Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Book-prompted Opinions

I just finished reading “Chronicles of a Labor of Love, In Service to the Horse” by Susan Nusser. It was a written documentary that delved into the lives of grooms for international competitive riders such as the O’Conner duo of David and Karen and of handlers at a breeding farm for racing Thoroughbreds. Being involved in the same world as them, I felt some sort of camaraderie towards the people Susan wrote about and I nodded my head at their direct quotes. I learned things I hadn’t known from the history of sport horses in America and little fun facts. I laughed at Susan’s own personal opinions when they popped up here and there and found statements that I fully agreed or disagreed with. There were sentences and paragraphs that captured why I am addicted to horses and made for beautiful imagery.

I’d never considered being a groom. After reading this book, I don’t know that I will ever consider it. It’s a lot of what I do here at the farm, but it’s a lot less of riding. I don’t know that I would willingly trade riding and training for grooming at the World Equestrian Games or Olympics. But I don’t know. My mind is certainly more open to it. I do see advantages in making good connections with other notable horse people and I can’t even begin to imagine how enthralled I would be to see horses and riders of such caliber so close up.

I certainly would not handle breeding stallions for live cover. When you compare my size and strength to that of a horse and then add in all those hormones, you can easily see why it would not be a wise choice, merely for the sake of my safety. Breeding is also not something I want to get into. At least not at this particular point in my life. I want to learn about all aspects of it and have the experience under my belt, but I wouldn’t pursue that as my business. Even if the horses were Shetland ponies, I wouldn’t consider it.

During the time that the book was being written, eventing was going through some criticism and was possibly going to be removed from the Olympics. The trickle of this ran down to the grooms and Susan described their outrage at having eventing taken off the list but vaulting still remaining. One groom was quoted saying how she couldn’t imagine how vaulting horses can be happy going in circles with people treading on its back. I imagine myself as a big, easy going horse. I think about how easy it is for me to canter slowly in a large circle. I think about how light and agile my vaulters are and now they flit about in perfect balance. They never kick me with spurs or yank the bit over my gums. The performance isn’t very long. It is simple and my lounger and I do not have a moment of miscommunication. I think I’d be fat and happy as an Olympic vaulting horse. I’m sure the professional eventing horses are happy and having fun, too, but I’m of the opinion that you don’t talk down an equine discipline you know too little about.

 Via Tsayles on Flickr
Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.

Previously in the same chapter, Susan goes into why eventing is criticized. It is because of the things that go wrong, the missteps that cause a broken leg and euthanasia or a coma and brain damage. I understand that it’s part of all horse sports and life. I won’t preach to you on that just yet. But then she digs in deeper and quotes a director of the MSPCA (Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). “It’s not the eventing horses who have hard lives…it’s all those horses who sit in a field or stall doing nothing…” That is a rather brazen statement to me. I think that 95% of all horses are perfectly happy to sit in field and do nothing IF (and this is the “big if”) they have a sense of security and their physical needs are met. Do you suppose wild horses are unhappy? I think not! What do they have over a horse in a field? They actually have less than that horse. They have a herd, which makes them feel secure. They have space to move around and forage. They probably don’t get as much forage as they’d like, but I think I am safe to say that wild horses live a happy life. They’re certainly not moping around wishing that someone would come along and make them into their next Prix St. George/three foot jumper/national reiner/etc. 

Via ValeeHill on Flickr

A photo from cross-country day at the 1984 Olympics. Happy horse? You decide!

And already I feel like I am assigning human characteristics to an animal. I don’t think we can truly say when an animal is happy or sad. We are not them! We don’t know what emotions they feel and how deeply they feel them compared to us. We can only research and assume.

Via Melissa_Photos on Flickr

“Oh, I am so unhappy, I wish someone would ride me five days a week until I break a sweat and they’d give me treats and bathe me.”

I personally feel like a horse is equally as happy being a meticulously cared for four star event horse or being in a field rarely being touched by a human. Honestly, we humans care more than the horses do. Think about it.
Horse owner: “I’m going on vacation so I better put my horse in training to keep it in work so he doesn’t just sit in a field.”
95% of horses: “Yay, I get to sit here and eat all day with my friends!”
5% or less of horses: “Hm, no workout today. I kinda miss eating treats.”
And even then, some of those 5% just want human interaction/treats/being scratched, not the riding/working/sweating aspect.
Now if the horse is sitting in a barbed wire field alone, doing nothing, in feces up to its knees and not a blade of grass in sight? That’s a whole ‘nother story. That’s where my idea of security + food/water = happy horse comes in.

Via Vic_206 on Flickr

What I think “the good life” looks like for domesticated horses.

I could pull out more quotes and more of my own opinions, but I won’t, mostly because I didn’t save those places in the book and also because this post is going on for longer than you probably would like it to. (I got really good at going on and on about much of nothing during NaNoWriMo.)

I’m glad to know that I’m not the only person who works with and cares for horses so much that I know all these details that riders and sometimes even owners don’t know. Such as where a horse always poops in its stall, which ones come when you call and which ones will need some form of bribery, which ones will dart out the gate at any chance, they’re individual drinking habits, which treats it prefers, its pecking order in the herd, which horse will kick or bite your head off if you’re not careful, which ones fall asleep in the barn aisle not even tied, which ones will chew through lead ropes if they’re left hanging nearby, which ones will spook at a motorcycle and which ones will walk right past a rolling trash can. I know all of these horses and I am glad to know them in this manner. I wouldn’t have it any other way and I take pride in being their caretaker.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Omnomnom (treats!)

I’d like to share a great horse cookie recipe that was passed along to me by a friend of mine. They are super easy to make, which is why they appealed to me in the first place! I am not a cook and not a baker. Whenever I attempt cooking alone, something always goes wrong. I have ruined many a dish. So when I say something is so simple I could make it, it means something.

Yummy Horse Treats!

2 cups dry oatmeal
1/3 cup finely chopped carrots
1 grated large apple
2 tablespoons of molasses or honey
½ cup brown sugar
Whole wheat flour or all-purpose flour
Crushed peppermint candy (optional)

  • Preheat the oven to 365 degrees.
  • Combine all ingredients except for the flour in a bowl. Add flour until you get enough consistency to form them into balls. (For me that was about 2 cups.)
  • Put something on the cookie sheet to keep the cookies from sticking. (I used a cooking spray then dusted it with flour.) Make little balls with the dough and put them on the cookie sheet, pressing down on the tops slightly.
  • Bake for 20 minutes or until the cookies are firm to the touch. (You can use a toothpick to poke them.)
If your horses like peppermints, you can add some of those by crushing them first. (I put candy canes in a Ziploc bag and ran them over with a rolling pin.)

If you want to make frosting for the cookies, you mix plain yogurt, oat flour, and food coloring together. (I didn’t try this.) Or you can melt marshmallows in the microwave and squish them in between two cookies. (I melted one on top of each cookie, but it made for a sticky mess.)

Clearly, Pony (Yvonne's newest project) loves treats. 
Orr ..she thinks he does. She hasn't exactly given any to him yet. Oops!~

The best way for me to describe these is a healthy granola treat. I personally love them as a barn snack. Some for me, some for the horse! My horse doesn’t like peppermints and would not eat the first batch I made, so I took that out of the recipe to make her happy. The horses seemed to like it plain and with the marshmallow topping equally. I’m kind of getting hungry thinking of this… Make a batch, mail some to me, and tell me what your horses thought of them!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Why We Didn’t Watch The Kentucky Derby

This is what happened on the farm the day of the Derby. I recounted the epic event to one of my friends in a chat window and this is how it went. Somehow there came to be an alternate version during the telling of the story, which I thought some might find entertaining. My friend’s replies to my story are in italics. Here is how it went down.

Okay, once upon a time, otherwise known as today, Isabel went out to catch Ivanna to ride her. Ivannasaurus is the massive fancy bay horse that we all like, but is terribly spooky and bucked me off once.
Fancy bay unicorn. Also Isabel is a princess. Continue with the story...
When Isabel went to buckle the halter, Ivanna spooked away from her and then Isabel couldn't get close to her again. Since Ivanna was in a thirty acre pasture with the rest of the dozen other mares. Isabel came and got me as backup. Ivanna was in the dry lot area with a few other mares, so we closed the gate and locked them in. Except the dry lot is kind of still big. We got up to Ivanna, but when we went to buckle the halter, she got away from us.
Now this is a horse who we've been working with since July NEVER had problems catching her. So we chased her around with the ATV to get her a little tired and tried again. Peg came over to join our ranks. Ivanna was soon huffing and puffing, so we stopped and tried to wrangle her again. One of us would try to go up to her and touch her and the other two would head her off if she tried to get away. It did not work. So we made a new plan. Next to the dry lot is a barn/shed where we store straw bales. There's a gate to the dry lot. We opened the gate, led two horses in and chased the others inside, hoping to get Ivanna into the smaller space, put out the others, and catch her there. She did not go in.  
So the crazy unicorn was using her unicorn powers to evade the princesses’ attempts at catching and taming the majestic beast.
After more chasing with the four-wheeler, we decided that that plan needed to end and we needed a new one. Peg called us over and we went to a corner of the dry lot. We cornered Ivanna in the corner, and I held Renee' on one side of her and Isabel held Vanity on the other side of her, with their butts facing the fence. So we trapped her between the two mares.
And so the princesses realize they cannot combat the great unicorn's magical powers, so they decide to try and beat her at a game of wits.
Oh and I forgot to mention. We had an extra halter on the four-wheeler and Hazel walked over to it, grabbed the halter in her mouth, went up to Peg, who was trying to touch Ivanna and shook the halter at Peg like "here, just get this on her so we can stop running around" Anyways, back to the corner.  
Lol I'm liking this story.
Hazel came over by me with Renee' to form an even more powerful wall. Then Ivanna decided to sneak past Renee's butt. Bad idea!  
Oh no! Did they defeat the majestic unicorn and harness her powers for good?
I backed Renee' up to close the space and Renee' gave Ivanna's kneecap a light kick. Peg tried to touch Ivanna and Ivanna again tried to sneak past Renee'. Renee' gave her a good kick and Ivanna decided it was unwise to leave the corner. She tried to go behind Vanity, but the boss mare gave her the evil eye. Ivanna thought about jumping over the fence, but the electric fence zapped her. She looked at Renee' and Renee' cocked a hind hoof in warning. Ivanna looked back at the fence.  
Peg slowly but surely was able to touch Ivanna. She rubbed her neck and talked soothingly to her. She rubbed the halter on her sweaty dripping neck and worked it onto her face. Isabel handed her the lead rope and the dinosaur was captured!!! Then we put her in prison. Haha.  
AND THE UNICORN BECAME A DINOSAUR didn't see that coming. Excellent twist!
The most bestest part was when Renee' was super powerful smart brain and kicked Ivanna to keep her from running away. And the second besty was when Hazel brought Peg the halter.  

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