Wednesday, September 27, 2006

This Old Horse

The vet was out yesterday to do fall shots. Most of the time, I don't think about how old my horses (and I!) are getting, but this was a new vet, and I had to give him the basic info on the herd. My youngest horse is eight. My oldest is 23. We've crossed the line now. The majority of the herd is "aged"--15 or older, with one more about to make the leap in another year.

But this isn't a treatise on the sadness or wonder of old horses. Personally, I like 'em. They're cool. They look you in the eye, tell you what they need, and move on with their day without a lot of fuss and bother. Zip, at 11, misses having a playmate now that Leo has turned 21 and can't be bothered with the Stall Ball Game anymore. On the other hand, at 11 he can no longer keep up with the 8-year-old mini, Duke, who can run him ragged in a matter of minutes. It's all a matter of perspective.

Something else happened yesterday, though, that brought it all home. The chicken coop got hit for the second night by a young bear eager to bulk up for winter. I saw him. I carried the remaining hens to the barn and set up temporary digs for them in an empty stall. Not a whole lot safer as the fox who lives in the barn will eventually figure out a way into their new hovel, but hopefully the bear will be trapped and the coop repaired before that happens.

But moving the chickens to the barn in the darkness gave me pause. I felt as if I were issuing an invitation to the bear to follow the trail I was laying, a trail that would eventually lead him to my mini, who is locked in a stall at night for exactly this reason. The paws that ripped the T-111 siding off the hen house would make quick work of even the sturdy oak sliding door of that stall. Not a happy thought.

Then, given the opportunity to run free, my inner paranoid extended that out to the herd. The one-eyed Appy, at 23, looks half his age, but he's not. He's got a touch of arthritis, testimony to a long, happy life of galloping around with adoring riders on his back. He's got a cataract growing in his only eye. I wouldn't call him easy pickin's, but he certainly would be an easier target than the younger horses . . . all two of them. Four of my six could be supper for a good-sized, hungry bear.

It's not that I've never thought of this before. We live in tenuous harmony with a whole bevy of bears, a quiznos of foxes, a plunder of coyotes, and a lethargy of wild turkeys. There's a mountain lion wandering just beyond our perimeter. As long as they don't mess with me or mine, I don't think about them.

Now I have to, and I think I resent that.

Tomorrow morning the guys from Fish and Game will come set a trap for the bear. We did a pretty good job of chasing him off last night with the noisy, fuming Ford tractor, so he may not come back for thirds. That would please me no end. Unfortunately, it would also leave me wondering and fretting for however long it takes for the recent events to fade into the shadows.

I'd love to hear what other horse owners do. How do you sleep when you know there are a dozen things that could drop your horse while you dream? Paranoia aside, I'm open to suggestion. Jump right in! Your comments will be welcome, probably by more folks than just me.

Now I'm going out to look at the damage to the henhouse and figure out my next move. Peace out.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Long in the Tooth

A healthy horse is a happy horse. The best way to keep a horse healthy is to follow the basic maintenance procedures that have become standard over years of research and trial-and-error. Along with proper feeding, lots of time outdoors for exercise and relaxation, safe and friendly handling, regular veterinary care, and nit-picky stuff like sheath and udder cleaning and overall grooming, hoof care and dentistry are important factors in your horse's ability to live long and prosper.

That said, there is what I consider a huge problem confronting horse people that no one seems to talk about. How, exactly, does a caring horse owner find good, reputable, sane professionals to oversee all that care?

Over the years I have hired and fired a number of farriers and watched dentists appear and disappear without warning. Considering how expensive horsekeeping can be, it would seem reasonable that every horse owner would want to find the best possible people to help keep his horses in tip-top shape and forestall the huge vet bills and sudden losses that result from a lack of appropriate care. So why isn't there a list somewhere of horse professionals, their credentials, and maybe a word or two from satisfied (or dissatisfied) customers? Something like Angie's List for horse people.

Recently I went looking for a new horse dentist. The change was forced by circumstances, to wit: my old dentist simply wasn't doing the best job anymore, and my horses were suffering for his lapses. How do you know when your horse's teeth are problematic? Well, some of them will drop feed, quid hay (turn it into soggy hay-balls that litter the stall floor instead of being processed as food that will litter the stall floor in the form of manure), or evade the bit. Some will travel with their heads tilted to one side or make obvious faces. Some will avoid the bit entirely, avoid bending, or avoid you in the pasture if they suspect bitting will be part of your interaction. Some just lose weight.

Mine were doing all of the above. Six horses, six different reactions to unhappy teeth.

My search seemed simple, as I was immediately referred by a master in the field to someone he considered almost as good as he was. But when that gentleman proved difficult to pin down, I was disturbed to discover that finding someone else was nearly impossible. I asked friends and found that many of them let their vets do the job. I asked vets who said they really hated floating teeth. Why would a vet want to give up a $1500 day of fairly easy barn calls in trade for a $500 day of horse wrestling? Good question.

I was quickly transported back to the two years of the Great Farrier Hunt, when my shoer announced his retirement in mid-horse and left me with nothing but a bill and a cloud of exhaust funes. I jumped from the guy who called my horses "unruly" to the one who cursed and threw tools when he hurt himself to the one who was fabulous but disappeared after two years, never to return. Eventually I re-found a man who is tops at what he does, and I've been doing my best for several years to prevent his departure. We have a working relationship that works.

I didn't expect to relive that time, but I am. Oh, the new dentist did finally make and keep an appointment with me, and he did (I hope--these things are judged over the long-term) a good job. His attitude could have used some adjustment (one more reference to how difficult I must be to live with, wink, wink, and I probably would have found a better storage place for his floats, if you get my drift), but beggars can't be choosers . . . yet.

I say we horse owners need to band together and share our resources more efficiently. Do I know how to do that? Absolutely not! If I did, I'd be busy compiling and publishing some sort of directory that would make me the sweetheart of area horse people and put me on the hit list of every professional in the tri-state. I'm looking for suggestions, volunteers, help of some sort.

Horse owners of the world, unite! We have nothing to lose but the rest of our sanity and the remains of our paychecks.