Wednesday, September 30, 2009


I met a beautiful mule this morning, alerted to her presence by the unearthly sound of her braying. She's new to the barn, and I found out later that she's just in a stall for a week or so before moving out to the pasture to join the herd. She seemed restive and nervous, so I just stood outside her stall for probably half an hour, watching her out of the corner of my eye. At first she was shy and cautious, but after a few minutes she came and stood right beside me.

Eventually she lost her worried look and started yawning. I'm not sure exactly what this yawning means in horse language, but last weekend I watched a friend yawn back at a nervous rescued pony. So I yawned back at the mule. She replied with another yawn, I responded in kind. The two of us stood there for a few minutes yawning at each other--must have been quite a sight, if anyone had been watching!

Then, looking much more calm, she went over and finished her breakfast. Was this mule therapy? Don't know; but I sure feel better now.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

More Adventures With the Vet

Poor Midnight. That goofy guy hasn't been eating properly for a couple of weeks now, and we were starting to worry. He had begun to pick up weight when we started feeding him senior food--he is 23, after all--but was losing again, so we called in the vet. A quick look in Midnight's mouth, and out came the sedative needle. This time I knew what to expect, so I wasn't surprised when the big guy put his head on my shoulder and started to lean and drool.
After hosing Midnight's mouth out thoroughly with a couple of ten-gallon syringes full of water, the vet stuck his hand in and tried to figure out if anything was lodged in his cheeks. Nope. So out comes the funny bridle thing again, and he cranks it open. Midnight's tongue flails, then droops. Vet pokes around with his fingers, then with a screwdriver (I swear, I'm not making this up!), but finds nothing. Off with the bridle. He replaces it with a piece of ribbed plastic tubing that allows him to examine the front teeth.

Finally, the vet spots the likely culprit--a small cavity right at the gumline behind one of the upper incisors. The gum has become infected. A ten-day course of antibiotics is prescribed, after which we'll evaluate whether the tooth gets filled or pulled.

I'm wondering how, exactly, does one give pills--eight big ones, twice a day--to a horse? Vet says, "Just dissolve them in some water in this syringe to make a paste, poke it up his cheek, and squeeze." OK. Sounds easy enough.

So I lead Midnight back toward his stall. It's like leading a 950-pound, drunken sailor, only Midnight doesn't try to sing. He wobbles and sways, head down, but manages OK until we get to where the path goes downhill for a bit. Uh oh... His feet start going faster and faster, the swaying gets more and more alarming, and I find myself running to keep up.

Back on the flat he slows down again, thank goodness, and we make it back into his stall without incident. The pilling goes OK, though I don't know how effective I was--the "paste" ended up a "slurry," and more dribbled down his face and my arm than made it into his mouth, I fear. A horse, even a small, drunken one, can get VERY tall when he sees a syringe headed his direction!

This morning we did better--I discovered that he'll eat it voluntarily if I mix the dissolved pills in his Senior Feed, which he likes moistened into a mash. So far, so good. Only nine more days to go.

Monday, September 28, 2009


Last Friday I didn’t feel like riding but wanted to give Midnight some exercise. I love to run, and felt the need of more physical activity than just working on ground manners in the ring, so we went out on the trail. I jogged and he trotted, on command, right along with me. The few times he speeded up and got ahead, I just tapped him lightly on the chest with the dressage whip and he dropped right back. We practiced stops from the walk and the trot, backing up, and all the good stuff we've been working on the last couple of weeks. He actually seemed to enjoy himself, and we both worked up a sweat.

It was such a pleasant evening! It's wonderful to see all our hard work paying off. Two months ago I couldn't get him to trot with me at all, much less trot on command and in a controlled manner. It was quite an amazing feeling to share a run like this--something I really enjoy--with my horse friend, and to feel like he got something out of it, too.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Good Lesson

Riding lessons were interesting last night. I rode CJ, who was fit and frisky and evidently hadn’t been out since the day before. He’s a pretty little bay, but short-legged, hard-mouthed (as so many of the lesson horses are, alas), and willful.

CJ wanted to run. He has a lovely slow trot when he cares to use it, but a bad habit of speeding up every time any of the instructors, in either arena, says anything at all. When he gets to going, those short little legs are just a blur, and it’s pretty bouncy. His canter is fine, but he kept speeding it up, and when I’d finally get him stopped and trotting again, he would try again to canter every time anyone spoke, or a horse went by, or a cosmic ray hit him….

It was a battle, but actually, in retrospect, probably a very important lesson: I had control of him. He did not run off with me, he did trot when I told him that was his job, and he walked when I told him to. Not without argument, but he walked.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Midnight's Visit with the Vet

[This entry is cross-posted from "It's an Alchemical Life" here on Blogger.]

Older horses’ teeth don’t wear evenly, it seems, and they tend to develop sharp points on inside or outside edges that can cut into the tongue, cheek, and/or gums and make eating difficult. Removing these sharp edges is done via a procedure called “floating.” I cannot imagine how that word ever came to be used for this procedure, which is routinely done every year or two for a horse of Midnight’s age (22-plus).

So I’m standing there in the barn with Midnight, holding the lead rope, waiting for the vet to check his teeth. Vet takes a quick look and says, “Yep. They need floating.” A quick injection into a vein in his neck and within seconds Midnight goes all glassy-eyed. Half a minute and his head goes down, his legs start to wobble, and I ask the vet, “How many of your patients actually fall down with this stuff?!” “Oh, in 25 years, I’ve only had two fall over.” And I’m thinking, “Well, here’s number three!” But Midnight doesn’t fall, thank goodness. The vet walks out to his truck.

The vet comes back from his truck with what looks like a heavy bridle with a strange, large bit. He gets it into Midnight’s mouth and cranks—turns out the “bit” is two metal plates that catch his front teeth and hold his mouth open. Midnight’s tongue flails around for a while but he’s too woozy to offer much resistance. Vet says, “Here. Hold right here,” pointing to the side of the bridle thing. I grab the strap and hang on.

The vet plugs in this contraption that looks like a cross between a huge, flat, metal toothbrush and a chainsaw. Before I have time to holler, he’s got that thing inside Midnight’s mouth and has turned it on. Folks, NEVER again complain about YOUR visit to the dentist, OK? Things could be much, much worse.

It must not hurt a whole lot, though, because Midnight really didn’t put up any fight at all. Most of the head movement was from the vet thrashing around inside with the rasp thing. The sound was awful, the smell of burning tooth enamel pretty horrific. My next question was, “Say, how many owners have you had pass out on you?!” “Why? You need to sit down?” It was a near thing, but I managed, by sheer force of will, to stay on my feet and not throw up. I figured that wouldn’t have helped anything, after all, and I didn't want to look like a wuss.

So the vet keeps this up for quite a while, and I realize he’s only done the lower jaw. Then he says, “Here. Hold his head.” Wasn’t that what I was already doing? Nope. He meant get under Midnight’s head and hold his head up. Now, Midnight weighs 900 pounds, and I’m here to tell you, about 300 of those pounds must be in his head. I’m not that big a person, and I’ve got this enormous horse head over my shoulder and I’m trying to hang on to it and hold it 1) still and 2) up in the air while the vet grinds away at the upper jaw.

Midnight, all this time, is just standing there drooling (yes, all over me). Finally, the “floating” is finished and the “bridle” comes off. It seems that there were a lot of hooks and sharp points; the vet is confident that now Midnight will be able to chew much better and will stop losing weight. I sure hope so; I don’t want to have to go through this again for a long time!

So, are we done now? Nope. One more procedure: the vet needs to “clean Midnight’s sheath.” I will let you, dear reader, imagine for yourself what that’s all about. All I will say is that Midnight did not appreciate it much, but once he was walked into a corner and up against a wall, he tolerated it.

And an hour later, Midnight was back in his stall, calmly and thoroughly masticating his grain; I went home and took a nap.

Cast of Characters

September, 2009

Midnight Dancer is a 23-year-old black Egyptian Arab gelding. His back is long for an Arabian, and with age, has swayed considerably. He still enjoys trail rides, though, and is as spirited—and opinionated—as ever. His owner recently started his own business and no longer has the time to visit Midnight every day, like he used to, and offered to let me care for him. This was a surprising and very welcome development! I spend time with Midnight five days a week. He has taught me so much!

Galahad is a 3-year-old quarterhorse gelding rescued with a group of other horses from a ranch where one animal had already died of starvation. In spite of such a rocky start to life, he is sweet and mellow and affectionate. When I adopted him recently, he had no training other than accepting a halter and lifting his feet for the farrier.

These two will appear here by their own names, as will a few of their friends. Others, as well as the people involved, will have their names and some circumstances changed to protect privacy.

Update, December 2010. Nevada is a rescued filly whom we have adopted. Her mother is a branded BLM mustang, and her father an Appaloosa-Quarter Horse cross. She's not even three, though our trainer has ridden her a time or two. She is sweet, inquisitive, and trusting of humans, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that she was never handled at all until a few months ago. Her entire life was spent running wild with her little herd on a farm whose owner, in his eighties, had forgotten he had horses. They had plenty of food and water; all she needed when she was rescued was worming and a good hoof trim.

Note: the photos used in this blog are my own, unless otherwise noted. Photos of me, if no photographer is specified, are by DLKama. If you copy any of these photos, please give proper credit. Thanks!