Saturday, January 23, 2010

Arabian Horses Attacked in Pinon Hills, California

Some time during the night of January 21st someone scaled our five foot fence and went after at least two of my horses with scissors or a similar cutting instrument. Our property is completely fenced and secured with a locked gate at all times. This happened between the hours of 7:30 pm 1/21 and 7:30 am 1/22 during a Winter storm.

My 25 year old grey gelding had his tail hacked off at the tailbone, a beautiful tail that dragged on the ground taking years to grow, and his mane was chopped off to a couple of inches when it was originally 8-10 inches long.

These vandals also tried to hack off my 12 year old black gelding's tail, which was done up in a tail wrap and now just hangs by a few strands of hair. They also chopped off the black horse's forelock and tried to get his mane. There are two places missing in the mane, but he apparently broke away from them and could not be caught again.

Fortunately, they could not catch my bay mare or my bay gelding to mutilate them.

All of the hair hacked off these horses was left behind strewn on the ground, except the grey horse's tail. That was taken as a "souvenir".

Both horses are Regionally titled and National Championship quality show horses who are now rendered unable to be presented in the show ring until their appearance can be restored through months of hair growth. This is resulting in a tremendous monetary loss in addition to the obvious loss of security in our own home and coming with that an intense feeling of helplessness in keeping our horses safe and secure.

As a result of this crime, the Sheriff's Department was called, a report was taken and an investigation has begun. All leads will be aggressively pursued.

We believe this to have been a deliberate act of violence and not a random act of mischief. Nothing was stolen or missing, nothing else was disturbed.

Photographs will be posted as soon as we are able.

Keep your horses safe.


Friday, January 22, 2010

Just Checking In!!

Thought I would drop in and post a quick hello ~ things are hectic around here, not to mention swamped (literally!) as we get ready for the show season to begin. We are all really excited about 2010 and the promise this year holds.

Thank you to all who have been so supportive, there are so many of you and I am so thankful. What a wonderful thing to know my words have a profound effect on such a broad spectrum and the numbers who read here daily...well, when there is a daily post. :)

I promise to be back every day with a new post, or as close as I can manage during our always busy show season, soon. There is just so much preparation, not to mention so much clipping, to do it takes up an incredible amount of my time. Inclement weather? No problem! Clean show tack and show clothes! The list goes on...

Have a great weekend!! :) :)


Sunday, January 10, 2010

On To Bigger And Better Things...

...well, for now at least. And I had been doing SO well!

As you may or may not have noticed, I missed putting up a blog post for yesterday. And a couple of days before that, I only put up a quickie post to keep up with having a post for every day. Now, I do have a ton of post topics I want to cover and many are already written, just waiting there to bring to you all.

However, things are just getting so hectic around here with the impending start of the show season coupled with all of my club and committee commitments that I just do not have the time right now to devote to making sure I get this blog updated every day. So, I have decided to go on a little bit of a hiatus, without having to be concerned about the blog and therefore making things easier on myself.

Make no mistake and mark my words, I will be back. :) I just need to concentrate on making sure we have horses and riders/handlers ready to set foot in the show ring by the end of this month along with everything else on my plate with the local Equestrian Subcommittee on Parks, the ETI Corral and the Arabian Horse Association affiliate club along with the other two organizations I am involved with.

Until then, may your lives prosper and may all your rides be National Championship quality!!


Friday, January 8, 2010

Planning Your Dream Ranch

We all pretty much have in our minds the horse facility of our dreams. When we imagine our ideal ranch, we know what we want, we know what it looks like. But how best to develop your imagined fairy tale farm?

Okay, let's assume you already have the deed to that property (after meticulously ensuring that you've bought a piece of land well suited for your purposes). Your search complete, papers signed, a loan secured and now you are ready to begin building. You thought the acquisition was the hard part!

For me, safety and convenience are of paramount importance and I take into consideration how best to utilize the entire property, too. If there is an existing home or other structure(s), the challenges increase. Deciding where your barn, arena, turnout paddocks and other amenities should be all relate back to those two factors mentioned above.

First, safety. I want decent latches on stall doors, I prefer v-mesh or welded wire panels on my pipe paddocks for mares with foals, I do not like chain link fencing used as an enclosure for horses and the footing must be decent (excavation may be necessary before bringing in soil or sand for your arena). Another thing to think about is drainage... including for your wash rack.

When it rains it sometimes pours and you want to be prepared for potential flooding. This means taking a good look at how your property sits and determining the route water takes across the landscape. I've seen barn aisles with tiny rivers running through them and pipe corrals with several inches of standing water during and after a rain storm where it was necessary to wade out in rubber boots to dig trenches so the puddles can be drained. Not fun, especially during the storm itself.

Another point to keep in mind will be convenience. For instance, the proximity of your arena to where your horses reside, and more important how close your feed room is to your horses.

Also, my preference is sliding stall doors as opposed to those of the Dutch variety, which can present a hazard when they're left standing open into the barn aisle (so that one can be classified under safety and convenience both). Having at least one set of cross ties, preferably two, is another major convenient point and should be in lose proximity of the tack room.

There are literally millions of ways in which to build your dream ranch. Taking the time to lay out what you want, where you want it in the beginning saved an awful lot of headaches later.

Once you get that far, congratulations!


Thursday, January 7, 2010

Tonight, Tonight, Tonight

No, I am not channeling Phil Collins or Genesis, it simply sounded catchy. :) Long day today and I have been working on several new topics but have not had the chance to get around to finishing them. So, in the spirit of still trying to get a post up every day ~ silly, I know ~ here you go. A post!! For today!! ;)

Upcoming in the works are discussions on planning your "dream facility"; tips on barn building/design and tack room sheds; more on equipment and it's usage; additional tips on both horse shows and much more. As always, feel free to email me at your questions and comments you don't want posted on the blog itself.

Until tomorrow...


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Geriatric Ward: What To Do With Your Old Timers And Thinking About End Of Life Options

This is a topic we all have to face sooner or later when we have horses and it's twofold: What to do with those who need to be retired for whatever reason, and when to make the horribly painful decision to lay our beloved equine companions to rest.

All horses age, and most of us find ourselves faced with the reality sooner or later that we've got to make a determination when to retire our faithful mounts. With some, it's fairly obvious as health or soundness issues begin to plague them. When lamenesses become chronic you know you have been delinquent in giving that hard working steed a much deserved rest.

This is something I fear I will be facing within the next few years, though my own aged gelding is still sound, healthy and looks far younger than his birthyear suggests. A few years back I even sought out the folks at Guardian Aftercare (pet cremation service) during Equine Affair and spoke with the local animal cemetery about costs and logistics as well.

My fondest wish is to be able to retire my favorite old man to a beautiful, lush pasture when he chooses his time someday. Looking out my front window to see that lovely, spry old grey horse does, however, lend me hope that such a time is a long ways off. With a good diet and the very best of care, he looks like a horse far younger. On his 20th birthday we showed him at a local open competition and, upon placing him first in the Hunter Hack class, I told our judge it was a fitting tribute for that milestone. Her jaw dropped! I know for sure it is not a decision I will take lightly or enjoy making.

What are your equine retirement options? Ideally, most would choose the perfect pasture solution, without a doubt. But those choices can be limited both by where you live or your budget. If you are located (or know someone who lives) in a well irrigated region with the optimum climate for seeding and growing pasture land, you have it made - as long as you can afford the water bill. When you reside in an arid desert with little rainfall, such costs are astronomical. That leaves the stalling or dry lot option, which certainly can be suitable, if not optimum. As long as your horse is happy and remains healthy, with enough exercise, excellent feed and all other needs met, there is nothing wrong with such an arrangement.

Now that brings us to when we need to say goodbye. Doubtless there are instances where the time is near and others where the quality of life deteriorates suddenly, leaving us shell shocked. Far too often I have had to either make that decision myself or counsel a client on what is best for our four legged friends, but it never gets any easier... and over the course of nearly forty years I have only personally had to be in those shoes four times for horses of my own, and it was still too frequently.

Probably the best thing we can do is be prepared. However, no matter how much preparation we do, nothing will make some things easier.

Go hug your horses today. They deserve it.


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

People Who Cry "Auction" Or "Kill" When Trying To Dump Horses

This is a MAJOR pet peeve of mine. Play on my emotions just because I love horses and you're going to get two things you surely do not want ~ an earful from me, and quite the verbal (or virtual) beating from a mob of angry equine enthusiasts.

We all know how bad the economy is (I've written about this before) and it's predicted to only get worse. I have been personally offered several dozen free horses, but have only brought home one because I know my limits, even though there have been some really tempting offers recently that I'm still on the fence about.

All of the above, along with the fact that the vast majority of rescues are full up and lacking in donor resources, still in my mind does not give people the right to perpetrate this nefarious ploy upon the public.

I have to wonder, what is it people think when they acquire a horse. They're large. They take up a lot of space. They eat a lot. Didn't it occur to you that upkeep would be expensive?? I mean seriously. Yet every day I am deluged with emails, messages and folks I encounter out and about during my day that seemingly had no idea of the commitment a horse was when they bought it. Hello?! they don't follow you home like a stray dog! You had to see to it someone with a truck and trailer brought the horse to you.

Let me recount a tale from several years ago. One morning, a young gentleman showed up and asked if he could bring a couple of two year old Thoroughbreds over for me to do an evaluation of and give him an honest idea of the cost he'd be looking at to have them trained under saddle. I said sure, knock yourself out. He struck me as a relative novice even though he professed to have grown up on a horse ranch out West here somewhere.

By the next afternoon I hadn't heard from him and assumed he had held off for whatever reason, perhaps the fact these horses were just babies. But later on, while I was out in the arena giving a riding lesson on that cold, blustery early December day up drove a neighbor in his Jeep mentioning that a dark colored horse, still tacked up, frantic and covered in sweat had shown up to his back fence calling to his gelding. He wondered if we might know the horse or who it belonged to. None of us recognized the horse.

This could only mean one thing: Someone had been out riding, and somehow the horse had gotten away, meaning it was very likely there could be an injured rider out alone on the trail somewhere. We sprang into action after my lesson wrapped up, with one party calling animal control about the mysterious horse, another contacting area hospitals and several of us either on foot, on horseback ourselves or in a vehicle heading out to trace back the horse's hoofprints. Those of us out on the search came up empty, thought we learned that it had been a husband and wife out for a trail ride on two young, very green horses. The wife's horse spooked and she came off, becoming injured. When he dismounted to assist his wife who had hit her head and was critically injured, the husband's horse also spooked and took off in a different direction (which explained why only one horse showed up at our neighbor's house and how come animal control located the second horse several miles away).

It turns out the wife was airlifted to Loma Linda University Medical Center's trauma unit ~ as a very sad aside, we later learned that night the helicopter, Mercy Air 2, crashed on the return flight killing the entire crew on a foggy hillside in the Cajon Pass near Interstate 15.

Fast forward about two and a half weeks later. That same young gentleman who had been interested in training for his Thoroughbreds stopped by again, only this time to drop off a flyer declaring ten or so mostly young, green horses for sale. It had been his wife injured in that above-mentioned accident. Upon recovering, she demanded every horse be sold and they desired to move across country. Now, I cannot blame her for being terrified of getting on a (young, green) horse again after her ordeal, however it was indeed largely their own fault such an accident happened and it seemed to me those horses were likely to suffer in her haste to be rid of them.

Two days after being presented with that sale flyer, I was on my way back from town early in the morning on a donut and coffee run when I noticed a young bay Thoroughbred gelding pacing a neighbor's fence line ~ a neighbor who no longer owned horses. Most notable about the poor horse was a horrific injury to his upper right foreleg, literally torn to the bone with bleeding flesh hanging from his chest nearly to his knee. I raced back to the ranch, told everyone about him and requested assistance in trying to find the owner. I grabbed a halter and my daughter and I quickly headed back over to the horse.

He was frantically pacing and I could not get near him for some time, when another neighbor woman stopped by to find out what was going on. It took some time, but my daughter and I were finally able to catch and halter him to get a better look at his gruesome injury. It turned out that the property owners where the horse was at were away on vacation (just after Christmas, after all) and the horse's owner was still MIA. Someone along the way called animal control about an injured, loose or "stray" horse. What a sweet, sweet boy he was.

Finally after another hour or so, a black Dodge truck drove up amidst the fuss and the young man who owned the horse came forward. You guessed it, same guy.

According to him, there had been a ruckus before dawn with the horses, and they heard a giant crash. He claimed to have gone outside to check and declared everything fine, going back to bed. It wasn't until going back out to feed several hours later in daylight that he noticed the damaged fence and a missing horse.

He didn't have the money for a vet call, so he offered to sign the horse over to this day, I still have that document that "John" hastily wrote up and placed his signature on. However, there were several monkey wrenches in the plan to move the horse and notify my vet ~ first, the neighbor woman who was taking care of the property where the horse was did not want anyone to do anything or even treat the horse in any way until animal control arrived to asses the situation; and second, an animal control officer (with zero equine experience) arrived in the meanwhile, but she had called her supervisor to come take a look, who was nearly two hours away in another part of this vast County. I had contacted a friend who runs a local rescue to come help, I had brought my truck and trailer over and we were prepared to load and transport the horse to the equine hospital. We were barred by AC from administering any medication to alleviate the horse's pain until the supervisor got there, so that poor animal had to endure what must have been terrible pain for hours.

At nearly noon, the AC supervisor finally showed up and just as her subordinate had earlier, she advised me not to take the horse, that it should simply be euthanized and that it was the responsibility of the horse's legal owner to handle and pay for. Because he insisted he had no funds to do so being post Christmas, and they went round and round as my daughter and I tried to soothe the horse as best we could.

That was one of the most frustrating, awful days of my life. In the end, an acquaintance of the owner was called in to shoot this beautiful young gelding, ultimately putting him out of his misery at long last. I still shed tears on occasion when I think of the gallant young bay horse with no name whom my daughter christened Bold Star, who braved hours and hours of dreadful pain because of the stupidity of humans, made worse because those humans spent much of their time bickering as opposed to doing something to actually help the horse.

Later that same day, a local horsetrader showed up to load and haul the rest of the irresponsible couple's horses away, bound for the same low-end auction they came from in the first place with little chance to go to real homes. Nearly all of them went to places we'd rather not imagine. Ignorance, arrogance and the ineptitude of these people caused their horses immeasurable agony.

I hate people sometimes, I really do. RIP, beautiful Bold Star.

End rant.


Monday, January 4, 2010

How Else To Play The Horse Show Game ~ Alternatives To AHA

Make no mistake, today I am indeed editorializing. My blog, my thoughts. :) As such, I will once again be predominantly addressing the Arabian show ring and today it's about alternatives to competing at AHA approved venues, since that is my main breed of interest. Don't get me wrong, I love my breed and have had success in that show ring for more than three decades now, and you can be sure we will continue to patronize AHA events ~ but there are other ways to enjoy these horses.

For background on this topic, look to a general unhappiness many exhibitors feel with AHA in general; from judging, to rules, to the excessive cost of competing, to the COI (conflict of interest) which often seems to be inherent and even expected. All of these issues have led to a mass exodus from our show ring, though an awful lot of folks are still interested in showing their horses. They simply would like to do so in a place where they feel fair play and a level playing field are a reality.

Of course, you can always stick with your local equestrian organizations and show in their open events, which generally welcome all breeds but are frequently not considered "Arabian friendly". There is no reason on Earth you cannot be competitive ~ we have done so for many years, converting dozens of exhibitors and spectators alike to the Arabian horse. Being such an ambassador does carry with it a heavy responsibility, however. I have always believed that bringing beautiful, well conditioned, well trained, well schooled, well prepared and well presented horses to a show can make a lasting positive impression on the non-Arabian admiring public.

I start all my beginner students, my green and inexperienced horses as well as new horse/rider pairs at the open or schooling show level. Here is my thinking ~ horse shows cost a lot of money. Most horse owners are not made of money. When there is a question of how a horse may behave in a show environment with other horses in the ring, or if a rider is just not ready for the big leagues, I cannot in good conscience request that anyone pay huge, cubic dollars to attend a large rated horse show. While there are never any guarantees on how well any horse or rider is going to do against any given competition, why take chances? With someone else's money, I most certainly will not.

For those not necessarily jaded with AHA itself, you can also go the Arabian Community Show route. These shows were designed to be a low-key, fun and relaxed way to show Arabian horses against each other with out the cost or cutthroat competition of an "A" rated show. We have been participating on this level since 2006, in addition to the open shows, and we have thoroughly enjoyed our venture into that venue. They allow exhibitors to compete against horses which are often of a quality similar to those you will be up against on the tougher "A" circuit, without breaking the bank.

But what if you're used to competing at a higher level and consider everything else beneath you? In that case, there are other alternatives you may find suitable. For Dressage riders, there are open events sanctioned by the USDF (United States Dressage Federation) which are held across the country in most every state and region. The same goes for Hunters, Jumpers, Eventing, Reining, Cutting and Carriage Driving, where breed makes little or no difference. If Western pleasure is your pleasure, there are open events catering to that division, and if Saddleseat classes are more your up of tea, you can look into both the Renai Horse Registry (started for the purposes of promoting the Arabian/Dutch Harness Horse crosses as flat saddle horses ~ like the National Show Horse Registry was created for promoting Arabian/Saddlebred crosses as English horses ~ but which hold classes for Arabian horses, among other breeds) and the Show Horse Alliance, begun by the NSH Registry for horses other than those with Arabian and Saddlebred blood.

Here is the bottom line: These alternatives are out there if you seek them out and they're generally quite fun. You'll meet different people who will give you a fresh perspective. All in good fun, and in the spirit of good sportsmanship (and good horsemanship)!


Sunday, January 3, 2010

Halterbreaking and Weaning

As foaling season approaches, a commonly heard inquiry among horse owners, especially those expecting their first new foal, is, “When should I get that baby used to a halter?” My own personal answer has always been, “Immediately!”

Long before the term “imprint training” became household words and such words were ever widely used to describe the process, there were those of us who simply believed that the sooner you get your colts and fillies accustomed to being handled all over and wearing that halter, the easier it would be to progress later on with their schooling and, eventually, their under saddle training.

Getting the newborn foal used to a halter as soon as possible is just plain good common sense, and it’s simply the most stress-free way to begin a lifetime of education. You must make sure the halter fits properly ~ these days most feed stores even carry tiny halters, some of which are designed for miniature horses, but they’ll fit babies just fine. Get one that’s just a little bit too big, to make sure there’s growing room, but you don’t want the baby to be able to slip out of it. They learn fast, and that’s a sure fire way to teach your foal how to get away from you. Definitely not something you want him to learn!

I have always been a firm believer in handling foals a lot from day one. They grow in a hurry and within a couple of weeks, you may not be able to hold on to him. Learning to accept human hands is a fact of life, and the sooner he learns to live with it, the better. Many times I have had to deal with weanlings (some of who were approaching a full year of age!) who have never been touched ~ or merely had as much handling as was required for basic veterinary needs. An awful lot of them hadn’t ever been wormed, hadn’t had any shots and had never even had their feet trimmed.

The process of “halter breaking” takes on a whole new meaning if you allow a foal to grow too much before you handle him. It can take weeks, sometimes months, to get close enough to even touch a foal who’s been allowed to “grow up naturally”. I don’t recommend it. At that rate, he might weigh 500 pounds by the time you can actually get that halter on him. I’ve had to build specially designed catch pens and even catch chutes in which to feed youngsters who didn’t know what the touch of a human felt like. Once they were safely in the pen or chute, I would have to work to get them used to my presence without the fighting the confinement or trying to run away. That’s certainly not the best way to teach them to trust us humans.

Since many mares are already overprotective of their babies, handling them early is the only way to build trust. It’s also easier by far to introduce your your young horse to his farrier and veterinarian (if you should need one for an emergency) if he’s already used to being handled and can be lead safely with a halter.

I want each of my foals to be completely used to being touched all over, having their feet picked up and being groomed on a regular basis (preferably every day) by the time they reach one month of age. By six to eight weeks they should know how to lead easily from both sides and be ready to learn the basics of longeing. Now, by that I don’t mean you should expect to take your babies out and truly longe them on the end of a longe line at a gallop, but I do want them to know how to walk in a circle around me both ways and to fully understand what “Whoa!” means. I also want to be able to walk all the way around them in each direction without them moving.

Teaching a foal “Whoa!” doesn’t need to be a big deal, but it is an essential basic all horses must know. Never make a major production out of anything insubordinate he may do. If you want him to stand still while you walk around him, tell him “Whoa!” in a firm yet gentle voice. If he moves, even if it’s only one small step, gently move him back to where he originally was and tell him “Whoa!” again, your voice more firm this time, and give a tiny gentle tug downward on the lead rope to further illustrate your point. After this exercise becomes routine, he will begin to understand the concept. Then, when you’re teaching him to “longe” around you with his lead rope on, he will understand that when you say “Whoa!”, that means stop. Remember, repetition is the key to training any animal, and horses are no different.

The reason for his learning to lead from both sides (rather than just getting used to you being on his left, which is the side we traditionally lead from) is simple: We’re going to be teaching him how to longe from both sides, right? We also don’t want him afraid to have us on his right side for a myriad of reasons. For instance, you may need to lead him down a narrow road or pathway where the only safe place for you to be is on his right. You wouldn’t want him to balk at being lead “wrong” and bolt into the street when a car is coming toward you in a situation such as that, would you?

As far as him learning to tie, there are many ongoing debates regarding the age when a young horse should be able to safely handle being tied. Naturally, if a foal is too young and his bone structure too immature, you can cause his neck to break by forcing him to fight the lead rope, not to mention causing him a great deal of fear and pain getting to that point. Always remember that a horse’s natural instinct is to lean into pressure ~ they have to be taught to move away from it. When you try to tie a horse who’s never been tied to anything in his life, he will instinctively pull back on the rope he’s tied with. True, he’ll eventually figure out that he can’t go anywhere and he’ll give up fighting (at least if the rope, snap or halter doesn’t break first), but he might injure himself in the process.

At age eight to nine weeks or so, after the foal is used to being lead around in his halter and lead rope, and is completely familiar with the concept of “Whoa!”, understanding that the command means to stop, I begin to teach him the basics of being tied. At first I don’t even want to attempt to secure him solidly to anything. I usually begin tying lessons in a pipe corral without any fencing on the sides.

What I do to start is loop the lead rope around a vertical post in the middle of the corral section I’ve chosen to work him on. Instead of tying the rope, I simply hold the end of it for a few minutes until he realizes he can’t walk away because he’s attached to it. In his mind, he’s now “tied” and he will almost always try to put up a little bit of a fight. I will always tell him “Whoa!” in a soft yet firm reassuring tone while he is fighting the rope, to try to get him to understand that he’s got to stand still. When he stops, I will immediately loosen up on the rope and tell him what a wonderful, smart horse he is, praising him lavishly. I’ll then re-tighten the rope to see if the situation repeats itself, which it usually will for several instances.

Generally, it only takes one lesson which lasts about twenty to thirty minutes at most for him to figure out that he’s not being hurt when he stands tied quietly, and then I’ll have a truly halter broke horse. After a few minutes, however, if he still tries to fight the rope and may either be getting too fatigued or may be in a position to hurt himself, such as putting his forelegs through the corral), I will loosen up on the lead rope, rub on him for a while and perhaps groom him to soothe his mind and let him know everything is going to be fine. In most cases, a foal will ordinarily stop fighting and accept being tied without too much further argument. Once he has stopped pulling back forcefully, you can actually tie him up (always with a quick release knot!). One critical point to remember is that you don’t want him to associate being tied with a negative experience. Reward him when he stands still and don’t prolong the session any longer than it needs to be. Less is more. You can always repeat the same steps the next day, and by then you should have a horse who’s fully broke to tie.

The other subject I want to address is when to wean your baby. Again, there are many differences of opinion on what age is best, but it really depends on several factors. One is how much of a burden the foal is putting on his mother. If the mare is getting too thin, and her baby seems to be draining her, I’ll usually begin the weaning process a little early. Many show farms wean their foals as early as three months of age, by which time the foal should be eating a good diet of hay and supplements, depending less on his dam for nutrition. Some places wait until their foals are six months or older.

Under ideal circumstances I will separate a foal from his dam at four months, which is about the median age for weaning. Another consideration that sometimes needs to be figured in is if either baby or mom is going to be shown. It is definitely a hassle to take both of them to a show prior to weaning, so I generally don’t plan on any shows for my broodmares or babies until weaning is complete.

As a matter of method, I prefer to keep the mare and foal side by side in separate corrals but near each other to avoid “separation anxiety”. After they’ve been separated, I don’t want the baby to be able to nurse any longer, and since the instinct will be very strong, I want some fencing on the paddock section between them. Generally, I will gradually try to get both mom and baby used to leaving each other for short periods of time prior to the actual weaning, progressing to longer and longer periods apart while I am working, grooming, bathing or clipping one of them, and so on. By the time I am ready to wean the baby, he doesn’t think of mom going away for a little while as being any traumatic thing ~ it’s no big deal.

Hopefully both halter breaking and weaning can be a bonding experience for you and your precious foal. These experiences will take you through his entire lifetime, and will carry over to whomever purchases him should you decide to sell him. They are the building blocks of a good, solid education, and the more pleasant these experiences are for both you and him, the easier it will be to continue to train him when he becomes old enough to begin his chosen career.

Remember what they say ~ a little goes a long way. A little bit of thinking can go a long way toward ensuring you have a healthy, happy, well adjusted foal who trusts you to treat him right and teach him the ways of the world as he grows up, whether his mom is there or not.


Saturday, January 2, 2010

Breeding: Pregnancy and Foaling

Because foaling season closely follows breeding season, and in most cases they overlap, this month we are going to explore all the intricacies and aspects of pregnancy and foaling in mares. We have already delved into the world of stallion management and other important breeding issues, thorough knowledge of which can help a whole lot of mare owners get their mares returned in foal with the least amount of effort expended by the stud farm and the least amount of money expended by the mare owner. I highly recommend following the advice and procedures presented here in those earlier installments.

Assuming, once you’ve decided to breed your mare and have chosen the right stallion (your decision, of course, based on a lot of research and tireless devotion to producing the most fantastic foal in the world!), that she actually is in foal, you will want to make sure she has the best care possible in her time of need.

Although different circumstances call for different methods, mares who are in foal should be exercised on a regular basis. I do not, however, like to see a mare get too much exercise before the first sixty (60) days of her pregnancy are behind her. After she is checked by your veterinarian...preferably by ultrasound rather than pelvic/rectal palpation...and it is confirmed that she is, indeed, in foal you can slowly start to resume a somewhat normal work program for her. For my own mares, depending on what job they do and what must be asked of them in order to perform that job, I will usually ride them until about eight weeks prior to foaling. After that I generally longe them lightly (walk and slow jog), turn them out by themselves ~ which minimizes the risk of getting kicked by another horse or similar situation which could cause the mare to abort ~ for several hours during the day or walk them (by hand or by puttting them on the hotwalker) for a short period several times each day.

Because your mare will be gaining weight, you want to be sure to keep her current on farrier visits, but I generally want shoes pulled off at least three-four weeks before the mare is due to foal so she won’t badly injure her baby if she were to step on him with her steel shoes. Just be sure to keep her feet trimmed properly to avoid unnecessary problems that will have to be corrected later, such as hooves that “pancake out”, or spread, which can sometimes cause severe cracking of the hoof wall.

Mares should always be kept on a strict deworming and vaccination schedule when in foal as well, but you must keep in close contact with your veterinarian to find out when these things should be accomplished. Worming a pregnant mare with a medication which can be toxic to her foal, or giving your mare the wrong shots at the wrong time can be dangerous. Her diet is also of utmost importance. Be careful not to overfeed, but adjust her feed according to how far along she is ~ the closer to foaling, the more you can feed her, but monitor her weight and intake constantly. It is also a good idea to discuss feeding with your vet, as he or she will be able to give you an approximate amount your mare should be consuming each day.

There are many well known “rules” about mares and foaling, such as length of gestation, being “waxed up” or dripping milk, but the only real rule is that there are no rules. We know that the average gestation period is about 340 days, but can vary widely in mares. Long has waxing (having “wax candles” ~ dried droplets of colostrum ~ hanging from the teats) been considered a sign of imminent labor and delivery. As a general rule, mares who are fully bagged, meaning their udders are full of milk and dripping milk, are going to deliver soon, but even that isn’t always the case. Some mares have been known to drip rather heavy volumes of milk for several days before actually presenting you with a baby (in which case she could be losing large quantities of colostrum which should be collected and stored to be given to the foal after he or she is born).

Within two weeks of the predicted due date, you should make sure your mare is housed in a safe, large (preferably 12’ x 24’ or larger) box stall and bedded with an adequate amount of straw. I prefer mares foaling on straw as it’s a softer cushion for the foal and it helps prohibit the respiratory problems often associated with the smaller particles found in shavings. This way, if she should decide to have her foal early you’ll be prepared. I like to keep an around the clock watch on mares when they’re getting close to their due date. You don’t necessarily need to get up every hour during the night if she’s comfortably resting, but when her behavior begins to change, that can be a pretty good indicator that her time is getting near. Remember ~ the safest foaling by far is an attended one! Also, if you have never had a mare in foal before, I strongly urge you to have either your vet or a friend who has been breeding for some time in attendance with you. Don’t try to go it alone your first time!

A distinct advantage in the area of observation is a closed-circuit television camera with the monitor set up in your house, on which you can keep a close eye on her without having to leave the comfort of your cozy home just to see that she’s sleeping peacefully. Equally as good is having an observation area next to her stall, or an adequate foaling location next to her bedroom window (I have done this before!). There have been mares who I’ve watched religiously for two solid weeks that have foaled behind my back the second I went into the house to get a Kleenex! Lesson learned ~ keep facial tissue and anything else you might need out at the barn when she’s getting close, or you might miss the miracle of birth! Many mares will begin to get restless and pace their stalls, go off their feed and so on, when they’re getting ready to deliver. Unless your mare is a maiden (meaning she’s never had a foal before ~ in which case do your best guesswork!) you should become familiar with her regular routine and how it may change around foaling time.

As parturition (the clinical term for foaling) approaches, be sure to contact your veterinarian and make certain he/she will be available if there is a problem with the delivery. Generally, the foal will reposition itself, or “turn”, in the last four to six hours before birth. When this occurs, your mare’s belly will appear to drop down and you can see much more movement from the baby. You should see a noticeable dropping off, or slackening, of the muscles in the mare’s rump, plus a lengthening and swelling of her vulva (a signal of dilation of the cervix) during this time. Most mares will begin to go through periods of sweating during the early stages of labor, but do not be alarmed...this is perfectly normal, and she is not in any danger.

The time between the onset of labor and presentation of the foal will include rupturing of the membranes (i.e., her “water breaks”), and can vary greatly from mare to mare. Some mares can rapidly go from the first stage of labor to the active stage (birth of the foal itself) without any warning at all, so you will need to keep constant watch over her to render any assistance necessary. Again, I highly recommend having someone with you who is experienced with foaling if you don’t have much experience yourself. A good person to contact in this instance, if you don’t have any friends who breed horses, is the stallion owner or breeding manager from the farm that stands your new baby’s sire. They are usually more than happy to offer any help you may need.

As the foal begins to appear through the amniotic sac, it’s forelegs should be coming out first, one in front of the other to ease the passage of the foal through the mare’s pelvic arch, with it’s tiny nose perched on top in a “diving position” as we call it. Almost immediately the foal’s little hooves (although initially covered with soft pads to avoid injuring his mama which will fall off soon after he’s born) should tear open the sac, and you should make sure his airway is clean and open so that he can start breathing on his own. With a normal, problem free delivery, the mare should be allowed to rest if she wants at different times, even if her foal isn’t all the way out yet. As you fellow mothers out there know, labor and delivery can be an exhausting experience. Just ask my husband!

When the baby has completely cleared the birth canal, do not attempt to cut the umbilical cord! This could cause the foal to lose a lot of precious blood. Once the cord has been severed naturally by the movements of either baby or mom, soak the baby’s navel stump in iodine to prevent infection, and tie up the end of the cord so your mare will avoid stepping on it, and thus, potentially tearing the placenta (afterbirth). The afterbirth may not be passed for several hours, but you want to be sure to save it for your vet to thoroughly examine to ensure that none was retained inside the mare’s uterus, which can cause severe infection.

At this point, both the mare and her newborn foal should be allowed to bond without human interference, but if the baby doesn’t appear to be breathing on it’s own, you may need to resuscitate him. This is one area I will not go into in any further detail here, but I must stress do not be unprepared for anything ~ problems CAN arise quickly. Be sure you know what can happen and what to do in the event something goes wrong!

Within the first hour or so, the foal should begin trying to stand (some try it immediately) and will start looking for his first meal. The act of a foal first attempting to stand can be a somewhat nerve-wracking experience for the first time breeder, since most foals fall down or run into walls or fences several times before they actually get the hang of balancing on their new hooves and those spindly little legs, but most of the time they’re fine and you should let nature take it’s course. When baby is ready to start eating, don’t be too concerned if he doesn’t find what he’s looking for right away. Most often, if left alone, they will do fine. It is critical, however, that the foal consume the first milk of the mare ~ the colostrum ~ as they are not born with any immunity to disease and must receive their resistance to infection from their mother. You want to make sure that the foal is drinking effectively within two hours of birth. If anything appears to be wrong, do not hesitate to call your vet right away.

Because a majority of mares foal during the late evening or in the early morning hours, I usually don’t have the vet out until the following day during regular business hours (unless there is an emergency, of course). Included in the first post-partum visit should be a thorough examination of the foal, at which time he should be given his Tetanus Antitoxin shot and an enema (to prevent retained meconium ~ the first stool of the foal). I will usually automatically administer a Fleet’s enema myself, the kind you can buy at your local drug store. Your vet should also look at the placenta (as described above) and if you are planning to re-breed your mare, you will need to discuss with him when you should do so.

Once the exhilaration of the foaling experience is behind you, it will be time to start planning your new baby’s future. Will he be a great show horse or race horse? Will he be the next superstar sire? Will he just be loved by you for his trusting nature and willingness to carry you down any trail you wish to explore? These are just a few of the reasons we breed horses in the first place. Whatever his lot in life, you can make sure he gets the best start possible by being a responsible breeder.


Friday, January 1, 2010

Good Riddance!!

Welcome to the title suggests, we are bidding good riddance to last year.

This new year begins with great hope and promise. As mentioned yesterday, we have exciting plans for a very full year. What do you have in store? Anything special?

Hopefully you had a wonderful New Year's Eve with a fun, safe celebration and lots of good cheer. We spent a quiet night at home with the family, which was very nice.

This morning sit back, have a cup of your favorite coffee, cocoa, cider or other hot drink and enjoy the beautiful Rose Parade.

Happy New Year!!

Tomorrow we are back to talking horses. :)