Loula’s colt is doing very well. He’s not at all shy with humans, and will undoubtedly be pure trouble very shortly. Anastasija came up with a name for the little guy… Sam. And the boss didn’t immediately ridicule it. So Sam it is.
They went out to the paddock to enjoy some sunshine this morning. He started out wobble-legged and worried. But soon gained a bit of confidence. Mind you, he is carefully staying glued to his mama’s side!
It’s always difficult to keep an injured horse on stall rest. They get bored and frazzled, and have no idea that they are fragile and breakable (or at least… MORE fragile and breakable than all horses are at the best of times). Most horses will paw and fuss and call. When racehorses get really fit, they are even more difficult to keep in a stall 24/7. William went back down to the track at the beginning of March, so he’s pretty fit by now. And of course he’s always been a bit anxious anyway, so we were expecting at least some fussing and silliness.
But bless William’s little heart, he is being a remarkably good boy. He is calm and happy. Happier even than normal, not just ‘okay’. It’s hard to know what goes on inside a horse’s head, but the boss believes that William knows that his leg is broken and that we are fixing him. He greets his visitors with regal grace and polite inquiry about the possibility of treats? He stands for bandaging, allows Ana to clean the stall around him without crowding her (so long as he gets an occasional kiss or scratch on the neck). He might be the most gentlemanly invalid I’ve ever seen.
After the original injury, when William had to get on the trailer at Woodbine to go to the vet clinic in Milton for surgery, the boss was very worried that he would fuss about loading. The leg was in a cast, and the fracture was not displaced. But it would not have taken much to shatter it. He’s been difficult to load in the past, and I spent a good deal of time last year clicker training him to load quietly (that was a HUGE breakthrough btw… convincing the boss to let me use positive reinforcement!). Normally I do the trailer loading at the farm, but I don’t work down at the track, so the boss had to load him. And I am pretty sure it’s the first time in his life that he used treats, sort of correctly, to work with a horse. (The boss is a good trainer, and kind. But he is quite traditional.) William walked directly on the trailer, quietly, and without jarring the leg at all. For two treats – a small price to pay! I even got an actual thank you and credit for that afterwards 🙂
At this point, it seems that I have finally convinced the boss that clicker training for trailer loading is a magical thing. He had me work with Reno and Al before they went off to the training centre a couple of weeks ago (where they are reportedly being very well behaved. Amazingly LOL!) and also with Esmerelda (who is too well behaved to even need to be sent to a training centre in the first place – the boss and Ana are both riding her, depending on who has time). It makes trailer loading a much less stressful affair for us all.
On another note… the first of this year’s foals was born last night!!!! A strapping big bay colt by Silent Name. Out of Loula. She was a very good racehorse, and is a gorgeous big mare. She always has lovely foals. This boy is very active, confident, and friendly.
Here are some photos. Click any photo for a closer (and cuter!) view.
William is very happy. Really VERY happy. Harri (his groom at the track) says that he was visibly sad and worried before he went for surgery. And the surgeon apparently reported that he was very lame walking in to surgery, but walked out like a sound horse (albeit heavily bandaged) afterwards. So from William’s point of view he somehow seems to recognize that the humans fixed him.
When I went in to see him this morning, he was thrilled to see me. He loves to be scratched, and I know all his good itchy spots. I’ve been scratching them since he was an itty bitty little guy. Most foals are itchy all the time but William was the itchiest we ever had. He could be instantly immobilized with scratch on the neck. He hasn’t changed one bit either. He gets quite silly about it.
I will have to try to get a photo of the bandage. It’s huge. But he’s standing on the leg and appears to be quite comfortable. He will have six weeks of stall rest, a vet visit for x-rays, and if all is well another six weeks of handwalking (that is always fun…). Limited turnout after that.
So he has months of rehab ahead of him yet. He’s handling it all very well at the moment. Quiet and well-behaved.
He really is a very sweet horse.
The first year I worked at the thoroughbred farm, we had three foals born. One of those babies was William (Haileybury). He was crazy Bernice’s first foal.
This year, William is five. Due to a whole variety of circumstances (no stalls available, a bad virus that he took a long time recovering from, etc.), he was a bit late to go into training, and did not progress as quickly as might be hoped. This was his third year to go down to the track, but he has not yet raced.
The day before yesterday, William broke down. I was sick when I heard the news. All they knew at that point was that something was broken. Turns out that it was a non-displaced condylar fracture of the cannon bone. He had no prior injuries, and nothing noticeable happened to cause the break. He was fine on the track, but by the time they got him back to the barn, the leg was swelling up and he was quite lame. The vet came to x-ray it. He was put into a cast while discussions about his future went on.
There is no chance of William ever returning to race training at this point. He’s just too old to go through a lengthy recovery and come back. He’d be a maiden six-year-old. So that makes him a completely valueless horse who has never won a cent. However, William is good, honest little horse who has done everything anyone ever asked of him.
Really, there were three choices…. 1 – euthanize him, 2 – cast him and put him on stall rest for many months and pray that he doesn’t displace the fracture during the healing process, or 3 – send him to a clinic and pay thousands of dollars to have the leg surgically pinned back together. The best (and only sensible) business decision would, of course, be option 1. Which, of course, was not the decision made. Thank goodness.
Today he was shipped over to Milton to the Equine Hospital. The vet says he arrived safely, without displacing the fracture. He was such a good boy that she was able to do the x-ray there without any help. He stood perfectly still for her. The vet thinks two screws will be enough.
He’s in surgery right now as I type. If the leg comes apart, or is worse than the x-rays indicate, there will be no choice but to euthanize. If he comes through the surgery safely, he has a very good chance of coming out sound after time to rehab.
I hate riding on the roads. Over the years, Toronto has been encroaching, and most of the drivers are now urban sorts who have no idea just how dangerous it is to whip past, inches from my stirrup. Not just dangerous for me, and for my horse, but also for them. Hitting a 1000 lb horse is quite deleterious to the front of a car and generally hard on the driver too. Our road has now become a secondary route for those who want to avoid traffic on the major highway around the corner. So there is a lot of traffic even though it’s single lane with little to no shoulder, and a lot of hills.
In addition to just plain old common sense, I am also influenced by having had a neighbour’s horse die in the ditch beside my driveway after they were hit by a truck. She was thrown clear and was fine, albeit battered and bruised, but the horse never got up. It was quite a few years ago now. But it always sort of lurks at the back of my mind.
Our fields and trails on the farm, and on the farms across the road are impassable right now. With heavy clay soil, the horses sink deep into the areas that have melted and are very wet. And if it’s not melted, it’s all still ice from the big ice storm we had in December. So I have been riding up and down our farm lane since the ice melted off it.
But after riding up and down that lane at least 800 times in the last few weeks, I just wanted to poke my eyes out with a sharp stick. So today, with some beautiful warm weather (finally!) we tacked up Ares and Diego (okay… first I CLEANED Diego, ugh!) and headed out to try our luck on the roads. We headed north and through the rather harrowing tight curve around the ravine. Ana and I both got off and led the horses. Diego was really very good about it all. He’s not afraid of cars, or school buses, or even big trucks. Ares was a bit more worried about things at the start. Once around the curve, we headed across a sideroad to the overpass over the 404. That’s a very busy highway. Ares was a bit concerned about it, but again Ana got off and led him. Diego has been over it a few times before, so he was not so concerned.
I thought it would be pretty quiet after that, but it turns out that Friday is garbage day over there. Apparently it’s also “take your bike out in the sunshine day” too. And “walk your dog day”. We were passed by a very large tractor, several school buses, a peloton of bicycles as well as quite a few individual bikes, multiple motorcycles, about 300 cars, and a zillion rattly trucks. A couple of horses in a paddock galloped over to see us, bucking. Ducks flew up out of the ditch. A dog threatened us. A lady was power walking in an orange track suit. Diego was horrified by her. I’m not sure if it was her fashion sense or the very odd speedwalking gait that bothered him. The ditches were littered with trash. Old real estate signs, broken recycle bins, old clothes, etc. Both horses handled it all pretty well, considering it was their first outing on the road in months.
Consequently, we just walked almost the entire ride. But we were out for 3 1/2 hours and did about 18 km. I have reset my Garmin watch to kilometers instead of miles. It’s kind of crazy that here in Canada we measure distance riding sports in miles. We do kilometers for everything else. So I figured it was time to bite the bullet and switch.
The warmth and sunshine was lovely. It sure did feel good to finally get out and go somewhere. Even if it was a bit terrifying here and there…
I spoke at a fundraiser for a local equine rescue today. It was a discussion about horses that ‘misbehave’, and how to methodically eliminate triggers. I put together a handout with a number of possible causes for conflict behaviours. It’s not comprehensive, and I don’t think any checklist ever could be. But it at least gives a number of common triggers to check a horse for when there are problems. I thought I’d post it here on the blog in case anyone else is interested. I’d welcome additions to the list as well, so feel free to comment.
Horses do not like conflict. They don’t like it with other horses and they like it even less with predatory species like humans. Conflict behaviours during handling or riding (rearing, bucking, bolting, propping, balking, biting, striking, kicking, etc.) indicate that the horse is unable to cope with the training situation. When assessing a horse with a chronic behaviour problem, try to eliminate the following possible causes before assuming that the horse is just being bad:
Teeth (direct pain, or imbalance can affect TMJ which cascades to back)
Body pain (generalized sore muscles can be a result of any of the above)
Poorly fitting tack (saddle, girth, breast collar, bit, etc.)
Do a pen test along topline (see below for a video)
Do yoga stretches
Watch chewing at meal times
Analyze movement on a lunge line, in hand, loose, under saddle.
Outside Help (Get recommendations for the best you can get)
Veterinarian (Equine vet or equine vet with a specialty such as lameness or chiropractic, etc.)
Equine Dentist (Vet with a dental specialty)
Farrier (barefoot or traditional, but make sure the trim is balanced)
2. Physical Inability
Immaturity (mental or physical)
Lack of fitness
Many young horses buck during trot to canter transitions. It’s primarily a balance issue, not behavioural.
3. Fear – Horse
When a horse acts afraid, they are either truly frightened or have far too much energy. They are not “pretending”. Either trigger is real and should be managed as a valid emotional state. Punishment is not appropriate in either case.
4. Fear – Human
Expecting bad behaviour will tend to create it
Rider tension causes rider imbalance and resulting body pain in the horse (and the rider!)
Rider fear triggers horse fear
Poor Training (creates fear, confusion, learned helplessness)
No Training (never expect a horse to know anything that has not been specifically trained)
hanging on reins for balance
When all other possibilities have been eliminated.
There are many videos on YouTube that illustrate the above points, and you can search for them individually. Here are just a few examples:
[Here is a video of the pen test]
[This video shows a test using acupuncture points to indicate possible ulcers]
I haven’t written much lately. Obviously. Quite a bit of stuff happening, but I’ve just been a bit cranky and haven’t felt like inflicting my bad mood on the world. The weather has been atrocious for months. Snow and ice everywhere, which has severely limited what I can do with the horses. But the temperatures have finally gone above freezing.
Dressy came home on Monday. She and Brooke have been getting along very well together. But unfortunately Brooke was not getting along so well with the boarding barn. And whether it was a consequence of that situation or a lack of attention to the problem, or just being cheap (they charge $750 a month so you would think….) I don’t know. But Dressy really wasn’t being fed enough. She’s not in terrible condition, but she’s leaner than I like to see her. Apparently the barn staff didn’t like Dressy either. Which I wasn’t too happy about. She’s a sweet mare with people. It’s just horses that she grinds beneath her queenly hooves.
We do have another place in mind to send her (not nearly so fancy, but with someone that I know and trust), so that Brooke can continue on with her. But it will be another month or two before she can go. In the meantime she can lord it over the geldings and they will like it. She seems very cheerful and full of herself.
With the improvement in the weather, all the huge snowpiles are melting. My driveway has now fallen apart. In a big way. I took the horse trailer out yesterday for a short trip down to the farm to do some trailer training with the young thoroughbreds (Reno and Al). And coming home, I got the truck and trailer buried in the muck. We managed to completely block the main driveway for about an hour. Luckily we have been getting piles of free wood chips from a local tree service and were able to shore up the whole mess enough to finally shift the rig. But it’s quite a mess.
On Saturday, I am taking McCool to a charity fundraiser for Canter On, the rescue that twisted my arm into bringing him home. We are supposed to do two demos. The first will be a talk about assessing problem horses (McCool had some behavioral issues that are what got him into trouble in the first place). I’ve written out an outline of what I think riders should look at before they label a horse as just having a bad attitude. Things like pain, fear, badly fitting tack, teeth/bitting, bad training or lack of training, conformation or lack of fitness, etc.
The second demo is a clicker training session with McCool. He does love clicker. But he’s kind of a pushy, enthusiastic guy. He was like that before the clicker, and we’ve actually made quite a bit progress with it. He’s a lot more polite than he was at first. But I hope that he maintains a reasonably gentlemanly demeanor through the demo. I don’t want the audience to think that he’s become that way because of the training. I wish the weather had been better this winter. With all the ice, I’ve really only been able to work with him inside the barn, which is a bit limiting. And he hadn’t been ridden since November.
I have been riding him this week though, and he’s been very good. He had one moment the first day where he hiked a little bit when I first got on and put my right leg on him. That’s the side where he had two ribs out, and he was very goosey there before the chiropractic treatment. When he hiked, I put my leg back on and just held it there with light pressure until he figured out that there wouldn’t be any pain. After that, he was fine and went forward happily. Forward being the key word. He likes to move and has lots of energy. And it’s not nervous energy either. He loves to explore.
With everything melting this week, the grey horses are looking pretty disgusting. McCool is getting dirtier by the minute. I have no idea how I will get him presentable for this event. One way or another, he’s bound to embarrass me!
Can you tell that I’m nervous about the demo? It’s not exactly that I’m afraid to speak in front of an audience. I’ve been teaching at OCTRA clinics for years (Ontario Competitive Trail Riding Association). But I’m so familiar with that material that I don’t need to prepare. This one I had to really sit down and organize my thoughts. I’m sure we will be fine once we’re there. But in the meantime, I’m fussing.
Here are some random photos that I’ve been taking lately…