Wednesday, September 27, 2017

This is the end .... beautiful friend

Three years, where has the time gone?  I have excuses, many many excuses for not writing the final chapter of Jen's blog.  Denial, grief, stress, upheavals, job losses, foreclosure and the loss of my farm, many life changes.  But despite all the excuses, Jen's story has ended.

To backtrack a little, in 2013 it became apparent that Miss Jen was fast losing her eyesight.  She had April as her seeing eye mini, but even with April as her eyes, Jen was becoming increasingly fearful.

Jen was fearful of sounds, that she couldn't orient to where they were coming from or what they were.  I feared she would run through a fence and tear herself up, or run straight into the side of the barn and break her neck.  she was becoming jumpy and nervous, and would jump into you for comfort if something startled her.

I was only 1 year post-divorce, and also unemployed.  One of April's herdmates, Whinney, who was a 30+ year old pony, was fast losing weight.  She was fed buckets and buckets of soaked hay cubes, balancer, rice bran, as much as she could possibly eat.  She was becoming not-herself, meaning her spark and attitude was gone.  It was clear that Whinney was coming to the end of her life.  She began colicing with barometric shift.  She would wander out back and get herself stuck in deep snow needing to be rescued.  I was afraid she would go down in the snow or ice and freeze to death.  Jen was constantly coming up with scrapes and injuries from stepping on things, tripping over things, walking into things.  I once watched Jen walk through the woods and onto a giant outcropping of ledge.  she got to the end of it, and as I'm running across the paddock to guide her, she came to the end and just stepped off about a 3 foot drop.  How she didn't tumble and fall I have no idea, but she didn't.

With innumerable tears, and heartache, and "what-if's" and conversations about best options, I finally decided that it was best to have Jen euthanized to avoid a catastrophic injury.  As Whinney was fast declining and it was only a matter of time, and to make my grief so much more heartwrenching  but easier on Jen and Whinney, I decided to let them both go at the same time.

It was April of 2014, I had just started a new job.  I wanted to complete this horrible task before the town Fireworks that are lit about a mile from my farm, I had horrible visions of Jen getting upset at the noise and breaking her neck or tangling herself up in fencing.    Luckily my boss was a horse person (a horrible person, I didn't realize at the time, but she did understand the connection to animals).  I kept breaking down at work in the days leading up to the date.

I had Pam Sourelis of talk to Jen and Whinney before the date.  Pam has spoken to Jen in the past.  I wanted them to know what I planned.  Jen said she was afraid, Whinney said she was ready, and would guide Jen along the path.  So it was decided that Whinney would go first to lead the way for Jen.

And that is what we did.  We led them both out to the gravesite together.  Whinney went first, very peacefully, she was obviously ready to go.  Jen was a bit nervous, but a good girl.  She went relatively peacefully as well.  As the solution reached her heart and stopped it, and Jen crumpled to the ground, and let out her last breath (as heavy animals do when they hit the ground), my vet told me that it was the right decision for both of them, even Jen who was only 16 years old.  From the odor from her last breath, the vet felt she either had kidney or liver failure and would not have lived a long healthy life.  It didn't alleviate the pain, but made the decision itself a little bit easier to bear.

Jen's last day

Both Jen and Whinney are still missed terribly, every single day.  A day doesn't go by that I don't miss them both.  In Jen's case, all the hindsight, the anger at her former owner who allowed an animal to suffer like this, and who continues to allow them to suffer all these years later, Jen's own daughters and grand-babies, still starved and neglected and abused.  My hands are tied.  She keeps getting away with it, keeps hiding, moving, making excuses, crying the victim, over and over and over again.  And the animals suffer, it is only the animals that suffer.

I still see Jen in her sister Lakota, who is now 21 years old and boarded with April the mini who is now 20.  They've been part of my life for 14 and 18 years respectively.  My kids never knew life without them.  If only I had gotten to her sooner, if only I had read the writing on the wall, if only I had better connections, if only .....

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Telling Tale

Mandy always wanted to ride in the snow.  I told her stories of when I was a kid, how much fun it was to ride in the snow.  But be careful! The horses like to roll in the snow, and will often drop and roll even in mid-stride while riding!  She couldn't wait for snow to come so she could ride in snow.

The day came.  The stars aligned.  It snowed, nice fluffy snow, not wet, sloppy or icy snow.  It was sunny and relatively warm out, around 28-30 degrees.  It was a Sunday, so we all had the day off.  Perfect!  Finally Mandy could ride her horse in the snow!  It was a gorgeous, sunny day, with fresh snow, and the sun was reflecting off the fresh white snow.  A beautiful scene!

Mandy tacked up, just bareback with a sidepull, that Jen is used to all the time.  But Jen was NOT herself.  At all.  She was tossing her head, she was fretting.  She even crow-hopped and kept throwing bucks!  This was NOT like Jen at all, and she was not working out of it, she was actually getting worse.  It wasn't feeling "fresh" from the cold, because it was quite warm out.  It wasn't tack, because there was none.   Could it be the snow?  But she LIVED in the snow.  When it was clear Jen was getting more and more upset, I, as the protective Mom, went into the roundpen to see if I could figure out what the problem was.

When I walked in, Jen dropped her head down, closed her eyes, and pressed her head to my chest and sighed.  Her shoulders were shaking and quivering.  She was NOT cold.  I checked her all over, hear ears, her chest, she was quite warm.  She wasn't shivering from cold, it was 30 degrees.  She is, as of this writing, blanketless at 0f and below.  It wasn't the temperature.  Jen was scared.  Not just scared, she was quivering in fear.  Why?  The neighbors kids were out playing, and their dog was out, but that was nothing new.  And she relaxed as soon as I was there on the ground near her.  And I noticed she was keeping her eyes closed.  And there was just a very slight bit of clear tearing.  I walked over to her right side, and waved my hand in front of her open eye.  Nothing, no reaction.  Waved my hand in front of her left eye.  She blinked a little when I got very close.

The vet came out a couple of weeks later.  Jen is almost completely blind.  She is totally blind in her right eye, and has very limited vision in her left eye.

She has been this way for a very long time.  The vet found evidence of very old scar tissue in her eyes.  She was likely almost this blind when we got her almost 6 years ago.  

It all makes sense now.  Why Auntie Lakota took over the care for Ana, Jen only nursed her, but Auntie Lakota taught her how to behave.  How Jen always would "run up your ass", always had to stand so close to you that she was almost touching you.  Why she always turned herself to put you on her left side.  Why she kicked out at my son when he jumped into her stall.  Why April, the companion mini, never left Jen's side if Jen was away from the heard.  Why Jen was SO herdbound that it took over a year to get her comfortable walking away from the herd, within the confines of the paddock.  Why Jen is "the horse" in every herd that is always dinged up.  Bumped/scraped eye, ran a stick in her coronary, trips over stumps and rocks, scrapes and bumps on her nose.  Why April is always on Jen's right side.  Why Jen freaks out and scoots if a higher herd member (Lakota or Whinney) are on her right side.  Why she always shuts her eyes and clenches her jaw when she is resisting or upset over something.  Why she is always bumping us with her muzzle and head, touching and in your face.  
All the work that we've done with this horse, all the trust that has been built up.  Has been for more than "just" a decade of abuse, more than "just" a decade of neglect, more than a "just" a decade of pumping out foals, more than "just" a decade of starvation.  She has been blind through all this as well.

At the Trot!

I have upped Jen's riding now to twice a week, and have been trying to do longer sessions each time. We ride for about a half an hour, walking in figure eights, and over ground poles. And we have now started trotting! This past Thursday was the third time we trotted and she is doing much much better than our first trot. She has a lot of muscle to build up and has very little balance at the trot so we take it slow and I allow her lots of breaks. I am not riding her bareback at the trot yet just because she doesn't have a lot of balance so if I get off balance, we would both be in trouble! But she does noticeably better every time I get on her, and she is progressing in leaps and bounds these days! This video is of the second time I trotted her.

Mandy and Jen

A little story of a girl and her horse, look at the photos and read the descriptions, in order.

I'm posting a series of pictures that are nothing special really. Just look at the photos in order, and read the captions for the the story

There is nothing terribly interesting about these photos

They are not aesthetically pleasing photos

The background isn't beautiful

the horse appears to be nothing special

Just a little 14H crossbreed, TWH/Appy/Curly cross 

Just a girl riding her horse

I normally wouldn't share these photos, with the firewood covered by tarps,

Around the backyard

Kids bicycles thrown around

a grey cold, overcast December day

Steep hills, ledge, boulders 

Just an average girl, riding her average horse around the backyard 

I took these photos because Mandy always wants me to take photos when she rides her horse, because she has spent 5 years gaining her trust, retraining her from neglect and abuse, fears of being ridden, fears of being away from her horse friends, and the barn, and the comfort of her paddock.

Photos of a girl riding her horse, around a yard littered with obstacles, steep hills, and ledge. Nothing special that December day, until we found out in January, that Jen is almost completely blind.

What trust that little horse has placed in that girl, more so than we could ever imagine.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Morningstar Jen's Renaissance

Jen's Renaissance
Jen’s story; no, not a story. A story has a beginning and end, a climax and theme. A whole life cannot have a theme or a climax. No, not a story; Jen’s Renaissance.
Morningstar Jen is a 14.1 hand 15 year old bay roan American Bashkir Curly Horse Tennessee Walking Horse Appaloosa cross that came from Texas to my home in Connecticut. The vet rated her a 1.5 out of 5 on the Heinnecke scale.

My mom had showed me Jen in an old photo that was sent to her from her previous owner. I saw the picture once when I was ten, and I haven’t looked at it since. I do remember it well though. She was in an overgrown round pen, with her rider on board. Her head was high and inverted and her back was sunken. At the time, I wondered why she looked scared. I didn’t understand what all these signs meant. She was a scared, abused foal-factory.
She arrived in March of 2007. At about nine at night her hauler pulled into the driveway and I was as excited as ever. I wasn’t sure what to expect, I immediately thought of myself as the classic little girl and her horse at the pony show. The hauler said she was a good girl and loaded nicely. When she was unloaded and I saw her I was taken back and pictures of a little girl on little prancing Curly horse no longer passed through my mind. There wasn’t an inch on her body where there wasn’t a bone visible. She walked up the long steep driveway towards our barn quietly without even bothering to look around. We had horses delivered to our house before and they were never this shy. She didn’t even call to the other horses when we passed them and they all took turns neighing to their new addition to the herd. I thought maybe she was a well mannered and good girl. I later realized that she was deprived and far too exhausted to even lift her head higher than even with her withers.
My mom and I got her all settled in to her new paddock and gave her some hay. Later on we went out to check on her around 10 pm to make sure she was doing OK. She had ventured up the hill and around the bend, so it was a bit of a walk. We walked up to her, and I remember she tiredly bent her head around to look at us walking toward her. Standing on the top of the hill, there was quite a nice view. You can see the whole yard in front with the horse barn on the left and the house way down below in the front. The lights from the road quickly flashing by in the night was pretty for a while, until you heard the noise from the cars. My mom and I were standing there watching her and her belly was moving around. It was making tiny jerking movements, kicking out at us. Jen was pregnant with her fourth baby. I was even more exhilarated than before.
It was my job to take care of Jen every day. I gave her hay and grain every day with fresh water and cleaned out her paddock. During the winter, I had finished all the chores inside her paddock and she was done eating her grain, so I proceeded to collect her bucket. As I was walking toward to get her bucket she pulled her head out of her pile of hay and swiftly snaked her head out with her ears flattened and teeth bared. As I saw her coming toward me I tried backing away, but the post where her feed bucket was hung on was right behind me. She had bitten me right in the chest. There was wet grain smeared on the front of my big jacket. She didn’t even come close to my skin because of my heavy winter coat, but that wasn’t really the problem at hand. Jen had food aggression. I didn’t blame her. This was just one of the serious effects being starved within days of death.
Mandy!” “Psssst . . . Mandy!” As my head cleared and I realized I wasn’t dreaming, I saw my dad in the doorway to my room trying to wake me up without disturbing my little brother. I sat up and looked at him still groggy. It was 2 am and he was telling me there that the baby was born. “The baby was born. Baby? Baby! Jen’s baby!” I thought to myself. I was too excited for words so I jumped out of my bed and ran all the way up the hill to where I saw my mom rubbing a little bay filly all over. She was absolutely beautiful. She immediately went over to take a drink of her mom's milk. Within the next few days she was named Huyana, Ana for short, meaning rain falling. We chose this name because a thunderstorm that lasted 3 days broke for her to be born before it continued to pour. Ana was a fiery little filly that loved to play and race. Jen was often struggling to tag along behind her keeping a close eye on her new baby.
Ana loved everyone. She was the only one to befriend our rescued 30+ year old Belgian Amish work horse, Leroy Brown, before he passed. Leroy was a quiet old man and he loved to eat and bask in the sun. He was never very fond of people, especially adult males, and he kept to himself and was a quiet herd mate. He never got into trouble or pushed the other horses. Ana took it upon herself to make him her friend though. They would groom each other and he always made sure that Ana was on the uphill side so that she could actually reach his withers to gently scratch him with her teeth. When Leroy passed we were all heartbroken but happy for him at the same time. He went not because of exhaustion or starvation or to become someone’s next meal, but with a full belly and friends all around him.
The day started out completely normally. I went to school in the morning while my mom was out feeding the horses in the swing of our daily routine, until the evening of that day when my mom called my little brother and I into the kitchen, which was unusual. She had told me that Ana broke her pastern that morning and she didn’t make it. At first I didn’t understand. How could something that small and innocent die so young? I was angry because it wasn’t fair, she hadn't lived the prime of her life and she didn’t even live to see her first birthday. She was only 8 months old. Later on I got the whole story. My mother went out to feed like always in the morning and Ana appeared to be fine. My mom had to go back down to the house to put my little brother on the bus, and when she went back up to finish feeding them Ana was shaking and walking on three legs with one held in the air. We suspect she broke her pastern because her bones were brittle as a result of Jen was so malnourished.
Jen spent three days in the stall, hiding from the rest of the animals and mourning her baby. On the third day the lead mare and Morningstar Jen’s full sister Lakota Gem decided it was time for Jen to move on and reclaimed the run-in stall for herself. It had been two years since we got Jen and so much had happened. But I felt it was time to start focusing more on rebuilding Jen now that the worst seemed to be over.
In 2009, I started reintroducing tack to Jen. I had only been on her once since we got her just to see what she was like. I can still remember how tense and scared she felt underneath me. We walked about ten steps and then I got off of her. She was not at all happy that I had got on her. It took me a little while to figure out where to start. Jen had previously had 30 days of professional training before her life in hell. Knowing this, I thought I would just ride her around the paddock and eventually she would have an epiphany and realize that no one here would hurt her. Jen didn’t think this was the best approach and quickly made it clear about the third time I was on her that she was not about to forget about everything that happened when she was ridden in days gone by. I only ride her twice in 2009, but I kept journal entries every time I got on her to observe and figure out the next step to take.
        March 7, 2010
Jen was very concerned and anxious. She moved around a little, then finally calmed down and stood still, so I got off.

        March 18, 2010
When I first got on Jen she was a bit nervous but she calmed down by herself almost immediately after I got on her. I then realized I didn't have a helmet on. When I had my hands moving around on top of her she was very worried and nervous. When I stopped moving she was fine. When I though “I want to go over there” and rested my leg on her side she swung her butt over and faced where I wanted to go. I did this one more time, and got off.
          It was the new year of 2010 and I needed a fresh start, so I took a huge step back and started at square one: a real relationship. For about a month I spent time with Jen constantly. We took a lot of time to get to know each other. Every afternoon I would go outside and groom her excessively, take walks up and around the paddock. By doing this I also discovered another roadblock. Jen had become so herd bound that she was too scared to walk up the hill and around the corner out of sight of the other horses. I talked to her the whole time and we took signs one step at a time. I slowly gained her trust; she was willing to walk out of the sight of the other horses but was still a little worried. It took about 2 months to be able to comfortably walk around the end of paddock without her getting nervous. It was at this point that we achieved the most. I spent my whole summer of 2010 walking up and down that hill every day. We walked around that little place where the dirt evened out and she soon found it monotonous, and this was to my delight. Monotonous meant that she was no longer scared. Monotonous meant that she no longer feared an imaginary huge mutant beast leaping from the bushes; she was building a little self confidence and no longer completely depended on her herd mates for protection. Monotonous meant that she no longer feared an imaginary loud clap of thunder and a large wind that would sweep her away; she didn’t feel the need to run and hide in the barn if she was ever faced with something. I knew this day would come, I just didn’t know when. That summer was when the real bond took root and she began to trust me.
In the fall I began to introduce tack. She was sour the minute she saw it coming for the first week. She didn’t like the saddle, or the bridle, but the girth was always the worst. After our experiences back in 2009 with my Wintec, my most favorite saddle ever, my mom bought a treeless saddle for me. She has one for her horse, Lakota, finding that most saddles don’t fit these two because of their build. They both have long withers, a very short back, and huge shoulders. Any treed saddles are extremely tight against them. With this new saddle and a bitless bridle things were much easier. In the past Jen was used with a rough tom-thumb bit, and she was not letting anyone put another piece of metal in her mouth any time soon. She clamps her jaw shut, grinds her teeth, and squeezes her eyes closed. Jen also used to close her eyes and grind her teeth as if she is shutting the world out whenever she got stressed. I rarely ever see her do that now.
I started with a bareback pad, figuring it was less intense than a saddle. Up until the beginning of this year, anytime anything was brought up over her back she would throw her head up in the air and do one of three things. She would close her eyes and shut everything out, she would bulge her eyes out and stand stock still and tensed up waiting for something horrible to happen, or she would try to “squirt” out from underneath it. More often than not the first would happen. So, I kept calm and talked to her the whole time I was grooming her getting ready to put the bareback pad on. Hoping that when it was time to put it up over her back she would still be listening to me and be less focused on what I was doing. It did keep her calmer. She didn’t throw her head up quite as high, so I thought it was a good start. Then after it was on her back I would walk over to her head and stroke her neck and talk to her. I had also taught her to lower her head when I put pressure behind her ears with my hands. I lowered her head and took a step back to her belly and offered a treat to her. I don’t like using treats with Jen. She gets fussy and she gets what I like to call “apple brain”. She can’t focus on anything except getting the food. I still avoid using treats as a reward because after I give her a treat she wants to hang around me and try to get them out of my pockets. If I ask her to do anything she gets an attitude where she puts herself in a mindset where it’s her vs. me, and she gets very uncooperative. But whatever brought her back down to earth I was going to use to get her over this. But the bareback pad itself was no problem compared to girthing. She would turn away and try to escape the stall if she saw it coming. In the earliest days she would snake her head around and try to bight me. I knew she would actually bight me, but more likely kick me if I pushed too far. Having worked with Jen for almost 2 years now, I had learned that she was more bark than bight. From seeing her attitude toward the other horses, she often threatened but never followed through. Snaking her head with her teeth bore at the other horse rarely ever ended in actual contact. Even if she threatened to kick, she would turn around and show her butt like she was ready to kick, but at the last second she would quickly squirt out of the situation. There are also certain “levels” Jen has. Threats usually ended in nothing, she would quickly get over herself and behave, but there was a line. That line was usually crossed with persistence or excessive nagging. If she truly didn’t want you touching her she would make sure you didn’t. Whenever she actually followed through with her threats, it was sudden. If she was going to kick it was quick and there was one threat before the blow. I knew she wouldn’t follow through that time, there was a line that could be crossed, and I would have to tip toe on the edge. Girthing was a process and she still tries to walk away from me if I don’t keep her focused. For the first week or so I left the girth on loose so that it didn’t even touch her belly. She was ok with that, every day I would tighten the girth up little by little. When it was time to tighten it for real, she wasn’t happy about it but the only real signs of discomfort toward the girth were when she inverted as soon as she felt it on her and she swished her tail. But little by little she felt better and better about being tacked up and walked around the paddock. By February of 2011, Jen was happy to see her tack come out looking forward to attention.
About once or twice every month in 2011 I would get on Jen. I knew the next step was to get on her but I wasn’t completely sure how to approach it. I figured I would start in the place she was the most comfortable. So I sat on her in the stall for about 10-15 minutes each time I got on her. I sat on her until I had her calmed down. The first time I got on her after our restart she inverted and stood stock still waiting for me to do something like kick her, yank on her head, or slap her, what was done to her in her previous “home”. She was waiting to bolt. In the past, she was probably jumped on then kicked and hit so that she would go as fast as she could. That was exactly what she was waiting for. I kept a journal describing my ride every time I got on her, trying to decipher exactly how to go about the next trip onto her back.

        April 3, 2011
Jen was a bit concerned when when I first got on so I taught her to drop her head using the reigns. She caught on very quickly and did a great job with that. Next we worked on turning her in a circle, and making sure she doesn't get confused. She really does not like when I use my legs. So I just used my shoulders and mainly my hips to move her in different directions. She did fantastic, so when I couldn't think of anything else to do with her, I got off.

                  April 17, 2011
           I accidentally kneed Hen in the hip as I got on, so she was upset, understandably. I asked her to drop her head, and she did. She did some napping while I was on her. She licked and chewed a little. She also sighed twice. She was very relaxed and lazy feeling. We did some turning, but we can't go very far in the stall. So I just sat on her while she slept, until I got bored and got off.
                 May 1, 2011
        I was on Jen and she was very nervous the whole time. Her eyes were bugging out of her head, and any time I asked for a turn she would spin as fast as she could in the stall. I got her to bend her neck, seeing it was stiff as a board, and got off. I was going to get out of the stall if she did well today, but I guess we're still stuck in the stall.

                  August 29, 2011
        I took Jen out for grass with her tack on and she did very well. We practiced walking through mud, water and under trees and she did great. When we were ready to go back up to the barn I got on her and mom led her back up to the barn with me on her. She was perfectly calm, head level, eyes soft the whole ride up.

                  September 17, 2011
        I tacked Jen up like we were going for a walk then we went back into the stall after a very brief walk and I nonchalantly got got on her, rather gracefully, and Mom led her out of the stall and around the paddock once before letting go of the reigns. She did well, although she was kind of nervous and squirted forward as I used my leg a lot and was always trying to run back to the barn. I finally got off her after about 15 minutes when I got her past the barn without an issue.

                  October 22, 2011
        My plan was to take as long as I needed to get on her and just sit on her and the only thing I would ever ask for is a head down. So I got on in the barn and as soon as I was on her she squirted forward a bit although I was ready to stop her and get her focused again without an issue. The after she stood there in the barn for 5 minutes she went in the stall and starting going around in circles, exactly like we had done in previous lessons. I did nothing and sat on her scratching her the whole time. Eventually she relaxed and started to nap. Shortly after she started getting antsy and was walking around in circles in the stall. She would stop for a second and stand still, and then start again. When she stopped and stood still and relaxed I got off. I think she was starting to get frustrated because she didn't know what she wanted me to do; she didn't know what to do because she had never been allowed to do nothing while someone is on her back before.

                  November 6, 2011
        I am participating in the November RAC mini challenge so I spent 2 hours of groundwork before I tacked Jen up. Then I took another 15 minutes of riding form the ground. I thing this really helped. I did this thing where I stand next to Jen and hold onto and guide her with the reins while standing next to her. I think it helped prepare her a lot for the riding and it didn't come as such a surprise to her. And it also got her moving really well. When I got on her in the lower pasture she wasn't nervous once. She didn't even raise her head when I scrambled on her. Mom walked forward about 10 feet further and stopped. She didn't turn around to acknowledge Jen though. When Mom turned in the other direction and Jen went to follow I asked her to turn to the right instead of follow Mom to the left. And she went willingly. When Mom stopped I asked her to take 2 more steps and stop. She did! Then I asked her to walk forward and as she came up around the corner she tried to go back tot he barn. Instead I asked her to go back around facing Mom again and she went perfectly! I got off then because she tried and thought about pulling back to the barn but went where I told her instead. She never became nervous once. Her head never went up, eyes never bugged out. She never got antsy or fidgety with her head. And she moved smoothly. This was the best ride so far. I'm SO happy with her progress so far and I think all of the groundwork made a huge difference.

           A question soon arose as I was progressing. Even if I could ride Jen outside, how would I be able to with her being so heard-bound? I pondered over this question in my mind many times, thinking of the best way to approach it. I decided I would have to use a different technique than I did in the paddock, because in fact even though I was trying to accomplish the same thing, the circumstances were incredibly different. I decided to start taking her out to the small grassy area directly to the right of the barn. I figured this would be a good place to start because she could still see the other horses, the barn was right next to her, and there was grass for her to distract herself with. I didn’t want to interfere with riding time though. I wanted to make sure I still got those few times a month to keep up the learning process, I decided that the days where the ground was too wet or it was too hot to ride her was the best time to take her out. So I didn’t waste any time.
I had a good solid plan to introduce the world outside the fence as a good place. This little grassy area was perfect for the job. The other horses were still in plain sight. The first time I took her out she was very nervous and antsy. She shoved her shoulder into me, pulled on the lead, and anytime there was the slightest sound she would throw her head up and spin around looking for the source of the sound frantically. I figured the only thing I could do is let her get used to being outside, and enforce her manners. I couldn’t and wouldn’t try and teach her anything or ask her of anything because I didn’t want to stress her out. After that first time, she would get more and more comfortable every time I took her out. After the fifth or sixth time she was out she was pretty comfortable on top of the hill in our little grassy patch.
The beginning this of this year, I began riding Jen out in the paddock. I thought that she was becoming very comfortable with change and now when faced with something new she handled it calmly instead of inverting and shutting the world out. I was correct in assuming she was ready to get out of the stall and do some actual walking. She did well for the first 3 rides until our rides weren’t improving in great leaps but I was still making it a point to get on her to keep her in the rhythm. I chose to focus more on getting her outside rather than riding her. I had three reasons for this. One: the terrain in the paddock has always been horrendous for riding; there are too many rocks and hills. Two: the other horses were beginning to get in the way and were interfering. And three: It was difficult for me to keep my focus on her. There were simply too many distractions and the paddock was no longer suitable.
           I also upped the riding to every week. Jen is comfortable with going out to the yard to graze on grass. We would slowly creep our way down the hill towards the arena and out to the yard. She would nibble on the weeds all the way down the path and it kept her focus off of the growing distance between us and the barn. I was riding her consistently and we were making progress until actual movement was involved. She was very relaxed and things were going well. I had started taking Jen out for grass tacked up and riding her back up to the barn. She took this very well.
By April, the paddock riding was falling into a pattern. Not a favorable pattern. It was very difficult to maneuver anything more than yourself. It was even extremely difficult to get a wheelbarrow in there, so I decided it was time to move outside. We weren’t making as much progress as I knew we could be in the round pen. I could see her potential, but I was having too hard of a time and it was just too complicated to try and ride an extremely sensitive horse in a rocky hilly paddock with four other horses trying to get attention. The first time I rode Jen in the round pen she was a bit nervous as soon as I mounted, but she calmed down very quickly. I needed my mom on the ground as a “shoulder to lean” on for Jen. To keep Jen’s stress level down I played passenger and my mom was the driver. She gave Jen small cues with her hands and Jen knew exactly what she wanted and did everything she asked willingly.
           The second time Jen was ridden outside was June 7. It was the first time Jen and I had a real ride together. We walked around the round pen in two circles and I dismounted, because she did so well. She was soft and relaxed and there she didn't look around frantically for someone on the ground for direction. The third time she was ridden was June 14 and she was ridden by two people and it was the longest ride she has had since she has been here. Both my mom and I got on her and she did perfectly. We both mounted her and she did not invert once, she kept a soft and relaxed face and took serpentines and figure 8's in perfect nonchalant strides.

            Jen has taught me many important things. The most important by far though is that it wasn't the accomplishment of being able to ride Jen, it was what got us there and what came of the journey in between. No matter how corny it may sound, the “to” in “start to finish” is what matters most. Even though there really isn't a “finish” . . .

Monday, November 1, 2010

Dental work

Last Friday, I came home from work late, and my daughter says to me "Hey Mom, Jen has a marshmallow on the side of her face". Greaaatt....... See, Jen is "that" horse. You know, the one in every herd that has some kind of injury or weirdness? She's that one here.

Schlepped out to the barn, and sure enough, a hard lump on the right side of her face. Its not terribly tender or hot, but she clearly doesn't want me messing with it. She was eating normally, so I left her for hte night. it looked better the next day, and I found some serum-y bits on it, so I thought it was a swelling from a tick bite.

No such luck. By Sunday it was bigger again, but still no heat, swelling or problems eating. I called the vet Monday, and she was out Tuesday. The short answer? Jen had a broken tooth. It was cracked in half and sticking out sideways into her cheek. She couldn't get it out, she needed oral surgery.

So on Wednesday morning, I loaded Jen up to head to the vet clinic. She was a good girl considering she hadn't been on a trailer, or even out of hte paddock much, since she got here 3 years ago, leaving her babies behind. It only took about 15 minutes and a handful of treats.

She arrived at the vet clinic definately nervous and upset, in a sweat even though it was only a 30 minute ride on the hightway. I gave Jen a kiss, and told her that she would be home the very next day.

Jen's procedure went well. The clinic removed the #4 premolar due to a grade 3 caries and saggital fracture, and packed the socket with antibiotic packing material. They had to go in through the nasal cavity to punch the root out from above.

When I picked Jen up, she looked quite unhappy. she was tucked up and thin looking from just 24 hours. She looked depressed and miserable. They said she was eating, but not well.

Jen loaded up with no problems, and rode quietly home. I unloaded her in the driveway, and as soon as she recognized where we were, she had a definate pop in her step. We made it up the hill, I brought her into the paddock and all her friends were so happy that she was home! Jen went and had a good roll, then a looooong drink of cold well water, then itched all over on her favorite scratching tree, before settling into some hay.

But, Jen wold not eat her grain with the doxycycline in it. Jen is allergic to SMZ, she had an allergic reaction when she had the stick jammed in her coronary band. She hates doxy. My daughter (and Jen agrees), that it smells like Sharpie marker. So Jen has been refusing her grain. Flat out refusing. I've been adminstering metronadazone rectally, and she is fine with that. But the front end feels like it has to argue with me. Jen has never liked pastes, and she was just dewormed last week, after all, why would I be bugging her with this stuff already?

I tried everything to disguise the doxy, I mixed it with molasses, yogurt, Nutrient Buffer ( a gut buffer), alfalfa pellets and soaked hay cubes. Nada. Now she won't even come at breakfast or dinner time, a horse that used to dig to China because it took me soooooo long to walk 10 feet to her.

Well, I think I finally have the answer. Take 45 doxcycline pills and pulverize them in the blender until they are a fine powder. Now wait a half hour for the dust to settle in the jar before opening the lid and inhaling said doxy dust (don't ask), add a tablespoonful of water, and a teaspoonful of good organic molasses. Suck it in the tube, and adminster, chasing her head up, downback, and forth with her jaw firmly clenched and her sending the daggers of hell out her eyes into your temples. Once that goes into the front end (or on my clothes, or in my hair), next is 60 cc of Nutrient Buffer, which his to help her belly from all the antibiotics and stress. Next will be a dose of yogurt. The a temperature taken rectally to monitor for infection, then a tube syringe full of melted Metronadazole gets adminstered rectally as well.

Did I mention how disgusted Jen is with me? She LOVES me any other time of day, but at feed time, she hates me now. Poor Jen.

Monday, June 28, 2010


I haven't updated Jen's blog in quite some time, mostly due to time-constrains, and I what I feel is nothing exciting that someone would want to take the time to read. But I'll bore you anyway with the "not much" that has been going on here.

Jen is still doing well. She weighs about 850 pounds now, she has gained over 200 pounds since she arrived here back in March of 2007. She does have some significant muscle atrophy to her back, and is backsore, likely from the saddle that I am told used to rub her raw ("extreme" curlies do not lose their hair and skin from a properly fitted saddle!). I will continue to do EquineTouch on her, which I admittedly have not done enough of, only a few sessions over the years.

In attempting to ride Jen, we have found that she is very very anxious about being ridden. she completely freezes up as if she is "waiting for the ball to drop". My daughter has taken it upon herself to spend a lot of time with Jen getting her over her fears. Jen has been a very stressy horse. She stresses over everything, gets anxious and upset over any little change in her life (doing something different during the course of the daily feeding chore, any change in her paddock arrangements, being asked to do anything at all (since it isn't done daily). So Mandy visits with Jen almost every day, it was every day at first, now she has reduced the number of days and increased the amount of time. She would just spend time with Jen at first, haltering her, grooming her all over, picking her feet and talking soothingly to her to let her know that she wasn't going to "do anything to her". The way Jen gets upset is that she stands perfectly still like a statue, with her head held high. She stops blinking, and she clenches her jaw, purses her lips, and her eyes become hard and distant, she just goes away somewhere. So to someone who really doesn't get horse-speak, it appears as though she is allowing.

As Jen relaxed into just the difference in her schedule of being caught and having one-on-one attention, Mandy introduced tack. Jen gets upset and anxious when she sees tack. So Mandy just introduced tack while using t-touch calming circles, which Jen just LOVES. She would just bring the tack out at first and let Jen sniff it, then not do anything with it. Then she progressed to putting it on her, without cinching up the saddle. She put the Bitless Bridle on her and didn't ask anything of it. Jen won't take a bit, period, and there is no way you are getting her to unclench that jaw to allow it in, and its amazing how far back she can invert that neck and have her head backwards.

So once Jen was bored with the tacking process, Mandy started taking her out of the stall while tacked and leading her around. Oh, she also lead her around untacked for awhile too, and then combined the two. At first Jen was upset and didn't want to leave the safety of the barn with tack on. She eventually graduated to leading her away from the barn, and then up in the upper paddock. She progressed to leading her over stones and logs, backing her over them as well, and following trails. Jen has become bored with that process as well, and will readily leave the barn area fully tacked.

we have now progressed to taking Jen outside the paddock to hand-graze her. At first she was upset, as were the others left behind, so we only grazed right outside the gate. Then Mandy started leading Jen further away, and we plan to continue that process over the rest of the summer, eventually getting her out of sight of the other horses, and then do that tacked.

Oh, Jen is actually more worried about having tack removed, and gets really scared when you take the saddle off her. She also gets upset if she is tacked up and you raise your arms over your head, so we've been doing that randomly and she is getting better about it.

Physically, Jen is doing pretty well. She finally finished abscessing in her feet, and is finally starting to grow an upright hoof. It was very flat and pancaked for so long, and once she got rid of that toxic buildup, she's growing a heel and a nice tight little foot. The dentist was out again yesterday, and made the comment "Wow, her mouth is a MESS! If we worked on this mouth every 6 months for 5 years, I don't think we would make any progress".

Poor Jen. I don't know the reason for the problems in her mouth. It could be a combination of factors. Her neglect, the fact that she had a halter on too tight to the point that it grew into her face and appears to have altered her skull structure (by comparing her head size and shape to her full siblings and parents), and/or the fact that she was ridden in a Tom Thumb bit with aggressive riders. I even recall seeing a photo of her with her reins tied over the top rail with her head cranked up, trying to evade the pressure, in a Tom Thumb. Jen is only 14.1H.

Jen is creating muscle, she has shoulder muscles now, and chest muscles. I think her chest has doubled in width! Here are some photos from yesterday.