Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Are you really going all the way?

"The Way a Person Does One Thing Is the Way They Do Everything"

This is an intriguing concept.  When I first saw the title, I had a bit of a harrumph! moment.  How dare someone pigeonhole me?  Really!

But I thought it might be wise to set aside my irritation and actually read the piece...because I don't always do that.  Sadly, readers o' mine, my mental thigh muscles bulge with years of conclusion-jumping.  So I read it, and I started to consider the possibility that, not only do I not always give full attention to every task, I often skim, skip, and suppose myself to a place that precludes excellence.

While I was about this massive reconsideration of my own little Self, I thought it would be cool to make Cliff an unwitting accomplice.  He's generally unwitting when it comes to accomplicing with me on my "research" efforts.  If I told him what I was up to, he'd probably stay out nights, as changing his MO is not likely to happen.

Sure enough, there were all the little signs in both of our behavior patterns that supported the premise that the way we do one thing is the way we do everything.  Ack!

Of course this is not a rule so firm that there's never an opportunity for a little mold-busting (at least a little mold-testing) in individual situations.  For instance, Cliff, who is Most Likely To Be Killed Jumping Past a Conclusion, is scrupulous when it comes to certain tasks.  His supposition habit is partly a result of having been allowed to borrow my brain for the past 21 years.  Not that I'm some sort of genius (Ahem! ), but that I'm a habitual researcher and truth-seeker, so if anyone in his immediate vicinity is likely to know the answer to some strange question, it's probably going to be me.  I've helped him develop a lazy mind, and I'm paying the price.  There's nothing like being mid-writing-assignment and having someone pop up with vitally important (to him) questions that are completely off-topic for me.  It's multitasking at its least acceptable.  Every now and then I dig in my heels and withdraw his brain-library card.
There's probably a better way....

It was interesting to note, however, that where he used to only query me about spelling, grammar, and maybe the occasional computer problem, he's morphed into a huge, all-encompassing question mark of a thinker.

But give him a car that's making that chunka-whoop-cuh sound, and his supposing is exactly the ticket.  Since cars don't (usually) talk, sussing out the source begins with a supposition based on prior experience.  That's the other reason for his constant leaping to odd conclusions.  Habit breeds more habit, which is precisely the point of the linked article.

I got thinking that if it worked that way for him, it probably worked the same way for me with the horse thing.  My intense need to find the bottom line--The Truth--not only costs me a lot of time online and in treeware searching for information, it also makes me hypersensitive to the little quirks and wobbles that the horses present.  I can't just deal with the what; I also have to find the why and the wherefore.  I can only imagine how the horses feel about this constant scrutiny.  Probably the way Cliff would feel if he knew.  [snorf!]

My thought on this subject is that we all form patterns of behavior.  If one takes the time to reflect, one can easily target where those patterns cause problems in one's life.  If one's boss, for instance, is constantly harping on punctuality issues, is one also late getting to appointments and cutting time short when it comes to working with one's horse?  If one is the type to fly off the handle with one's spousal alternative and assorted junior humans, will one also grab the whip when one's horse is showing hints of recalcitrance (or teeth)?

I've noticed a sudden resurgence of interest in the whole Personality Typing thing that hit social media a few years ago.  One of the question forums where I flaunt my expertise has become a haven for people throwing initials after their names indicating that they are of a particular temperament...presumably as a warning.   I'm an ESTJ.  Just sayin'.  While this is a valuable tool, it is only that.  Because even Keirsey will tell you that there are variations in the norm that are situation-dependent.  I may always look for the facts, but be satisfied in the moment with whatever I have at hand.

Do a little self-searching, and you might find some habits that could stand tweaking before they stand in the way of your relationship with your horse.

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Monday, December 22, 2014

A Teacher's Holiday Tale

 This is a horse-free story.  You've been warned.

I was fooling around with Microsoft Word, trying to follow the eHow instructions for getting ancient .wps files to open properly in Word '10 when I happened to notice a file I'd titled "Bird on a Wire".  I couldn't for the life of me remember what it was about, but it since it was in a folder with a bunch of random articles and stories I hadn't read through in a decade, I figured I'd do a Memory Lane ramble and try opening it. It turned out to be one of only three non-fiction Holiday pieces I'd written...ever.  I'm not generally that kind of writer.  Originally destined for the Chocolate for Women series, it never saw the light of day as the anthology editor stopped anthologizing under that title just after I submitted it.  

That was not my fault.  I swear.  She loved me and loved buying my work.  Honest.

So here is my contribution to your Holiday Joy.  "Bird on a Wire" is a true tale about a student I had back in 1986 in one of my first classes at that school.  I hope you like it as much as I liked living it.

Peace and Good Will!
Bird on a Wire

      Brian*, tall and lanky with a shock of straight black hair brushing his forehead, came to my Resource Center without fanfare.  In fact, he came without any paperwork at all, which, while not unheard of in my school, was the exception to the rule.  He handed me an algebra book and found a seat, legs folded origami-style, knees jutting out, forcing me to wonder as always why the high school furniture is designed for Munchkins.  We exchanged pleasantries, and at the sound of the bell, found ourselves in that unique relationship that crosses traditional boundaries while creating the new ones that are necessary to the process of teaching teenagers.
          A very intense young man, Brian had little to say.  He responded to direct questions, but kept his nose in his book.  He was there to learn algebra.  Period.  In this eclectic group of mixed-level learning disabled math students, it was more than his lanky frame and intense stare that set him apart.  While the others struggled over fractions and decimals, Brian flew through the Algebra I text.  Occasionally I would catch him tossing a look of disdain at a fellow student whose motivational level left something to be desired.
          Days raced into weeks, and Brian proved himself a most faithful student.  He arrived early and seemed loath, at the end of the period, to move on to his next class.  He’d begun to open up a bit, but only to the extent that he shared an occasional muttered epithet regarding his father or the school’s administrators.  Fifteen-year-olds are notoriously poor at eye contact with adults, but his was direct and piercing.  I couldn’t help but feel that he was searching me visually for something I wasn’t sure I had.
          Weeks slipped into months, and Brian became more voluble . . . and more agitated.  Still no paperwork had appeared on my desk to explain his presence, but I was beginning to pick up rumblings about something awful that he’d done.  Schools are notorious rumor mills, so even as a newcomer I distrusted most of what I heard.  But the murmurings were growing louder, and Brian more restless, with each passing day.
          When it seemed as if the walls were dripping with handwriting that I couldn’t read, Brian brought the answer to me himself.  It seemed there’d been a theft of equipment earlier in the year, and he’d been caught red-handed.  His own father had turned him in to the authorities.  The words came in a flood, then stopped as suddenly as they’d begun.  We looked at each other, blinking, silent.  I wanted to ask him why -- why he’d done it, why he’d told me, why he hadn’t told me sooner -- but there was something a little off-putting in the darkness of his eyes.  Instead I asked, “Is there anything I can do?”
          “No.”  The word was a grunt, then he left -- fled -- the room.  The court date came and went; there was a suspension, then he was back.  He seemed calmer.  The year ended without incident.
          The following year there were more problems -- poignant displays of Brian’s desire for attention.  Much fuss and furor ensued, and Brian returned to court.  He never protested his innocence.  He simply lowered his eyes and moved along the path he’d set for himself.  I wondered whether he’d be back; was surprised when he showed up in class, algebra book in hand, and resumed his studies as if nothing had happened.  Time went by, silent forgiveness occurred, and eventually, with much diligence on everyone’s part, brilliant Brian graduated.
          At Christmas the following year, I was surprised to find a gift on my desk.  When children metamorphose into teenagers, the apple-for-the-teacher generosity of their early years fades, and they move towards a peer relationship with the adults in their lives.  I was startled by the gesture, but no more than by the signature on the card:  “Love, Brian.”  I sat musing for a while over the unexpected kindness, then packed up my things to leave.  Winter break would begin the next day, and I was more than ready for the time off.
          The hallway was empty as I locked my room, but as I started toward the parking lot, I heard the sound of footsteps and a voice calling my name.  Brian’s long legs covered the distance in half the time it would have taken me, and I was genuinely pleased to see him.  His smile lit the building.  I turned around and unlocked my room so we could sit in private and talk.  And talk he did.
          “I don’t think . . . well, you probably don’t know . . . umm. . . “
I laughed at his unaccustomed shortage of words and poked fun at him.  He grinned and chuckled.  “Yeah,” he said sheepishly, “I guess I don’t usually have trouble talking to you.  That’s what I wanted to tell you.”
          As he warmed to the subject, the words flowed more smoothly, and I, in turn, was silenced by the power of them.  He spoke of his family -- the distant mother and demanding father -- and of his desire to make someone, anyone, sit up and take notice of him.  He spoke of the theft incident and his other foolishness.  On and on the words rolled.  Then he paused.  “You didn’t know -- couldn’t know -- what you did for me.  When they put me in your class, I was planning on -- you know.  I didn’t figure there was anything left to live for.  I was such a screw-up!  Everything I did turned to shit.  I just wanted them to see me.  That’s all.  They punished me by switching me to your class!”  He laughed.
“But I came in here, and you treated me like I was smart.  You believed in me, in what I could do.  So I didn’t kill myself that weekend, and even though I screwed up again, I knew you’d still like me.”
          I was speechless.  He laughed again.  “I’ll bet you didn’t know that I arranged to be in your class for the next year, did you?  You probably looked at the list and thought, ‘Geez!  Not another year with Brian!’ right?  But I had to be in here.  I had to have someone who liked me.”
          The words drifted off, and through my tears I saw his own.  Brian and I walked out together that day, and each year for several years after that he came to my room the day before Christmas break with a gift and a hug.  When he graduated from college, I wished him well. 
          Just yesterday--some 18 years later-- I ran into him and was treated to his huge smile and a warm hug as he said, “You’re a good person. I love you.”  Brian’s doing fine.  I am thankful that I was privileged to hear his cry for help, and I’ve tried my best to keep an ear open ever since. 
Listen; you’ll hear them too.

*the name has been changed

[copyright 2004 Joanne M. Friedman, all rights reserved]

Monday, December 15, 2014

Pasture Puffs

What to Do with a Horse That Can’t Be Ridden

This is a great time to destroy your smiley bubble.  No season of the year is more likely to bring old horses and young riders together than the Holidays, when the gifting frenzy often overwhelms common sense.  Is there anything more precious than a child's bright-eyed wonder when Mom and Dad parade a ribbon-bedecked pony into the yard?  Nope.

Okay, maybe a ribbon-bedecked puppy parade, but that's about all.

So with the risk of ruining your holiday surprise strong upon me, I'm here for the second week in a row to rain on your parade.  Truly, Reality bites.

It happens to the best of them.  Eventually our happy equine partners slow down.  This has lead to an unpleasant game of Hot Potato in horse circles.  Great young horses are  passed around from owner to owner, each new human hoping that the horse will remain sound and healthy through its tenure in that relationship until, inevitably, somebody winds up being the Home of Last Resort.  That's what happens when we engage in a sport that involves other living beings and layer it with emotional yuck.
There's always an undercurrent of tension at low-level show barns and lesson barns as owners listen to the ticking of the clock and watch for signs of lameness, illness, and worn-outedness in their horses.  It's not so evident at the upper levels as the owners of top-flight horses are generally well-heeled and capable of ensuring a long and healthy retirement for their investment horses.  They've earned money enough along the way to make that possible without much pain and suffering.
Cuteness Quotient:   Intolerable

But what about the rest of the horse world?  There may be a few hundred top horses who are safe from the ravages of being the hot potato in the hands of someone unable to afford the luxury of an unrideable partner.  For the others, it's a crap shoot.  Since older, less able horses are generally less expensive and in low demand, they are the ones most likely to wind up in the hands of the non-horsey parents of a brandy-new child rider.  And there they sit, sometimes cared about but not cared for, and sometimes living out their days in peace in a cow pasture or amid a herd of some other livestock.

That last group will be fine.  They may never see the inside of a show arena again, but they'll commune with the goats or sheep or cattle or wildlife until they breathe their last.  As long as the caretaker knows enough to feed them appropriately and can afford the basics of vetting and healthcare, there's nothing sad about a horse standing in a field of grass and non-horse companions.

It's the other group that should concern us.

The linked article offers some great suggestions for retirement plans for folks who can afford to do something as kind as keeping an equine in the conditions to which it has (happily) become accustomed.  Retirement farms where minimal board (or an up-front donation) will allow the horse to be cared for without being a significant drain on family finances are hard to come by, but they do exist.  You might want to start looking now as some have waiting lists.
Smart Mommy opted to lease
the pony instead of buying

Some lesson barns are happy to have "packers" who are long in the tooth as well as in the patience department.  Not all old horses fit that bill.  My old Quarter Horse, coming 30, is wonderful, but as his years have passed, he's become pushy.  If I'm not quick enough saddling up, he'll just walk off to the riding ring without me.  If I don't get the pad on straight, I can be head-butted...hard.  There's no politeness left at that age, to which I can completely relate.  So don't count on your oldster finding a happy place with giggling children aboard.

Handicapped riding facilities, programs that use horses in rehabilitation of emotionally distraught humans...they, too, love the older horses with nothing to prove.  That's as long as they truly have nothing to prove and lots of patience.

What's an owner to do when the horse isn't acceptable for passing on and money for such flourishes as horse ownership has disappeared?  Craigslist, Facebook, and myriad horsey websites are littered with ads as owners cast about feverishly searching for a way out of the bind without letting it appear that that's what they're doing.

This is where the chaff gets beat off the grain of human responsibility.  Before you buy that old horse, ask yourself if you'll have the brave heart it would take to have that horse put humanely to rest.  A lame, sick, sad animal isn't having a good day  no matter how many cookies you feed it.  A horse in a terrible living situation is a sad horse even if it's reasonably sound and healthy.  So think long and hard about your own emotional state and whether you'd be the type to close one eye and pass your old horse off to an unfit home.  Would you be able to risk inadvertently (or purposely) sending your horse to auction and eventually to slaughter?  Or would you be able to make that call to the vet and say good-bye with a clear conscience?

With care, we can ensure to all, a good day and a good night.

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Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Your final gift to the horse world

The Equine Necropsy: A Sensitive but Important Topic |

I get that the majority of horse owners are getting by on a thread and a toothpick when it comes to affording their horses and all those pesky expenses like mortgages, food, healthcare and the like.  I get that many horse owners try to keep their horses' end-of-life expenses down to a minimum:  A bullet and a backhoe for a day will suffice.

But I want to enter a plea on behalf of all of the horses and their owners around the world.  Sure, it's hard enough to deal with losing a companion. And there are many breeders who free-range their horses and are happy if none get eaten by predators before they're big enough to sell.  Still, even those folks rely on their vets to be alert and aware of all the new developments in veterinary medicine and keep on hand the latest medicines when emergency strikes.

I know I'm beating a dead horse (snorf!) when I once again plead for as many owners as can possibly afford it to allow (or even order) a necropsy on their animals when the cause of death isn't immediately apparent.  It's pretty obvious what killed a horse with a bullet hole in it or when the remains are scattered across the ground where predators are known to lurk.  I'm not talking about those horses.  Sorry for the crude imagery, but it's real as real can be.
No necropsy needed to determine
that this beautiful mare had squamous
cell carcinoma.

But when there's any kind of doubt, when the horse has suffered repeated colic episodes or shown symptoms of illness that were difficult to qualify, the extra cost of having the vet do a necropsy (that's an autopsy on an animal) is an amazing and welcome donation to the cause of the advancement of veterinary care for all horses.  Even if the vet thinks s/he knows what diseases the horse may have had, if s/he has any doubt at all or is at all interested in finding possible links between a fatal colic episode and a possibly undiagnosed problem, s/he may request permission to do a little research.  Say yes.

I had a necropsy done on a gelding with a bizarre growth on his face that turned out to be a very rare tooth root tumor.  The tumor was so rare that Cornell University's Veterinary School requested that I have the horse's head shipped to them.  I was happy to let them see something they night never have seen otherwise.  Down the line, that experience might translate into another horse surviving though ours didn't.  It took months and the lucky happenstance of finding a link online to the one person who knew what we were dealing with.  The next owner might not spend as many thousands of dollars as I did to get the same answer.

I also had a necropsy done on my favorite mare.  I asked that they not tell me the results if it turned out I could have cured or prevented what killed her.  Turned out I couldn't. Cancer has its own rules.  It was a small breath of relief in a sea of sadness knowing that I could let my guilt go. And my daughter had one done on her beloved Morgan.  Even though it was inconclusive, at least she was able to rule out some of the worst possible causes to the relief of the barn owner and other boarders where the horse was being kept.
We couldn't have guessed that the
sudden, repeated attacks of colic meant
Fancy's gut was riddled with cancer
lesions without a necropsy.

The mare with the external tumor who'd already had surgeries and necropsy needed there.  But it was thanks to other owners' willingness to make that final donation that she got an additional eight years of happy, pain-free life.  The new treatments that she received were a direct result of research done on other horses like her.

My sole regret is that I did not request that a necropsy be done on the very old horse who suffered an infection the source of which we could only guess at.  I have my theories, but they'll never be confirmed or disproved.  If I'm right, another step forward in equine care might have come from finding that out.

So at the risk of belaboring a topic everyone hates, I'm choosing to bring this up during the holiday season when hearts are more open to giving and minds less closed to the possibilities that generosity can afford.  Give the horse world a gift this year, and set aside the amount of money it costs in your area to have a necropsy done.  If you don't lose a horse yourself, offer to help a friend pay for this incredibly valuable procedure.  You'll be doing more good than you can imagine.  The equine life you save might belong to your next horse.
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Tuesday, December 02, 2014

How's your school looking?

Researchers Evaluate Riding School Horse Health |

This is a great time of year to assess the health and well-being of those long-suffering, (mostly) kind-hearted lesson horses hanging around your barn and pastures.  Read the linked article first, then we'll get to the nitty of your gritty.  This doesn't only apply to school horses, as there are some shoddy-looking privately-owned show horses around here that could use a fresh pair of eyeballs.  So go read.

I'll wait...........................................................................................................................

So the first question is, how old are you?  You needn't lie.  The computer can't hear you, and I really don't care.  If you read the article, you know why I'm asking.  Part of the problem with the failing health of school horses is the failing health of the lesson barn owners that keep them.

I don't mind admitting to being over 30  50......okay, I'm on the dark side of the moon now and fading fast.  Are you happy?  I also am able to say without a doubt that I am not half the caretaker I used to be.  My back hurts.  My arm hurts.  My shoulder hurts.  I sweat more in the heat, and the cold makes my bones ache.  I'm not agile by any stretch (and no matter how much I stretch).  So when the old geezer former school horse in my barn, the ever-patient Leo, didn't get his shoes pulled in time for the recent snow, I wrestled him into boots for turnout just twice before my back gave out.  If you're close to my age, you know that snapping sensation--the silent sound you can feel, not hear--and dread it for the lengthy recovery period that will follow.
Classic case of "the shoer only
had one shoe the right size".
Note the right shoe is set back
behind the toe to compensate.

So by the third day I was leaving Leo in his stall more often and resorting to spraying his feet with cooking spray to make the ice balls fall out.  They didn't.  I've tried that dozens of times over the years with the same dismal result, so I'm fully subscribed to the "doing the same thing and expecting different results" cult of the similarly-aging, gosh dang it!

Then came another back-breaking effort to smear petroleum jelly on his soles while he staunchly refused to pick up his feet.  Whatever back healing had begun ended right then.

But the easy parts I'm right on top of.  Leo's teeth have flat-lined.  The dentist showed me.  It's true. They're still in place, but barely above the gum line.  If you're not clear on how horses' teeth age, here's a link for you.  And while you're at it, here's a nice article on why what we do with horses tends to be bad for their dentition.

I'm sad to confirm that my horses endured a bad dentist for several years because I didn't know better.  Now I do.  Find a good dentist.  The extra cost of a Master Equine Dentist is worth every penny as poor dentition leads to fun endgames like colic, tooth abscesses, and starvation.

Moving out of the horse's mouth, the rest of the problem lies in the age-related laziness (or ignorance, if you're on the very young side) of the barn manager (how old do you have to be before you'd rather sit on the couch than be out in the field poking at horses?) and in the experience (or, more to the point, inexperience) of the trainers and other employees who work with and use the school horses.  I know of several who shouldn't be allowed anywhere near horses, let alone in charge of their well-being.  Nothing wears out a school horse like overwork and a lack of consideration for his needs.  I've recently seen photos of smiling trainers and students with school horses bearing the scars and sad, worried expressions of animals on the edge of abuse and smack in the middle of neglect.  If the horse looks bad, the trainer looks bad and the barn manager looks worse.
Good dentistry makes
happy horses!

So with the holidays upon us and students taking a hiatus to participate in pageants and family stuff, this is a great time to pull out those school horses and look them over carefully.  The thin ones can be carefully brought back into condition with a judicious application of supplements.  They can all get a once-over from the vet and the equine dentist. And don't forget the farrier.  I've seen school horses with shoes twisted, the wrong size, worn so badly they could slice cheese, and even one or more missing.  If you're in a 4-seasons part of the world, pulling shoes for the winter is a big plus as by spring those feet will look gorgeous and ready for a new season of schlepping beginners over bad footing.

And how about that footing?  And those stalls?  And that pasture?  It's not the season for a lot of groundwork, but spread some seed just ahead of the next snow, and that will perk up your pastures when the thaw comes with little more effort on your part.  Just toss it out there by hand, no equipment necessary.  Use pasture blend (Tractor Supply has one that works fine) so they get the mix of grasses and legumes and woody plants that horses love to pick through.

Your school horses deserve the best you can manage.  Go forth and manage it!
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