Ella and Veronica

Last year I placed a Standardbred filly in a riding home. Her name is Spanish Lady. She came back to me this fall, through no fault of her own. She’s been renamed Ella, and has had some trail miles and walk-trot lessons with kids put on her in the meantime. She’s quite pretty, and sound. She never raced. Her ground manners are a bit lacking though. She is so friendly that she’s pushy and prone to move into your space (even onto your foot if you’re not careful!). She is not the least bit sensitive, and it sometimes requires a considerable increase in volume to make her see whatever point you are trying to make. The flip side of that is that she seems to have no spook whatsoever in her soul. Flapping tarps, logs, jump standards, tires… nothing fazes her. She’s placid about trailer loading. Puts up with first aid treatment of cuts. Stands for bandaging or clipping, etc. So she’s quite a nice sort of horse, but still unlikely to find a home before the Spring. Which was a bit of a problem, given that I don’t have enough hay, we are in the midst of a hay shortage (it’s available, but very pricey!), and I can’t work until January. Especially since I also had Diego come back to me unexpectedly shortly before Ella.

Veronica and Ella... working on turns.
Veronica and Ella… working on turns.

I am listed on the OCTRA website as a mentor, so I sometimes get beginners to the sport contacting me. Veronica is one of those. She is really enthusiastic, and has volunteered at a couple of competitions already. She doesn’t have a horse of her own though. So I offered to lease Ella to her (just out of the goodness of my heart… well, that and enlightened self-interest LOL!!).

Veronica is interested primarily in Competitive Trail. Since heart rates are a major part of the scoring, it’s important that horses, particularly the non-Arabians, have good resting heart rates. Some horses have resting heart rates that are so high that even at rest they would incur penalties (anything above 44bpm). Arabs recover faster than other breeds, so if you can start with a low pulse you probably have a better chance of competing against them.

I pulled out my stethoscope. There was Ella on the cross-ties, pawing quite rudely, demanding treats. I rather expected something around the 44 mark. Ares runs around 40-44. King is usually about 36-38. Dressy has been as low as 28, but she skips beats, so it depends on when you start your count. I put the stethoscope on Ella, and listened for a moment. Well damn. Strong, slow, and steady as a metronome. Even excited, she was 30.

Veronica has only ridden Ella a couple of times so far. It’s dark by the time she’s done work during the week, so she can only ride on the weekends. But she’s coming several evenings during the week as well to brush her and work on her ground manners. And there has been some improvement already. Today, Veronica worked on getting Ella to lead quietly without dragging the human hither and yon, and to stand nicely for mounting. The footing in the round pen was frozen mud. So they could only walk, but Ella was very well behaved once Veronica was mounted. They walked circles, practiced halts and turns, and just had a nice relaxed session.

Veronica 008

Energy Overload

Dressy is rather full of herself these days. She’s still fit from the season, and the colder temperatures suit her very well. I’ve been riding her quite often, though never very far. I just haven’t really had time to do any longer rides lately. I was hoping that really regular riding would settle her down. Unfortunately, it instead seems to have resulted in a mare who feels just too TOO fabulous. It doesn’t help that I’m always riding alone right now. She can sometimes be a little herd-bound, which, combined with opinionated boss mare-ishness, and too much energy…. well….

Sometimes down at the racetrack you see horses who are very fit and ready to race that are just about out of their own minds with bubbling energy. Hotwalking them around the shedrow can get very exciting, because they will be walking along and suddenly do a crazed, skittery dance. Sort of like a piaffe on crack.

Dressy was attempting some of those moves today while we were out. It’s a very unsettling feeling to be on a horse who has more energy than they can contain within their skin.  Like little lightning bolts are zapping her brain cells. We were only out for about 45 minutes. But it was a memorable 45 minutes. I’ve decided that it’s time to cut her feed back a bit. She’s on a high fat/high fibre feed. But I think maybe a few less calories might be in order.

I am really going to have to figure out an area with safe footing to do some schooling with her. She needs a little more structure in her work.  Circles, gait transitions, all the usual stuff that I should be doing more of with her. The footing has been dreadful in the round pen and the ring with all the slippery mud for the last month. But it’s snowing right now. So I am hoping that the ground might freeze and stay frozen. With no ice.  And the perfect layer of snow (just enough but not too deep). Wouldn’t it be nice to order up perfect weather?

Crisp and Sunny Day For a Ride

Took Dressy out with Diego yesterday. We were out for almost two hours. The ground was semi-frozen with a dusting of snow over it. And it was below freezing. But the sun was shining and there wasn’t much wind. So it was actually a pretty nice day for a ride.

Dressy was still pretty darned snort-brained, and the first hour or so was a rather speedy. She was very high-headed, and as a result, kept breaking to a pace. Even her walk was some sort of gaited thing. Maybe a running walk? I don’t really know. Flat footed, but kind of rolling along. She was clocking a little over 5mph at the walk for one stretch.

Had my helmet cam on for this ride, so I made a little music video for Dressy, since King already has one. The music is Sweet’s “Hell Raiser”. Sadly I must admit to remembering it from my misspent youth. Which dates me dreadfully.




Today, the vet came and did some dental work on the horses. King, who has a pretty well-aligned mouth, generally doesn’t need a lot of work on his teeth. But as a result, he sometimes gets skipped when I have other horses who have bigger problems. Dressy really needs her teeth done every single year faithfully, so she usually jumps to the front of the queue. As a result, it’s probably been four years since King had anything done. This time though, we went ahead and did King first. Dressy will get done maybe next week sometime. And it was a good thing too, because once the vet got in all the way to the back she found some nasty edges. King was, well, not good exactly. But not too bad anyway.  He doesn’t really like his mouth being messed with. Once he was sedated, he stood politely, snoring through most of the procedure.

Ares had some very sharp edges, a hook, and one sharp point that was digging into the inside of his cheek.  I knew there was a problem with his teeth, since he’s been dribbling food out the side of his mouth at every meal.  I wanted to be sure to get his teeth done before he finds a new home, so he doesn’t start out his new life with problems. Dental issues can masquerade as behavioural issues, and I want him to have at least a good shot at a decent life.

He was a real sweetheart to work on. The vet was pleased with how cooperative he was. So that was nice to discover. He has become so much more confident and friendly that it’s hard to believe he’s the same terror-stricken, shaky-legged horse that arrived just under three months ago.

I also had her look quickly at Nikita, who seems to have a perpetually sore back. I’ve suspected for a long time that she might have problems with her ovaries, since the soreness seems worse during her heat cycles. And when the vet checked, she thought it seemed pretty likely based on the location of the soreness. She’s going to examine her a little more thoroughly on her next visit. Regumate would probably help if that’s the cause, but that’s a VERY expensive option. Anyway, I will just see what we can find out before thinking about how to fix things.

Filly Photo

So… since Virginia has already outed herself on Facebook by posting this picture of Spanish Lady. And since I actually took the photo… I think it gives me tacit permission to post it here too 🙂

This is Virginia’s first time on the filly’s back (and only the filly’s second time under saddle). They look like a team already don’t they?



More Work With Lady

Went up yesterday and rode Lady again. She is quite a smart little cookie. She again declined to leave her new mom, and I had to insist. She pinned her ears a little bit at me. She reminds me a great deal of Foxy Baronessa, who bonded to her new owner like this too. To the exclusion of all others.

She’s a nice filly though, and after we discussed it, she moved along and did as I asked willingly. Her brakes are good, and she steers pretty well. She has the typical big Standardbred walk. She seems to have no concerns about a rider on her back and stands well for mounting/dismounting.

Her new owner got on her after a while. The filly was very good with her too. But has a tendency to just stand there when asked to move forward. I think that perhaps she was a bit tentative about getting after the filly to insist that she move on. When I rode her, I just went ahead and flapped my legs and pushed with my seat until I irritated her enough that she moved.

Once they have gotten used to your legs against their sides, most of them tolerate pressure well. Standardbreds off the track like this are usually quite broke… they just have to get used to someone above them instead of behind, and the pressure of legs against their sides. Everything else is just a variation of what they already know.

After we were done, she went out into a big paddock next to the round pen for a while. Where there was quite a display of badness. Galloping around like a complete lunatic. Quite snippy about her mom leaving her again. She can definitely canter anyway. And gallop…

Oh, and apparently on the weekend, a fire engine went by while her mom was in her paddock with her. They went over to the fence near the road and watched it go by, lights and sirens both on. Lady just watched it with some curiosity. No spook at all. She’s a steady-minded little horse, that’s for sure.

Another Standardbred Available… Spanish Lady

This filly has now been placed in her new home 🙂


Just had a lovely filly arrive, looking for a new home. Her name is Spanish Lady. She’s a three year old Standardbred. Never raced. She was in training, but has never even come close to being fast enough to qualify.

She is sound, and by all accounts, exceedingly quiet. Trainer says she is quiet enough for a child to drive.  And has no spook in her at all.  The groom was apparently giving her kids pony rides on her too. And given that she’s been in race training and has been fed like a racehorse, she will only get quieter once she’s been turned out and allowed to relax. So this is likely to turn out to be a very bombproof sort of mare once she’s had a couple of years to finish growing up.

She’s here in my round pen at the moment. Just arrived half an hour ago. Super friendly. Chowing down happily on a pile of hay. Thinks maybe Swamp Dog could be her friend too.

She has not yet been backed, though I will probably do that within the next day or two.

She’s free to a good home. It has to be a pleasure home. No racing. No breeding. I follow up on the horses I place, and require references if I don’t know you. I always accept these horses back if they turn out to be unsuitable, and will retain ownership for period of time to make sure that everything goes well. I can deliver within a few hours of the Greater Toronto area for the price of fuel.

Coates Creek Set Speed Ride

The weather forecast for yesterday`s ride looked pretty bad most of the week. And Saturday was a really awful day. But when I got up Sunday morning (well… when Misha called me from her car… already stressing about getting Diego on the trailer) the pre-dawn was reasonably bright from the moonlight, and the wind had died.  I would have been happy enough with cold and rain. But there would have been a lot of cranky volunteers for us to deal with. It turned out to be a cool, fresh October day with occasional bouts of sunshine, and absolutely gorgeous trails.

Diego was a little sticky about the trailer, and Misha was losing it a bit when I got out. Not falling apart, but starting to vibrate a little. She handed me the stock whip and I stood on Diego`s near side to prevent him from evading to that side. I don`t generally do much. Just stand there and make him nervous. But eventually, as usual with him, he allowed the unsettling person behind and the encouraging person in front to entice him on.  He`s a good little horse, but he wasn`t broke until he was 11 or thereabouts, and still thinks he should make his own decisions. Trailers have always been a problem for him.

Dressy, of course, loaded up directly. As always. She marches up, turns herself around and backs right in. “Do up that chest bar,  gimme my cookie and my hay bag, and let`s go“.

It’s about an hour and a half to Coates Creek ride site, and at 6am on a Sunday morning, traffic is near non-existent. So it was an easy trip. We arrived just as vetting started. Misha set up her electric paddock and split it down the middle to give Dressy half. It’s one of those Zareba EZEE corrals, and I have to say that although it looks nice, and the theory is good, in practice the damn thing never seems to work the way it should. Yesterday, it went up okay, but the power didn’t work. Turned out not to matter, as they were not  in it for long. But I prefer my homemade electric paddock with the cheap step in posts, a ground rod, a roll of wire, and a Zareba Yellow Jacket portable fencer. Cheap, easy, and it actually works.

There were 20 horses entered in the 31 mile Bronze level ride (which is between 4 and 7 miles per hour), and 6 horses in the Silver level ride (between 5 and 8 mph).  There were three loops, with a gate at the end of the first and a regular full vet check at the end of the second loop. A gate is where you ride in, get your horse down to a 64 heart rate, and trot for the vets to watch (for lameness) as you ride out. The clock continues to run through that type of hold. I haven’t done a gate before at a set speed ride, and I really underestimated how much it would slow us down. Towards the end of the first loop, my GPS was reading around 8.5mph average. By the time I rode out, it had dropped to around 7mph. It gradually climbed back up through that second loop. But we really never made up that time. The full vet check didn’t have as much of an impact, since the clock stopped when we reached parameter (56bpm) and we started our 40 minute hold.

Dressy really moved out on the first loop. It was unfortunate as it turned out, because she bonded to a group of horses that don’t pace well for her purposes. Dressy has a nice big trot, and she can go reasonably fast. But her forte is her steadiness. She goes out and trots fast and steady (12+ mph), and she can maintain that for a long time. But at 14-16mph the trot is much too extended. At 16mph she starts breaking to gallop, and definitely cannot maintain that for a long time. It takes way too much out of her.

I struggled with her quite a bit. I tried taking her back, but she’d decided that the big grey thoroughbred was her friend, and she wanted to catch him. She paced, and fought me, and kept catching up. So after the first ten miles when we went through the gate, I held back so they were long gone. But she power trotted until she caught them. If they’d maintained that 14-16mph speed, we never would have. But they were alternating between galloping fast and trotting slow. So overall she would have actually travelled faster… If I could have separated her from them. But there’s no way I could have passed, since I’m pretty sure those horses would have gone with her. I also find in the first few miles that Dressy can be very spooky in the lead. So I generally want her knowing there are horses ahead that she can focus on catching, instead of focusing on the monsters in the bushes.

At the 20 mile vet check, I held back and waited for Sue T. She’d lost her riding buddy (pulled) and wanted to ride with someone. That suited me, because she is a very experienced rider and rides a steady pace. Which is what Dressy needed to do as well. That loop was much better for Dressy. She was a little tired after all the shenanigans on the first two loops. But she trotted the whole thing without any issues. Chrystal and Grace passed us on that loop and Dressy went with her for quite a distance. But eventually we let her go, since her pace is a bit fast for Sue’s horse.

A look at my GPS track is quite enlightening. The first loop has radical up/down peaks from speeding up and slowing down. The second loop is steady and even through the first half (when we were alone and trotting) and then back to up/down peaks after we caught up again. Then the last loop is back to smooth steady trotting with Sue and her horse Trevor.

We did not make the target speed of 8mph. And in fact just missed the 7mph speed. Although my GPS shows a speed of 7.2mph. I was very pleased with her anyway. She had a good pulse at her final check, and easily reached parameter at the checks. Although we slowed down and let those three horses go ahead, Dressy still got 2nd place. So it paid off to manage her pace a little bit.

Chrystal’s horse, Grace won the Bronze level ride. By far. In fact Grace won the high score of the day… by miles. Her final pulse was 36. Chrystal took an extra long hold. Slowed her down as much as she could, and still finished in 6.99mph. The absolute maximum speed allowed for Bronze. If you watch that horse move, it doesn’t look like she’s working at all, and you can’t imagine that it’s fast. But try and follow on another horse and look at your gps…. Like a little streak of lightning, that mare.

Diego had a good ride. Placed third in the Set Speed, behind Wendy’s young horse Firefly. He looked good all day when I saw him. Although Misha always looked unhappy to see us… Diego had a meltdown every time he laid eyes on his boss mare. Tore up his (non-electrified) paddock at the mid-check when we went out just as he had come in. Had a hissy fit on the trail when we passed him going the other way on two way trail. Not pleasant for Misha that’s for sure.

However, after we loaded him in the trailer, Misha thought that he looked a little off colour. Wouldn’t take a treat from her hand. I loaded Dressy, gave her a cookie, and handed one to Diego. He didn’t take one from me either. We headed out, figuring that it was better just to get him home. The vet at that ride was Kathy, and she was going to stop by my place on her way home to look at King’s face (he still has a hard lump in his cheek where he was kicked). So we would have a vet available a few minutes after arriving at home anyway.

I stopped at Tim Horton’s to get an iced tea (I was desperately thirsty) and Misha checked on him again. By then he was shaking and sweating. She was quite alarmed, and we got right back on the road. She called Kathy, who was just a few minutes behind us. If you’re going to have a horse colic on a trailer, it sure feels better to have a vet right behind you.

We got him home and unloaded him. Stripped off the soaked cooler, and put him in a dry cooler and blanket. There was no manure in the trailer, so obviously he was a bit constipated. Misha walked him for a few minutes until Kathy got there. He had gut sounds but they were definitely reduced and gassy sounding. Kathy arrived, gave him some banamine, and got some mineral oil into him. It took about 45 minutes before he finally passed some manure. It was just a small amount and quite dry. But after that he got steadily better. This morning he’s his usual obnoxious self. Kathy said that there were a couple of other horses at the ride that were of concern too. She figured it was the colder weather bothering them. Diego is definitely a hot weather horse, so that makes sense.

Dressy of course, flourishes in the cold. She was bright-eyed and sassy while she tried to divert everyone’s attention away from Diego and onto her dietary needs. She wanted food, and she wanted as much of it as she could stuff into her greedy face.

Should Be Fine

The vet was here and had a look at King. She thinks he will be fine. There is still quite a bit of swelling, but it has gone down to about half of what it was yesterday (probably from all the bute, which is an anti inflammatory). His gums and teeth appear to be okay, though she did say that if one of the roots is cracked it might not be apparent right away. He’s on antibiotics as she thinks some of the swelling could be a bit of infection. However she thinks that it’s primarily just trauma… badly bruised from the kick.

She is a dentist, and had a good look at Dressy’s teeth and also at Ares while she was here. Dressy has the usual sharp edges on top, and some hooks coming back. She gets those every year, so that’s what I expected.

Ares has quite a bit of stuff going on in his mouth, and definitely needs work. Nothing drastic, but just a lot of edges, hooks, etc. He loses a lot of food when he’s chewing, so I knew there was going to be work to do there. She’s offered a very considerable discount on Ares work, which is wonderful. I consider him one of my little charity cases, and I do expect to lose money on him. But it would be nice if he didn’t turn into a money pit. She knows though that I do this for a lot of Standardbreds, to try to get them on track to being useful, happy backyard and/or competition horses instead of ending up as meat or throwaways driven into the ground as buggy horses. So this is my vet’s contribution to my Standardbred rehab efforts. And it’s very much appreciated.


Backing Ares

I’ve been very careful with Ares, because when I picked him up from his trainer, he came with a warning to be careful. I was a bit confused about exactly what I was to be careful about, but I got the impression that the trainer had some sort of vision of turning him into a riding horse and had tried to back him in a stall. Nothing wrong with that. If you are actually a rider. Which I doubt a Standardbred trainer actually is. Anyway, it seems that he got on Ares and was alarmed at the feeling, so got right back off again.

As a result, I’ve been dutifully putting Ares through a more rigorous round of ground training than I normally do with the Standardbreds that I retrain. He’s learned to lunge in tack, with side reins. Made sure that his voice commands are solid (they usually are in driving horses anyway). And have tried to make sure that he  is really confident with me and whatever I ask of him.

The whole allergic reaction to the yellowjackets episode really worked in my favour as it happens. Ares has been extremely friendly since that happened. I think he perceived my intervention as a rescue (which it was). And since then he’s always happy to see me and pleased with any attention. I’ve gotten to quite like him. He’s very willing and cooperative. Pays attention to me and has energy.

Today I put the tack on him and took him into a big box stall. Brought in a small plastic step stool. First I tied him to the wall and just got up and down on the stool beside him. That was no big deal as I have done some of that before while grooming him on the cross ties. I flapped my arms over his back and leaned over him, patting him all over the opposite side. Then rewarded him with a cookie and a great deal of praise. He likes cookies but I think he likes praise even more. He visibly relaxes when he knows he’s doing well.

After a bit of that, I unclipped him from the wall. Put weight in the stirrup with my hands. Put my foot in the stirrup. Jumped around. All the usual stuff. Put my foot in the stirrup. Lay across his back. And finally just got up. Throughout the entire process, Ares never moved. The only thing he did was shift his weight once to square up and balance himself under the weight when I finally committed all my weight to his back.

After getting on and off him a few times without any flinches or difficulties, I finally picked up the reins and asked him to move a step. First put a tiny bit of leg on him, then clucked. His first step was a bit of a lurch. But then he figured it out and did a calm circle right around the stall.

That was all I was trying to accomplish for today, so I stopped and got off. Much praise, patting, and even a kiss on the nose (he’s getting to really like sappy stuff like that). He looked very pleased with himself and his world.