Monday, August 20, 2012

Horse Education on The Farm

I'm not sure who's learning more about life on a farm these days - the horses or me. Our younger mare seems to have a lot more background on all things natural. It only took her a couple of weeks to get used to frolicking up and down the hills and ravines of her pasture. Our older mare, however, is still learning, and largely learning the hard way.

With our younger mare, we've ridden trails, ridden arenas, trailered, even packed into the Sierra Nevada for several days. She'd originally come from ranch in Texas, but had been in pen/arena situations for the past several years. While she'd done some ranch work, she was largely used on flat land. That was made apparent by her stumblings around the new place for a few weeks while she got used to the place. Now, we regularly see her flee from her overnight pasture and on to grassier climes each morning. She doesn't amble, unless it's already hot out, but take off at a joyful gallop. She seems to know how to keep herself out of trouble, but is calm about it - when other horses act up, she doesn't flee; she just moves herself out of harm's way.

Following not too closely behind is her older new friend, an arthritic mare who joined us this past spring after a long history of show barns and arenas. We had no idea just how little experience she had with uneven surfaces until we got her home. She's big on stumbling, gets into trouble at every turn, but she's having the time of her life with her new pasture buddy. She still can't figure out how to just WALK down a hill. She'll stand at the top and wait for the rest of us to clear, then fast-walk/trot to the bottom, given a choice. And she'd rather run up a hill than do the hard work of walking. As for the zig-zag ascent so common with other herd animals, she's not a fan. And riding her downhill wile zig-zagging is like driving a motorboat too slowly - over correcting and feeling that constant sideways slide.

Since arriving here, the older mare has managed to catch herself in a bit of buried barbed wire with which she gashed a foreleg. We were able to provide her care at home, but it wasn't easy since she doesn't like her feet picked up. (We're working on that, as well.) Then there's the arthritis which allegedly slows her down, though you wouldn't know it if you saw morning turn-out. And shortly after her foreleg healed, she showed up with some sort of stings ALL over one side of her belly.

V and I had bathed and fly-sprayed the horses just the day before. While I was checking the chickens late the following evening, the horses galloped down the hill for a visit in the moonlight. I noticed some odd spots on the old mare's side. But it was super dark, I couldn't see well, so I figured it was just a rub mark - her clean hair rubbed in muck somewhere that day as only clean animals can do. The next morning, I found dinner-plate-sized welts on her side and some tea-plate sized welts on her neck. Clearly, she'd been stung; and more than once. But she didn't seem to be having any other adverse reactions.

Several days later I called our new vet. (We've yet to meet her, but she came highly recommended by our old vet who we adored for his cool manner and educational style. She shares his style including a you-don't-really-need-me mantra when she can educate and coach via phone at no charge. Yep...this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship.) There was a very large "welt" on the mare's belly, and the hair on the side welts was rubbed entirely off.

"Oh, yep. Those were stings or bites for sure," she said. Then proceeded to explain how the histamine response that caused the swelling (edema) meant that fluid had to go somewhere. In horses, it'll pool along the belly line if it doesn't get absorbed faster than it can fall. She recommended we treat the bald spots (itchiness causes that) with regular hydro cortisone from our own first aid kit. Go figure. A simple solution! We sat tight for another couple of days and, sure enough, the belly jelly was gone.

So, bees or wasps, hills and side hills, barbed wire (really! We thought we'd found it all!). The old mare's getting some special education out here for sure while the youngster stays out of trouble, for now.

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