Monday, February 28, 2011

Electrolytes 101

The electrolyte panel at the ECTRA Annual Convention was the reason I got out of bed on my one day off of the week and drove to New London.

Electrolytes confuse me and I know that figuring out electrolytes is one of the keys to doing better with John at the rides.

I took six pages of notes, have a ton more questions and the lead to some great reading material that will better help me understand electrolytes.

Here is a brief synopsis:

- Horses with a potassium deficiency will have trouble pulsing down. This might be a key to helping John pulse down (that and getting him to relax and focus which I think is a bigger piece of the puzzle than potassium)

- Horses do not have a thirst reflex like we do - you know when you feel thirsty after working. That is why we give them electrolytes, so that they get thirsty and drink.

- The US Endurance team over-electrolyted their horses at one competition in Dubai (many years ago) and ended up having horses that were way too hydrated and nearly passed out. Its important to know your horse and the climate you are competing in before electrolyting.

- Having several types of free choice salt available is important to horses.

- Horses conditioning and working at home probably do not need electrolytes - just during competition.

- I'm going to start giving the electrolyte Lyte-Now within two miles of the hold/finish of rides I am on - this was the recommendation of one of the panelists who has competed for years.

Long story in a condensed version. I learned a lot and still have a lot more to learn!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Dogs and Bears, oh my...

The second seminar of the day at the ECTRA Annual Convention was about dealing with dogs and bears on the trail.

When I attended First Descents, we were told that if we ran into a bear to keep our eyes down, say "hi bear" and slowly back out of there. We were also told to just let the bear maul of a little while we stayed in fetal position and to play dead.

This information is not the same when you are riding a horse (for obvious reasons).

We mostly have black bears around here, and most of them are on the opposite side of the state. I have heard several stories about riders running into bears while trail riding in Maine.

Honestly, I am not that worried about bears. I think as long as I can stay on my horse as he sits and spins, that he will outrun the bear. Bears are known to be sprinters.

The dog part of the seminar really interested me. I ran into dogs and had a problem for the first time ever last November and it freaked John out. Unfortunately I cannot avoid that area well, they came out of their yards and onto the farm's property to chase us.

The most important thing I learned was to control your space. You need to have the right attitude. Trained dogs know that humans are genearally in charge and if you take charge of the space with an attitude of "who do you think you are" that will really help the situation. The other things suggested were to turn and face the dog and to stop moving. If you have a whip and the dog tries to bite your horse, you can whip the dog, just watch out for lawsuits.

I have some work to do at home first though, because I think November's situation really spooked John and I will have to work on getting him not to sit and spin immeadiately and then we will handle this problem better.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Barefoot Horses

One of the other interesting seminars at the Eastern Competitive Trail Ride Association (ECTRA) Annual Convention was a talk by barefoot trimmer Jessica Chickering of Massachusetts.

I put shoes on John for the first time in years last year to compete in 25 mile competitive trail rides. John has great feet overall. The left front has a tendency to get a bit of a "club hoof" meaning it is smaller than his right front, but as long as he has regular trims the problem is easily managed and not noticable.

Before Leverett I had front shoes put on him. After Leverett he had shoes on all four feet and they did not come off until November. He has been barefoot all winter.

The reason I put shoes on him was because he had to cover a lot of miles over sometimes difficult terrain (hills, rocks etc)

The shoes changed his gait and motion. I noticed this right away and again when the shoes came off in November.

The premise of Jessica's presentation is that hores do not need shoes and that shoes can be damagaing. There are a lot of products out there now, Easy Boots being the most popular, that make shoes unnecessary.

I had been following Easy Boots for awhile, one of the horses I took care of in Reno wore them and they were a great product.

After listening to Jessica's presentation and knowing what good feet John has, I am tempted to try Easy Boots as we condition this spring and find out for myself, are shoes really necessary?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Change of Heart

When I first became interested in competitive trail riding and found out that a lot of riders kept their horses in run-in sheds I was slightly concerned.

I can't do that. My horses live in stalls.

Four months ago at the Warren Tessier 25 mile competitive trail ride, Linda, one of the judges, suggested I put John in a field so he would get over his problematic issue about only urinating in his stall.

I gave her an incredulous look and said, I can't do that.

As winter has dragged on, I have seriously wished I could put my horses in run-in sheds. They are at my parents barn and without making some changes, this cannot be done immeadiately.

Why the change of heart?

For starters, Remi is ten times happier when she is outside and lets you know when she has been in her stall for too long. Giving her free choice turnout would make her a very happy horse. I also made some other changes this year and have seen how much happier my horses are when I just let them be horses. Things like not blanketing made my horses quite a bit happier. I also worry about John's joints. He has great joints, but I want to keep them that way. Knowing he has a season of rides ahead, I would be happier knowing that he could move around if he wanted to. And lastly, it just might solve the problem of getting him to urinate outside faster than my idea of teaching him to urinate when I whistle is.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Strange Behaivor

John and Daybreak are weird.

Daybreak is my brother's retired cowboy mounted shooting horse, a 27 year old Morgan gelding. John and Daybreak's stalls are right next to each other and they can hang their heads over the stall doors.

In the morning, while they are waiting to be turned out in the fields, the boys bite each other under their muzzles. It is very strange.

Daybreak has bitten all of John's whisker hairs off the underside of his muzzle so that it looks like I have clipped him.

I don't know what the fascination is with biting each other in the face, but I hope this is a passing obsession!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Epic Fail

Christine Taylor from Equinature (natural equine company in Massachusetts) was one of the presenters at the Eastern Competitive Trail Ride Association (ECTRA)convention this past weekend. Her seminar was very informative and I bought a bag of CushMush from her at the trade show. It is an organic feed for cushings horses - green peas, red clover, alfalfa, beet pulp, sunflower seeds etc. It didn't cost much and I figured it was worth a try for Lilac (who doesn't have cushings but has had laminitis so I am trying to change her diet. Lilac refuses grain, so I have been giving her a peppermint every night instead).

I forgot the CushMush at my apartment yesterday so finally tried it tonight.

Another epic fail, Lilac barely even sniffed it and went back to her hay.

I took it over to John (the hoover) he played around with it and went back to his beet pulp mix. Remi ate a bite and spit it back into the dish. Then picked up the spit out chunk and tried it again. And spit it out. And on the third bite she ate it and went back to her beet pulp mix. Secret was finished with her beet pulp so ate it with a very peculiar look on her face.

I'll mix the rest of the bag of CushMush into their beet pulp over the next few nights - that way they won't realize they are eating health food. And I'll just have to find sugar free peppermints for Lilac and keep giving her a peppermint while I grain everyone else.

Visit Equinature at: www.equinature.com

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Equinature

One of the presenters at the Eastern Competitive Trail Ride Association (ECTRA) Annual Convention this past weekend was Christine Taylor from Equinature.

You can visit Equinature at: www.equinature.com

Christine had a lot of great information to share with us about feeding horses and the different things we can do to improve our horse's overall health.

Her company, Equinature, makes all natural products for horses to eat as well as all-natural products for other uses around the barn, like bit wipes, salves, fly spray and healing ointments.

Long story short, she talked about the grain we feed our horses. Do you know what it is made of? Did you know that after grain is manufactured it only has a shelf life for three months? After the three months is over, the grain starts decreasing in nutritive value. But there is no manufacturing date or expiration date on grain bags.

Christine also mentioned supplements and used herself as an example. When she bought her horse and started eventing, she was spending about $150 a month on supplements. He then developed ulcers and she believes it was because of all of the supplements she was throwing at him that he did not really need.

By taking care of her own horse, she discovered that feeding our horses healthier foods, with no additives, preservatives etceteras, improved their overall health and decreased the need for supplements and other health care items.

She recommended feeding horses fruits and vegetables in additon to their hay. She purchases discarded fruit from her local grocery store, and in the summer purchases bruised fruit and vegetables from a local farm stand. There are only a few things horses cannot eat - all in the nightshade family. These include things like tomatos, peppers and eggplant.

I was really intrigued by her presentation and plan to do some follow up reading and start making gradual changes to my horses' diets.

Monday, February 14, 2011

2nd Annual Benefit Trail Ride Being Planned!

Area Equestrians Gather To Raise Funds And Enjoy Local Farm

The 2nd Annual Summer Solstice Trail Ride will be June 18, 2011 at Fort Hill Farms (www.forthillfarms.com) in Thompson, Connecticut. The ride is held every spring and fall to benefit First Descents and the previous three rides have risen over $2,300.

The trail ride is a benefit for First Descents (www.firstdescents.org). First Descents provides whitewater kayaking and other outdoor adventure experiences to promote emotional, psychological and physical healing for young adults with cancer. Trail rider organizer, Stacey Stearns of Mansfield, participated in two of First Descents’ camps. All donations to First Descents are tax deductible, and the money raised at the trail ride will be used by First Descents to send a young adult cancer survivor to camp.

Picturesque Fort Hill Farms in Thompson, Connecticut is a destination for people wanting to experience the pleasures of agricultural life and the outdoors. Owners Peter and Kristin Orr offer visitors many options, including a creamery, Quintessential Gardens and a Discovery Barnyard. Equestrians on the Summer Solstice Trail Ride will ride a designated trail around fields on the farm and on the farm’s carriage roads.

Horseback riders from Connecticut and Massachusetts are already planning to attend this year’s ride. The benefit trail rides always have great sponsorship from the equine community and offer riders the opportunity to win fantastic prizes, just for attending the ride.

Equestrians interested in joining the fun in 2011 can contact Stacey Stearns at (860) 377-6314 or sfstearns@gmail.com

Connecticut Horse Council Note

I kind of feel like I am preaching to the choir by posting this note here, but I think it is important to spread the message so that it reaches others. Cecily from Rhode Island mentioned at the ECTRA convention yesterday that she often gets notes left on her truck to clean up after herself - but she is one of the equestrians that always do. However, as a group if we do not talk about the problem and put a little pressure on our fellow equestrians, the problem will only grow worse.

Long story short - Treat other trail users the same way you want to be treated and clean up after your horse the way dog people are supposed to clean up after their dogs.

The Connecticut Horse Council (www.cthorsecouncil.org) has the following note to trail riders posted on their website:

ATTENTION TRAIL RIDERS

It has come to the attention of the CT Horse Council that trail riders are leaving a “bad impression” on other trail users and at trail heads, particularly near beaches, leaving manure and garbage and riding recklessly and endangering other users and the general public.

This could result in the LOSS of riding privileges on some of our nicest trails and beaches.

EVERYONE needs to be aware of the image equestrians project to others and not “leave behind” a sour apple that could impact the “road ahead.”

PLEASE SHARE THE TRAIL
which means being cognizant of all other trail users and the general public by presenting a POSITIVE, RESPONSIBLE image of the equestrian community.

KEEP ALL TRAIL HEADS CLEAR – HAVE A FORK AND BROOM TO CLEAN UP AND BRING IT BACK IN YOUR TRAILER WHEN IN A PARKING LOT. WHAT YOU LEAVE BEHIND IS SEEN BY OTHERS

Most equestrians are respectful and polite, but the few who are not can ruin it for all riders. CHC appreciates all those who follow the rules and make an effort to be ambassadors for our industry. Please encourage good behavior in your riding companions.

For more information on trail etiquette, please visit the Connecticut
Horse Council website at www.cthorsecouncil.org

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Save The Date!

The 2nd Annual Spring Fever Trail Ride (maybe we'll call it the Summer Solstice Trail Ride this year) to benefit First Descents will be held on Saturday, June 18th at Fort Hill Farms in Thompson, Connecticut.

Once again we will be providing lunch for all riders with your tax-deductible registration fee and I will be getting great prizes for categories like: fundraising, longest distance traveled and oldest horse.

Check back for updates - I hope you will join us on the trail.

The Equestrian Attitude

I attended the Eastern Competitive Trail Ride Association (ECTRA) 40th Annual Convention yesterday for the educational panels. I think each panel that I sat in on will require a separate post. I will start with the trail loss panel.

As you all know, we are losing land to development every year. This in turn effects the trail access - pieces of trails that once connected two separate trails are now gone. It gets harder and harder to create a long trail of many miles. This is really its own post by itself, and I will talk more about it another day.

Another problem that we discussed was what I will summarize as the equestrian attitude. And I am as guilty as anyone else.

My cousins' seven year old son asked me one day, "What do you do when you are out riding and your horse poops on the road?" I said, "I act shocked and wonder whose horse did that." He laughed, but maybe its not a laughing matter anymore.

To you or me, a pile of manure on the road or on a trail is not a big deal. However there are many people out there hiking and jogging (and its not so much their fault - they are one or two generations removed from the farm/agricultural life) to whom a pile of manure is a very big and disturbing deal to.

One trail riding group on the other side of the state has adopted the policy that if your horse poops on the trail, you dismount and kick it off to the side of the trail. I think from a public relations standpoint this is a good attitude for all equestrians to take and will adopt this as a personal rule.

How many of you have gone out and volunteered with trail clearing?

I have never done any trail clearing around here, but again this is something I am going to change. A staff member from the Department of Environmental Protection was on the panel yesterday and said that one of their biggest problems is that they are understaffed. I have really enjoyed riding in Natchaug State Forest and Mansfield Hollow Park in the last two years. The first Saturday in June is National Trails Day and I think I will be volunteering this year.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Herd Dynamics

My little herd has had some issues lately when it is time to come into the barn at night.

Secret, John and Remi are all turned out together during the day. Three is hard because there is always odd man out. But trying to merge another horse at my parents barn into the group has been slightly stressful (for me, not the horses). Secret does not get along with Daybreak. Lily picks on Remi. I'm afraid Secret would pick on Lilac. So I leave it at three.

Secret is alpha mare. She bosses John and Remi around. I always put John out first so she cannot torment him too much. I believe it gives him a bit more footing - he was out first so she can't pick on him too much. I put Remi out last because she waits for the other horses at the gate and tends to get in the way.

John bosses Remi around, but Remi is not afraid to run up to him and kick out at him before skittering off. When Secret comes around, Remi gets out of the way, although the girls will share a hay pile.

At night, Secret has always come in first. Being the overly smart Morgan that he is, John realized that once I was holding Secret and leading her through the gate, she could not pick on him. He started coming after her while I was leading her. I started carrying a whip to discourage this behaivor in him. John can be incredibly rude when he chooses to be and this is not a situation to perpetuate.

Despite my efforts, Secret has decided that it is easier to let John go first. The last few nights, he is at the gate first, then Remi and Secret hangs back and goes in last. While they are out, she is bossing them around, but when it is time to go in - she waits.

I don't want John to get too cocky though, so I make him back up, halt, and back up again before I take him to his stall.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Pictures of January 27th Blizzard






The horses enjoyed yet another snow day after the January 27th blizzard. I know, these are a little late, but better late than never!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Why I Ride...

Last year, Ariat hosted a contest where everyone could log onto their site and answer the question Why I Ride...

Like so many other horse enthusiasts I went onto Ariat's site and typed my answer. I believe it was something along the lines of, "I ride because I am."

I can't really remember wanting to learn to ride, there is a picture of me being held on my pony before I could walk well. Horses have always fascinated me and been a huge part of my life.

Lately, as I shovel gates clear so that horses can go out, smash frozen water buckets and deal with cold weather, I have pondered the question a little more. Any hobby that requires as much energy (physical, mental and financial) as ours, really ought to have a good reason behind it.

I ride for those days when everything goes right, the "perfect ride." The perfect ride is elusive, but it does exist. I ride for the feeling of freedom I get when I gallop down a good stretch of trail. I ride for the "aha" moments I have with my horses, when we are both finally speaking the same language.

I also ride for the sound of my horses greeting me with a nicker in the morning. And I ride for the sound of horses contentedly munching hay at the end of the day.

And in the end, I think Steve Prefontaine sums it up best. Pre felt about running the way I feel about riding.

"You have to wonder at times what you're doing out there. Over the years, I've given myself a thousand reasons to keep running, but it always comes back to where it started. It comes down to self-satisfaction and a sense of achievement." -Pre