One of Those Hard Barn Days


Today dawned a peaceful Thursday, no snow, no wind, no wretchedly cold temperatures.  The boys were scheduled for their monthly pedicures that had been rescheduled from last week when Mother Nature dumped almost 10 inches of snow on us.  I was in the middle of a typical work day when I received one of those emails that makes you pause, “Dooda is colicking and it doesn’t look good.”  There is that word that strikes fear into every horse owner’s gut – colic.  No, no, no, I thought to myself.  This can’t be happening to Ike’s best buddy, but it was.

Dooda was Ike’s first friend when Ike came to Virginia almost 3 years ago.  Yes, Ike has his brother, but brothers have to like each other.  Doo’s stall is across the aisle in the barn and their paddocks share a fence line.  One can only imagine the conversations they would have at night when we left them alone.  It brought a smile to my face to watch them play over the fence.  Dooda has been the barn’s first alert system to let everyone know when Ike left the farm and then again when we returned.  He never cared what color ribbon his friend had earned; he was just thrilled to have his buddy safe at home.

When I arrived at the farm today, my heart skipped a beat.  I did not see Doo’s grey head staring through his window nor did I see him in his paddock.  I then spied my boys staring towards the paddock at the end of the row.  There I found Ms. C and Mr. D sitting on an overturned water trough while they kept Dooda company.  He was laying down with his legs tucked under him.  The look on Ms. C’s face said so much.  My tears welled up as I approached my buddy.  I called his name and he nickered in response.  I crouched down next to him and whispered encouraging words.  He pressed his head into my chest as I scratched his ears.  It was a beautiful moment that I will not soon forget.

Recent articles online have declared that it is time we accept that animals are sentient.  One noted, “Shouldn’t we stop bickering about whether they are conscious, feel pain and experience emotions?” []  I can confirm that they do feel pain and experience the same emotions we do.  End of discussion.  Both my boys today were very quiet for the farrier which is not normally the case.  All the other horses on the farm were also very quiet.  When I stopped to visit with each one, there was a knowing look in their eyes as they stared at me.  I have no doubt that they knew their herd member was suffering.

I helped get all the horses into the barn before I headed home.  My grey buddy immediately lay down with no interest in dinner.  After getting my boys squared away, I went and sat with Doo for one last time.  He sat up when I entered and again pressed his head to my chest as I stroked his neck and cheek.  Was it his way of trying to ease my pain?  I told him to be brave.  I told him how much I would miss him if he was to leave.  I told him to fight, but that I understood if it was his time.  I told him that Ike and I loved him very much.  I hugged Ms. C, kissed my boys, and headed home.

The sad news from Ms. C came late this afternoon.  They had to say goodbye.  Ms. C said that Ike called to Dooda as he walked out the barn doors for the last time and that Dooda nickered back to Ike.  Two dear friends saying their final farewells.  Rest in peace my friend.  We will always remember you.


Things We Equestrians Know for Certain


Mark Twain is credited with stating that the only things that are certain in life are death and taxes.  Well, no disrespect to Mr. Twain, but we equestrians know that when you own and ride horses, that there are other things that we know for certain:

1)      Your horse will lose a shoe right after the farrier leaves or the day before your big show.

2)      The worst injuries and emergencies always occur on holidays, over the weekend, or after 10:00 at night.

3)      The more expensive the medication, the more likely you are to wear it.

4)      You will fall off…so don’t be too proud or arrogant and wear a helmet.  Your head will thank you.

5)      Your foot will eventually meet the underside of your horse’s hoof, so always wear the appropriate footwear at the barn.  Flip flops are never appropriate.

6)      Nothing from your first horse will fit your next horse.  I speak from experience.

7)      Admire your new white pad or breeches at home because as soon as they arrive at the barn, they will never look that clean ever again.

8)      You will not die if you eat your lunch right after mucking stalls even if you do not wash your hands first.  Sorry Mom.

9)      Your horse will always manage to find the one loose nail on the fence in the paddock; you will never find it.

10)   You will be pooped on at some point.

11)   Training horses is two steps forward and three steps back.

12)   Shortcuts in your training will only get you so far.  Take the time to do things correctly.

13)   Horses can count and do fractions.  Ike knows when he only gets half his grain or when I only give him three of the four treats in my pocket.

14)   Your horse will always know when the hot wire is not working.  Cigar is a master hot wire tester.

15)   Most scary things are invisible.

16)   Bailing twine is as handy as duct tape.

17)   Vet bills are never under $100.  If yours are, could you please share your vet’s phone number?

18)   Your horse will mysteriously go lame the day after the show closes and there are no refunds given.

19)   Horses are the best at keeping your secrets – like how much that saddle really cost or where you hid grandma’s silver.

20)   Nothing improves a bad day like the sound of a nicker or the smell of the barn.


p.s.  I also know for certain that I am so ready for spring.  This latest round of snow needs to melt quickly!

News From The Soggy, Muddy MidAtlantic Region

Ike and his new friend Walter the Show Poneh

Ike and his new friend Walter the Show Poneh

Riding has been at a virtual standstill because of the nonstop rain showers.  [Insert face with tongue sticking out.]  While I do realize that Ike and I will not have any major breakthroughs in this week before the finals, I am sweating the fact that we’ve been doing next to nothing but dodging raindrops and brushing mud off Ike’s legs.

Saturday was no different, but the rain was more of a constant mist than raindrops, so I tacked up Ike for a soggy lesson.  Ike was a trooper as was Ms. C.  I struggled to see where I was going because of the rain on my glasses and had to trust that Ike would not allow us to run into Ms. C or the fence.  We worked on a steady, rhythmic connection at the walk and the trot.  I opted not to canter because of the mushy footing; no point pushing and risk injury.  We thought that Ike was moving quite well.  As long as I can control my nerves and remember to ride to my hands, we should be able to hold our own.

In other exciting news, Ike and I have a visitor from the northwest.  His name is Walter the Show Poneh who is the unofficial mascot of the Horse Junkies United ( ) website.  HJU is a collection of bloggers who come from all aspects of the equine world.  A while back, I was asked to blog as part of the HJU site, so many of the posts from Ike’s Centerline Adventures get reworked and reposted there.  It is exciting to have Walter here in Virginia to accompany us to the regional finals.  He is a very well traveled poneh who has had the privilege of meeting some of the top riders in the world (he has had his photo taken with top eventers Mary King, Hawley Bennett and Sinead Halpin!  Go Walter!), and now he made time in his busy schedule to cheer for us in our efforts to successfully show at our first regional final.  Hoping that our weather improves as the big week begins so that Walter can actually use the sunglasses he packed.

This week is going to fly by and we will be on the road to Lexington, Virginia before you know it.  The vet comes tomorrow to give Ike a chiropractic adjustment to get him loose and ready for our final centerlines of the season.  The farrier also is stopping by to check Ike’s shoes and to give us extra Equi-thane…just in case.  I’ve already stopped at Tractor Supply for shavings, treats, and show sheen.  The packing lists are still growing, but I’ve amassed a lot of what I will need on the spare bed.

Still need to pack the wine.

Hi, Ho, Hi, Ho, It’s Back to Work We Go

008Vacation is O-V-E-R.  I can hear the clock ticking – tick, tock, tick, tock, get your butt back in the saddle, tick, tock.  I feel like Cinderella at the ball trying to pack in as much as I can before the clock strikes midnight.  I will look rather ridiculous if Ike turns into a mouse; although I’m guessing he would be a rather large one.  These next two weeks will be a blur.  There is so much to do.

The packing lists are growing – one for my non-show stuff, one for my show clothing, one for Ike, one for my dog who insists that he must go, and one for all the other stuff I think we might need.  The drop dead date for refunds has come and gone.  The hotel is reserved and confirmed.  The dog boarding is arranged for my unruly younger dogs.  The show will be underway two weeks from now.  OMG!  Breathe, Alison, breathe.

Ike had his chiropractic adjustment and acupuncture on Monday.  He will get one more work up right before we leave.  I have found that he moves much more freely after his treatments, so he will continue to have the body work done on a regular basis.  I guess it shouldn’t surprise me.  While I have not personally had a chiropractic adjustment, many of my family members swear by the regular adjustments.  All I know is that Ike has a lot more swing in his back and in his stride in the week following the adjustment.  Our vet noted that we might need to continue regular adjustments until Ike develops the muscle memory and strength in his hind end to support his hulking body.

Ike had his pedicure for his front hooves this week as well.  The hind shoes are, of course, on a different schedule.  Why not have your farrier out twice a month?!  Someone needs to fund his retirement.  We are still using the Equi-pak on all four hooves, so my farrier is going to send four tubes and the application gun with me to Lexington…just in case.  I’m beginning to think that our trailer is not going to be big enough for all of Ike’s paraphernalia.  Our farrier will be back the same day our vet returns.

I squeezed in two lessons with Ms. C this week.  I hope to do the same next week and one last lesson the week we leave.  [Oh, yes, I do need to work to pay for all of Ike’s bills, so I need to fit that onto the calendar as well.  Boo.  Hiss.]  Her keen eye missing nothing.  How does she know when I’ve put on the cruise control?!  Within a stride, she fusses that I’ve let Ike flatten or that I’ve lost the front or hind end.  This is her job – to keep me on task so that I’m not distracted by the turkeys in the field or by the never-ending stream of thoughts in my head.  I have no doubt that the two judges judging the championship class will also immediately know if I’ve tuned into another station.  There is no time to consult with a Buddhist monk on meditation techniques to control my mind, so I will just have to breathe and talk to myself…quietly.  We are back on track with all of our work.  Centerlines are straight, halts are square, and circles are round.

The trailer needed some organization and an assessment of the missing items.  Took care of that late this afternoon.  Now I’ve started a shopping list.

Hmm, I just realized that I forgot to include wine on my shopping and packing lists…let me go take care of that right now………

Escape to a Sand Bar

Ocracoke Island Lighthouse and Innkeeper's Home

Ocracoke Island Lighthouse and Innkeeper’s Home

Greetings!  So where have I been you ask?  Have I been working so hard to prepare for the championships that I have had no time to write?  Umm, well, no.  As a matter of fact, I was doing close to nothing along with my husband and another couple.  We spent a week on the 17 mile long sand bar more commonly known as Ocracoke Island, North Carolina.

If you want to escape from overdeveloped beaches with busy boardwalks and chain restaurants, then this is your island.  The beaches of Ocracoke were named the best beaches in the United States by Dr. Beach in 2007 (  Yes, they even beat out the beaches of Florida and Hawaii.  Most of the island is protected and part of the National Park System.  Bring your four-wheel drive and claim your part of paradise for the day.  However, going in September can be a crap shoot.  You never know when a late season hurricane will come blowing up the eastern seaboard and short or even cancel your vacation all together.  Ocracoke is always one of the first islands that requires evacuation since the only way on and off the island for most folks is by ferry.  For those of you with your own private plane, there is a small airstrip to accommodate you.  It is this remoteness that adds to the appeal.  And every year, the afternoon “cocktail discussion” ensues where we discuss moving to the island.  “Sure!  Let’s do it!”  It always sounds so easy with wine-soaked goggles.

Then reality sets in and I realized that I’m ill-suited for remote island living.  First off, I sadly must admit that I like to have options for shopping.  Perusing the shelves of the island’s grocery store finds that the some of the more off-beat ingredients that I like to incorporate into our dinner menu are not to be found.  The closest Harris Teeter is 2.5 hours away (30 minute ride to the ferry, 50 minute ferry ride, and another 60 minutes or so north).  And that assumes that Route 12 in intact and not closed due to storm damage.  I’ve also traversed the entire island and never did find the local feed store, tack store, or a version of my favorite local clothing store.  Hmm, that could be problematic.

Second is the lack of employment for career bureaucrats like myself.  While I enjoy eating and cooking, I don’t have any skills as a line cook.  I enjoy fishing, but I can’t see anyone hiring me as a boat captain or mate.  It would also be near impossible to make a living with my art skills…and please don’t ask me to sing.  My best hope would be to land a position with the National Park Service tending to the small herd of Banker ponies that are descendants of those who used to freely roam the island.  And that leads us to the biggest problem of all….what about the boys?!

Ocracoke is currently home to two herds of horses: the Banker ponies and the herd owned by the local group who provides trail rides on the beach.  I’ve scoped out both groups and unfortunately, I don’t think my 16 hand Thoroughbred or my 17 hand Dutch Harness Horse would blend well with either herd.  There is absolutely no way that either could be mistaken for a Banker pony.  The ponies are a hardy group whose descendants survived hurricanes, island flooding, lack of fresh water and life with no barn or fly spray.  My pampered equines throw a fit if they are left in the rain or if breakfast is late.  The trail horses look like bomb-proof souls who can carry tourists wearing shorts and tennis shoes safely through the sandy paths without terrorizing the tourist or local wildlife.  My Thoroughbred believes trail rides are his cue to demonstrate his race horse speed.  Luckily for the unfortunate soul perched on his back, the island will eventually end and I’ve never seen Cigar swim.  Ike has never been on a trail ride, but his hulking size would not make him a crowd favorite.

My island exploration did not find the local dressage barn either.  There was also no sign of a farrier, dressage trainer, hay field, or a veterinarian.  I’ve already mentioned the lack of feed store.  If I had a plane, and a large pot of money, I suppose I could fly in all the necessary help and supplies, but we all know that the large pot of money is about a real as the chance that I will be moving to a sand bar in the near future.  And I can’t even imagine what it would take to travel to a show.  I wonder if horses get sea sick?

So here I am safely back home.  And while I was away working on the relaxation portion of the training pyramid, Ike was staying busy with Ms. C.  Big boy had three productive sessions with her in my absence.  I had a quick ride today and the realization that the finals are a mere three weeks away!!  I see a lot of lessons in the next three weeks and just as many sleepless nights.  This is going to be better than Christmas!

There Is Nothing Wrong With Your Horse

I have a bigger shoe budget than my mother...

I have a bigger shoe budget than my mother…

So when I last blogged, I had scratched Ike from our Sunday rides because he wasn’t 100%…and now I know what the issue was.

Last year at this time, Ike had on hind shoes.  The problem was that he was so narrow behind, that he would interfere and the inside of his right pastern had a nasty sore that would not heal.  Every time we would make progress, Whack!, and we’d be back to square one.  Could not just blame the shoes because he did it even without them.  While training, Ike would wear neoprene pastern wraps that I found at Big D’s that are typically used on trotters.  They would help to some degree, but if he hit himself while they were on, the scab would rub off and expose the sore again. When show season was over last fall, I decided to pull Ike’s hind shoes and hoped that with continued work, Ike would stop the interference.

We got lucky.  As we continued to build his strength and he matured into his hulking body, the wound slowly began to heal.  Week by week, the spot grew smaller.  We started show season with no new sores and without hind shoes.  Even through the heat of July and August, Ike’s hind hooves held up without cracks or chips.  I began thinking that we’d make it without the expense of hind shoes…and that is where I was wrong.

Hoof testers found that big man was sore in his hind heels.  Ah, that would explain why he was stabbing the ground with his hinds.  He was sore and did not want to hit heel first.  Can’t blame him.  When I wear unsupportive shoes, my feet hurt like you-know-what.  A call was placed to our farrier, and hind shoes plus Equi-Thane went on the other day.  This definitely puts my horse’s shoe budget at a higher point than mine.

I’ve not pushed Ike under saddle yet – lots of walking while wearing his pastern wraps.  I was giving him a few days to get used to his new shoes.  Turns out, Ike decided not to follow my lead of overcautious riding.  When I arrived at the barn today, the first words out of Mr. D’s mouth were, “There is nothing wrong with your horse!  I think he is feeling quite well.”

Oh, really?!  It was 47 degrees when the horses were turned out this morning.  Ike must have slept well and his new shoes must be helping his heel pain.  He put on quite the display of rearing, bucking, galloping and Hackney trotting according to Mr. D.  I’m just glad that the fool didn’t tear off one of his shoes while cavorting about his paddock.

Well, big man, we will be back to work sooner than later since you have now proven to me that all is well.  T-minus 34 days and counting until our regional final.  Look out Lexington, Virginia, Ike is headed your way!

The Sweatpants Did It

Oh, thanks for finding my shoe.  I don't know how I parted ways with it.

Oh, thanks for finding my shoe. I don’t know how I parted ways with it.

Are you asking yourself, “What the heck does that blog title have to do with anything remotely equine?”  Grin.  Today’s adventure is a good time to share a funny story about my brother.  When he was about Ike’s age (5-6 years old), my parents purchased a brand new pair of sneakers for him.  We aren’t talking Air Jordan’s or anything remotely that pricey.  It was the late 1970’s so our clothes and shoes weren’t remotely cool at all.  Flammable, yes.  Cool, not in the least.  They were functional and supposed to last at least through Christmas.

So my brother had only worn his new sneakers for about a month when they ended up with a huge tear in them that made them unusable.  When my mother saw them, let’s just say that she was less than happy.  “Jeff, how did this happen?  Were you playing with Dad’s pocket knife again?!”  “No, Mom, my sweatpants did it,”  my brother stated matter-of-factly.  Um, huh?  Sweatpants?  They must be killer sweatpants.  Needless to say that not even my father with professional investigative skills could drag the truth out of my brother.  To this day he will proclaim that his sweatpants ripped his sneaker….which is the segue to Ike’s latest adventure.

I head out to the barn today to ride.  It was cloudy and cool and you really could not ask for a better day to ride in August.  When I arrive at the barn, I noticed that Ike was in his stall, yet all the other horses were outside.  Hmm, this is a bit odd.  As I approach the barn, Ms. C emerges and shares the news – Ike has pulled his front shoe.  Oh, you mean that shoe with the Equi-thane that was just put on not 7 days ago?!  Yes, that shoe.  Great.  Thanks Ike.  Ike stared at me with his innocent, big brown eyes like he didn’t know why I was so upset.  I quizzed him on how this could have happened.  I got a blank stare.  I asked him if the sweatpants did it.  Still, no answer.

Luckily, to Ike’s dismay, unlike my brother and his sneaker, there was a witness to this crime.  Ms. C filled in the rest of the story.  The cooler weather invigorated Cigar who decided that it was a good day to cavort with his younger brother.  Havoc and mayhem ensued and during the melee, Ike left his gel pad and shoe in the middle of the paddock.  Awesome.  Oh look there it is , a $100 laying in the dirt.  Too bad that the gel pad is not reusable.  Thankfully, the shoe is.  Thankfully, there is hoof left.  Thankfully, our show is  not this weekend.

Now I know how my mother felt…and why her wine glass was so big!

Back to the barn tomorrow to meet the farrier and hopefully the weather will cooperate for a ride.  Our next centerline is 12 days away!

What The!?!

The Big, Bad Horse

The Big, Bad Horse

So I go out-of-town for a week of sand between my toes and I came home to an ENORMOUS horse.  I swear that Ike added 6 inches in height and at least 100-200 pounds while I was gone.  How is this possible?  What did Ike eat in the 7 days I was gone to bulk up that quickly?  I checked around the barn, but did not find any secret stash of steroids or evidence of weight gain powder residual in his food bowl.  Of course, I am certain that he really didn’t gain any height or weight in one week, but the mind sure can play tricks.

While I didn’t do much besides play in the surf and soak up some rays, Ike had to face the daunting task of performing for Ms. C on two days.  Luckily he was his usual stellar self for both of his training sessions.  She put Ike through his paces and confirmed that indeed, he is ready to move to harder concepts.  She played with pushing Ike forward and then bringing him back to a working gait.  There are more gears yet to be discovered.  Oh, dear.  While an extended canter does nothing to faze me, a huge extended trot is enough to give me the vapors.  Thank goodness that you can now rise the trot even at First Level.

Knowing that our (okay, my) next big hurdle is sitting Ike’s trot while keeping him together and keeping my legs from shooting out in front of me, that is what I worked on for my ride on Sunday.  Why not go full-out my first day back in the saddle!?  I used my SOS strap as best I could to help keep my ass in the saddle where it is supposed to be.  Also used all my yoga breathing techniques to keep me from holding my breath as I am prone to do.  Had limited success with the SOS strap since I then would forget to half halt and Ike would lose his connection and raise his head.  Arrrgh!  Oh yeah, as I was forgetting to half halt, I also managed to let my reins get too long so Ike was left to wonder what the heck was going on in the saddle.  He did his best at interpreting what he thought were my aids, but were in fact just me flopping around like a fish out of water.  And no, there is no video.

Today was a challenging day.  Ike must have woken up on the wrong side of the stall, because he was recalcitrant from the moment I retrieved him for the farrier appointment.  He tried to bite me.  He tried and almost succeeded in biting his farrier (he must have forgotten what happened the one time he did bite Phil…).  He then tried to bite me again.  Once the shoeing was done, he pawed the shavings in his stall until there was a hole near the door.  I yelled.  Ike then turned around and pushed with all his might on the stall door which got him a poke on the butt from me.  He then tried biting me while pinning his ears as I wrote the check to the farrier.

I decided to tack up to see if the mood would carry over.  Why yes, it did.  He tried to bite me as I tightened the girth.  He spit the bit out.  He even spit out his peppermint.  A squeeze from my leg resulted in an ear-pinning, cow kick to which I responded with a tap from my whip.  I got an ear-pinning, “I’m going to bite you” look from that.  Ike then sucked back and would not connect.  Then he decided to play giraffe and blow through my half halts.  After 30 minutes of arguing, we FINALLY had 10 minutes of pleasantness.  I considered that a success and dismounted.  Tomorrow is another day.  Hoping Ike has a better night’s sleep tonight.  Vacation is over!