“Green” Horses

I was asked recently how I reconcile the fact that I own a truck that gets 18mpg with my self-proclaimed “tree hugger” status. It got me thinking about how my identity as a horse owner fits into my green lifestyle.

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First, let’s get one thing straight. I didn’t say I was a tree hugger. My little family is environmentally conscious. We made a decision to make some lifestyle changes several years ago, and they’ve stuck. I  think people have this idea in their heads that they have to be 100% tree hugger, or nothing at all. But small changes can make a big difference. For example, shortly after our daughter was born, we began using cloth diapers. This is not to say that we didn’t use disposables when it was more convenient, but instead of using 60-70 disposable diapers per week on our newborn, we probably used 5 or 6. (For the record, this is a much more economical choice too!)

Cloth diapers on the clothes line.

We stopped using paper towels. We still keep a roll on the counter, but we probably use 2-3 rolls per year, instead of 2-3 per month. Instead, we bought “shop rags” which are just plain white cotton rags. We keep a bucket of clean ones under the kitchen sink, and a bucket of dirty ones in the laundry room.

We also use cloth napkins. I bought cheap ones—not the nice kind you’d use for a dinner party (not that we have dinner parties on the regular…) and they’ve lasted for 4+ years.

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We ditched plastic baggies for lunches. These cool reusable bags are easy to wash, and come in cute colors and patterns for the kids. For that matter, skip the straws and save the turtles, amiright? Try out silicon or stainless reusable straws.

 

But we still use too much water. I like a long hot shower when I’ve been out in the cold mucking stalls. I order too much stuff on Amazon. I’d rather spend my time with my kids or at the barn or with my kids at the barn, than at Target or the mall. The kids (okay, let’s be real—their parents too) still like the convenience of GoGo Squeez pouches, and bottles of Powerade. We recycle what we can, but realistically, I know a lot of it isn’t going to actually get recycled.

 

And I have an F150. It gets good gas mileage for it’s size. But it’s still a truck. Our smaller car gets close to 30mpg. The F150 is the vehicle we use to travel (because the kids come with a lot of stuff!). It’s not a daily commuter vehicle, but it is driven frequently when I go to pick up grain or head out to the barn.  It obviously pulls my horse trailer too.

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I use a lot of gas going back and forth to the barn. We use tractors and utility vehicles and lawn mowers. Of course we use a ton of water in the stalls and in the pastures and to water the arena and to bathe the horses and to wash all the things. Trees are often logged for pasture space. Horses use crops and crop land that could be used to feed people.

 

Sometimes it’s hard to reconcile these two very important pieces of my identity. I don’t have my own farm yet, so I don’t have much control. Here are a few things I do to minimize my impact on the planet, while still enjoying my horse.

 

  • Buy good stuff, and take care of it. Our horses need tack and blankets. If you get the good stuff, you won’t have to replace it as frequently. I have 2 Horseware Rhino blankets that I’ve had for 20 years each. They have some minor repairs, but they’re in FANTASTIC shape for their age. (I sent my pictures to Horseware, but they never responded L ) As a result, I haven’t had to replace those particular blankets. I spent more money at the outset, but I haven’t had to replace blankets every 2-3 years, or sooner, like many of my friends and barnmates. I sold my first saddle for $200 more than I paid for it new, 5 years later. I also have the first bridle I ever owned. I bought it used from a friend for $20, including the bit. I still have it 20+ years later. When clean and condition and oil your leather, it won’t dry out and break. It will stay in usable condition for years to come. Better to reuse than the carbon footprint to buy new.
  • Those arena lights use up a lot of electricity. Turn on only as many as you need, and turn them off right away when you’re done. Use LED of CFL bulbs in the rest of the barn. For that matter, if you design the barn with lots of natural light and windows, you won’t have to use lights as much. So many barns are super dark.
  • Keep the barn clean. Not just sweeping the aisles. Hang things neatly, put things away, clear off the dust, and for the love of pete, get rid of the cob webs! The air will be healthier, the barn will look better, and you’ll reduce your fire risk. (I’m pretty passionate about fire safety!)
  • Walk when you can. We have some horses that live out that we have to haul hay out to in the winter. It’s not very practical to walk a bale of hay out to them, so we tend to drive the Kubota. But if we just need to take some hay to the paddocks next to the barn, we can pull a wheelbarrow.
  • I have ambitions of having a rain barrel at the barn. We don’t have one at the barn I board at, but it can come in handy for lots of tasks at the barn, including cleaning. For now, when I clean buckets, I use a little bit of water that’s left in the bucket (our horses don’t usually make a big mess in water buckets) to scrub the sides of the bucket.
  • The kids and I have plans to have a memorial garden for my sweet BooBoo when we buy a farm. We’re hoping to plant a few apple trees in the garden to treat the horses. Fewer store bought treats, less packaging, and the tree cleans the air.

 

What do you do to reduce your footprint at the barn?

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Of Thoroughbreds & Rust-Colored Breeches

Let’s talk about thoroughbreds. Outside of a stint training welsh/thoroughbred cross ponies, most of my 25-year involvement with horses has been with off-track thoroughbreds.

 

My very first horse was a thoroughbred, and I had him for 18 amazing years. He taught many of my students how to jump, and he taught my own babies to love horses as much as their mama does. I’ve had some others, trained some others, and matched some others with students while I was still teaching. I know thoroughbreds, and love thoroughbreds like nothing else.

 

 

I grew up riding at a farm that was a lay up facility for a few thoroughbred trainers. We got a lot of horses ready for retirement. It was just normal for us- all of my riding buddies, and me- if you convinced your unsuspecting parents to get you a horse, you got a thoroughbred. We thought we were hot stuff because we could ride race horses. (Realistically, we had a good trainer, lots of supervision, and super understanding horses.)

 

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I never had the budget to show on the A circuit. The lower levels were full of thoroughbreds, with a random warmblood here and there. It seemed like the higher the level you showed at, the more people looked down their noses at thoroughbreds (at least in the hunter/jumper world that I grew up in). Not only did I not have the budget to show on the A circuit, I didn’t have the budget for a fancy warmblood to ride there.

 

Thoroughbreds have gone the way of rust-colored breeches and hunt caps. But like all good trends, they’re coming back. So guess what? You don’t need a warmblood. You can get a thoroughbred for a fraction of the price of a warmblood, and man do they ever have heart.  Now, the people who appreciate the heart and athleticism of the thoroughbred and classic style of the rust-colored breech are doing something about it.

 

Have you heard about the Retired Racehorse Project? Started by respected horseman Steuart Pittman, RRP is changing the narrative for thoroughbreds, and, I believe, changing how people view horse racing and “the track” in general. RRP holds the Thoroughbred Makeover at the Kentucky Horse Park in October. Thoroughbreds compete in up to 2 of 10 disciplines (10 disciplines at one show?!) with 10 months or less of post-track training. It’s a level playing field. Amateurs compete against professionals and juniors alike. It is truly a showcase of the breed, in a way that hasn’t existed previously.

 

 

I attended last year for the first time, as a spectator. It won’t be the last. You can watch all 10 disciplines over the course of just a couple of days. Bonus- it’s at the Kentucky Horse Park, which is a lot like equestrian paradise. If you haven’t been, you should go…. and wear your rust-colored breeches!

 

Check out my Instagram feed for more thoroughbreds! @adventures_in_thoroughbreds

Ah, Progress!

I got to ride Wex this weekend. He’s learning to be a big kid! I would call this my first real ride, because I did more than just walk a couple of laps. This was probably the 5th time anyone has sat on him since he came off the track in September.

 

Wex is still very much trying to understand what leg aids and contact are, so I’m going very slowly with him. This is also where we get a lot of value from a trainer who works with young horses all the time. The fact that we got forward movement is a big improvement. The first time I sat on Wex, we worked on just going forward. Work on the lunge has helped tremendously, and he responds well to verbal cues.

 

My hubby (who has spent the last 17 years becoming horse husband extraordinaire!) was kind enough to pack up the kids and come lead me on a pony ride. I was able to walk and trot, and I’m happy to report that he has a comfy trot! Wex reminds me so much of BooBoo, in build and gait. He has a great temperament, but he has big shoes to fill. Time will tell how he lives up to his cousin’s legacy.

 

Like many thoroughbreds, he’s a bit one-sided, and does like to push his shoulder out. The only goal right now is forward, forward, forward. The rest will come.

 

Here’s a picture of us after our ride. I’m very happy with our progress so far. Here’s hoping he continues to learn at this pace. Check out my Instagram @adventures_in_thoroughbreds for video of our cool down walk.

 

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Baby Horse, Baby Steps

I think Wex has super powers. Every time I start him in work, he comes up with some new affliction. I decided he needed a boot camp with the dressage trainer at our barn. She’s quite good with young horses and she started him off with lunge work. Lunging has never been my strongest skill, so I am thrilled to have her guidance. The plan was for her to work with him while I was traveling for Christmas. Midway through the week, he lost a shoe. I’m sure he thought- this lady is making me work- nope! Fortunately the farrier came out quickly, and he was back to it.

 

Wex has opinions on things. If you’ve met any 3 year old, horse or human, opinions are something they have in abundance. Wex likes to do things when they’re his idea. For example, when he first arrived from the track, he refused to walk through gates. All gates. It took a significant amount of bribery (peppermints) to convince him that walking through the gate was a good idea. Sometimes, walking out to the pasture was not a good idea. If he decided he’d rather stay in his stall, there was no going out. I like to think of these as learning opportunities.

 

In talking to my trainer, the 3 year old analogy rings true. Like my 3 year old son, Wex can run. However, when you try to contain or direct his energy into something less like flat out running and more like precision ANYTHING, things get rocky.

 

So we began with lunging, since “forward” is not a direction that Wex particularly cares to go. After just a few sessions, he has gone from stand-off to responding to verbal commands, and lunging quite reliably. This week, she rode him for the first time, and all of the skills he’s developed in the last few weeks of ground sessions are evident under saddle as well.

 

We’ll continue working with our trainer, for at least a few months, and then hopefully keep taking lessons after that. I’m anxious to start teaching him to jump, but we must install 3 gaits first!

 

I grabbed this screenshot from a video I took of our trainer’s first ride on Wex. He definitely had some decent moments! The fact that he was moving forward and not throwing his head so much that I feared for her face, is progress for sure.

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New Year, New Resolutions

For North American Jockey Club registered thoroughbreds, January 1st is considered their “birthday”. This is the day that thoroughbreds are considered a year older. So, despite the fact that Wex’s birthday is February 1, 2015, he is considered 4 years old by the Jockey Club as of 1/1/19. It’s pretty meaningless in the sport horse world, but it can have a big impact for horses born later in the year when they’re young and racing.

 

I spent the morning of Wex’s “birthday” with him at the barn. He got a few of the candy canes that his Grammy got him for Christmas, and more grooming than he prefers. I found myself wondering what 2019 will bring for him.

 

I will admit that I’m a bit of a resolution junkie. Some years I am more motivated than others. One year, we made a resolution to be a more eco-friendly household and we made several changes (including switching to cloth diapers, eliminating paper towels and plates, and using only reusable shopping and snack bags) that have lasted for several years. Another year, we resolved to lose weight (babies are tough on a mama!) and I lost 30 lbs in 4 months. Even with my motivation to make resolutions, I have never really resolutions that are horse-related.

 

In 2019, I have a young horse, and the opportunities are wide open. So I’m making some resolutions.

1) Invest in training for both of us.

I have a training background, so I get lazy with this. However, everyone needs eyes on the ground. Aside from that, those days are behind me, and pre-children. Every time I take a lesson, things click.

I’ve started working with a trainer for Wex as well, and it’s been beyond helpful for both of us.

2) Spend more time at the barn.

This one is hard. I have a husband, two young children, a corporate job, and a long commute. My kids are in two different schools, they have multiple activities, and are busy. In full disclosure, they do best when they are busy. I can’t do anything about my commute and corporate job. And I do like to see my husband occasionally. What I can do about this is spend my time more wisely. Getting up early (4:00 AM is not my favorite time of day, but it’s a great time to get in a run), and being more efficient at work. I’m trying not to over commit myself, and make time for makes me happy.

3) Do it less than 1000%.

This may seem like a strange resolution. I tend to over do things. An example: my kids had a joint horse themed birthday party last year. I hand-made 12 full-size stick horses (and commissioned a “paddock” made from a pallet from my husband) as favors for each of the kids to take home. Who does that? My kids thought they were cool, but they haven’t touched them in months. At the barn, I scrub my water buckets weekly until they look brand new again. Seriously, I have buckets that are many years old, but look brand new. I must get every single fleck of dirt or mud off my horse before riding. The mane must be pulled perfectly evenly, and to 4 inches, no longer. It will be a lot easier to go to the barn more frequently if my trips are more efficient. Perhaps resolution #2 should be “go to the barn more often”, not spend more time there. I can still work with Wex, even if his mane is dirty and there’s a stray piece of hay in his tail. He will be fine.

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What are your New Year’s Resolutions?

Back in the Saddle

Wex has had a few weeks to chill and settle in to his new environment. He’s so quiet, you’d never know he is only 3 years old.

I decided to get on him, just to see what I’ve got. The picture below is from the first time I sat on him. I say sat, because to call it a ride would be generous. I probably did all of one lap around the ring at a walk. It wasn’t a good walk, but no one died, and that was really the only goal.

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I had a saddle fitter out a few days after this “ride”. Turns out all 5 of my saddles are too wide for Wex. *sigh* The good news is that she was able to adjust the flocking on my County dressage saddle. That, plus my Thinline shim pad are a good enough fit while I get him started. I have my eyes open for a new jump saddle down the road.

After the saddle fitter was out, I hopped on him again, this time with my husband leading him a bit. We walked 4 or 5 laps this time (moving on up!) and it was much better. He’s very active with his head, so I’ll be adding a martingale for our next ride. I confirmed with his trainer that he was ridden in a yoke (basically a running martingale), so I’m hopeful that he won’t object too much.

The goal right now is really to install the gas pedal. He needs aids, which are completely different from racing. He’s not used to leg or a full seat. (For the record, I intend to do more half seat and two point, just as soon as I’m sure he’s not going to break my nose.)

I had planned to start Wex in dressage anyway, but it’s glaringly obvious that I’m a hunter rider in dressage tack. (Photo evidence below.)

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Anybody have a medium tree Passier jump saddle they want to unload for a steal??

High Maintenance Horse

After Wex got home and was gelded against his wishes (sorry buddy!) he paid me back with a series of afflictions that were frustrating, to say the least.

  1. It turns out someone is sensitive. He broke out in hives, presumably from the bugs. Summer was holding on, and with the creek that runs through the farm, the bugs hang out longer than you’d think they should. So Mr. Wex earned himself a fly suit. He did not love it.

 

2. Remember how I said he was sensitive? Despite mostly dry pastures, and my thorough daily towel drying of Mr. Sensitive’s legs, he developed scratches.  (For those unfamiliar, that’s pastern dermatitis, or icky, scabby-ness just above the hoof.) The picture below is actually of BooBoo a year ago. Scratches are nasty. Poor BooBoo. Fortunately, I got Wex’s under control with Equiderma Skin Lotion before it got out of control. There are still a few spots popping up here and there, but it’s mostly gone now.Photo_2017-09-21_06-51-24_PM.png

3. Before I picked him up, Wex’s trainer at the track removed his hind shoes for me. I prefer front shoes only, so this was my preference. Unfortunately, I think one of those old nail holes resulted in an abscess in the hind left. Also unfortunate is that he didn’t show any of the typical symptoms of an abscess (as in, he was not lame at all, let alone 3-legged lame). Because of this, I didn’t know it was there until it popped out the coronet band, and even then, I just thought it was a scrape. The farrier is the one who found it. So, I soaked and wrapped and soaked and wrapped and soaked and wrapped.

This is not Wex’s favorite thing. He removed my Davis Soaking boot easily, so I had to buy the Hoof Wraps soaking sock. I have wrapped my share of abscesses. I don’t do the diaper method. For one, I don’t like disposable diapers. I didn’t like them for my kids, and I don’t like them for my horse. They take forever to biodegrade, and there are way better alternatives. Here’s my method. Soak in warm water with epsom salt and iodine. Dry thoroughly. Apply poultice pad (in this case, I cut from a sheet, since it was at the coronet band, but they also make a super convenient hoof shaped pad). Wrap poultice pad with a layer of rolled cotton. Wrap the rolled cotton with a couple of layers of vetwrap. The cotton layer helps to keep the vetwrap  from getting too tight. Then cover with hoof tape. What is hoof tape, you ask? Only the best thing to happen to an abscess since the soaking boot! The picture below shows the hoof tape without all my additional layers because I never took a picture of the whole thing. Then I covered with my favorite hoof boot, EasyBoot Trail.

Good news on this front too- the abscess resolved, but not before it led to another affliction.

 

4. Do you know what happens when an abscess goes untreated because your horse doesn’t show any symptoms? It turns into cellulitis. Cellulitis is a skin infection.  By comparison, an abscess is no big deal. Cellulitis can be a very big deal. If treated aggressively, it will go away. If not, it can turn into lymphangitis, which can be permanent swelling in the horse’s leg. Treatment for cellulitis includes antibiotics and cold hosing. Lots and lots of cold hosing. Just when you think you’re done, more cold hosing. This is mostly resolved now, though I’m still watching for swelling daily.

5. Lastly, he came in lame on the right front. This is not entirely unexpected, but it’s likely because he was compensating for the left hind. This also happened on the only day that his hoof boot came off, so I’m chalking it up to that. This went away when I got the hoof boot to stay on.

So there you have it. All of these afflictions happened in a matter of 5 days. They’re nearly all resolved now, save for my paranoia about some lingering cellulitis.

 

Does your horse keep you on your toes?

 

Home Sweet Home

Country Fast (now called Wexford or Wex) has been home with me for almost 6 weeks now. It seems like so much longer than that! He has been through a lot of changes in that time, but he’s settling in well. Even though it’s been 6 weeks, it’s worth revisiting his first days in his new home.

I took this picture right after we loaded him in the trailer, still at the barns at Churchill Downs’ satellite farm. He loaded on the trailer perfectly, though he was not a fan of the shipping boots I made him wear. He traveled the 6ish hours home perfectly. His trainer informed me he eats a lot…. he wasn’t wrong! He ate a ton of hay on the way home and lots of peppermints, which is his favorite food, as it turns out.

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He unloaded like a champ, too.

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I’m guessing there are no chickens at a race track, but he didn’t seem to care about the chickens our barn owner has out back.

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Shortly after he arrived, I had him gelded. I think he would have been a sweet stallion, but I board, and leaving him uncut is not conducive to boarding. Not only that, my kids will be around any animals we have, and we don’t need those extra hormones. Not to mention, we have no intention of breeding a failed racehorse, no matter how famous his daddy was. (Anybody remember Oxbow? He won the Preakness in 2013.)

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Wex is totally recovered from his gelding now, and after enough treats, he is also talking to me again.

Stay tuned as I catch up with more updates on this guy’s progress.

Serendipity

I do not believe that everything happens for a reason. Things happen. That’s all. While we are at the mercy of the circumstances we are born into, I genuinely believe we have the power to make our own luck. Sometimes, our choices lead us to unexpected opportunities, in the best possible way.

My husband and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary with a trip to Louisville in early June, 2018. The highlight of our trip was night racing at Churchill Downs (Downs After Dark). We bet on races for fun. I read the race program, and the #1 horse in the third race caught my eye. His name was Country Fast, and his grandsire is Air Forbes Won.20180918_115112.jpg

My heart horse, who had been with me for more than 18 years, is also an Air Forbes Won grandson. I haven’t seen many with Air Forbes Won breeding. (Full disclosure- it’s entirely possible it’s because I don’t actively keep up on his progeny.)

I snapped this picture of him coming back after his race. He came in 4th, and lost me $5. 20180602_190008

Obviously, I Facebook stalked the trainer and followed him.

9 days after I snapped this picture, I lost my heart horse, to a catastrophic injury. (More on that in a later post.)

A few weeks later, I found my margarita muscles, and messaged the trainer. The basic gist of it was, I saw your horse, here’s why I liked him, I just lost my guy, and if the time ever comes to retire him, I’d love for you to let me know. He responded, told us to stop by if we were ever back in town, and that was it. We both thought he wouldn’t retire for a few years.

Fast forward to September 14th, and I have a message from the trainer. “Call me at your earliest convenience.”

Long story short, he’s retiring him earlier than expected because he’s trying hard and not winning. He has a few new horses coming in and needs the space. He really likes this horse and wants him to go to a good home.

I hadn’t been planning to buy another horse for another year or so. I found myself desperately not wanting to miss an opportunity to have this horse. Bottom line, after several days of thinking hard about it, talking to friends, and exchanging notes with the trainer, we decided to do it.

In a few days, I will have a 3 year old cousin of my 24 year old heart horse. Serendipitous.