Thursday, April 30, 2009

Cujo, Talk to the Hoof

One of the highlights of Summer these days is the camping trips that I take on horseback. Each year, my friend Derek and I go will painstakingly plan a trip, haul our horses to some remote trailhead, and then vanish into the backcountry for three or four days. We carry only what we can fit in our saddlebags. Thusly:

Due to modern lightweight gear designed for backpackers, we are able to carry a few luxuries that were not available to the cowboys of lore. Most important amongst this gear, IMHO, is the one man tent, weighing in at a paltry 2.5 pounds. While it is akin to sleeping in a coffin, it is preferable to sleeping out in the rain. And since the weather guessers in this region are frequently wrong, we have encounterd rain on this trips.

This tale concerns a trip that was taken two summers ago, in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, an area that we had traveled before. On the second night, we set out to reach Fryingpan Lake. This is a beautiful lake, with lush green grass for the horses to graze upon, and excellent spots for setting up camp and high lining the horses.

The weather was perfect. We arrived at the lake in the early afternoon. Upon stopping to pitch camp, the first order of business is always to tend to the needs of the horses. We unsaddled and led them down to the lake. After they had drunk their fill, we hobbled them, hung a bells on thier necks (so as not to lose them!) and turned them out in the grass to eat to their hearts content.

Once the horses were settled, we pitched camp, and collected firewood. The rest of the day and evening were uneventful. This fishing was unproductive, although at least we didn't leave the worms in the trailer, as we had the year before.

After a tasty meal comprised of freeze dried Mountain House meals, and more than a few snorts of sippin whiskey, we elected to call it a night. After watering the horses one last time, and tying them up to the highline, we turned in to our respective tents, fully ready for a good nights sleep.

Around midnight, I was awakened from my slumber by a yelping noise. A lot of yelping noise. Of the kind that can only be made by members of the canine family. And it was CLOSE! From the next tent over, I heard "what the f**k?", and the horses stamping around. Coming fully awake, the situation hit me. They were being attacked! I had to get out and help them!

I challenge you to unzip a mummy bag and get out of a one man tent in a hurry. Especially when your adrenalin has kicked into overdrive. It seemed an eternity before my hand settled on the zipper pull. And of course, it was stuck. After much tugging and swearing, it finally unzipped. The next challenge was finding the tent zipper and getting it open. Another eternity passed before this was accomplished. Finally, I was free, and, flying out of the tent, I jumped into my boots, grabbed my .357 and a flashlight, and ran for toward the horses. Derek and I arrived at the highline simultaneously.

Now, it's midnight in the middle of nowhere, and here are two grown men dressed in nothing but skivvies and cowboy boots, each armed with a revolver, and ready to shoot anything that isn't horse or each other. Like a scene out of bad movie.

By this time the commotion had ended. There was no sign of intruders, but the horses were riled up and shaking. Using flashlights, we looked them over closely. They weren't hurt, only shaken up. Staying nearby to calm them, we discussed the events that had transpired. Coyotes? It seemed unlikely, but since the goverment hacks that are supposed to know these things tell us that wolves don't live in Washington anymore, it was the only logical conclusion.

Once the horses had settled down, we went back to bed. It took longer for sleep to arive this time around, but the rest of the night was peaceful.

That morning, we looked the horses over again before turning them out to eat, to ensure we had not missed any injuries. I discovered dried blood on one of Smokey's hind legs. Damn, was he hurt? Looking closer, I could find absolutely no sign of injury. This was not his blood. I called Derek over to confirm that I was not imagining things. He verified my observation. Obviously, Ol' Boy had decided to show one of those dogs exactly what he thought of having his slumber disturbed by their yammering. Score one for Smokey!

The rest of the trip passed uneventfully. We did head back to the trailer a day early, as thunderstorms started to roll in. The weather had been cooperative up to this point, and neither of us could imagine ending it by staying up all night in a thundering downpour while trying to keep the horses calm.

Of course, their was the minor problem of the alternator going out on the trip home. But that's a story for another day...

POSTSCRIPT: A month or two after this event, I was discussing it with some old timers that have been packing in on horses in those mountains longer than I've been walking on this earth. They were emphatic that it was wolves, not coyotes. They have seen wolves in those mountains on numerous occassions, and, they pointed out, coyotes don't live at that altitude (5000 ft) in this state. I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Cat Herding

Our friends have a number of barn cats. And two, possibly three of the said barn cats are with kitten(s). Seems the appointment for spaying wasn't scheduled prior to the arrival of a stray tom, who apparently had his way with a number of the feline ladies.

I'm trying to convince them that we could put our horses to a new use:

Monday, April 20, 2009

Update on Ellie

The vet stopped by to check on Ellie this afternoon. Changed the bandage, and cleaned the wound out. The fluid that is draining from the site is burning her lower leg, which caused some swelling. That was cleaned too, and is something we will have to do everyday until it stops draining.

It's going to be a long road to recovery, with plenty of stall rest. Which is too bad, as she is very barn sour. She is a beautiful horse, but her manners are atrocious, and being kept in a stall won't help that.

Thank you for all your kind thoughts.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

"Horses Are Born To Commit Suicide"

I read that once. Although, for the life of me, I cannot remember where.

No, we didn't have any horses commit suicide today. But it certainly wasn't for lack of effort.

In this post, I introduced Ellie, the newest member of our equine family. Three days after her arrival, she managed to injure the deep digital flexor tendon in her left hind leg. This has required stall rest, and wraps on her hind legs, as seen in this picture:

Over the past two weeks the leg has shown significant improvement. Her behavior, on the other hand, left room for improvement. She was getting very barn sour. The weather was beautiful today, making it an ideal time to turn to turn her out so she could stretch her legs. We put her in a paddock next to Dozer, our rascally Paint gelding. Dozer wasn't gelded until he was nearly four years old, which is a bit late, and he clearly never got the memo that that his testicles were taken away by a veterinarian. As soon as Ellie arrived, he perked right up, his face clearly saying "Hey, Baby". She went over to him, they nosed each other briefly, and then young man gave her a "love bite" on the shoulder. This did not go over well. Ellie turned her ass on him, and fired both barrels.

This is when things went horribly wrong. The paddocks are separated by two strands of electric fence (thankfully it was turned off today). When her legs came down, they were on the wrong side of the fence. When she went to walk away, she discovered she was trapped.

A horse that feels trapped reverts to instant flight mode. Ten alarm panic. They will struggle to get out of the situation regardless of self inflicted injury. She struggled against the wire until it broke free, then ran. Mrs. BR ran into the paddock, got a lead rope on her, and calmed her down. Then we saw the injury.

It's difficult to discern from the above picture, but in the center is the common digital extensor tendon, at the joint, on the left hindlimb. Fortunately, the tendon was not injured, which would have compounded the problem immensely. We contacted our vet, who was willing to make an emergency farm call.

In order to stitch the injury, it was necessary to anesthetize her, and lay her down. The use of anesthesia in horses is a risky venture. As I understand it, the equine nervous system is poorly understood, and while most horses recover without any effect, some experience respiratory and/or cardiac arrest, and die. Needless to say, it's a bit nerve wracking, albeit necessary.

The vet injected her with the anesthetic. She slowly became drowsy, and then went down. Despite the best efforts to guide her down, she ended up on the wrong side.

This, of course, required two of us to grab her legs, and roll her over, whilst a third person guided her head. A friend helped me turn her, and in a moment of comic relief, he said "they always call me to turn the drunk girls over." Everyone laughed, which helped break the tension. Then the vet set to work sewing up the injury.

Her remained half open, and we were constantly watching for the next inhalation. It was always a huge relief to see her ribcage expand and her nostrils flare. Tell me she doesn't look dead.

Finally, the wound was sewn up.

We all cleared out, and waited for her to wake up. After what seemed an eternity, she suddenly raised her head, and looked around. She then struggled to her feet, resting in this position for about a minute.

Finally, she was up on all fours, albeit a tad woozy.

In order to prevent infection, she required an injection of penicillin, which, unfortunately, the vet did not have on hand in the van. I followed him up to his clinic, where he provided me with two syringes, each filled with 25cc of penicillin, one for today, the next on Wednesday. Upon returning, I waste little time administering the injection, preferring to do so whilst she was still under the influence.

When giving an injection of this size, it is necessary to inject approximately half of the quantity, then pull the needle halfway out, and reposition it. Fortunately, their are no nerves in the muscle tissue, so the horse does not feel this. The shot went off without a hitch.

She's going to be on stall rest for quite a while. The inury looks far worse than it is, although being right at the joint will complicate the healing somewhat. She is now up and moving around, favoring the injured leg only slightly. I will keep you posted on her recovery.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Introducing Smokey

Shortly before my retirement from Uncle Sam's Navy, the family BR trekked to Yakima to visit the Cowboy-in-law. While there, he took Mrs. BR and DN2 on a horseback ride in the hills behind his farm. I, on the other hand, went to KFC and picked up dinner. At some point in the dinner conversation, he mentioned that if Mrs. BR wanted to start riding again, he would gladly donate one of his horses. That seemed to be the end of it.

Now, I knew full well that Mrs. BR was an avid rider as kid. However, up to this point, I had not one inkling that this passion was merely dormant, as opposed to extinct. Imagine, if you will, my surprise when one day in May, 2005, the Cowboy-in-Law shows up with a horse trailer containing a retired team roping horse named Blue Boy, which he promptly deposits, and then drives off.

Mrs. BR, DN2, & DN3 threw themselves into this new activity with a passion. I would occasionally go out and watch them, but, truth be told, at this point I was fairly unenthused, and left them to their own devices.

Several months later, Mrs. BR purchased a mare named Taylor (a story for another day). The herd was growing. I was still decidedly uninterested in these rather large hay burners.

Quite honestly, I am unable to recall the moment or the reason that interest in horses took hold of me. I don't know if it was a "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" situation or what. Just suffice it to say, that by the Fall of that same year, I was on the search for a horse to call my own. With no real knowledge to speak of, and utterly uncertain of what I was looking for, the search got off to a rather difficult start.

Then I came across an advertisement containing this picture:

I wanted that horse. No questions asked. There was just one minor kink in the plan. His price tag was just a bit too steep for my wallet. Back to the search.

But, wait!!! Via a little bird, I learned that the asking price had been lowered. Within my budget to boot. Salvation.

Long story short, within days I was the proud owner of a 16 year old Appendix Quarter Horse, with the registered name of Master Alamo Joe, aka Smokey.

This picture was taken two days before I signed papers:

What a sad sack he was, apparently. Although I don't recall him looking this bad. I just remember that in my eyes, he was the perfect horse. An opinion that hasn't changed in the ensuing 4 years.

This is Smokey two days ago:

More on Old Joe in the next post.

Monday, April 13, 2009

About the Light (read: non-existent) Blogging

Just wanted to drop everyone a quick note about about the lack of blogging during the last week. I haven't given up. Work is just keeping me busier than a one legged man in an ass kicking contest, and I've been to pooped to write by the time I get home.

I should be back at it later this week, to regale you with tales of old Smokey Joe and his friends.

Hope everyone had a good Easter!

Friday, April 10, 2009

A Girl and Her Horse

If you haven't heard any music by Carbon Leaf, you really should.

As 3 out of 4 lady denizens of Che Buckskin are cowgirls, I find this song by the band to be rather apropos:

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Tragedy Strikes, Part Duh...

Monday night I set out to program the coffee maker such that I would have fresh brew upon arising from bed at oh-dark-thirty.

A quick glance revealed that something was amiss. There was no clock display. I verified that it was plugged in, and attempted to turn it on. No response. I made certain that the GFI was not tripped. Pushing down the knob on the toaster, which was plugged into the same outlet, quickly yielded glowing coils of heat. That ruled out a tripped breaker.

Growing desperate, I moved it to another outlet. Still dead. Saddened, I accepted the grim reality that there would be no coffee for me Tuesday morning, short of spending $3 at a latte stand, where the closest thing they have to coffee is something called an Americano, which tastes to me like diluted coffee.

Tuesday morning was rather grim.

Tuesday night, I happened to peer at the aforementioned coffee maker while I was in the kitchen. The clock was on. I quickly turned the knob to the on position. The red light was now illuminated. Salvation!!

Needless to say, I enjoyed a warm cup of joe during my morning commute. All was again right with the world.

I have no idea what was wrong on Monday night/Tuesday morning. Do appliances take vacations?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Tragedy Strikes!!

My coffee maker is on the fritz!!

Not good...

Sunday, April 5, 2009

One In, One Out

After 3 years of playing Show Mom to DN2 & DN3, Mrs. BR decided that she would like to enter the amateur horse show circuit herself. She enjoys showing, and does not want to become one of those Mother's who suddenly has no purpose in life when the children are grown. After all, the youngest is 15, so we aren't that far out.

The type of showing she has chosen is called Western Pleasure. After two months at the trainers, it became apparent that her horse, Brenna, is not a Western Pleasure Horse. She is fabulous horse, as can be seen in this picture:

What you probably can't tell from the picture is that she is very tall, 16.1HH (HH= hands. 1HH = 4 inches, therefore she is 65" tall at the withers). Her long legs give her rather fast gaits, which is not suitable for the slower gaits required in Western Pleasure. While it may be possible to slow her down, it actually may not be good for legs. Just like humans, individual horses are built differently, physically as well as mentally. Therefore, individual horses are not always suited to do all things.

Last Sunday, Mrs. BR, her trainer, a friend, and the horse trailer drove to Battleground, WA, to see this horse:

Needless to say, she did not tow an empty trailer home. Her name is Ellie, and she is an American Paint Horse. She's five, and apparently already quite accomplished in the Western Pleasure circuit. She is on a one year free care lease, with the option to buy at any time. Free care lease means that we are responsible for all the care and costs, without ownership. This is actually good in this case, as it gives Mrs. BR a year to determine if this is the right horse for her. If, at any time, she feels that Ellie is not the perfect horse, she can return her with no penalty.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, we are trying to trim the herd, not grow it, so selling Brenna became a bit more urgent, which is not necessarily a good prospect in these trying economic times. But, fate smiled down upon us. The original owner, the breeder, wanted her back. We took a bit of a loss on her, but with few interested customers in the last month, the amount of loss would only have grown the longer we kept her. And this, of course, satisfied our requirement that the horse go to a good, safe home.

Thus, one in, one out. Equilibrium maintained.

Friday, April 3, 2009

I'm Not Going to be Very Popular

Kenya is no longer a part of our horse family. There. I said it.

Before I explain what led to this turn of events, I will tell you that she is at a good home. I gave her to my farrier, with full disclosure. When he heard that we were seeking a new home for her, he called immediately. He's young, and a very good hand with horses. He is more than up to the challenge she presents, and, most importantly to me, will take good care of her. I will never let a horse leave my care without 100% certainty that he or she is going to a safe place.

The decision was based as much on economics as it was on my personal safety. Over the course of the week, the other denizens of Che Buckskin expressed their misgivings with my bullheadedness at wanting to continue. They were more than a little concerned that I would end up dead, or worse, paralyzed.

As the week progressed, I began to think more rationally. Smarter people than me pointed out that I don't have the experience to tackle a problem of this nature. As I sit here, still nursing the physical pain from her attempts to use me as a lawn dart, I acquiesce to the reality of the situation. This is a hobby. I do not make a living from my horses. At no time is it worth placing myself or a horse at risk of severe injury or death.

One can almost hear the collective sigh of relief from my family and friends. I can be a bit stubborn and single minded at times, as well as a bit loathe to give up, even when the battle is clearly lost.

Economically, the need to trim the herd has been present since the Fall. To properly care for and feed a horse is not inexpensive. I won't bore you with a detailed breakdown of the expenses, but suffice to say that having five is even harder on the bank account.

This was not an easy decision, but I am surprisingly at peace with it. I still have my gelding Smokey. Riding him is akin to putting on an old pair of jeans. Comfortable, and a great fit. I haven't blogged much regarding Old Joe, yet. He's been my #1 horse buddy for over 3 years now, and there are plenty of tales where he is concerned.

I want to thank all of you for the support you have shown me while I tried my hand at this endeavor. I hope that you won't think any less of me, but if you do, I understand.