When To Cry, “Uncle!”


While most of my latest riding and horse adventures are with Ike, his older brother Cigar still likes to keep me on my toes. Ike is sugar and spice and everything nice.  Cigar is piss and vinegar and, even at the age of 20, has enough chutzpah to give the most hardened New Yorker a run for their money.  But it is some yet-to-be-identified microorganisms that are currently challenging his hardy constitution.

It all started last Thursday with an early morning call about Cigar’s leg looking like an overstuffed leg of lamb with a fever of 103 degrees.  Cigar Day One  Our vet is out on medical leave,  so we called Ms. C’s vet who kindly agreed to take on the case.  She arrived at the farm before I did and had already administered some banamine to give Cigar some relief from the pain.  Unfortunately the diagnosis was lymphangitis.  From what I have been able to tell, it is a difficult condition to treat, it can take weeks to resolve, and the prognosis in many cases is guarded.

The past week has been a blur of twice daily trips to the barn, cold hosing, sore cleaning, pill grinding, syringes and needles, and praying.  I have had to face my fear of needles and put on my ass-kicking boots to give daily shots of antibiotics  (33 mLs of liquid split into 3 doses in 3 spots).  I had to remove sutures and a catheter that Cigar objected to having in his neck.  I have had to control my gag reflex as I cleaned the nasty looking sores on his leg.  Worst of all, I have had to face my worst fear of saying the final goodbye.

It is anguishing to have to look down that rabbit hole.  You worry that you are too hasty.  You worry that you will wait too long and your friend will suffer. You wonder what last ditch drug or procedure can save your horse.  Your eyes leak until there are no more tears to fall.  Where will be his final resting place?

On Wednesday, we were worried about Cigar’s leg and hoof.  The entire coronet band was engaged in an epic battle with the microbes.

Cigar hoof.jpg

Not for the faint at heart…


There were real concerns that the hoof was separating from the leg.  Dr. E consulted with Dr. C and they recommended x-rays for the hoof and leg.  I agreed since it would confirm or assuage our fears.  While Dr. E went to retrieve the x-ray equipment, Cigar peacefully grazed.  It was gut wrenching to realize that these could be his last hours. At least he would never know the anguishing pain.

Cigar grazing.jpg

Dr. E returned with the equipment with Dr. C right behind her to help and give a second opinion.  Cigar tried his best to be cooperative for most of the images, but he did drag me out of the barn at one point, and I like to think that it was his way of telling me that he was not yet ready to cry, “Uncle!”  Thankfully the x-rays confirmed no separation or other mitigating issues.

Yesterday, Cigar tried to kick Ms. C with the infected leg and then gave a valiant attempt to trot away from us to avoid the bute paste in his mouth.  He then wouldn’t keep his head and neck still for his antibiotic injections.  (Can’t say that I blame him since his neck has been a pin cushion for 8 straight days…)  For those who don’t know Cigar that well, all of these are very normal behaviors for him.  Cooperation is not his strong suit.  “No” is his go to position.

The return of his headstrong personality gives me hope.  This is the time of year to give thanks and feel blessed for the people and animals in our life.  I am eternally grateful that my old man will be with us for the foreseeable future.




Time to Step It Up


Howdy Everyone!  I’ve decided that I will be the one to fill you in on the latest from the barn.  Mom seems to be distracted with issues with the home and work electronics.  She had to fix the home router last week, have the power supply for the phone/television/internet replaced, and now she broke her work laptop.  Maybe I am glad that I am a horse and don’t have to worry about such nonsense.  Maybe I should be worried that she might break me?  What is the big deal with living with no TV or computer for a few days?  I live without it every day.  Silly, silly human.

I gave myself a few days off after my stellar performance at the first show of the year.  I don’t mean to brag, but I was a really good boy.  A bunch of my friends came to cheer for me;  my favorite fans brought apple slices that Mom made me share with my buddy Felix.  You might be wondering how I managed to get a vacation so early in the season…Well I kicked the back of my left knee with a hind shoe and limped around the barn.  Mom overreacted as usual and had the vet come to check me.  It was just a bruise, but I managed to get almost a whole week off to do nothing.  Mom was really nice to me and let me graze in the good grass.  After a few days, I did finally let her know that I was feeling better by taking her for a walk (I let her think she is walking me most days since it seems to make her feel good).

Last weekend Mom signed us up for another clinic.  She seems to think that “outings” are good for me.  At least this clinic was really close to home so I got to sleep in my own stall.  My new neighbor Joe misses me when I am not at home at night.  (Joe moved into Dooda’s stall a month ago; he is a nice fellow who is brown like me.)  The clinic was at Mom’s friend’s farm.  Ms. S has a very delicious parking area with lots of clover.  Mom was all worried that I’d have a green mouth while she rode.  I was worried that I’d missed a good grazing spot.

I tried really hard at the clinic.  The clinician was a judge from New York, Scott Peterson.  He is a really tall man who had funny stories to share about Hilda Gurney.  Like Hilda, he did not hand out candy during my lesson.  I need to work on this lack of handouts.  I tried really hard to do everything that they wanted me to do.  I would hear Scott say that I looked good, but when I would try to slow down as we would get close, Mom would goose me along.  Sheesh.  I think I might need to start a petition to demand candy during all my lessons and clinics.  Yes, I must admit that I am very food motivated.  I will be happy to provide a list of all the candy that I do like to eat.

I was glad to hear that a lot of the problems that we have while riding are due to Mom’s lack of focus and timing.  Ha!  She gets all upset with me when I lift my head to look at something, but she will drift off into lala-land and put on the cruise control.  No wonder I spook sometimes.  Something has to snap her back to reality.  The poor woman did work on her sit trot on Sunday.  The arena we worked in had mirrors, and just between you and me, it was not a pretty picture.  Pogo stick meets toy soldier meets uncoordinated, sweaty woman.  Good thing I had on my thick Ecogold saddle pad to protect my back.  Don’t look for us at Second Level anytime soon.

The take home message from this past weekend is that we need to step up our work in order to escape the lower levels.  Yes, we are doing well, but to ever make it past First Level, Mom and I are going to have to work really hard.  I’m told that I have to slow down my canter – boo.  Mom was reminded that forward does not mean faster.  I need to be more rhythmic in all my gaits – that is fine, but it is Mom’s job to make it happen.  I think it was funny that Scott made Mom count out loud while she rode.  Poor woman was breathless at times, guess she needs to get her butt into the gym for some cardio.  I kind of like that all the hard stuff falls on her shoulders.  That leaves me more time to eat my candy and grass.

Good catching up with you.  Come see us at our next show, but don’t forget the candy!



Early Morning Calls From the Barn Make For Worrisome Days


Early morning phone calls are almost never good news.  The only good news I can imagine is that your mare gave birth to the long-awaited foal,  Otherwise, the conversations typically start with, “You might need to call the vet.”  When Ms. C called just after 8 a.m. this past Tuesday, I knew that there would be some bad news headed my way – no possible pregnancies with either of my geldings…  The only question that remained was, “Which horse?”  It turns out that it was Ike’s brother Cigar who was not feeling well.

When it came time to walk to his paddock, poor Cigar was three-legged lame.  He was almost non-weight bearing on his left hind leg.  At that time, there was no heat or swelling anywhere else on the leg.  Ms. C thought that she seen him take a wonky step on Monday, but there was no obvious signs of trauma on the leg.  Ms. C suggested that I call the vet to determine what we should do.  The only other times that Cigar had acted this way were when he had a abscess in his left front hoof and when a hoof treatment on his feet accidentally burned the bulbs of his heels.  So obviously, we suspected an abscess.

I placed a call to the vet and hopped in the car for the 30 minute drive to the barn.  The vet suggested we administer Banamine to help with Cigar’s comfort level, and call her back after an hour to reassess.  The Banamine obviously helped, but Cigar was still not his usual self.  This is the point where knowing your horse’s normal behavior is very helpful.  While the Banamine was helpful, Cigar was still not interested in eating his breakfast.  That is definitely NOT normal for this horse with a voracious appetite.  After conferring with the vet, we decided to give him 24 hours before having the vet come.

Well, you can guess how Wednesday morning started…Ms. C called just after 7 a.m. and said we needed a vet to come that day.  Overnight, the leg had swollen to sausage size from the stifle all the way to the hoof.  Oh.  Guess we aren’t going to get lucky with an abscess.  Cigar was still not showing much interest in food or moving.  Poor buddy.  My day was rearranged to accommodate the vet appointment.  The patient was cooperative with the examination.  The cooperation was only due to his pain level; he is usually an ass for any veterinary procedure.

Diagnosis?  Cellulitis.  Prognosis?  Very good.  Course of Treatment?  Fourteen SMZ pills twice a day for two weeks (392 pills – I did the math.)  He is also getting some Bute for the first three days.  Thank goodness the SMZ pills dissolve into water so they can be administered via syringe straight into his mouth.  Wish us luck once Cigar starts feeling better.  I see white paste in my hair and all over my clothing.  Knowing my luck, it will stain.  I also wouldn’t put it past him to sneak a bite or two on my hand/arm/body part closest to his mouth.

Cigar's natural state of filth.

Cigar’s natural state of filth.

Well good drugs are a good thing.  As of yesterday afternoon, Cigar was showing signs of “normal” behavior, although, some would argue that nothing Cigar does is normal.  He nickered for his meals and ate everything, walked around his paddock, tried picking up the water trough with his mouth (not sure why this is his new favorite pastime), played with Ike over the fence, AND, the biggest sign of all, he rolled in the mud.  Yes, the leg is still huge, but I am so relieved that my old man is on the mend.


p.s.  Ike is also glad his brother is on the mend.  He is not used to his brother getting the bulk of Mom’s attention.  Can you say jealous?  Silly pony.



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!

I Spy With My Two Eyes A Blue Sky

Walter having a "poneh ride" on Ike

Walter having a “poneh ride” on Ike

After endless days of rain, blue sky and the sun (!!!) have returned!  Thank goodness since today might be the last ride I can squeeze in before we leave on Thursday.  Sadly, I am not independently wealthy, so I must work in order to maintain my horses in the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed.

We made this ride count by having a lesson with Ms. C.  Luckily we have footing that drains very well, so we were able to walk, trot, and canter without worry.  I tried my best to half halt before Ms. C had to say something.  I tried my best to not let myself end up on cruise control since that is when Ike flattens and starts to look heavy.  I tried my best to be there without interfering with Ike’s movement.  Do you notice a trend here?  Ike is ready.  He is healthy, responsive, and steady.  I’m flaky and uncoordinated with a short attention span.  Hmm, maybe Ike can head down centerline without me?  At this point, I’m pretty sure he knows exactly where X is.

Ike’s veterinarian gave him his final tune up when our lesson was done.  Ike has realized that the adjustments and body work feel good so he no longer tries to walk away during the treatment.  The oats that I have in my hand don’t hurt either.

Need to get some sleep but I already feel like a child on Christmas Eve.  Breathe in, Breathe out.

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 (http://www.horsejunkiesunited.com ) 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.

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 (http://www.prweb.com/releases/Ocracoke-Beach/Best-Beach-List/prweb531647.htm).  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!