Tuesday, October 26, 2010

One Year Later

One year ago today the vet came and euthanized my second horse.  It's a sad anniversary made all the more sad by the loss of a friend four days ago.  She was young, and one of those people who were full of life and managed to poke fun at any situation.  Taken too soon by a careless driver, she leaves a husband and young son behind.

It was my horse's time to go last year, but he was robbed of time by whatever accident caused that chipped bone in his hock.  My friend should have had many more years with her family and friends.  Time taken away from her by another person's poor decisions.  That the other person died too is no consolation.

My uncle died five days ago.  He lived a long life, surrounded by family and many friends.  Another person full of the joy of life with a grand sense of humour.  He will be missed just as much, but there is a sort of peace or conclusion that is lacking in the death of my friend.

Death is an inevitable part of life.  But sometimes it seems to come too soon and we struggle to come to terms with the loss, and grieve for what will never be.

Friday, October 15, 2010

A Shock in the Mail

I got home today and checked the mailbox as usual.  In the bunch of flyers was an envelope from some animal agriculture company I'd never heard of.  I wondered what they wanted, and how they got my address.  It's not the sort of thing that routinely appears in suburban mailboxes.  As soon as I got in the door and put my stuff down I ripped it open.

It's from the parent company of the dead stock company that picked up my horse's body last October.  They want to assure me that contrary to rumour they will be continuing to pick up dead stock, and that they are reducing their fees for dropped off dead stock immediately...

I'm already having a little trouble with the leaves changing colours and the bare branches appearing.  Even the frost rime on the grass in the morning takes me back to last fall.  I really didn't need this kick while I'm down.

I wonder... are they still in the dark ages?  Surely they could mark single horse clients as non-contact.  Surely they could notify the area vets who will be advising the single horse clients...

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Two weeks

Two weeks from today will be one year without my horse.  He's been on my mind a lot lately.  I'm remembering last fall and the sight of the trees changing colours, losing their leaves, the grass fading all brings back the sadness of those last days.  I have no regrets.  Not about helping him go, nor about the time we had together.  No regrets about buying him.  He taught me a lot in our years together.  I'm glad we had that time.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Memories of my Friend

I can't believe it's September again already. Those few trees that always start to change colour weeks before the rest are going yellow and orange and red. It was about this time last year that I made the decision to let my horse go before the winter. Telling the barn owners was tough - that was the first time I'd shared my decision with anyone.

My horse has been on my mind a great deal lately. I finally managed to start the little 8"x8" memory scrapbook for him at the end of June. It's almost done, only two more pages to go. Some of the pages are okay, but others turned out really well with the colours just coming together with the photos beautifully. The whole book will have a total of 40 pages, bigger than I'd planned, but it's what I needed to have. Many of the pages have one 5x7 photo, some have a mosaic of small images covering the whole page.

One page is a mosaic of shots of him looking at me as I went to get him out of the field. He had a distinctive way of turning to look with both eyes, ears up and poll slightly below wither level. It wasn't at all a dull look as one might expect from the low head position, nor was it suspicious, but rather a bright eyed and interested expression. The pics are various sizes and cover the full range of our life together.

There's a two page spread for his dressage career. Those are two of the pages that turned out beautifully. The colours are just perfect, and really pull the four photos together. I deliberately chose to keep the scrapbooking design very simple to keep the focus on the photos and journaling. The embellishments are limited to some fancy edged matts and a few very simple stickers. The colour palette was mostly greens, blues and browns with some yellow (mostly accents). I did get a couple of purple pages and one orange (with browns) but no red. I never thought of red for this horse, it just wasn't him.
Overall I'm quite pleased with the result. It's full of the little tidbits about his character and characteristics that made him an individual, along with the odd incidents from our life together.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Next Phase

It's been really hot and humid here in the past few weeks. While the tack room is much cooler, it does tend to hold the dampness in the summer and with that dampness comes the inevitable fuzz of mold growing on the unused tack. My QH's bridle being one of those unused items. I have decided that my two year old will inherit the bridle, but it's going to be a few years before his head is big enough to be anywhere near fitting. Since it was too hot to be any fun for riding, I spent some time today cleaning and conditioning bits of tack, including that bridle.

I have also finally started on the little "Who Was He?" scrapbook. Oddly enough the last pages, those photos from his final morning with the poem I wrote for him, were the first I did. After that came random photos from the pile paired with memories of him that seem to fit with the pictures. For example I had a photo of us going through knee deep water and I remembered that water never bothered him. In our first year I rode him into the pond in his field one day, and even though the mud was a bit sticky and he had to heave to get his feet out, he wasn't the least bit worried about it. The time I asked him to walk through a deep puddle that was covered by floating chunks of snowy ice gave him pause as they all moved when he did, but once he'd had the chance to look and I encouraged him, he did cautiously continue through the water. This isn't meant to be a "story of our life" book, but rather a collection of anecdotes showing his character and the little things that defined him.

One page, one or two photos, one memory at a time. I'm ready for this step now. Perhaps I will be ready to put his shadowbox together soon too.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

It Is Almost Time

Almost time to start putting together his scrapbook - the little one answering the question "Who was he?" I went through the hundreds of photos from our years together and pulled out many that I thought I might use. In the last week or two I've gone through those stacks again and again, trying to thin them out, to choose only those photos that show him the way he was.

I did try out the photolab's collage software about a month ago. I took a lot of the close up photos and a few "normal" pictures of him and put together an 8x10" collage. I found the software limiting in some ways, but the result is quite nice. I arranged for it to be laminated and just got it back last week (some difficulties with a new transport company caused quite a delay). It's really nice and will go up on my wall shortly.
I almost cleaned his halter the other night too. Eight months later and I'm almost at the point of being able to put his memorials together. Time heals, and healing must not be rushed.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Little Things

It's the little things I miss the most. The way he'd pop his head up and look when he heard my voice, or his very distinctive whinny. Little incidents that showed his character.

Recently I remembered being out in the field with him one spring - memory says it was the first or second spring we were together, but I couldn't find it in my journal entries. I had taken a shedding blade out to do some spring cleaning on the boys. My QH was very nosey about the shedding blade and kept turning his head to see what I was doing. I held the blade out to him and he sniffed it and then gently took hold and lifted it out of my hand. After waving it around a bit he dropped it and turned his head back to me. I don't remember exactly what I said, but the gist was an offended "Hey! Pick that up and give it back to me!"... and he did just that!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Carnivorous Mouse Incident

or The Definition Of Courage

Every horseman or women knows that horses are flight animals. We all know they can overcome that flight instinct to a remarkable degree given a supportive environment and practice. I have always taken my horses hacking at night and after the initial adjustment period each fall, they were quite comfortable going out in the dim light at night. Some nights I literally could not see my horse’s ears, but I could see the trees silhouetted against the sky and I knew the trails we walked well enough to know where we were. I trusted my horses to see better than I could and enjoyed our night hacks immensely.

On a windy night early one November I took my boy out for a hack. It was getting cool but was surprisingly warm for November. We headed out across the road into the fields on the other side as usual. I couldn’t see his ears, but there was enough light to see the fence lines and landmarks I used to guide us. He was calm and walking forward on a long rein. I was relaxing and feeling my worries drop away, drinking in the comfort of my friend’s presence.

In a split second that peace was shattered and his world caved in. A small animal rustled the grass ahead of us at the edge of the field and he spooked, swapped ends and bolted back towards the barn. I came off and landed on my hip and felt the reins slip out of my hand as if I wasn’t even trying to hang on to them, and my horse was gone, the thunder of his hooves fading into the darkness. Heart in my throat and heedless of any injury to myself, I leaped to my feet and started walking quickly after him calling in a soothing voice. I wanted to run, but feared that if he had stopped or slowed I would scare him into further flight before I realized he was there. I fixed my gaze on the lights by the barn hoping to see him run through that patch of light, mentally calculating where he would be given his speed, and hoping desperately that no vehicle would barrel along the road at the wrong moment.

Sure enough, just about the time I figured he would be reaching the road a car came over the hill. It braked suddenly, and though I strained to see, I didn’t catch a glimpse of Tommy. I was afraid the car would have frightened him away from the barn, and running blind he could have ended up anywhere. My mind raced and I listened intently for the sound of bare hooves on the road.

The driver turned out to be one of the lesson student’s parents and he told one of the other boarders in the barn that the horse had gone “that way”, pointing down the road. When I heard that, my heart sank to my boots. The highway was “that way” and my horse had gotten himself lost once before after spooking and dropping his rider (in daylight that time) and running fear blinded. Within minutes we had three vehicles and several people out combing the area. He was wearing his splint boots with the reflective strips on them and would have been easily spotted if he were on the road.

After what felt like a hundred years of looking and calling while fighting an increasing panic level, one of the drivers came to find me. My horse had been found in his field. He hadn’t bolted down the road, but had gone through an open gate into the field next to his own and jumped the fence to get back to the pasture herd. By some miracle he had sustained nothing more than some lost skin and a couple of tiny nicks. One boot had a hole almost completely through the neoprene, but none of his other tack was so much as scratched. His worst physical injury was the loss of a patch skin over his right stifle the size of my spread hand.

Mentally was a completely different story.

The running joke with my horse had long been that he’s one quarter horse, three quarters chicken. His brain is hardwired for flight and he has managed to overcome it to an incredible degree in the time we have been together. After escaping the carnivorous mouse that had rustled the grass, he was starting back from square one again. For the next two days simply taking him into the wash stall to tend his injuries was enough to send his heart racing at least double time, his pulse clearly visible through the winter hair at the base of his neck.

The first time I took him out of the barn for a ride two weeks later, that pulse pounding was clearly visible from six feet away, and his body shook with the effort of not bolting as he tried to look in every direction at once. His fear was thick enough to taste, but he went where I asked, when I asked, and tried very hard not to spook. By early January I was beginning to wonder if he would ever recover. Riding him was like sitting on a ticking time bomb and being unable to see the clock counting down. I seriously considered leaving him in the field until spring.

But he was making progress, no matter how painfully slowly. We started in one fenced in field in daylight and gradually pushed out, walking the far side of the fence, then halfway into the next field, and finally all the way around it. He had good and bad days, and some days were so cold it was all I could do to take him out for fifteen minutes.

On February 17th we managed to walk twice round the mare’s field at night under a waxing moon – our first night hack since the incident. In April I was over the moon when he walked quietly and calmly on a long rein for SIX steps on a daytime solo hack! In June his triumph was a trot on a long rein on a solo hack, and my heart sang all the way back to the barn. He still had his bad days, days where he couldn’t help spooking at things I couldn’t see. But he was spooking in place, stopping his flight within the first six inches, and those bad days were becoming fewer. It took about nine months before I could say he was back to normal; it took about seven of those for me to realize what he was teaching me.

If courage is being afraid, knowing the dangers and then going ahead and doing it anyway then my horse was Courage incarnate. He knew the world was a dangerous place. He had been hurt by nothing more than a rustle in the grass. He was afraid. But he went ahead and did what I asked, went where I pointed him, and tried his best not to be ruled by his fear. His bravery, his courage and trust inspired me to face my own fears and I am more self assured and confident because of the lesson he taught me.

Horse, thy name is Courage.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Five Months Later

Tomorrow is my horse's birthday. He would have been nineteen and we would have had one more summer together had he lived to see it. Four years ago, in consultation with the vet, we switched to pain management for my horse. There was nothing else that could be done. Driving home that day I knew, somehow, that he would not reach his twentieth birthday.

In the last couple of days I have spent hours going through the digital photos I've taken in the last few years. There are so many photos, and so few really good ones. I want only the best or those that spark specific memories for the memory album I'm creating. Now I have to go through the older photographs. Unfortunately I will probably have to scan those old pictures as it is just about impossible to get film printed properly now - these days the negatives are scanned before the scan is projected onto the photo paper. They all seem to turn out like bad digital photos.

There is a recurring image of my horse, one taken again and again over the years. The way he would look at me when I went out to the field, ears up, eyes bright, poll slightly below wither level - this look is my horse to me. The most familiar image to be treasured.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Horsecare 101

Our vet of many years first met my QH when he was four. It was spring and time for the annual vaccinations. I had phoned around to the local clinics and asked about prices for the basics and ended up making an appointment with Dr. KB. The visit was uneventful, and Dr. KB had time to sit and answer some general questions.

One year later Dr. KB couldn't believe he was seeing the same horse I'd had the year before. Between the ages of four and five my QH grew up and matured. Between five and seven he muscled up and got wider. In full fit competition weight (ie. very slightly ribby) he hit 1343 lbs on the height/weight tape. Proportionally he was built like a classic working QH, but on a larger scale both taller and wider.

Over the years Dr. KB looked after my boys I learned a lot from him. I'd gone for several years with my first horse without needing much in the way of veterinary care, but my QH had a knack for finding new and unusual ways to injure himself. At first I called the vet for every bump and slice, but over time I grew comfortable with treating the problem and waiting for a day or three to see if it would improve. Dr. KB. almost always had some tidbit of information to share with me, some of which became useful later on. Something as simple as sugar for wounds, or as complex as the effects of various joint supplements, or as subtle as the results of a complete blood count.
Accident prone horses can be frustrating to deal with, but they (and their vets) can teach us a lot in a short period of time.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

My Student, My Teacher

He was my first green horse. Pretty forgiving of my mistakes - and I'm sure I made a lot of them. When I bought him he could walk, trot, canter, steer, whoa, and stand for mounting - provided I didn't touch his butt when swinging my leg over. I did find that one out the hard way. He started bucking before my butt hit the saddle and I came off a few hops later. I was more careful when I mounted up after catching him again, but within a few days I had arranged for a helper to hold him still while I crawled all over his back and dragged my feet and legs all over his sides. After that the odd bump was of no concern to either of us - except that I always apologized for my clumsiness, and I always teach the babies I start that they must allow that kind of bumping without fuss.

He frustrated me many times, but it was all a part of the learning process. Young, green horses don't move in a straight line either in real life or along the training level. They wobble, the backslide, they leap forward, they forget everything they ever knew. Through it all he taught me that if I focused on the end result, on what I wanted to happen right now we could get there.

He showed me how horses tend to lose their finer control over their bodies when those bodies go through a growth spurt, and that he needed my understanding, encouragement and support to help him work out how everything worked together again. The up and down path of training helped me develop the mindset that allows me to think of and try various approaches to break down activities for a green horse to find understanding and success. I learned that sometimes we teach a response that is unexpected. Somewhere along the way my horse decided that "Good boy!" meant he'd done what was asked and so he could stop doing whatever it was. Most often on the longe after I asked him to "Trot up!" (meaning push more and go forward) he would trot on and I would approve with a "Good boy!" and then immediately have to get on his case again as he dropped back into his lazy trot.

Even as I taught him, trained him, he was teaching me. Those lessons are an integral part of my horse sense now. One lesson in particular carried over into the rest of my life - a story that deserves a post of it's own.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Special Delivery

I had heard of horsehair pottery and somehow imagined pots with horsehair embedded in the glaze on the pot's surface. I couldn't figure out how this could be done as glaze is fired at a high temperature and hair burns very easily. Once I started following links to horsehair pottery sites I quickly discovered that the ease of burning hair is the major part of the process. The hair is applied to a piece fresh from firing and as the hairs burn some carbon and ash are absorbed by the pottery leaving black lines and smoky areas unique to that item.
After spending a fair bit of time searching for horsehair jewelry sites, and following links to various horsehair pottery sites on the internet I found Donovan Designs. In addition to the usual pots, vases and bowls Denise has various statues in her catalogue one of which is a Quarterhorse bust (head and neck). This looked sufficiently like my horse that I sent her an email and asked about the possibility of having my horse's markings painted on one if I sent photos with my order. Denise responded quickly that she would be happy to do so at no extra cost. I scrounged up some photos (lip spot photos were difficult to find), carefully pulled about thirty hairs from his tail bundle and mailed them off to Denise.
At the end of last week I received an email from Denise to let me know she was almost finished and expected to ship my order out on Monday. I was excited and even though I knew it would take time to arrive I hopefully looked for a package notice on Tuesday after I saw a postal truck as I was nearing home. The box arrived yesterday and I could hardly wait to get it inside and see the result. Denise did a beautiful job and packaged the piece up securely to ensure that it would arrive safely.
I cleared a space on my bookshelf immediately, but ended up carrying it around and setting up close at hand to whatever I was doing for the rest of the afternoon and evening just so I could glance up and admire it at any moment. The photo doesn't do it justice at all.
Denise gave me permission to include a link to Donovan Designs website so here it is: