Thursday, July 31, 2014

If a Tree Falls in the Forest....

It will scare the sh.. out of most horses.  But not my usually placid Queenie.

Zoe and I decided to ride over to Rachel Carson Park but we planned to take a different route than usual. Bad move. 

Deja was a bit out of sorts because she was coming into heat so she was stopping frequently and refusing to go on.  As I've said in previous blog posts, Queenie does not like to lead except when she knows we are returning to the barn (then she usually moves at light speed).

I urged Queenie forward and she reluctantly moved in front of Deja.  The first "obstacles" we encountered were the bright spots of sunlight filtering through the trees.  Queenie was certain that the contrast between the sunny and dark areas of the trail spelled D-A-N-G-E-R.  She didn't want to walk on the trail and tried to detour into the foliage-covered areas along the edge of the trail. 

I talked to her continually and she eventually relaxed.  Not so with Deja.  She became more and more agitated.  Rather than take the long trail that meanders past a large pond and through meadows, we decided to cut the ride short and return to the barn along more familiar trails.

Things were going well until we heard a tremendous CRACK!  I admit that I had no idea what was going on but Queenie took a few steps to the side and quickly recovered.  I looked back to see terror in Deja's eyes (she had been closer to the noise) and I was certain that she was building up to bolting through the woods.  I turned Queenie to block the path and yelled, "Whoa, Deja."  (Zoe and I laughed later that I was yelling at her horse to stop instead of my own). 

I swear that Deja was galloping in place. Her head was up and her front legs were moving in the air as if she was covering ground.  Zoe credits her Mikmar training bit for stopping Deja before she could take off like California Chrome in the Derby.  I also think that Deja realized that she'd have to go through Queenie since she was blocking the trail. 

The Mikmar training bit disperses pressure to the nose, mouth, chin, and poll areas.

I'm lucky that for the most part if Queenie spooks, she settles down quickly and continues moving along the trail.  Unfortunately, Deja remained like a coiled spring so Zoe got off and walked her for a few minutes until both Zoe and Deja were calm enough to finish the ride.

The cracking sound was caused by a large tree branch falling. I can't imagine why it fell on a such a calm, sunny day.   

It was one of those rides where we were happy to get back to the barn safely. 

I often say that if I thought about the risks of horseback riding too long, I would take up knitting as a hobby instead.  We became acutely aware of the dangers after hearing yesterday that a former boarder had been flown by helicopter to the shock trauma center after falling from her horse.  Norma and her friend Lisa are like me--more-than-middle-age riders.  They ride their very senior horses at only a gentle walk.  Norma's horse is 27 and Lisa's is 24.  Both Quarter Horses are calm, steady and as close to "bombproof" as any horse can be. 

Norma's accident occurred in a field where they board when her horse's hind legs buckled (likely from advanced arthritis) and he went down.  Our understanding is that Norma was thrown with some force and she landed on her head, knocking her out for what I'm sure seemed like forever to Lisa.  The helicopter was able to land in the field and quickly transport her to the hospital.  At some point, she also had a mild stroke.

I'm pleased to report that she is doing well and will be released in a day or two to continue her recovery at home.  It is unlikely that her beloved horse can be ridden again.  They've been together for nearly two decades. 

I'm always thankful for my calm horse but I realize that I must be ever-vigilant.  In addition to a helmet, I wear a safety vest even when I'm only going to ride in the arena. 

I'm waiting for someone to create a stylish bubblewrap equestrian outfit.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Cheap, Natural and it Sends Horseflies Packing!

The Legal Equestrian recently shared thoughts about fly sprays (The Fault in Our Fly Spray) not living up to their advertising claims.  Regardless of which spray you choose to control flies, not one of them will repel horseflies--those nasty things that are roughly the size of a B-52 bomber and have a bite like a crocodile.

This description from Wikipedia is enough to strike fear in the heart of every horse owner.  "Most short-tongued species of horse flies use their knife-like mandibles to rip and/or slice flesh apart....They are often not deterred by attempts at swatting them away, and will persist in attacking, or even chase their intended target for a short time."


I've been researching homemade fly sprays and found one that specifically targets horseflies.  The recipe is simple--one part eucalyptus oil and five parts water or alcohol.  Believe it or not, I happen to have a 4-ounce bottle of eucalyptus oil so I mixed it 20 ounces of water in a spray bottle.

A four-ounce bottle of eucalyptus oil costs between $6-8. 
I had a ride scheduled at Rachel Carson Park.  The first part of the ride is through a meadow of tall plants.  It's horsefly central--the perfect testing ground.

I sprayed Queenie thoroughly and met up with Denise and her quarter horse, Bits.  As we started through the meadow, I saw the first large horsefly land on Bits.  Over the course of the ride through woods and fields, Bits' rear end looked like a landing strip for horseflies.  I had to admire Denise's deadly aim.  She managed to kill eight horseflies during the ride.  There were others that landed but escaped annihilation by Denise. 
While Bits was a favorite target for the horseflies, only two landed on Queenie but they quickly flew off.   Common flies and some other insects landed on Queenie's ears but I realized that I had not sprayed them and I had forgotten to put her fly bonnet on her.

Denise and I were very impressed with the results of my experiment.  The eucalyptus mixture will be my go-to fly spray, particularly when I will be riding in sunny open fields.

I found bulk eucalyptus oil online for $19.89 for 16 ounces.  The 16-ounce bottle will make 96 ounces of spray.   Not only is that more cost effective than most commercial fly sprays, it actually works.

Monday, July 14, 2014

"Queenie the Weenie" and Other Tales from the C&O Canal

The sky was a brilliant blue and dotted with cotton candy clouds.  A gentle breeze kept the temperature from feeling like a typical hot, sticky July day in the Washington DC suburbs. Our planned trip to the C&O Canal was a definite go!

Almost 185 miles long and operated for nearly 100 years, the C&O Canal provided employment and goods for communities along the Potomac River as coal, lumber, agricultural and other products floated on mule-pulled barges down the waterway to market.  The barges still operate for tourist rides in two locations along the Canal.  The miles of towpath make excellent biking, hiking, and of course, horseback riding trails. 

Saiph had been to the Canal a few weeks earlier with Carol and they had figured out (by trial and error) how to reach Pennyfield Lock.  The trip took us about 30 minutes from the barn.  Since it was a Friday, the parking lot was nearly empty and we found a great spot under a shade tree. It didn't take us long to get saddled up and ready to go. 

We trotted down the road from the parking lot to the lock bridge that would take us across the canal to the towpath. 
The horse-eating bridge is on the left

When the Canal was operational, the locks would open, changing the water level to let boats move down the canal

Uh-oh.  Neither one of the horses wanted to cross the bridge.  Saiph urged Lily across but she was having nothing of that wood surface with the rushing water underneath.  I tried to see if Queenie would lead.  No way.  Lily at least would approach the bridge.  Queenie never acts anxious or jittery.  She just calmly puts it in reverse and backs quickly away from whatever is scaring her.  Queenie never turns and runs but she can set a wicked pace going backwards!

Since Saiph is a far more experienced rider and Lily is a less stubborn  horse than Queenie, we finally crossed with Lily in the lead.  Queenie trotted along contentedly behind her, no doubt thinking, "I'm good.  All those terrible things on the trail will eat Lily first and I'll have time to back up all the way to the trailer."

Having successfully conquered the bridge, our next challenge was an orange snow fence.  Both horses took one look at it as if to say, "Too bright, too big, and just too weird.  Game over."

What Saiph and I saw...
What Lily and Queenie were certain that they saw
Saiph again was able to push Lily to go past the fence.  Queenie dutifully followed but stepped to the far right of the tow path and kept one eye on the fence the whole time.

Just as we finally began making some progress along the towpath, a father and daughter launched their kayak and began paddling in the same direction that we were heading.  Lily and Queenie's eyes were big as saucers and they told us in no uncertain terms that they were not going to pass anywhere close to that yellow monster with its crazy, waving "arms."
What Saiph and I saw...

What Lily and Queenie saw!
Saiph had fallen off Lily just a few days earlier so she was understandably nervous about her jittery horse.  We took a side trail to give the kayakers time to get ahead of us.  The trail was short and after a few minutes, we were back on the towpath and quickly in line with the kayakers again.  Damn!

Since Lily and Queenie were refusing to move forward at the walk, Saiph suggested that we start trotting with Lily in the lead. Lily was in heightened-alert mode but she obediently trotted, giving us distance from the kayak but not doing much to settle Lily's nerves.

Queenie did not seem to be particularly anxious but also was not confident enough to lead so I jokingly started calling her, "Queenie the Weenie." Clearly Queenie figures that if the lead horse won't go, she's sure as heck not going first to be attacked by whatever is ahead.  Queenie's self-preservation instinct is very finely honed!

With the dreaded kayak behind us, we quickly approached an area of rapids on the Potomac River to our left.  The sound of the water rushing over the rocks once again made Lily hit the brakes and she started backing up sideways on the trail (no doubt she learned that backing up thing from Queenie). 
We saw and heard the rapids...

Queenie and Lily were certain that this was coming out of the water to destroy them.

The towpath drops off on both sides.  The Canal was to our right and a wooded downhill area to our left led to the Potomac River.  As Lily was backing up to the Canal-side edge, this outing suddenly looked like a really stupid idea.

And speaking of stupid, if rapids weren't enough, we encountered several bicyclists who apparently did not read the park rules that state horses have the right of way.  At some areas of the towpath, there is simply no place to move a horse out of the way.  We tried to accommodate a young couple riding side by side.  We moved off the trail as far as we could but Lily chose the moment they started to pass us to start back up in fear.  Sure enough, the bicyclists crashed into each other.  I confess that I didn't have an ounce of sympathy for them.

At this point, Saiph and I both decided that the Canal ride was becoming less of an enjoyable outing and more of a torture session for both us and the horses.  We decided to head back to the trailer even though we had only made it a couple of miles.

As we made our way back, we noticed that the horses suddenly were completely calm.  Queenie always perks up when she realizes that we are going back to the trailer or barn.  She moves like a snail going out on a ride and like a cheetah on the return.  I always say that if I averaged the two, she would be going the perfect speed.

Saiph and I started to relax and as we neared the area where the trailer was parked on the other side of the Canal, we decided to keep riding in this much more peaceful direction.

I was finally able to look around and appreciate the beauty of the Canal and the Potomac River.  I was fascinated by the huge boulders and imagined the difficulties in building the Canal.

At one point, we decided to take another side trail.  Saiph and Lily went ahead through the woods to a small beach.  We followed until Queenie saw a 4-inch hole to our right.  It might as well have been a mammoth sinkhole.  Queenie was NOT going to pass it.

I finally got off and tried to lead her by it.  Nothing doing. So I walked her through the woods.  She refused to set hoof on the river bank and look terrified at the sight of water.  Completely frustrated, I asked, "Aren't you the same horse that decided to roll in the water a few days ago?"  Apparently Queenie is quite particular about when and where she will go in the water.  In other words, it's only on her terms.

And if you read my last blog entry, you know that I can't get on Queenie without standing on something; in this case, a large fallen tree.  Queenie led us out of the woods (get it, we're heading back the way we came--Queenie's favorite direction).   Once on the towpath, Queenie came to a dead stop and waited for Lily to take the lead again.

Our ride continued uneventfully except for some darn mud puddles.  Lily had narrowly missed falling in a very large hole last week and her sudden stop at it put Saiph on the ground.  Lily is a very sensitive horse and it was obvious the incident left a deep impression.  She seemed to say, "those could be very deep.  I'm trying to be brave but I'd rather not go near them."  Saiph made her approach the first few puddles and soon Lily was completely relaxed about them, even drinking from a few.

We went about four miles and turned around to return to the trailer.  We looked ahead at a long empty stretch of towpath and decided to canter.  Queenie has a surprisingly smooth canter that is much easier on my sore back than her trot.  The hock injections have helped her gait more consistently but when she's in a hurry to catch another horse, she'll usually go to a back-pounding trot.  We've got more work to do on the gaiting thing. 

As we neared the bridge to cross the Canal, we were confident that there was nothing else that could frighten Lily or Queenie.  Ha!  Feet from the bridge, a guy on a bike pedaled quietly up behind us.  He did not have a warning bell and did not speak until he was right behind Queenie.  We scooted over and he sped past us and over the bridge.  He immediately laid down in the grass and began doing all kinds of stretching exercises. 

The canal is below the area across the bridge so all we could see were arms and legs waving.  Trying to imagine it through the horse's eyes and minds, I'm thinking that exercise man looked something like this.

Returning to the trailer, we had a late lunch/early dinner and packed up to return to the barn.  I'm betting the conversation in the trailer went something like this.

Queenie:  Can you believe those two?  They are laughing and talking and we're risking our very lives, encountering one horrifying thing after the next.

Lily:  Next time I see this red box roll up to take us somewhere, I am running the other way.

Queenie:  Me too!

Lily:  Oh, who are we kidding?  We'll get on quietly like we always do and face the next challenges they throw at is.  "Remember, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger." 

Queenie:  Did you have to say "kill?" 


Thursday, July 10, 2014

Push My Butt!

Keep reading and you will understand the title of this blog post.

Zoe and I decided to head to familiar trails for an easy ride on a hot day.  We boarded at a barn on the edge of the Agricultural History Park so the trails were "home" to us and the horses.  As we passed near the turn off for the barn, both horses wanted to head up the trail to their former home.

Heading down familiar trails

We had a relaxing ride through the woods where it felt much cooler than 90 degrees.  On the way back to the trailer, we rode through a wide creek for the second time.  We stopped to let the horses drink.
Deja gets a drink

A minute after I took this photo, Queenie decided to roll in the creek

Queenie began wading through the creek.  She headed for an area where the creek bottom dropped.  I turned her away from the spot because it looked as though my boots would get wet if she went into the deeper water.  Suddenly Zoe screamed, "She's going to roll!!"  At the same time, I felt Queenie's back end start to drop.  In what seemed like slow motion, she started to kneel.  It seemed like I had minutes instead of seconds to plan my exit.

To avoid being pinned under her, I pushed myself out of the saddle and into the deep creek bank mud.  And I do mean deep.  My right leg and arm sank into the thick goo.  There was no way around it, I was covered in mud on one side.

Muddy me

I immediately thought of my phone which was in the front saddle bag.  Queenie had rolled on to her right side and was gleefully splashing in the water.  I reached out and grabbed my phone from the saddle bag.  Whew!  It wasn't wet.

My next thought was that she would try to roll completely over and ruin my saddle.  So I started yelling and pushing her to get up.  She complied, stood up and of course, gave one good muddy shake.

Back in the saddle, I could see the thick mud stuck on my leg

Queenie's saddle blanket went from purple to brown

Luckily my synthetic saddle was easy to clean

My saddle bag contained mud and water

We led the horses out of the woods and into the field which left me with another problem.  How was I going to get back on her?  I have terrible back problems and have to get steroid shots in the spine every few months.  (Okay, I really shouldn't be riding but I waited 45 years to get a horse and I am not about to give up now).

And so here's where the title comes in.  The field had a slight incline so I positioned Queenie "downhill" and I managed to get my foot in the stirrup.  As I struggled to pull myself up, I yelled to Zoe, "push my butt."  She did and it gave me just enough oomph to get into the saddle.  Luckily, Zoe's horse, Deja is small enough that she can mount from the ground without help.

Once on our way back, we started laughing hysterically, especially when I remembered that as I was trying to stop Queenie from rolling over, I called her a "you animal."  But I can never stay mad at her for long because she is such a wonderful horse.  And even when she goes down to roll when I'm on her, she does it slow enough that I have plenty of time to roll out of the way. 

Now, you would think that would be enough excitement for one ride.  But no, the best (well, really the worst) was yet to come.

We got back to the trailers and prepared to return to the barn.  Queenie loads so easily that I had her on in about a minute.  Deja is a different story.  The process requires two people and over the past few months, we've got it down  to about 5-10 minutes.  Deja goes into the trailer easily but doesn't stay.  She spins rapidly and exits the trailer.  This occurs a few times before she'll settle down long enough for Zoe to feed her treats in the trailer.  I stand behind the trailer door while this ritual occurs.  When Deja is quiet and focused on her treats and hay, Zoe will yell for me to shut the door.  I close both of them in the trailer and go around to unlock the escape door (appropriately named in this case) for Zoe to get out of the trailer.  

Unfortunately, the routine didn't work so well today.  Zoe had Deja in the trailer before I was in position behind the door.  When I walked up to the trailer, Deja took one look at me and I could see her thinking, "It's the bitch that always closes the door.  I'm out of here."  She shot off the trailer so fast that Zoe lost her grip on the lead rope.

Deja trotted slowly away, dragging her lead rope.  Zoe and I held our breath that she would go a short distance and stop to graze.  Not happening.  Instead, Deja broke into a canter and gave a little buck of glee.  Then we saw her catch sight of her lead rope flapping beside her and with that,  Deja galloped out of sight.  We ran to the top of the hill, calling her but she was already in the woods.

Zoe was certain that Deja was headed for our old barn and she called the owner, Debbie to tell her that Deja might be on her way there.  Debbie immediately said she would start walking the trails toward our location.

Zoe continued across the field and into the woods, following the trail that we had completed earlier, part of which ran alongside our old barn.  I ran back to my trailer and drove to Debbie's barn.  When I arrived, I put Queenie in one of the pastures and headed down the trails.  I didn't get very far before Zoe called to say that Debbie had caught up with Deja trotting calmly through the woods.  Deja remembered Debbie and went right to her.

Zoe put Deja in the field with Queenie and we headed back to get Zoe's trailer.

It was so nice to see folks from our old barn though I wish it had been under less stressful circumstances and that I hadn't been covered in mud.

You can imagine how relieved we were to get the horses back to the farm.  After putting Queenie out for the night, I began the task of cleaning my saddle pad, saddle bags, clothes, boots and of course, my saddle.

I bought a relatively inexpensive saddle when I got Queenie and I haven't had the extra income to purchase a better all-leather one.  A good portion of the saddle is synthetic so it was easy to give that part a good scrub and put it in front of the fan to dry since I have another ride planned for tomorrow.  I doubt my boots will dry out for tomorrow's ride, particularly the right one which was filled with water.

My right boot was filled with mud and water

After everything was washed and drying, I rewarded myself with a little liquid relaxation.  

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

What Kind of Horse is Queenie? The answer is.....

Whenever I tell someone that I have a horse, one of the first questions is "what kind of horse is she?"  Over the two years that I've owned her, the answer has varied.  Before I adopted her, Queenie was part of the Day's End Farm Horse Rescue drill team at the Maryland Horse Expo.  I attended every performance and heard Queenie introduced as a Tennessee Walker.  Okay, most people are familiar with the breed.

Queenie performing with the Days End Farm Horse Rescue Drill Team at the 2012 Maryland Horse Expo

Queenie was the demonstration horse for an equine chiropractor.  I love her "WTF" expression!

But weeks later when I signed the adoption papers, I noticed that Queenie was listed as a Rocky Mountain/Saddlebred cross.  From then on, I would answer "what is she?" with the "official" designation.

Several months ago, Saiph told me about the genetic testing done at Texas A&M University(TAMU). You send in 30-50 hairs from your horse's mane and/or tail, and they analyze them to find specific breed or horse type markers.  From the TAMU webpage:

The Animal Genetics Laboratory offers DNA genotyping used for identification, parentage verification, and determination of specific homozygous/heterozygous gene mutations in animals. The analysis provides useful information for diseases, coat colors, as well as physical traits. Currently, the lab provides routine services for testing horses, donkeys, cattle, cats, and dogs, in addition to goats and sheep (upon requests).

The results for Saiph's horse, Lily, showed that she is a "Thoroughbred and Eastern European Warmblood cross."  The test results weren't real specific but did provide Saiph with a better idea why Lily exhibits certain characteristics and behaviors.

The test costs $25--a mere pittance in  horse world expenses.  That's roughly equivalent to a bottle of fly spray so it was sort of a "what have I got to lose" proposition.

I mailed my check, the requisite form and 50 hairs from Queenie's mane and tail to TAMU in early March.  The turnaround time for the test is supposed to be two weeks but it took a month for Saiph to receive Lily's report.

In April, I received an envelope from Texas A&M and tore into it anticipating the answer to the "what breed is she?" question.  Instead, it was just a receipt acknowledging that they had received Queenie's sample and my check.   

So days and then weeks and then months ticked by and no results arrived in the mail.

I finally called and spoke with Dr. Cothrane, who is in charge of the lab at TAMU.  It took a few minutes but he found Queenie's results (and said no, he couldn't send me a copy).  

Dr. Cothrane said.... drum roll, please......Queenie is "some type of North American gaited horse." Wait, I knew that.  I mean, after all, she is a) a horse; b) gaited; and c) definitely looks like a Walker or Saddlebred. 

So I asked Dr. Cothrane if he has any further information about her breed.  He said the results also show that she is some type of "non-Arabian horse."  Well, that's equally obvious.  There is nothing in her temperament or conformation to suggest an Arabian. 

Finally, Dr. Cothrane said that Queenie's genetic makeup also shows Quarter horse.  That sort of fits because many people say that Queenie has a quarter horse build.

So $25 and months later, what do I know about Queenie's breed?  Nothing more than the day I adopted her.  

Since science couldn't provide a definitive answer, I decided that when people ask what kind of horse  Queenie is, I'm going to say Tennessee Walker for the sake of convenience. It's  much easier than saying that she is a cross.

And I like the description of a Walking Horse-- "a breed of gaited horse known for its unique four-beat "running walk" and flashy movement. It  is a popular riding horse due to its calm disposition, smooth gaits and sure-footedness."

In truth, I don't really care what breed Queenie is because to me, she is the best horse ever.