Friday, October 23, 2009

Far Hills and Faraway Ponies

I'd fully intended to send this video to Facebook, but I realized it would draw more comments from more folks who believe ponies live long enough to raise several generations of children and that no horse should ever be sold, and I wouldn't have had the chance to really put in my two dollars' (inflation, you know) worth.

Chico is obviously an amazing pony, and this video was made in part as a farewell memory for his young owner and in part as a sales pitch in hopes that Chico would wind up in the hands of another child who would love him as much as Scotty has. Word has it that he did just that.

The bond shown here is amazing, and it's a wonderful commentary on what can happen when wise, horse-smart parents introduce their children appropriately to a love of animals and give them the skills to be safe and happy in their horse lives. That ponies are outgrown is just the nature of the beast. It's not sad. It's life. And I can attest from experience that though Chico undoubtedly went through an emotional period of loss after he moved on, he most likely adjusted and was just as pleased to be fawned over by yet another child...and another after that until he reaches the end of the road and his forever home.

My daughter once bought a lesson pony. The pony proved to be too small for some students and too hot for others, so after two years she made the sad decision to send him on to a new home. We picked his buyer carefully, refusing the crazies and the insipids and settling on a lovely grandmother small enough to ride the pony and loaded with grandchildren who would also love him. But the pony wasn't nearly as sad as we were. As much as he seemed bonded with us, he was a total whore for any child under the age of ten, with or without carrots. He knew instinctively that kids were going to be his life, and he was more than fine with that. He didn't even wave goodbye.

So watch the video with an eye toward helping the children in your life form the same kind of bond with whatever animals you choose. Horses are not for everyone, but the connection with animals is.

On to the Race at Far

Saturday, October 17th, was cold, rainy/snowy, and without much merit overall with the exception of the running of the annual Far Hills Steeplechase. The races held that day were as exciting as they are every year, though the slippery footing left some jockeys shutting down when they realized they couldn't win. They get points for sanity. There's no glory in a steeplechase version of Barbaro.

This race card is more than just another link in the national steeplechase chain. Begun back in the 1950's as a thank-you to local farmers from the Essex Hunt, this particular outing is hosted at Moorland Farms for the express purpose of fund-raising on behalf of the Steeplechase Cancer Center at Somerset Medical Center in New Jersey. And a fine job it does! An annual event, the Far Hills Race is a gathering of the wealthy and the insane from the Tri-State who tailgate with elan and pay big bucks for the privilege. We were delighted to luck into reserved parking this year so we could join the happy throng of some 35,000 whackadoodle race fans.

Sadly, this being our first year, we didn't get that the rules on paper are just that. Next year we will know that "no open flames" does not preclude a four-burner, propane-fired kitchen range. "No canopies" is just for giggles, I'm sure. The only restriction actually adhered to was the "nothing larger than an SUV" rule, which made maneuvering around the other parked vehicles a little easier. One van in the melee would have created a gridlock worthy of and ABC News flyover.
So is a trip to Far Hills in your future? I have already decided to keep my two spaces for next year and add as many more as I can manage so that our Homeless Race Fans' Tent City can be upgraded to the same level of style and class as this one below. The inflatable ponies eventually made their escape.

In case anyone is wondering, the winner of the high-dollar stakes race was a horse belonging to the Merck (Pharmaceutical) family, one of the rare occasions when a New Jersey horse actually won the New Jersey race. Since this meeting offers the highest purses of the entire national circuit, that's very exciting for the family and for NJ race fans.

Come next September, when your summer is winding down and you're beginning to look for ways to perk up your fall schedule, check the date for the Far Hills Race and sign up. We'll see you there!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Falling Into Winter

Isn't this cute? On my desktop, the snowflakes twinkle. That's supposed to make me feel better about the fact that it frickin' SNOWED yesterday. Snow! In October! In New Jersey! There are only a few things that make living in the most-taxed state in the union tolerable. Good weather is one of them. Snow in October is against the rules.

Anyway, it's time for a look forward and backward. A backward glance shows Pokey recovering nearly completely from her laser cancer surgery. That's the best news I could have had. I didn't ask my vet to check her when he did her shots, but his intellectual curiosity got the better of him and he had to take a peek at this rare surgical site. He was delighted with the outcome, and so am I. I explained my change of post-op routine to exclude the nasty 5-FU ointment until the dead tissue was done sloughing or she launched a new tumor, and he concurred that salting the goo away for the next re-occurrence was the best bet. Yippee!

For anyone out there considering a laser tumor removal (which is primarily for skin cancer in horses but works well for squamous cell carcinoma), know that the after care is a little more difficult than you will be led to believe, but the outcome can be excellent. Reading up on 5-FU, I learned that its major downfall is its inability to penetrate skin, so it is really only useful on the open wound resulting from the surgery. Once the wound heals (or if you can't scrape away the scabs and sloughing dead tissue) it no longer serves much purpose. At nearly $300 a tube (yeah, really), it behooves the cautious owner to use it in the most effective manner...sparingly.

So it goes with Pokey. Zip is once again sporting lameness, this time only saddled and longeing over jumps. The fun just never ends. Before REAL winter, I will ask the lovely Carol Edwards, Chiro to the Equine Stars, to give him a working over in hope that we are still dealing with the results of that locked rib.

Everyone else, including Pinky who for some reason is missing some joint action at the walk but can trot and canter perfectly well, is doing fine. Yay for doing fine!

Looking forward, my new book will be out shortly. I'm relieved, mildly excited (because there have been issues with publisher errors and I haven't seen the final proof block to be assured they've been corrected), and looking for a new project. If you have any suggestions, please let me know. Boredom leads to bad voices in my head.

This is the cover of the new book:

Don't bother trying to order it (I just know thousands of you are going to flood the website with requests), because it won't be available for a couple of weeks yet. I'll let you know. Thanks for asking.

Also looking ahead I see that tomorrow's Race at Far Hills will likely be run in the rain, snow, sleet, hurricane, tornado, or whatever other evil Nature has decided we deserve this year. Be there anyway. We will. We'll be hard to see under the tarps and blankets, but look for our Gallant Hope Farm parking area on the hillside and come say hello. We need to know we're not alone in our insanity.

To paraphrase (because I'm too lazy to open it and look at it and quote it accurately) the classy "skin" on my laptop (purchased from my fave online catalog, Despair Inc):

Madness does not always howl. Sometimes it comes as the quiet voice at the end of the day asking, "Hey! Is there room in your head for one more?"

The answer is yes.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Saved by Mylestone!

I've been a supporter of Mylestone Equine Rescue for several years, ever since a friend introduced me to their program via a benefit wine-tasting. I went for the wine. I stayed for the wonderful job founder Susankelly Thompson and her group do for the horses.

Mylestone is housed on a farm in Warren County, NJ. I was amazed to see how efficiently MER has used the land. Each horse has ample space to move around outdoors, either a shed with easy access for cover and shade at the animal's whim or a stall in the clean, airy barn, and lots of attention from staff. Privately-kept horses should have it so good!

What makes Mylestone special (apart from the obvious and intense dedication of the staff of volunteers who care for and work with the horses) is that every effort is made to rehome the animals that are capable of moving on to a forever home. But those that cannot go on are guaranteed a permanent home at MER with continued care until their time on the planet is over. That means a lot.

I won't belabor the details of the functioning of the group. Everything you might want to know is on their website. What I will add in an attempt to drive home the need is that these horses, many of which came from private owners who could no longer cope with horses in their lives for whatever reason, are all needy. They have been ill, abused, neglected, and left to suffer, though not always by the owners who sent them to MER. Though veterinary and other professional care is generally donated, the medications are not. Nor is their feed. Several are on special diets and endless doses of supportive meds to make their lives the best they can be for however long they last.

The need for volunteers and donated feed, equipment, and cash, cash, CASH is pretty much endless. As horses leave MER for new homes or for their final resting places, new ones arrive, each with its own problems and issues.

Visit the website, check the wish list. If there's something you can donate, do so. Visits are not arranged or encouraged on weekdays--the place is buzzing and volunteers are fewer during those times--but if you want to see what's going on before you send a donation, ask for an appointment and visit on a weekend. You will be as pleasantly surprised as I was, I'm sure.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Middle-Aged Horses

While we're on the subject of middle age and fearfulness, let's take a quick look at the fearless middle-aged horse. After all, middle age isn't just for humans, you know!

I said that a lot of fearfulness in riders of any age (but older, less sane riders most of all) comes from trying to ride the wrong horse. I suggested that as we grow old, our brain hairs wither and we tend to remember only the best times of our horse lives, the ones spent galloping around like lunatics, doing things our mothers didn't want us to do, making boarding farm owners old before their time. When that happens, we buy and try to ride horses that are too much for us. The result is often bodily damage (real or projected onto an internal screen) and fear.

So the middle-aged horse is a serious candidate for consideration when a middle-aged rider who might have some inky fear besmirching her heart wants to get back in the saddle after a layoff. Middle-aged horses are not their lunatic offspring. Not that there aren't Wild Willies in the "aged" group (that's over 12 in some circles, over 15 in others), but unless Big Buddy was kept in a stall his whole life, he's seen and done a lot more than his younger herd mates. Not as much scares him. Not so many squirrels in his woods (or in his head).

On the other hand, unless he's been run into the ground and is sporting a bunch of medical issues resulting from poor management, he's still got ample vim and vigor to make even the coldest heart cockles tingle with warmth. Want to go dashing through the woods bareback? He's probably a safer bet than Hooligan, who may get so excited he'll run you headlong into a tree, forgetting how much taller you are in the saddle than on the ground. Buddy will give you a run for your money, but at a slightly slower, more measured pace. Dakota, pictured here, is 18 now. You'd never guess it to look at him. Granted, he was never the most enthusiastic of horses, but in his dotage he is my number one choice for a leisurely ramble down the road. He's immune to traffic of all sorts including the kids from the neighboring high school who seem to think horses need to be honked at. He's also quite amenable to a barrel run, though his limit is three before he suggests dinner and a movie. And he'll happily pop over cross rails up to a height of four inches. I've tried raising the bar, but at five inches he stops dead and waits for me to lower the rail before he backs up and hops over.

Now, Dakota may be a little too quiet for most experienced riders. It's a matter of taste and how you choose to spend your saddle time. He's my guy for the challenge of the twisty back road with the trucks whizzing by. Leo, at 23, is my choice for everything else. Want to run? He's your boy. Want to jump a little? He'll do that too, up to about 18 inches (after which his arthritis makes him hop like a jack-in-the-box). And he'll spend all day wandering through the woods, delighting in the neighbors' kids' toys that blow freely past him and entranced by the contractor blasting foundation holes with dynamite. No fear.

Just remember that too quiet is as bad as too hot. When fear is your riding partner, you may over-compensate and opt for the least noxious horse on the sale site. A "pusher" is hard for an older, experienced rider to deal with as he may require all your energy just to get from the barn to the ring or the trail. If you're tired before you even get going, you're only trading boredom and frustration for anxiety.

Shop on!

Friday, October 02, 2009

Middle Age, Part Two

I was 32 when this picture was taken. That's so long ago that I had to check with friends to make sure this was a picture of me. I barely remember what it felt like to be that young and....well, alert!

Since my post about middle aged riders and fear, I've done some talking to other old people and some reading, and I've reached a conclusion or two. Middle aged (and Other Aged) riders are not more afraid of riding. They are:

1. More aware of how devastating injuries can affect their daily lives and stretch their families' love and patience to the breaking point, and

2. More likely to own the wrong horse.

By the time most riders have reached an advanced age, they have experienced a number of traumatic events, many of them horse-related. I was fifty...uh....over fifty when I had the only riding accident that sent me to the ER. Not that others should not have also done so, but on this occasion there were witnesses, so I couldn't just hobble to my bathroom and pour peroxide on whatever yucky places needed cleaning. I had to actually seek treatment. A good thing, as it turned out, as I needed stitches. Horse people are notorious for do-it-yourself medicine. Heck! If you can use a clamp to stop a horse's digital artery from relieving the animal of its life force, it's not a huge leap to pick up a needle and thread and "fix it" when some interior portion of your own body is trying to become exterior. Duct tape and a riding crop have splinted many a sprain.

The ER visit didn't cause my long recovery period. The type of accident did. But my family really had to step up during that time, and it took nearly two years for my left shoulder and hip to resume total (almost) functionality. Suddenly it wasn't funny anymore.

If I didn't have my own farm, if there were no horses, chickens, and people here to be cared for, if I'd been able to walk away and hole up for a time while I healed, I might not have experienced such a rude awakening. From what I've discovered in my recent conversations, it's the folks who have horses at home who are the first to discover capital-F Fear. The ones who board out but wind up in a body cast are the next group. The ones who lose jobs or spouses or the ability to function without support are right up there too.

In other words, it's not that middle-aged and older folks are more fearful, it's that they are more likely to have had a serious injury, for the odds to have finally turned against them, and they're more attuned to how their absence affects the larger world around them.

We are also more likely to be unwilling to give up on a horse that isn't working for us anymore (or one that never was). I'm old enough to have horses that have been with me for fifteen years. A fifteen-year-old rider can't say that. A fifteen-year-old rider thinks six months is a long time. Inertia is big in older folks. As I watched Zips Moneypit happily rediscovering his jumping bone, I couldn't help but think that he's misplaced here. He'll stay here until he dies (or I d0) because I know the folly of trying to rehome a horse that age that has never lived anywhere else. And because giving up on him smacks of giving in to my aging.

And we're forgetful! We remember those days when we galloped bareback and helmetless (yes, we did) through the woods and we buy horses that remind us of those days. Then we get on them and feel as if we're suddenly wrong. Different. The horse that attracted the memory us scares the bejeezus out of the real-time us.

Now, that doesn't mean we need to quit. We do, however, need to pay homage to our advancing years and think about also having a horse that is an easy, safe ride. Having more than one horse is out of the question for many people in this economy, but if we have the wherewithal, it's an excellent option. When I'm fresh out of nerve, good ol' Leo is there to cart me around, zippy enough to be fun and solid enough to erase all doubt that I can still ride. And there's Dakota, western to the core and dead-broke-quiet, but happy to try popping over teeny-tiny cross-rails if I'm in the mood.

This isn't the end of the story, I'm sure. The more people I talk to and the more letters and articles I read, the more I see that there are threads that tie us together but also vast differences in attitude and experience. I'll be curious to see where this all comes together into some sort of coherent theory.

Meanwhile, I'm going riding.