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*this* John W. Hays' take on things and experiences

Posts Tagged ‘rescue horses

Teeth Filed

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Any time you think dental checkups are a big deal, just think what it is like for horses. The vets grab the tongue and reach their arm into the horse’s mouth. The horse gets to wear a speculum that forces the jaw to stay open and the rasp is attached to a power drill that looks like the one in a construction worker’s toolbox.

It was actually the first time we have moved the rescued Thoroughbred mares into the barn stalls since they arrived in April. They walked in without hesitation, but since we only brought in Swings and Mix at first, the other two that were left outside became very vocal and upset about the separation.

We haven’t reached a level where the four horses we are fostering have shown complete comfort with us yet, so we didn’t know for sure what condition their teeth were in. Our suspicions were raised because the mares all show some difficulty eating the feed pellets we serve in pans.

Since the upper and lower jaws of a horse don’t align precisely, the outer edges of the upper teeth and the inside edges of the lower teeth can develop high spots, some of which can become sharply pointed. The rest of the tooth gets ground down by regular grinding contact that happens naturally from chewing.

Occasionally the vet needs to file or “float” the high spots to give the horse a fuller flat surface for chewing.

Our horses were mildly sedated to minimize stress during the procedure and allows the veterinary team to focus more on the inside of the mouth and less on the thousand pounds of unpredictable equine energy attached to it.

We were happy to learn that none of the horses’ teeth were in terrible shape. There were some other sore spots and understandable aging evidence, but nothing requiring additional treatment.

When the work is done and the speculum comes off, the horses are kept in the stalls for a couple of hours to nap until the sedative has worn off.

I was happy for the sedation because Light became very agitated when we got her into a stall, even though she was now inside with all the others. Luckily, she didn’t balk about stepping in there, but once inside, she became very unsettled. I wondered if it might be a Post Traumatic Stress memory of the life circumstances from which she was rescued.

The horses had a very interesting day because I brought out the big tractor with the brush cutter earlier to mow the high grass around the perimeter of the paddocks and along the edges of the pastures. They showed a healthy curiosity about the big machine and my activities, as well as an attraction to the areas freshly cut.

It is our hope that their newly floated teeth will make both their grazing in the fields and chomping the feed pellets easier and more comfortable for them. I also hope the sedation will have left them with little memory of the indignities to which they were subjected.

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Precious Sight

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We are so lucky to have these beautiful horses living with us. It’s been a month and a half since they arrived and each day brings them a little bit closer to recognizing us as well-intentioned caregivers. Seeing the four of them quietly grazing together without any fuss is a precious sight.

Just the change from how they originally stood well out of reach when we showed up at the fence to now greeting us with their heads over the top board to smell our breath and accept some touch when we arrive is such a demonstration of their increased comfort.

We’ve taken to temporarily closing gates between pairs during the times we set out feed pans to minimize food related interaction among them, but immediately after open all the gates to allow total freedom of movement. They don’t always regroup and wander off together as a foursome, but when they do, it warms our hearts.

A much less precious sight was discovered upon our return from the lake on Monday. The little pine tree that we transplanted on the rainy Thursday before heading north looked thirsty, with the sprouts of new growth all sadly toppled over. As I was watering it, I suddenly noticed there were two branches smothered with caterpillars that were devouring the older needles.

An internet search revealed these to likely be larvae of the sawfly. The dang things have denuded the upper half of the tree.

If this little pine survives I will be very impressed. We yanked it out of the ground just as it was sprouting new growth, we let it get too dry in its new location, and then it gets infested with needle-eating bugs.

Maybe it will make a good “Charlie Brown Christmas tree” next year.

That could actually turn out to be a precious sight… at least, for fans of that classic 1965 animated television special.

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Written by johnwhays

June 2, 2021 at 6:00 am

Mostly Calm

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Life for our new horses has settled noticeably into a mostly calm satisfaction with their situation. I think enough days have passed that they are getting the sense these fields are theirs to graze and we are looking after their best interests.

Yesterday morning the temperature tip-toed around the freezing point but the clear sunshine warmed things quickly. The herd was serene and polite as I set out pans of their feed rations, which is an improvement over previous occasions. Mix is the mare who has shown the most aggressive outbursts when food service is pending, but we have taken to adding a temporarily closed gate to discourage unnecessary rambunctiousness.

It appears to be helping.

After dinner last night, Cyndie and I walked out to spend time with the herd. They were mostly over the hill out on the hayfield but Mix always shows a keen awareness of our presence and suddenly bolted into a sprint toward us. Cyndie stood tall but at the last minute repositioned just enough to assure Mix wouldn’t just run her over. The mare slowed a bit, avoiding Cyndie, and continued on toward me a few yards beyond. She stopped a few feet away from me as I gestured my desired boundary.

Then Mix closed the distance to bring her nose up to mine. It feels like such a special sign when a horse-human relationship begins to happen. In general, these four rescues have been slow to show much love for us. They haven’t even shown a lot of love for each other.

Earlier, around mid-day, I found Swings and Mix relaxing together in such close proximity to each other that it is hard to imagine it as revealing anything but a mutually nurturing relationship displayed.

Every time I see the horses allowing others to get in their space without feeling a need to put their ears back to signal dissatisfaction is an encouraging sign. We are seeing enough progress toward this calm coexistence among the herd and between them and us that our hopes are high for achieving our desires of helping them live out their time with us as healthily and happily as possible.

In the meantime, mostly calm is a welcome start.

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Written by johnwhays

May 8, 2021 at 8:59 am

Today’s Lesson

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Today, Cyndie and I are trying to process what lesson we might learn from the ultimate demise of our entire brood of 14 chickens over a span of two weeks when previous years have allowed us so much more time. Whether the most likely threat was coyotes or possibly hawks, we feel completely outsmarted and helpless against these forces of nature.

Yesterday, when the last four birds were taken from us, a leftover pile of feathers in the middle of our back yard, just steps away from where I was obliviously lounging on a recliner beside the fireplace, provided a particularly harsh stab of our inability to protect them.

Should we have changed something about our routine after the first attack? After the second?

It’s a moot point now. Except, there remains the probability we won’t give up trying. After the second attack, Cyndie decided to order an incubator to hatch some of our own eggs. If predators are going to keep taking our birds, we might end up just raising even more.

Evidence pointed to the latest attack playing out in uncomfortably close proximity to the horses whom we are striving to make feel safe and welcome. For now, our focus of attention shifts much more in their direction.

They provide both solace and distraction from our grief over the decimation of the chickens. We are learning how to frame our recent experience losing chickens and trying to soothe the angst of relocated rescue Thoroughbreds.

It may be today’s lesson, but I sense it is going to take a lot more time than a single day to fully absorb.

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Written by johnwhays

April 25, 2021 at 9:39 am

Racing Memories

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On their second day with us, the horses showed another side of themselves. After they had their morning feed, Cyndie sat with them as they took some naps and generally lounged around the paddock.

There weren’t many signs they were having any trouble with the amount of green grass available in the paddock, and areas that hadn’t been munched yet were dwindling fast. They had already communicated interest in getting onto the back pasture by demonstrably posing at the gate, staring into the field longingly, so we decided to open the gate.

We anticipated the possibility they might frolic into the field with enthusiasm, since our previous herd of Arabians often did, but we had no idea how much of a transformation back into racehorses we would witness.

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They raced hard around the perimeter and then raced back into the paddock so they could race out again and take another lap. They raced so much they worked up a sweat that they then tried to wipe off by rolling on the ground. Then they raced some more. The video above was the third blast of about five, broken up with pauses to roll or go get a drink.

It was thrilling to witness how they came to life and appeared to revel in the freedom to go full speed again for a little while and to stop whenever they wanted. It was also a little bit scary to stand somewhat exposed to the thundering herd when neither we nor they knew for sure where they were going to go next.

By the time my sister, Judy, and husband, Scott, stopped by to visit, the horses had calmed considerably. When we opened the gate a second time to let them see some of the excitement, the entrance was entirely subdued in comparison. I suspect the mares may be feeling their age. I worry about the body stiffness they might be feeling this morning.

Taking extra caution while we are getting to know each other, Cyndie responded to Mix’s invitation for a little post-workout brushing by reaching from our side of the gate.

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She turned around so Cyndie could get her neck, too. None of the other three have shown more than the briefest of interest in being touched by us yet.

They have shown total acceptance of the chickens, who are slowly closing the distance of proximity with the new tenants.

Since the mares seem to remember how to race, we are confident they remember how good it feels to be groomed, too. It gives us plenty to work with as we slowly, but surely, warm up to each other evermore.

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Written by johnwhays

April 19, 2021 at 6:00 am

Settling In

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Despite innumerable projects that deserve our attention this time of year, we preserved much of the day yesterday for just being with the horses. We continue to gain insight into the significant difference between these horses who have been rescued from a variety of situations and histories, and the four pampered Arabians who lived with us previously.

As we were sitting in chairs beside a gate to the large paddock mid-morning, the four mares were finding themselves inclined toward taking a nap. A real lying down nap. All four at the same time.

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A short while later, since naps on the ground tend to only last about 5-minutes, they remained spread out and took to calmly grazing where they stood.

Slowly, but surely, Light made her way toward my feet at the gate, closing the distance by halves, then inch by inch as she munched. I purposely left my boot where it was, protruding beneath the gate in the direct path of grass she was working.

 

When she got to my boot, she pressed it gently, as if to make a connection with me. Then she just kept on munching grass just beyond it.

There has been very little drama between the mares, but as they crowd around the overhang when we are about to set out feed, we’ve seen Mix get a little testy with those around her. We’ve also noticed Swings having some bouts of anxiety that cause her to pace back and forth in one specific spot near the first gate they entered.

We watched as Light appeared to intervene one time to help interrupt the routine, getting Swings to break the pacing and walk calmly away with her. 

Cyndie reported this morning there is already a worn path along that fence that is beginning to get muddy.

We have been a little concerned about how much newly greening grass was available to them in the paddocks, but their digestive systems appear to be handling it thus far. Yesterday we dumped the inaugural wheelbarrow load of manure into the compost area. Cyndie and I embarrassingly held a small celebratory moment over the occasion.

Rocky showed up soon after to start scratching into it, knocking down the nice shape I had created.

Elysa and Ande stopped by to greet the horses and then I successfully installed the pump in our landscape pond to restart the soothing sounds of the falling water.

With that chore completed, I feel justified to now spend even more time helping our horses get comfortable with us and their new surroundings. The grass in the paddocks is already grazed to such an extent we are considering opening the gate to the back pasture for them this afternoon.

They’ve already demonstrated interest several times by standing at that very gate and ogling the greenery spread out before them.

I am happy to be able to say we are all settling in nicely to our new, mutually beneficial relationships.

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Written by johnwhays

April 18, 2021 at 9:36 am

Horses Again

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It was a little before noon when the truck and trailer rolled up our driveway with our new herd of four Thoroughbred mares: Light, Mix, Mia, and Swings. Their names being remnants of the longer versions the racing industry dreams up for their potential champions.

Zodiacal Light (18); Pleasant Mix (17); The Yellow Sheet [Momma Mia] (21); Gate Swinger (26).

From the sound of banging coming from inside the trailer before it even stopped rolling, we got the impression the horses weren’t entirely happy with the situation. That attitude changed swiftly upon their assessment of the paddocks. 

We wanted nothing more than to have them know this is their new home where they could relax and forget all their worries.

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It seemed as though the sky came alive with energy in a reflection of how exciting it was to have horses back on our land. We felt great joy when they rather quickly took turns laying down which offers a clear demonstration of their comfort level with the surroundings.

The chickens appeared to be a new phenomenon to the horses and garnered a fair amount of attention throughout the day, but just in terms of curious interest as opposed to concern over any possible threat.

We aren’t aware of there being a commanding leader at this point among the four mares, but early impressions indicate a willingness to follow Light when she initiates a relocation to different space. She put on a brief show of alerting on the chickens while the others were grazing. Focusing with her head high as the hens rustled in the leaves among the trees, Light rushed up to the fence to get a closer look, then ran back down with the others, still staring. 

It wasn’t that big a deal, except that she repeated the exercise about three times.

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There was only a minor hesitation about drinking from the automatic waterer for all of the horses except Swings, who struggled mightily to convince herself it would be okay. She would bring her head down close, but then give in to nerves and pull away. Finally, it seemed she had become so thirsty she needed to force herself to push through the hesitation. After about a minute of lip smacking, tongue in and out, inches away “I will, I won’t” behaviors, she just shoved her muzzle into the refreshing goodness and took one of the longest drinks ever.

Putting out feed pans in the evening was a fresh adventure. We were so used to a simple routine with our other horses, it was eye opening to realize this was a whole new ball game. They didn’t know where to go, we didn’t know where to put the pans.

Two horses are supposed to get larger servings than the others, but of course, all four quickly engaged in the circus routine of snitching bites from one pan and then moving to push someone off another which kicks off a domino effect of rearranging.

Add in a couple of spontaneous emergency response drills and it becomes impossible to know who has eaten what. The servings this morning weren’t much different. It will be a while before we all figure out an efficient routine.

As dusk settled in last night, the four horses seemed settled enough for the amount of excitement the day had brought them.

I think it brought even more excitement for us. It is incredibly precious to have horses here again.

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Written by johnwhays

April 17, 2021 at 9:08 am

Lots Happening

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A lot of things are happening all at once for Cyndie and me this week. Yesterday, Cyndie got her first COVID vaccine shot. I have an appointment for tomorrow. Cyndie said she was so happy to be receiving the shot, her greetings were overly loud and friendly to the staff, despite her conscious attempts to calm down. As she tells it, one of her replies to a query came out sounding like Tony the Tiger.

“Grrrreat!”

It may have simply been her unbridled glee, but she said it was the most painless shot she has ever received.

I was a little distracted yesterday with thoughts of my annual week of biking and camping with the Tour of Minnesota bike tour. After a one-year hiatus due to the pandemic, this year’s ride is going to happen and registration opened yesterday. It will be a compelling reason to get me back on the bike again this spring.

I let the entire riding season pass last year without bringing either of my bikes down off their hooks in the shop. I don’t want to go another year without riding. I might forget how.

Of course, I’m writing all that to try to imply I’m not totally thinking about new horses we are hoping will come to spend the summer on our fields. Yesterday, Cyndie spoke with our renter and settled the issue of our fields no longer being available for cutting hay this year. That removed one last concern we had about potential conflicts to this actually happening.

When I received a text yesterday from Cyndie with an image of what she bought from the feed store during an errand to pick up some chicken food, I knew the horses were even more of a sure thing. Somehow, horse treats and mineral blocks made their way into the back of Cyndie’s car along with the sack of chicken kibble.

Founded in 2012, This Old Horse is a private, volunteer-based 501(c)3 nonprofit organization whose mission is to support and serve horses while they continue to serve as ambassadors to the positive effect of “horse power” in the lives of people.​

We received a wonderful introduction to the planned horses from our new partner, This Old Horse.

Photos provided by This Old Horse

Four retired Thoroughbred mares who did some racing early in life and then went on to be broodmares. My intuition tells me they will be a perfect fit for our place. That has me thoroughly (pun intended) energized to bring this plan to fruition.

Somehow, I’ll get around to thinking about biking, too, but I bet while I’m biking I will be thinking about these horses.

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Written by johnwhays

March 25, 2021 at 6:00 am

In Motion

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In a matter of just a few days, a decision to take the next step toward inquiring on the possibility of offering our fields to a horse rescue organization set in motion a series of steps that has us surprisingly close to having horses back on our Wintervale pastures much sooner than we imagined possible. They are very interested in adding us to their existing locations providing summer grazing space for their rescues.

It is happening so fast that Cyndie and I are finding ourselves dizzied over the mixture of glee and cautiousness washing over us all at once. We are thrilled over the vision of horses grazing our land again, but we need to get ahold of our renter and alert him of the loss of access to our fields for his hay. There are gates to reinstall and the automatic waterer needs to be turned back on and checked out. The electric fence hasn’t been turned on in a couple of years and will need some maintenance to restore proper operation.

I know what I will be working on this weekend.

We have already been given a preview of four Thoroughbreds that are being considered for transfer to our place. They are all mares that range in age from 15 to 26. Interestingly, they all have a hint of familiarity with the four Arabians that were our first Wintervale herd that came to us in the fall of 2013.

I’m obviously holding back on announcing this as official and providing a proper full introduction, but it’s such powerful news that I couldn’t stop myself from sharing at least this sneak preview rumor.

Now you will have read it on the internet, so it must be true.

I’ll share more detail as the situation develops. Probably tomorrow. How will I be able to write about anything else while this excitement is unfolding right before our eyes?

Where did I leave my compost-turning pitchfork?

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Written by johnwhays

March 24, 2021 at 6:00 am