.Turkey day. What I didn't say out loud was that my bets were on the turkey!

As you can see, I was gladly mistaken.

It didn't take all that long and only involved me for a few minutes to help stabilize the bird. It's not pretty and it won't be the bird for Christmas dinner but it's practical.  I still don't know exactly how we will roast that up when the time comes, but at least now it's a possibility!

Of course, saws create sawdust. In this case, turkey sawdust which resembled turkey-granita. We cleaned up most of it but Hazel enjoyed the bits of icy treat left behind. We are hoping we don't have racoons fighting in the yard tonight!

Lastly, how do you spoil your cat who is frustrated with the cold weather?

Put an empty box on the floor in the sun! :-)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Bad Horse Mom.

Have you ever felt that, despite your best efforts to help your animals, you accidentally end up doing more harm than good? I had that experience this week.

Willy had a wart-like growth on his side that showed up fairly quickly a couple months ago and then fell off on it's own. Well, it regrew, so I showed it to his owner (the Barn Owner) to get her advice. She gave me some sarcoid cream (xxtera) to apply. The directions were once a day for 4 days and then once a week or so.

I ended up doing two consecutive days of treatment, one day without, followed by one day with. On the fifth day, which would have been the fourth application, I noticed the fur around the warty area was a bit crusty. I figured the cream had spread out some as I had been careful to apply it only to the wart itself.

I thought it best to clean the excess from the surrounding fur before giving the next treatment. So, I applied a warmwater facecloth to the area and began gently cleaning the fur. I alternated holding the cloth against him to soften and dabbing at the area.  After 2 or 3 times, most of the fur was clean but for one small section.

I held the cloth against my horse one more time, rubbing his neck and admiring his shiny coat while I did so. When I removed the cloth, I noticed a small area of rawness opened up that hadn't been there before. I ever so gently dabbed just below it and was horrified that the top layer of skin seemed to be peeling off him.

It was as if it just melted right off. I was horrified at what I was seeing (and probably feeling more drama than I needed, but I was alone so no one else had to deal with it!).

I ended up with about 1.5-2cmx1cm half-moon area that was raw and slightly pussy under the wart. I cleaned this up and applied some Hibitane to the wound.

I drove home with a heavy heart and had nightmares all night. Can you say first time horse mom? I know I'm not really, but even his owners consider him my horse at this point.  I spent a bit of time in the moring doing research on sarcoids and treatments and feel marginally better but I am also armed with other, less horrid, ideas.

This afternoon I went out to check on him.

This is what it looked like.
The sarcoid is the black circular area inside the raw area.

I saw the BO and told her about how I was devastated that I was melting the flesh off her horse. She said, "you mean your horse?", and then..."It's ok, that can happen with this stuff, relax, he'll he fine. I will come see him after I check on my spagetti sauce.".  I was lunging him in the arena by the time she came out. We admired his back muscles working and then took a look at the area in question. She assured me that he wasn't about to lose a limb but to wait a bit before treating again.

In her opinion, nothing should be applied to the raw area because you want it to dry out.  Personally, I'm quite sure recent research has shown that a petroleum-based antiseptic cream heals faster as it prevents cracking in the healing tissue. Opinions on this?

I cleaned the area of the dried pussy bits and applied a thin layer of petroleum based antibiotic cream on the raw area only. I need to do what I think is best and they have told me to do so whenever I see fit, since they know I don't make rash decisions. Still, I don't have a lot of experience of this level of care with a horse because I always had to follow other peoples orders, whether I agreed or not.  Regardless, going forward I think I will apply some bag balm or something around the wart before applying the sarcoid cream, if I do have to treat again. Hopefully that will protect the surrounding tissue more.


Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Harvest Continues!

It's hard to believe but we are still getting some fresh produce from the garden.

I wisely planted kale this year, knowing it was tolerant of cold temperatures. We now have several vacuum-sealed bags of it for use in winter soups and stews. We have been harvesting a mix of just leaves and full plants but as the fall progressed we began taking whole plants. We left enough "just in case" plants and I'm glad we did.

 It has been a mild fall, so that decision was a good one. Still, I never expected that we would still be going out and harvesting it in December. Once it got colder, the kale slowed growth but did continue to grow a bit and stayed otherwise perfect.
Ice-capped kale.

In the last week, the remaining plants have started to droop more but the leaves themselves are firm and vigourous.

It's great...athough it does seem very strange to me.

We also have some baby garlic peeking out of one of my raised beds. Guess we'll see what that looks like in the spring! I don't know why but I've only been marginally sucessful with growing garlic.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Goodbye, gallop.

Normally by this time of year the galloping track and any of the fields around here would be pretty hard at the surface. So far this year, the track sand has only been frozen once. Still, I think my weekly gallops are at an end until spring. We've had a fair bit of rain, so the track is sloppy. When it does get colder again the sand will be moist and will no doubt harden up nicely.

We had a good run though, no pun intended. I was intimidated to really gallop the first few times. I did develop more comfort but I still usually worry about Will...and what would happen to me if he tripped. But you have to just push that aside. Our vet told me to gallop twice a week. Although I've taken all his advice seriously, I could usually only manage a good, true gallop once a week.

One incredible day I was galloping with three other riders. The horses didn't get crazy and it was wonderful and fun. Willy learned to be a bit competitive that day and I'll never forget the feeling of him leveling out as I sent him after another horse.

I will miss our runs and the feeling of the horse getting to be a horse and stretch out and run. I hope I got enough in to help his fitness before these months of indoor riding.

I did get one video. My friend has an OTTB so they make us look like we are loafing along. It honestly feels like we're moving fast!

Something dug a partial hole in the track so we were waiting to turn up the speed until we passed it. By the time we got going, Willy was distracted by the person taking the video and the turn. I was actively encouraging him to run faster and that's what I got :-) I guess that's the warmblood in him. Still a bunch of fun!


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

If it Ain't Broke, Don't Fix it. Simply Adapt it.

I was expecting to be applying for a job tonight. Or at least that’s what I knew I should be doing. I re-read the essential requirements and it turns out I don’t quite qualify, woot woot! Ok, so it’s weird to be happy about that but I have so few nights off from riding that I wasn’t looking forward to spending it putting an application together. 

Since I now have some time for myself, I thought I’d do a quick update post (or I will at least try to make it quick!).

I met up with Laura at Littlekeebler today and we caught up on our work and horse lives. We’ve been having some parallel realizations, I think, in terms of how we want to approach our horses and deal with certain behaviours. Just about everything she said struck a chord with me, so much that I couldn’t help but relate her experiences to my own. Hopefully it didn’t come across as rude, it’s just so interesting to have someone to relate to. I find most people don’t spend much time thinking, or maybe just talking, about these things. 

With respect to the nudging – I have found that my approach to prevent it from happening in the first place is making a difference. I am always aware when I lead him and just as he starts to reach his head out to me, I correct him right then. Depending on timing, I do this by either giving a quick, firm tug on the lead away from me and to his outside (so the pressure is on my side of his halter) or I will tap his muzzle. Neither approach needs to be particularly harsh or dramatic to be effective; I interrupt the behaviour and we move on. I think this is effective because it corrects the actual behaviour while it’s happening.

Essentially I’ve gone back to the way I handled him before I realized he was moving me – that is firm but calm, not big and loud. I just began doubting myself but there was no reason to change my approach; all I had to do was incorporate my new realization into the mix. Instead, I felt like I needed other ideas but those led me astray for a couple weeks, I think. 

I have also spoken to a couple of the barn staff. One night while a few of us were chatting, one woman described how “funny” he is about “nuzzling” while leading. I was able to tell her in a friendly, non-confrontational, way how he was likely not so cute in those moments but rather was moving us and exerting a form of dominance. It’s tough sometimes to tell any horse person how to handle your (or any) horse, so I was glad it went over well. I had already told one of the barn staff about this idea since her and I are good barn friends. This helped since she told the other employee all about leading him.

Well, since that conversation, I can tell he is being handled better by more of the barn staff.
In the last week, I’ve received positive comments from 4 different people about Willy’s behaviour. I take these as good signs that the consistent handling is generalizing to other people and that I’ve sorted out the remaining issues I was unsure of. 

On a sad note, we are losing the *best* staff member, the one I consider a friend. She is heading to Florida for the winter with a dressage troop which will be fantastic experience for her. She is soooo young yet so responsible, thorough, and mature. She’s also a lot of fun to be around. Good barn staff like her are very hard to find, I’ve learned. It’ll be a long winter around the barn without her!

I was looking for a photo I could post and came across the three photos from the Per Meisner clinic I participated in back in October. Per is back this week (I'm not riding), so I figured I'd post a couple now. The only other one is blurry and bad, so this is it!

Will and I schooling in a clinic with Per Meisner.

Willy is smart - taking a minute to scratch while we listen to Per. 
Apparently my posture was taking a break too!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

What am I feeding my horse, anyway?

I've been wanting to write this post for awhile. I'm a little hesitant because I don't have complete control over what Will is fed, nor do I feel like I know enough to make those decisions myself.  However, I am taking steps to learn as much as I can about equine nutrition and figure out what exactly I am feeding "my" horse. [for ease of writing, I may refer to Will as my horse. Everyone at the barn does, so why not, lol].

To start the process of learning, I've been collecting info on what my horse is fed.  This is probably all a bit much but here is the run-down anyway.

He has unlimited access to hay (round bale, good quality first cut, grown on the farm) during turnout from about 6:30am to 8pm and has 2-3 flakes in his stall at night, depending on the size of flake. My boarding barn is pretty much full for indoor boarders so I've been lucky that Willy has had a stall most of the last 3 months. He did give up his stall for a week while one horse, normally on outdoor board, needed stall-rest. He lost it again recently so that the pregnant mare who usually lives outside could come in at night. He gets it back as of today because someone is moving their horse (yay for us!).

His feed consists of 2 feedings per day of a mix of Shur-Gain Equiline Xplosion, Shur-Gain Medallion, Finishing Touch, salt, and oil. The proportions are, 2 scoops each of Xplosion and Medallion, 1 of Finishing Touch, a tablespoon of salt (blue), and about 1/2 cup of oil (not measured precisely). Since I know many people feed by the "scoop" when it should be weighed, I brought my own kitchen scale to the barn and weighed each portion. I'm sure there is a slight degree of error on these measurements - I would have to repeat my scoops many, many times and take an average to be sure, but I doubt it would improve upon my initial measurements by much at all. I did repeat my own measurements a few times to get a sense of error and it was slight.

2 scoops Medallion = 1lb, 7.75oz
2 scoops Xplosion = 1 lb, 3.7oz
1 scoop Fin. Touch = 0.985oz

Now for the nutritional breakdown of each. I've included (and rounded) the daily totals at the top.

total daily ration =  2.44 lbs/1.11kg
Crude Protein (min): 35.0%
Crude Fat (min): 7.8%
Crude Fibre (max): 15.7%
Calcium (actual): 0.83%
Phosphorus (actual): 0.63%
Sodium (actual): 0.39%
Vit A (min): 9,970 IU/kg
Vit D (min): 1,895 IU/kg
Vit E (min): 394 IU/kg
Selenium added at 0.30

total daily ration = 2.21 lbs/1.0kg
Crude Protein Min. 12.0% 
Sodium Act. 0.50%
Crude Fat Min. 10.0%
Crude Fibre Max. 15.0% 
Vitamin A Min. 11,000 IU/kg
Calcium Act. 0.85% 
Vitamin D Min. 2,200 IU/kg
Phosphorus Act. 0.60% 
Vitamin E Min. 300 IU/kg
Selenium added at 0.40 mg/kg 

Finishing Touch:
total daily ration = 1.23 lbs/0.56kg
(aside: I sent an email to Masterfeeds because the link to their nutritional info page wasn't working. They fixed the problem and responded in less than 24 hours)

Crude Protein (Min)  14.0%
Crude Fat (Min)        18.0%
Crude Fibre (Max)    14.0%
Calcium (Act)               1.0%
Phosphorus (Act)        0.60%
Magnesium (Act)         0.30%
Potassium (Act)     0.80%
Sodium (Act)  0.40%
Sulphur (Act.  0.20%
Flourine (Max)   60 mg/kg
Copper (Act)     35mg/kg
Manganese (Act)  110mg/kg
Zinc (Act)             110mg/kg
Cobalt (Act)         1mg/kg
Iodine (Act)     2 mg/kg
Iron (Act)             115 mg/kg
Vitamin A (Min)   12,000. iu/kg
Vitamin D (Min)   2,700 iu/kg
Vitamin E (Min.)    400 iu/kg
Selenium added at 0.300 mg/kg

And this is about where I lose any idea of where to go in terms of assessing the appropriateness of his rations!  I don't understand why there are no values for sugar/carbs. My main concern was whether he was getting too much sugar and equivalents. My other shortcomings are in knowing what a horse's typical dietary requirements are and how to calculate what he's actually getting based on the guaranteed analysis of his feed. If I could do that, I could compare the two and see where the deficits and shortfalls are. I would also need to know about regional variation - for example, I know selenium is deficient in this area but is there anything else? I have some homework to do, clearly!

Notes about the horse.
Willy is 5. Since I started working with him at the end of July, he has gotten this regime consistenly. He has put on weight and muscle. I was initally concerned about weight loss with working 5-6 days a week when he had been only getting 1 day a week. As the weeks went on, I saw that he was gaining condition and weight overall. He is in pretty good weight now but I'd be happy with a little more.  At stand still, you can't see any ribs but they can be felt easily. This was true even before he started gaining his winter wooly coat. When he moves, however, his ribs do become more visible.  A lot of people seem to like overly fat horses around here but I do not. I would be ok if he stayed the same weight or gained slightly but definitely don't want him to lose any.

Hooves - Willy's hooves have always been good, even when the trims haven't been. I don't want to go into too much detail in this post but it's hard since all things are connected! I will say that his hooves have improved concavity over the last few months. Also, the new growth (of which there has been a lot) is growing in very nice. He has several "ripples" on his external wall surface. Since I've been leasing, the new growth has been straight and true. I attribute this to the increased workload stimulating better growth in combination with better consistency in what and when he is fed grain. He is not "hot", though he can be a little looky/spooky/sensitive these times are quite easy to ride/work through.

All that to say, it doesn't seem there are any obvious problems with his feeding regime. Still, I would like to know how to better assess what he's eating with what he should be eating.  Here's to learning!

Cold (but busy) Feet.

It turns out I can no longer publish posts from work thanks to an out-of-date browser. I shouldn't be surprised since many of my software programs are from early in the last decade. Still, it means I can't get a post in on my lunch hour occasionally. What's more, I a wrote a post before realizing I couldn't post it and then forgot to email it to my home account so I could post tonight. Only I'm pretty sure I emailed it to someone.

In any case, things have been pretty busy this week. I've been applying for a few jobs which I find a painful and time consuming process. I think it will be a little easier now that I have the first few done (it's been awhile since I actively looked for a new job).

Alex is out of town for the next week and I decided to take two days off work to make my life happy instead of the rushed, busy craze it typically is. It's dark out now by the time I get to the barn on weekdays, so riding outside factors high on my priority list for those days.

On to the subject at hand. I literally froze my feet yesterday at the barn. I could feel some toes were pretty numb while I had my lesson but it wasn't until I was cooling out that it became aparent that they were really cold. It was somewhere between 0°C and 5°C, so they really shouldn't have been that bad. Granted, it was partly my fault since I forgot good socks and had to ride in my dress socks (I went to the barn straight from work).

When I got home I stripped my socks off and a couple of my toes were a greyish white. I'm not kidding, they looked dead. I had an issue with this about 10 years ago when my toes would go black-ish but they hadn't felt particularly cold while I was out. I vaguely remember seeing a doctor about this but nothing came of it beyond "keep your feet warm". To be fair, I guess that's all I really did need to do but the fact that I couldn't really tell they were cold maybe should have made me (and the doctor!) more concerned.

I guess I managed to do a number on them since my feet felt cold and sore this morning even while sitting in my 23°C office. I did some Google research (known for being valid and reliable, lol) and I stumbled upon something I hadn't heard of called Raynaud's disease (see articles here and here. Not that I generally recommend self-diagnosis via internet but of the many, many accounts I've read, this phenomenon sounds a lot like me. It doesn't really change anything but it's interesting all the same. Good thing is I know all my systems are in great shape, so I don't have secondary issues to worry about.

Fortunately, I had planned better today and had several pairs of socks :) so I swapped my normal socks for Smartwool socks and passed the day happily. I also have an extra pair of wool socks at the barn now, and my Sorel boots in the car - they will be my winter barn boots.

Bring it, winter, I'm ready for ya!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Effect of Indecision on Consistency (aka Dealing with a Pushy Horse)

It started innocently enough. Honest, it did. When I first started working with Willy he was very “looky.” A little spooky, sure, but mostly he would look hard and watch things that freaked him out, until he realized they weren’t going to eat him. He is still like this, though not so bad after months riding out in the fields and trails.

During these early days, I noticed that if he became “looky” while I was leading him, he would often gently touch his muzzle to my shoulder or arm and then look back in the scary direction. I would rub his neck and talk, he would relax, and we’d continue on. The touch really was a touch, not a push, and it never involved biting or liping at all. I saw it as his way of seeking reassurance.

At some point I realized he had started to touch me with his muzzle while I was leading him. Again, it was gentle, barely a nudge really. It felt like affection.

I know, I know! I should have known better. Truth is, I didn’t give it much thought for awhile. He walked relaxed on the lead, a step behind me. I wanted to start getting him closer to my shoulder while leading but I was fine with him trailing a little rather than rushing ahead. Call me a fool but I have to admit those gentle nuzzles warmed my heart.

Maybe I just needed to believe I could share affection like that with a horse after my experience with Brumby?  I have a hard time understanding the bond othrers refer to. Brumby and I developed a good working relationship and I guess there was a bond of sorts but it wasn’t how other people describe it…I’m pretty sure a horse’s willingness to literally or figuratively throw you under a bus is an automatic failure in the horse-human bond department.

In any case, one day Willy gave me a slightly bigger nudge as we were walking and it suddenly dawned on me…he’s moving me!  He’s gentle because I am a good little subordinate and move along right politely! This was around the time Kate was posting about dealing with Drifter’s pushy behaviour and I was reading a Mark Rashid book so if I wasn’t going to clue in then, I never was! I fully credit those two with my epiphany (and burst bubble!).

Since that realization, I’ve tried really hard to set my boundaries and be consistent. My main problem is that I don’t think I believe in my technique enough to stay consistent. I start second-guessing myself and when I do that, I end up letting a behavioural “question” go unanswered.

Some of my issues/questions:
-          I don’t know how to correct him when he nudges me. I’ve been just trying prevent it from happening by being more aware of where he is and stopping his head from coming closer by adding tension to the lead. When it does happen, I’ve tried:
o   “gently moving him back or away from you” as Mark recommends. Yeeeah, um, “gentle” and “backing” are not words that go together just yet if I’m trying to do it without the arena wall next to us and a dressage whip to tap his hip over. Even in the arena I’m still trying hard to get straight(ish) backing. If backing on a 5’ circle was the goal, we’d be, like, GP level ;-)  Anyway, even when this correction goes well, I’m convinced the cause-effect is lost on him.
o   I have also tried the getting big in his face approach. He sometimes puts on quite a show of displeasure and definitely has it in him to fight back a bit (it’s mostly show and he backs down, but I’m still careful). Problem – I feel like an idiot doing this and don’t think I have the conviction to throw a fit if there are people around. Hey, I’m being honest here. I’m also not convinced it works and/or is necessary.
-          I’ve always said that Willy handles better with a soft approach, rather than a loud punitive one. This is why I started with the “back him out of my space” approach and why I have a hard time with the “get in their face” approach. It’s like I’m undoing some of the good understanding we have built together.
-          Is it always bad if a horse touches you with his head? Is he definitely, without question, thinking that by nudging me he is moving me out of his space (and is therefore boss)? Can a touch just be a touch? Can they comfort seek?
-          For awhile I made sure to work on backing in-hand a little, every time I was out. It seemed to help his manners overall (and it’s good for his stifles!). I haven’t done it lately but I should probably step that up again.

What do you guys think? Any advice on keeping consistent in handling or correcting pushiness? He’s not really bad but I feel a lot of responsibility for teaching him the best ways to get along with humans.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Defending Horses by the Numbers

Last night, Alex was bugging me (again!) about how much time I spend at the barn. So I made a spreadsheet :-D Sometimes it's good to be a stats geek! Everything is calculated to November 24th, the day he returns from his next trip.

Since Alex has been back from the field (Aug 28):

- I have spent the equivalent of 7.5 full days at the barn (assuming 5 days/week and 4 hrs per round trip)
- He will have been away 12 days, in 2 blocks of 6 consecutive days (which is clearly more of a "loss" than my 4hr chunks, lol)

The kicker? Out of the 327 days between Jan 1 and Nov 24, he will have been away 104 of them, or approximately 32% of the time.

I showed him the spreadsheet. He asked if he could pay for half my saddle ;-)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

If the saddle fits, wear it. If not...

The saddle I’ve been using for most of my time with Willy doesn’t fit. I’ve known from the start that it wasn’t great. In the beginning what I knew is that it sits too low in front but there was decent wither clearance and the sweat marks were even under it. Knowing at least a bit about saddle fit, I could tell it wasn’t 100% correct, so I put it on him without any pads etc. It actually seemed pretty level to me.  I then looked at the panels and they seemed to make good contact their entire length.  I was satisfied that although it wasn’t the best fit, this saddle was pretty decent on Will.

Here I will add that I am using one of the owner’s saddles that was not specifically for this horse. It’s a Bates Caprilli and a nice enough saddle…if it fits your horse.

For the first few months I rode in that saddle without any discernable problem. We weren’t really schooling anyway, so perhaps that helped hide the problems somewhat. On one outing to Mecca (aka Apple Saddlery), I saw a nice sheepskin half pad for a good price. The half pad I’ve been using (again, the owner’s) is not real sheepskin and is quite thick and not very conforming. I did like the wither “keyhole” it had but that’s about it. So I bought the sheepskin (and a lovely new bit, also on sale!). 

I instantly liked the position I was in much better. I was straighter and not nearly so forward-tilting.  However, on our third ride with that pad, as I was tacking up, Willy looked unhappy when I started saddling. Normally it doesn’t bother him a bit. I noted the behaviour but honestly thought it was more of a reaction to the 3 horses in the barn who were getting chiropractic work at the time.

We rode inside and did some actual schooling. Although things started out well enough it ended up being a frustrating ride. He just wasn’t himself and I couldn’t figure out if he was just being a baby and was objecting to being inside and being asked to focus or something else. I thought I was asking for small amounts of focus at a time, nothing that should have been a big deal. It’s not like he’s completely green and I do ask things from him every ride, even if we are out and about. 

At the end of the ride I dismounted and took his saddle off to cool him out. The second it was off his back my heart sank.  I could clearly see that the saddle was bridging across his back. There were sweat marks by the withers and the back of the saddle but nothing in between.  I honestly wanted to cry. 

I guess the good thing is the new half pad let me see the problem clear as day. I figure the better breathability of the sheepskin meant he didn’t sweat where there was no contact unless the exercise was intense, which it wasn’t that day. The previous rides were both warmer days and longer, more intense rides, so the whole length of his back had some sweat. 

After that I tried another saddle – a beautiful Schlesse all-purpose that was really much more like a typical dressage saddle. It fit Willie nicely but they are made wide and it killed my inner thighs. I didn’t realize how sore I was until the next day when I sat in it again. Oye!  It made me brace and ride weird (or weird-er!).  Oh well, it wasn’t going to be a good long-term solution anyway.

There was nothing for it but to look into getting my own saddle.  I struggled with the decision a bit – buying a saddle for a horse I’m only leasing seemed a little hard to justify.  But I had to do something and it is an investment that wouldn’t necessarily only be good for this horse, if things don’t work out with him long term.
I am fortunate in that our area has a very, very good saddle fitter. He has trained with master saddlers all over the world, is the saddler for the RCMP musical ride, etc etc. He has also designed and now manufactures his own line of saddles, based on the Tolga tree (he studied with Tolga Aksoyek).  I like that they are made in Canada (though they do use imported French leather).  I knew we would be in good hands.

I went to his shop and sat in a ton of saddles. I told Alex he had to come with me to keep me from getting something really high-end. His response was to ask when I’ve ever known him to disagree with purchasing quality sports equipment for the sake of saving a couple bucks in the short-term and that you always spend more long-term with that approach. Oh, how I love my husband!

Tolgas, Pessoas, you name it, I sat in it. I liked that the saddler was by no means trying to up-sell me.  I said from the start that this was for a horse I’m only leasing and that I’d like something reasonably priced but that I also believed in buying quality once rather than throwing money away on something I would want to replace sooner rather than later. By far my favourite was one of his own Vision Saddlery saddles. But there was also a Pessoa I wouldn’t have complained about owning and a couple others that would work well. 

One saddle was awesome, reasonably inexpensive, and in excellent shape (it was gently used) and just felt great. The problem? Colour. It was a pale blonde-ish colour. Probably would have been trendy if it was a western saddle (if that’s still a trend in whatever discipline it was trendy in!). He said I could darken it some with oiling but it didn’t seem worth it to me. After all, how would I match a bridle?? ;-) 

The saddler came out two days later to assess Will. He showed me all the things to look for and how to assess the saddles. He took the time to look at the Bates I had been using, “just in case” and discussed all the ways it was wrong  :-/

I learned a lot of the finer details to looks for, beyond what I had read about saddle fit. I really think I had to see different examples on a horse in real life to make all the theory I’ve read truly useful. It was also useful in that I could be 100% confident in the reasons behind what the saddler recommended –this way I could see what he was talking about for myself.  I was pretty happy that the best match for Willy was my favourite saddle of the bunch, especially since I thought it was ruled out as suitable for him. Turns out I was confused by a similar-looking saddle.

It is similar to this one only without the external calf block. 
Mine does have one under the flap, which is plenty for me.

I am 8 rides in and love it. I knew Willy would feel better but I wasn’t prepared for just how much better!  He is moving under himself so much better! The balance is so natural I almost don’t have to get used to it at all – I just have to get used to not compensating for poor balance!

I will get pictures as soon as I get the matching bridle (!!) sorted out, oiled, etc. I was delayed with these things this week because I blew a tire on my car...of course Alex was out of town so it was a little trickier to get it replaced timing-wise (I took the backroads to the barn for 2 days, lol). I should get everything put together this week though. 

A potrait from today.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Today's Harvest.

Yes, you read that right, I harvested produce from my garden. Today. October 15th. And I'm not talking squash or anything, either.


That is my main pepper bed as of this morning. It has been going strong and providing us with more peppers than we know what to do with. Well, that's not exactly true, I have been finding things to do with every one of them but it's getting to be a challenge.

Still so many gorgeous peppers. Most of them have 
been ripening just fine, even if taken green. It makes
me giddy to see this in mid-October!

Also have plenty of tomatoes coming still. I broke down and decided that I would pull all but the cherry tomato plants. Those seem to still be actively producing so I can't bear to pull them but if we lose some to frost it won't be a big deal.

Yes, there is a bit of bacterial speck/spot on the plants. 
The fruit of the cherry plants haven't been affected yet (although the 
regular plants were).  It's kind of inevitable with tomatoes this late
in the year. Next year I am rotating growing spaces anyway.

I decided the other tomatoes were a lot of work to maintain and had finally far gone enough to just harvest anything of decent size and condition. They have only survived so well because whenever the overnight low is too low, Alex lights tea light candles in the tomato and pepper beds before covering them with tarps for the night.

Or they are mutant plants. Whichever.

Goodnight moon, goodnight pepper.
Goodnight tomato, f-you weather.

That stands for "fooled you" weather, of course.

Right, so, I took all the green tomatoes off as I pulled the plants. I figure if they ripen they will still taste better than grocery store options. I am really going to miss tomatoes :-(   Anyway, it ended up being a fair bit of produce!

This wasn't everything, either. I had at least one more 
overflowing bowl of green tomatoes and some cherry toms too.
That bag of pepper is FULL!

As far as peppers go, we decided to go ahead and pick the ones that were of a good size or were clearly not likely to ripen but left some promising ones on the plants since temps seem ok for the next few days. We ended up with this.
Not nearly as impressive as in person,


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Hay Barn for Paradigm.

Many months ago, Jason posted about their dilemma in terms of how to design a muti-purpose barn at the new property of Paradigm Farms. Being without my husband all summer I am always either too busy or have too much time to myself (late at night, for example). So, I started goofing around with a paint "drawing" of how I thought their new barn could work. I don't think I finished it as per my original idea (whatever that was) and a few days went by, life happened, etc., and I figured the time had passed for posting it. But Jason seems to like my paint drawings, so I had to share the one I did just for Paradigm, lol. I'm sure they have long since designed and built the perfect barn!

So, without further ado...

You can see we have short-term horse lodging, crossties for vet/farrier work, a feed preparation room, and hay and/or equipment storage. Of course, the whole thing would be covered with a roof but could be relatively open on the sides, assuming appropriate roof overhang.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Curious George.

I've been riding Willie all over the place. The vet instructed us to work in straight lines, work often, and not to do arena work for as long as possible, so that's what we've done. For the first while, it was pretty easy going. I could point him anywhere and he would go without a second thought, it seemed. Yes, there were times when his head would come up and he'd look intently at something in the distance. And especially spook-worthy things would elicit more of a reaction, like a leap sideways, but overall I was very impressed with him. So I'd say he can be a rather sensitive horse and although I wouldn't describe him as overly spooky, he is definitely "looky" and fairly reactive.

In the beginning, I always let him look until I felt him relax, then I would ask for forward. I worried a little that I needed to make him work through these moments but it felt important to me that I learn when he needed that minute and when I should push him on. I think I've got that now. Sometimes he just needs to look and I can't help but feel it's better if he works out for himself that everything is ok, rather than forcing him in all situations.

We'd had weeks of field and trail rides under our belt when things started to change. It got cooler, the fields were harvested or turned golden, the tree lines were no longer solid walls but had spook-worthy gaps appearing between the leaves. These gaps leave just enough space to see that there is something beyond but not what that something might be. Definitely cause for giraffe neck and wonder leaps.

Aside from learning how to stick with a horse that is leaner, faster, and more agile than Brumby (though thankfully he's less powerful at this stage), I've learned a few things about Willie's personality. One of the most interesting to me is his apparent sense of curiosity.

For example, when he stops to look hard at something he's not sure about, he will stare for awhile and then offer to approach the object. Sometimes I feel him relax and so give a squeeze with my legs and that sends him off, but there is no real direction from me. Other times, he starts forward without any encouragement. If the subject of his interest is within reasonable distance, he approaches more often than not.

One time, there was some kind of furry creature in the trees that neither of us saw until we rounded the corner of the field at a canter. That was the biggest spook I'd ever experienced with him - all he did was take a huge leap sideways and give a little buck but it was super fast. In fact, I was left behind as he leap sideways. I landed on my feet, as if the horse disappeared from under me! I got back on and continued our ride, though I didn't force him back into that corner we did work a little ways from it. The very next ride, as we approached that area, he clearly "asked" to go toward that corner. I let him and after brief investigation he moved on.

This kind of behaviour is typical of WIllie - he always wants to investigate the scary stuff.  I think maybe "George" should be in the running for Willie's new barn name. He is such a curious boy, it would be fitting.

Yesterday was a particularly good example.

Remember this?

Well, Willie's is fine with the boogey man #1 area and usually asks to go up to the fields (Aside: I love this about him. He often lets me know he prefers to go a certain way. Sometimes I make him conform to my agenda and then let him explore where he wanted and other times I just let him take me to the fields/trails. I don't mind fostering his desire to go off the beaten path. I love it!). Anyway, boogey man #2 is much more frightening. Most horses think so, to varying degrees.

There is a path in that back corner that goes through tall grass and sparse trees with the track on one side for awhile and fields on the other. It can be hard to see and I only learned of it this year, having not been able to hack Brumby all that much. Willie and I explored that trail some while hacking with others but we always came from the fields to the trail and then the track, never the other way.

Expanded worlds...
But yesterday...
We headed down the track.

Said "hi" to the mare Mini. 
Willie quite likes Mini, I suspect it's 
their similar lack of a round butt.

Then we come to Panda, a fine Canadian horse. 
I'm not sure why Willie has donkey ears - 
probably not used to me fiddling with a camera during a ride!

When we got to the path off the track, he clearly asked to go that way. This was new and since this is a scary corner I figured the more he explored the better.

Can I? Huh?? Can I?

So we went. He actually even asked to go in a direction I had never been with him before (perhaps my coach has? If she has, it would have been months ago, at least).

Uncharted territory.

We rode a loop back towards the start of the track and then met up with another rider and headed down the same path in the other direction.

This was an "accident" picture but I think it's funny 
because it looks like Willie is only 2 or 3 fists wide. 
I assure you this isn't the case ;-)

I'm afraid I'm in love with my curious little monkey.

Monday, October 3, 2011

One thing lead to another and - Per Meisner clinic tomorrow!

Somehow on Saturday, while watching and helping out with day one of Per Meisner holding a clinic at our barn, I got talked into riding tomorrow. Per comes at least once a year, so I figured I'd catch the next round. But there was a cancellation and some encouragement plus I really, really, wanted to do it so...I'm up tomorrow at 3:00.

Per is a Danish riding master who rides and trains at the grand prix level. He also ran (runs?) a stud farm, and is a former coach of the Danish Paralympic Dressage team when they placed 4th at the  Paralympics under his coaching.

This is the first clinic I will ride in myself and I am so excited. Ok, a little nervous too! But one of the first things I heard out of Per's mouth was how he doesn't believe there are any mistakes in riding, only opportunities to learn. I bet that sounds familiar to many of you, especially Kate, as I just read those words in a Mark Rashid book I picked up (Whole Heart, Whole Horse -  a cheesy title but so far I'm enjoying the book). I figure any instructor with that philosophy is going to be a positive influence on a green horse, and me, so I can't go wrong.

Wish me luck!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Fast Forward to Real Time.

This post is to catch up on the last few months of my horse life without feeling obligated to discuss every detail. I am hoping this will get me back on track so that I can get into the deeper topics I want without being stifled by so much time passing (pun intended). It's not that I won't cover issues from that period of time but rather the posts will be centered around the topic rather than strictly chronological, which I think will be much more interesting, at least until I catch up fully.

SO! I've been riding a TON. I really took the vet's recommendation seriously and have been doing my best to work Willie (who I've been calling Bear - still working on a new barn name) 6 days a week. My initial plan was 3 days on, one day off. While I managed this for a brief time, I soon learned that I wouldn't be successful with that kind of rigidity. Of course, being there for my family certainly changed things, but it wasn't sustainable regardless. It didn't mean that I couldn't ride just as frequently overall, but I did realize that I had to allow for some variation in the schedule.

My main goals are to ride as much as possible and to try not to give more than one day in a row off completely. Of course I also vary the intensity and type of ride, depending on previous rides, anticipated next rides, days off etc. I have been very fortunate to have had great weather (up until tonight) that has allowed me to work outside.

Willie's stifles have been great. They would occasionally lock up again until about 2 weeks ago but it was more like sticking than locking and would only happen before warm-up. His shape is changing a lot too and he's looking better and better all the time. Of course, he's feeling better too which can be...interesting ;-) Especially with the cooler weather!

Overall he's been such a good boy and I'm having more fun than I ever have before with any other horse. Yes, I sometimes miss the level I was riding at with Brumby but I don't for a second regret the decision. This has been an entirely different experience and process for me and I'm enjoying the journey so much.

Here are a couple pictures from August. 
It was a day off riding but I took Willie for 
a long walk with Hazel.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


I haven’t quite known how to start a new post for the last few days. My grandmother passed away last week and it feels very odd to try to move on from that and start to discuss other things. I guess I worry it will come off as insensitive but really I just don’t want to talk about it much on here. Since my mom was a single parent for much of my childhood and youth, my grandmother played a very important role in my life. It makes it that much harder to think about not being able to go for a visit.

I’m sad I won’t get to bring her the very best of my summer tomatoes again. I’m happy that, just a few weeks before this whole thing started, I brought about 4 cups worth of my yellow and red cherry tomatoes for her. She couldn’t resist eating them all  (honestly, they really are out-of-this-world delicious).

I am sad that my mom lost her mother and I lost my grandmother. But I’m happy that my mom was with her in those final moments and that I had been there for days before that.
I’m also grateful that I was able to read her a letter I wrote, which my mom helped me translate (my Nonna’s English was pretty good but it was increasingly easier for her to understand Italian). She was aware of what I said and was able to say a few words back to me.
Finally, I am grateful that she went peacefully and that she will not simply suffer endlessly. She was such a sweet lady who had more than her share of crosses to bear in life. Now she is at peace and I am most certainly grateful for that.

Monday, September 12, 2011

My Nonna.

Hi Guys. This is just a quick post to let you know I am still alive and well. Unfortunately, my Nonna (grandmother) is not doing too well and has been critical for almost 2 weeks. It has been one hell of a rollercoaster for my whole family and this particular ride isn't over yet.

I hope to have the mental energy soon to update you on the other interesting stuff in life (namely horses, gardening, and preserving). Suffice it to say that those aspects of life have been amazing. I have so much I want to touch base with other bloggers about, especially in my adventure with my new lease. I am enjoying him so, so much, even though we are still in major conditioning mode. I have lots to say and ask, so hopefully I can get back to some semblance or normalcy soon. For now, I'm just trying to be there and support my Nonna and my mom as best I can, one way or another.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Eight Days a Week, I Rri-ii-ide You.

Well, ok, more like 6 days a week, at least. But still, might as well be 8.

It sounds like a dream prescription - ride the horse at least 6 days a week, no arena work if at all possible, no circles, figures or collected work. Gallop him 2 days a week. Lots of hacking out, keeping as many straight lines as possible. Poles, hills, and the like are also good, but mostly exercise, exercise, exercise.

Fall is fast approaching and this is the time of year when I most want to just have fun with a horse. Not worry about frame and rhythm too much, give them (and me) some fun time to explore, etc. Hack out lots, without the annoying biting bugs to ruin it.

So it would really be an ideal time to have this kind of veterinary advice. Except for the tiny little detail that is my full-time career. All I can think is "Welcome back love...I'm off to the barn."  But I'm game. And I've recruited some competent help. I told his owner last week that I suspected the vet would recommend working almost every day and I was right. Not sure I really wanted to be right this time, but it's better than if the horse had something seriously wrong!

I'll back track a touch. Willie's stifles started locking up again after 2 weeks of working poles, hills, etc. And the opposite stifle started to act as bad as the original left hind was prior to the new hind shoes with wedge pads, while the left hind was pretty good still. At that point, we called the vet immediately so that we could be sure of what we were dealing with and that I was moving forward correctly. I will detail the vet visit in a seperate post, it's worth it's own time!

The visit was yesterday and that's the main prescription I got. Again, I'm not overly surprised by this. Still, it's nice to have the official word so that it's not just my idea. This way, the owners have the assurance that I'm following doctor's orders. The vet also did an internal blister on each stifle, on either side of the ligament. It wasn't my choice or decision and my questions of the vet around this practice are why I need a seperate post (among other things).

And so, we work!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Light at the End (and other calamities).

At the beginning of the summer, shortly after Alex left, I was working on a post titled "The last seven days."  Several rather exasperating things had happened, as they always do when he's out of town. I thought I'd do one of these posts a week to give me a chance to vent and, more importantly, laugh off the ridiculous things that happen. Of course, I was too busy dealing with the things to write about them.

The rest of the summer has continued on the same path! In the last 2 weeks alone, I've had to deal with many things. One morning, I was positive I smelled gas at the front door. I was tempted to ignore it since I had so much work to accomplish before a big meeting last week. Fortunately I recognized how silly that was. The gas company was great and came about 40 minutes later. Sure enough, there was a small leak in the meter out front.

Then, last Tuesday, I had the crazy long meeting. We have these every month but this one was especially challenging for me because 2 of the main items on the agenda were my projects. I was basically "on" all day. Later that night, I was on the phone with my mom. I was telling her how I was extremely exhausted but had an awesome day - I rocked the meeting, made a great dinner, cleaned the kitchen spotless, and did some gardening. Just as I was finishing up describing how on the ball I was, I heard Hazel start to bark.

Now, Hazel rarely barks. When she does, it's typically a couple low "woofs" in warning. Very rarely, she does her hound bark. This bark barely sounds like a bark. It's more like a torturous-sounding combination of a yelp, howl, and bark. The first time I heard it, I thought something horrible was happening to her. Turns out it was the neighbour's cat who had once attacked Hazel for no reason (I swear, I have video proof somewhere).

So as soon as I heard that particular bark, I said "Oh, this isn't going to be good." Sure enough, it was a skunk. I spent until 3am washing her, walking her, etc. I was dead on my feet. Eventually I just didn't care anymore and the dog and I collapsed into our respective beds. The next day, I did a few more treatments, missed work, and tried to catch up on sleep.
Suggestion: don't scream in a panic for your dog to come when it's
confronting a skunk that hasn't sprayed yet.Try to instruct the dog forcefully 
but with something less than a crazed level of volume :-/ It might help avoid the spray.
Naturally, in the midst of bathing Hazel, I got a call from Alex. To say that I was not in the best mood would be the understatement of the year. On top of that, our connection was bad. I was so tired, I don't even know what I said. I do recall commenting how this is yet another freakin' thing I have to deal with on my own. Of course, I expect this just makes him feel wonderful. We had several more days of miscommunication, so that sucked.  Although I knew everything would work out fine, misunderstandings happen sometimes after being apart for so long and only having brief conversations, but my world is never right when there is tension between us. Finally on Saturday we had the time to hash it out. All was well.

In between all this, I had taken some time for myself on Friday (I had previously schduled the day off, for relaxation and pampering the dogs, since I was dog-sittung). With all the skunk stuff, I needed some horse time. I got to the barn and started grooming my boy but it didn't take long to realize his stifle, now the opposite one, was locking. No riding for me. Vet is scheduled, I'll keep you posted. 

Back to talking to Alex on Saturday. About a minute after I hung up, as I was preparing to take the dogs out (I was dog-sitting for my mom), I heard the carbon monoxide alarm going off in the furnace room. I went down and pressed the button that shows what the highest reading was. It said 32ppm, which is within the accepted range but still odd. Now here is the lesson that you should know your devices. I thought if I pressed the "test" button, it would give me a new reading. When I did that, it showed 224ppm and did the emergency warning beep pattern. While this isn't a death-is-imminent level, it is med-high and will make you sick. Since I had the a/c on, that meant I had a pretty closed system. So I shut down the a/c, opened all the windows and took the dogs for a long walk. The monitor says to call 911 if you get the emergency beep sequence, but I wasn't convinced. I figured I could do that if the problem remained.

Once back from the walk, I went back to the basement and re-tested (or so I thought). Again, I got a reading around 224. So I took the monitor and brought it upstairs. I tested each room, getting readings between 224 and 230. At this point I was suspicious. Why would it still be so high after the windows upstairs had been open for over 30 minutes? So I looked up the manual online and discovered two things: 1) they are not made to take the instant readings I thought I was taking, they monitor constantly and display the value and sound alarm at various intervals. The time between readings/alarms depend on the concentration of CO found, 2) The unit, for some unfathomable reason, is programmed to display a value "around 200" whenever you press the test button, and then it does the emergency beep sequence and returns to monitoring. So I was FINE but had an hour where I thought my night was going to really suck. Read your manuals, folks!

It seems simple, but a small misunderstanding
in the way things operate can cause lots of headache. 

The next day, I found out that one of the students my husband is co-supervising for her thesis was one of only three survivors in a plane crash that killed 12 people in Resolute Bay, Nunavut. He was pretty shaken, I think, as this time he had a face to the tragedy. While I am relieved she is going to be fine and am incredibly sorry for those that weren't so lucky, I don't think I need to tell you how it made me feel. 

So to say I am glad that I will, universe willing, have him safe at home in a week is another understatement. Although we've been doing this for years, it's much different to have your right-hand man away when you own a home and work full time, as opposed to being a student. I have to say I coped much better this year compared to last, since I socialized more, had more fun, and was more used to running the house on my own. But there were also more stressful events. His career choice has given me a few extra grey hairs this summer, that's for sure. Honest, I saw them this morning!

It's the light at the end of a very long tunnel, for me. I hope for a safe return. As much as I understand his passion for what he does, I'm finding it increasingly difficult not want to beg for more reasonable field seasons. But he's at the top of his game and there is no way I am going to clip those wings. If I'm honest, though, I wish he would trim them himself, just a little. On the other hand, I want him to fly as high as he can, I really do. I am so proud of him. Oh, love. It's never simple. And yet so simple.