Monday, August 31, 2009

Convalescence, Day 1

In the late morning today I went out to check on Steen. I found him standing with weight on the injured leg, and was initially impressed that he did not try to move away from me when I reapplied the pink stuff to his three unwrapped wounds. Then I decided it would be best to get him to walk around a little, and upon haltering him and asking him to accompany me over the water tank, I discovered that he was extremely reluctant to move at all. He'd move his front feet and sort of pivot but he really, really didn't want to pick either of his back legs up, and when he finally did, he picked them up one at a time and kind of kicked with them in the air behind him, but refused to move forward. I kept pestering him until he took two steps, and after that he followed me slowly but willingly.

I took him over to the water, which, typically, he showed no interest in drinking. Then I made him walk back, which took a lot more persuasion than the first time and I had to bribe him with quite a bit of hand-picked grass before he'd move again. I dragged him back around the fence and to an area of the run where there is still some grass growing, and left him there, hoping he'd get some hydration by eating.

Steen and his nurse, Sassy. Note the large black bandage on his rear left leg.

So, I guess the extreme stiffness is to be expected, but I will feel a whole lot better when moving a little more easily.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

High Tensile

It has not been the greatest week for Steen and me. On Monday I went out to the barn with high hopes for a nice ride only to have my plans utterly dashed by the herd of cattle. I'll not go into detail, but suffice it to say I could not so much as get Steen out of the pasture. So, after trying for a while, I left in frustration. I told myself, one more week and the new pastures will be in and we won't have these kinds of problems anymore. I had grand plans for an excellent ride tomorrow.

Except today at 2:30, Cathi called me and said, "Steen just ran through a wire. He has a cut on his left hind leg. The vet is on his way. I don't think this is going to be life threatening, but I'd feel better if you were here."

Not good.

Particularly not good because Cathi is not the type to call the vet if the vet is not really quite necessary.

So, Brian and I got in the car, and we arrived at the stable fifteen minutes later to find Steen in the barnyard bleeding in four places. I guess what happened is the whole herd ran through a section of fence that only had one piece of wire strung across. Steen was not the first horse through the wire, but he was the first to hit it full force. Being high-tensile pasture-fence wire, it put up a good fight before snapping. It hit him first at the tops of his front legs, only removing some skin there, then clothes-lined him midway between his knees and his ankles, leaving deep gashes and chunks of missing skin. The right hind was mostly just bloody, but the left hind had a large flap of hanging skin and a visible tendon exposed to the air.

This is not what any horse-owner ever wants to see, but the good news is Steen was accepting care with only minimal protest, and when I arrived he seemed to calm down further, though he was still breathing heavily and was clearly upset.

About ten minutes after Brian and I showed up, the vet came and after a quick examination stated that although the tendon casing had been cut, the tendon itself was intact.

That was good news.

So, he gave Steen a painkiller, a couple of sedatives and a gigantic bandage around the one leg. To Steen's other wounds he applied a pink zinc ointment. The vet assured me there would be no long-term lameness from this, though there will be a scar.

Brian and I hung out for a while after the vet left, and Steen grazed a bit. Then Cathi brought her daughter's (friendly, mellow) pony over to keep him company, and we installed the two of them in a smallish run with a fresh bale of hay, on the other side of the (fully constructed) fence from Steen's normal herd. Without any complications, we can leave the bandage off in a week and in another two or three, I should be able to finally have a nice ride... In the meantime, he gets daily antibiotics, semi-daily bandage changes and perhaps an increased dosage of apples and kisses.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Steen vs. The Mud Puddle

August so far has been good for business at both the gallery and BWS, which unfortunately means most of my horse time has been consumed by work. It's also been rainy, and now that the majority of the grass in the area has been destroyed by the construction, most of the space around the barn is basically one gigantic sheet of deep mud. So, it's not ideal riding conditions anyway.

However, on Thursday I decided I needed to get out there and check on Steen regardless, so headed out in the morning. I found everything tremendously soggy, and realized I'd forgotten my mud boots, so had a rather unpleasant time getting to my horse.

Steen did seem happy to see me, and came over to say hi when I went into the pasture. Cathi has added her brother-in-law's herd of cattle back into the 13 acres of grass Steen and his herd of four now live in, which I figure can only be a good thing. The more "scary" animals Steen can encounter in his daily life, the better.

Anyway, I said hello to my horse, put his halter on, and tried to take him back to the grooming area. The problem with this plan was the gigantic, murky, mud puddle that completely spanned the entire length of the gate we needed to go through to get there.

I know enough about horses, and my horse in particular, to have guessed this puddle was going to be a problem, but I also know enough about horses to try the old "this is no big deal" technique first, in all situations. So, I blithely tip-toed my way through the shallow end of the puddle and suggested Steen to do the same.

Yeah, he wasn't having any of that. He stopped at the edge of the puddle, snorted, bobbed his head in his trademark nervous gesture, backed up. I ran out of rope and had to stop as well. We had the added difficulty of curious horses on both sides of the puddle, making him even more nervous with their crowding. I continued to unsuccessfully trying to coax him across the puddle via various angles and methods, stopping every now and then to chase off excessively inquisitive equines so he could have sufficient space to cross, for quite a while - with no discernible progress. However, I could tell he wasn't totally closed down and rebellious. He wanted to cross the puddle. He just couldn't quite bring himself to take the first step.

So, I paused in my efforts and took stock of the situation, and in doing so noticed the electric-fence box to one side of the gate, which powers the temporary wire that runs around most of the pastures in this "under construction" phase of barn life. Like many electric-fence boxes, it lets off a dull click every few seconds when it sends a surge of power through the wire. Steen doesn't like things that click, and this gave me an idea. I unplugged the box, and the clicking stopped. I went back to Steen, petted him, told him he was wonderful and brave and pretty, and walked off again, pretending I thought he'd follow me.

And he did. He hesitated, weaved a little back and forth at the edge of the water, and then took a graceless leap three-quarters of the way over the puddle, landed in the muck, (spraying both his underside and my back with brown water) and came up to my shoulder.

I praised him lavishly.

Then I had to slog back through the puddle to close the gate, through another, shallower area of muck to get out of the next pasture, and finally we made it to the tacking area. I groomed him, applied sunscreen to his (healed) nose and the backs of his feet, burn ointment to the remaining scabs there, koppertox to his wet frogs, and fly spray to his entire body. And since he got a mud bath, too, I guess it was pretty much a horse's version of a full-service spa treatment.

Anyway, I didn't ride. There was nowhere to ride. I led Steen around and let him graze in the small remaining strip of grass for a while, and then saw one lone cow walk off toward the lower part of the 13 acre pasture Steen and his small herd occupy. The horses watched her go, and then began to follow. Steen saw them all leaving the area, and clearly wanted to go with them. So, I made him do just a little bit of groundwork first, and then decided to make use of his extra motivation to fuel his willingness to re-cross the mud puddle.

He was much better the second time. I didn't even have to unplug the box. He charged right through the muddy water, head up, and blowing air, but pretty sure of himself. I took his halter off. Then he hung out with me for a while to get some more pets, rolled his newly brushed and shiny coat in the mud, then loped off to rejoin the herd.

Given his overall behavior, I am thinking the addition of the cattle may have stirred up herd dynamics a bit, because he wasn't broadcasting dominant horse signals like he has the last few times I've been out there, and the lead horse simply does not lope back to his distant herd. So, I'm hoping his status has fallen, and stays, a few pegs down on the ladder.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Solo Outing Number One

Today Steen and I had our first solitary adventure into the (sort of) unknown. Granted, we only walked up and down the trail the group ride took a few weeks ago, but we went far enough away from the barn not to be able to see it, any of the horses, or any of the surrounding buildings, and we did so without another equine companion and with me on Steen's back.

For the most part, I am satisfied with the experience. Steen was very nervous at first, but he listened and went, even if it took some persuading at the scarier parts. He never started acting like he was going to buck, never spooked, never panicked, never tossed his head or fought the bit at all. What he did do was try to turn around and take himself home. A lot. So, we walked up and down the mowed strip between the corn fields four times - the work of about half an hour. At first, going away from home he was nervous, agitated, suspicious of everything and made his bid to turn around every five seconds or so. Whenever we were heading home, he walked nicely at a even, quick pace on a loose rein, only trying to trot once or twice but quickly subsiding when chided. Then we'd turn around and he'd start with the antics again, but each time we went back in the "away" direction, the anxiety and attempts to turn decreased, and by the fourth time he even relaxed, dropped his head and his ears wobbled a bit, pointing off the sides. When I saw that, I took him home, feeling we'd accomplished enough for one day.

When Steen wasn't trying to turn around, I really enjoyed the ride. It's liberating to amble around in a place free of fences, with lots of open space, a big blue sky and waving corn in every direction. I've decided to take Steen out on the trail at least once a week from now on, so we'll see how he improves.

Friday, August 07, 2009


Yesterday morning I went to the barn. It was a bit of a struggle to get out there. For one, I'll admit it, I'm sick of the added complication and inconvenience of keeping all my stuff in my trunk,

and as the barn is really nearing completion,

there is a part of me that would be content to minimize trips between now and then simply out of laziness. Beyond that, a certain horse,

was something of a pill the last time I rode, so I knew this visit would require some going over of manners. Brian helped convince me to go, though, so I got in the car. It was a lovely morning, and I was again surprised by the shortness of the drive. I pulled Steen out of the pasture and saw immediately he was a little wound up. I tacked him up, but decided to put in a solid effort at ground-work before riding. We did that, for about 40 minutes. At first, he was super energetic, trotting in circles instead of walking. I still think the combination of lots and lots of grass plus some nerves are to blame for his less than perfect behavior lately, so we worked on calm. I let him trot whenever he wanted, but didn't let him stop moving until he walked voluntarily. We also worked on standing and letting me swish him with the rope, not crowding me when I told him to come in for pets, and after a while he was significantly more relaxed. I thought about riding but chose not to, thinking he'd already had a pretty long session and keeping things simple for a visit or two never hurts. Plus, he's got a sunburn on his nose and his face seemed tender.

So, I took him back to his pasture,

where his herd of Cal, Stella and Nadir (the flea-bitten Arabian who's name I now finally know) has increased by one to include Tommy. I'm hoping Tommy, who's a big American Showhorse, will supersede Steen in his place of authority. A possibly promising sign, I think, is when I turned Steen loose this time,

he did eventually trot back to the herd.

Saturday, August 01, 2009


Today, Brian, Steen and I all had new experiences. For Brian and I, it was a shared experience. We went to Catalpa Corner to watch the eventing. We had never been to a true eventing competition, so we found it very interesting. At first, we just walked around, staring at all the tall, athletic horses and trying not to look idiotic while doing so. We looked around a bit, and then walked out to the cross country course. I took my camera, and snapped a few photos. I have no idea who any of these people are....

As you can see, there was an impressive variety of jumps. We saw all sorts of things, from horses jumping beautifully, to horses refusing to jump, to one horse who went over the jump demonstrated by the light gray horse in the photo immediately above this paragraph, and then flew into some sort of spasm, bucked his rider off and then proceeded to redo the course, backwards (avoiding the jumps), at a dead run. Fortunately, no one was injured and the horse was eventually got back in hand.

Brian and I spent quite a while watching the cross country. We checked out the dressage too, but it was lower level stuff and genuinely not that interesting.

So, eventually we left Catalpa and went around the block to visit our own horse. Steen has been moved to an expansive pasture down below the pasture horses since we want him to get as fat as possible before winter sets in. He is out there with only three other horses, and it's rather a trek to get out to him. He did not deign to meet us halfway, though he did seem happy to see us. We took him back to the barn, tacked him up, and I hopped on. For some reason I didn't do ground work in spite of the fact that I haven't seen or ridden Steen for ten days or so. I should have done ground work. He was distracted and pretty opinionated about what he wanted to do. It doesn't help that doing "arena work" in areas that aren't arenas tends to be confusing, and also he's been eating as much as he cares to for days now. I think his energy level was up, his obedience was down, and he was just a little hard to handle. We went from the open area by the swing set over to the strip between the pasture and the corn field, and eventually I got off and did some groundwork in hopes he'd focus more after-wards. He was great with groundwork, and perhaps a little better when I got back on. We walked and trotted and loped and he got really excited, and by the time poor Brian got on Steen was in "handful" mode.

But they did alright. I used my body and the corn field to set up a virtual round-pen and eventually Steen stopped ignoring all Brian's steering instructions and settled into an acceptable trot. After quite a bit of trotting, Brian decided he'd had enough, and stopped. We took Steen back to the trailer. He'd gotten a little sweaty, and on the spot I decided immediately after a mediocre ride seemed as good a time as any for Steen's first bath. We led him over to the hose and thus embarked on Steen's new experience for the day. We turned the water on and started spraying it lightly towards his front feet.

At first, Steen was very much not sure about this new development. He stepped back, snorted, swiveled. Brian and I both demonstrated the utter non-harmfulness of the water by taking drinks from the hose. Then I turned the spray back on him and started letting the water mist his front knees. He trembled a little bit, and then abruptly thrust his nose forward, sticking it right into the stream. He played with the water with his lip for a minute or two, took a drink and then he was fine with the whole thing. We sprayed him down and he seemed to enjoy it. He was like an old eventing pro who'd just come off the XC course. Except as far as I know Steen has never gone over any kind of jump in his life.

We gave him lots of praise for encountering new things so bravely, even if he was rather a pill on the ride. Then we put him back in the pasture, he rolled in the dirt, and we observed something odd. Instead of returning to his little herd of three, Steen stayed at the far end of the pasture, closer to us. This surprised Brian and I, since Steen will often gallop back to the herd if they are far from the gate. Today, he didn't seem to care, and Brian commented that none of the other horses were perhaps worth running back to. That made me think about it a little harder, and I realized the three horses that make up Steen's diminished herd - Stella, Cal and the flea-bitten Arabian who's name I can never remember - are all submissive personalities, and Steen has definitely moved up on the totem pole in recent months. We came to the conclusion that Steen is the head of his little four-horse-herd, which might also partially explain his rotten behavior during our ride. He's gotten too big for his britches.

I'm not too worried though. Although I spent more of July away from Iowa than here, I have high hopes for August. I'm hoping to get in many solid hours of riding before the winter hits, and the good news is Steen has at least gotten to the point that even when he's "bad," he's rideable.

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