Sunday, February 28, 2010


Sunday February 28 2010

He's an odd fellow.

He's been here about 6 months, and he still doesn't really fit in. He is quite herd bound, but at the same time, he is often off by himself. He hasn't buddied up with anybody.

Parelli would call him a basic Right Brained Introvert. Yvonne Barteau, who wrote "Ride the Right Horse," (good book, by the way), would classify him as a basic Fearful personality, but with a few Aloof and Social characteristics.

He's a very cautious horse... every time I approach him, and I mean every time, I have to approach him cautiously. You can't just barrel up to him and throw an arm around him or pat him on the butt like I do Stormy or Jose or Kazam. I can walk up to him 10 times a day to interact with him, and he's the same every time. He will sometimes come up to me, but he always stops a few feet away and thinks about and weighs the alignment of the Universe before he cautiously approaches. Then he sniffs my hand, and only then, if everything checks out, I can slowly pet his face, and his neck. If I approach him from the side, he won't turn his head to me but he'll become very alert, head up in the air, one ear cocked toward me, and eyeball me out of the side of his eye. If I take a step back, he'll swing his head to me. If I take a step closer, he'll either move away or turn his head straight, back at full alert.

The night he choked, he seemed to want me close. Not necessarily touching him (especially his throat, I probably rubbed his throat too much and added to his discomfort), but close. The next day, he didn't want me near him at all! Two days later, he doesn't mind me approaching him again... though he's still cautious as usual.

He's the kind of horse who could really use his very own human to bond with. I think he'll be a very loyal and trusting horse with that person.

And he is a beauty, with that chestnut coat and blond mane, and pretty face.

He's a funny guy - just a bit different personality.

(And, okay, he's a bit round right now...)

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Amigo Update

Saturday, February 27 2010

Gary had a little bad news on Wednesday when Amigo's temperature spiked to 100 in the morning. "Not high, but something to watch." The vets re-scoped his system and everything was okay; fungus in the stomach was gone. There was a fluid build-up in his chest but it was minimal and was expected.

Thursday Amigo was doing well and continued to improve. His temperature was down to 99.6 and his PCV was 36, in the normal range. He enjoys his 'vacation pen' outside when the weather is nice. He eats hay, but not enough grain - he's on a medicine to stimulate hunger.

Amigo was going to go home today, Saturday February 27, for a few days anyway, but he's had an abscess that has been resistant to antibiotics. He could have possibly lived with it, but, Gary reported, "Amigo has surpassed all expectations and the Vets feel that he is strong enough to be able to withstand yet another step toward recovery." So, they have decided to go ahead with surgery to remove the abscess. The left chest drain was put back in to prepare for his surgery on Monday or Tuesday.

Gary reported today, Saturday, that "Numerous fans came by to wish Amigo well while Kara and I were there. They were the nicest folks! Amigo is munching on treats, grass and hay but seems more interested in watermelon, fruit loops (of all things) and a few carrots than grain!"

As of Friday February 26, donations to the vet school and from paypal accounts have totalled $6500.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Love, Pain & the Whole Crazy Thing

Thursday February 25 2010

Little did Keith Urban know, I bet, that when he gave his 2006 album this title that it was the perfect theme for Endurance riders.

There's no question most of us love our horses and love the opportunity they give us to get out and ride, and ride far, and it's pretty obvious many of us are obsessed with it. Even if there is a little pain involved.

Look at Melissa, who broke her leg pretty badly a few months ago, and got 3 accomplices to sneak her out to her horse and put her on board. She may not be done with surgeries yet, but she's already making plans to ride Tevis (of all rides!) this year and is having her horse taught to lay down so she can mount easier. Her doctor isn't excited about that, but, what's he going to do?

Is she crazy?

Not any crazier than, say, Karen, who rode Tevis (of all the rides to do this!) with a broken rib, and a punctured spleen in questionable state of repair.

Karen II got jumped on by her horse, spent a day running errands before she went to the doctor and found her leg was broken. She rode once with a broken arm too.

Five miles from the finish of the 2009 Pan American Championship in Guatemala, a Malaysian rider's horse fell 5 miles from the finish. The rider was hurt and couldn't remount, but as his team was in contention for a medal, he walked the 5 miles in on foot leading his horse, and remounted (with help from his team) to cross the finish line before he was hauled off in an ambulance. He'd broken his collarbone. (They won the medal).

I heard a rumor that one US rider rode a loop with an IV needle in her arm, but i haven't been able to confirm that yet.

Julie Suhr, our 'First Lady of Endurance,' broke her shoulder in a fall from her best horse, HCC Gazal +/, 5 weeks before the Tevis ride that could have, with a finish, given her her 20th buckle. While the doctor told her she'd be fine in a couple of months (!!!), Julie rode Tevis anyway. She compromised by riding a borrowed horse, not Gazal, who tended to pull her arms out of her sockets. Her arm hurt the day before, and the day after, Tevis, but not at all on the day she became the first rider ever to receive a 2000-mile Tevis Cup silver buckle.

One of the world's top endurance riders from Australia fell off a horse last year and was in a coma for nearly two months. She's determined to get back to riding as soon as possible.

One gal broke her foot out on a loop on an endurance ride... but she didn't quit when she got to the vet check. She sucked it up and went out on the second loop and finished her ride... and only afterwards removed her shoe and dealt with the damage.

I myself am guilty of the Whole Crazy Thing, although I am definitely wimpier than a lot of tougher riders. I had a sorry accident 10 years ago, and was desperate to ride again. I had no business getting on a horse 2 1/2 months after the accident, but I was consumed with an almost deperate need to do so... and I did.

I broke a middle toe in June and, sad to say, totally wimped out from riding 2 days. I'm still miffed about that - I should have just cut the top of my shoe off and sucked it up and rode! (I mean - really - it was one toe, not even the big one!)

When I broke my rib in September, I climbed right back on my horse and rode him some more (before the breathing got too difficult : ) to make sure he knew he couldn't just get away with dumping me and running off. However, I just couldn't bring myself to do a 5-day ride a week later. (I could have dealt with the pain, but not the chance of worse injury, and the expense, and the extra time off I would have been forced to take.)

I have a knee that's about shot, but I keep riding - I can't take the time (or money) to get it looked at. I figure I have quite a ways to go before the pain gets really bad.

Why do we do it? Because we love our horses. We love riding. Even though there is 'always another ride,' we don't want to miss one. I don't think we are masochists. Or are we? I know we're addicts. Count me as one.

What about you - have you ridden with pain, broken bones, damaged organs? Or, I should probably be asking, how many of you HAVEN'T ridden without pain and damage, when you definitely shouldn't have?

Are riders of other disciplines as Crazy? Or is it mainly endurance riders that have a lack of judgment?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Wednesday February 24 2010

For the third day in a row, I turned the 8 horses loose up the canyon for a few hours in the afternoon. For the third day in a row, I went out on the 4-wheeler to fetch them. For the third day in a row, they were all the way up at the other end, and for the third day in a row, they trotted-cantered-galloped most of the way in. (I'm trying to train them to come in on their own, same time every evening.)

And for the third time, I rewarded them all with a little grain for coming down. In each of 8 pens I've put a feed bucket with a handful of grain in each - just enough to make them think they are getting a reward for coming back down.

All of them had a sweat from the 1 1/2 mile run and from their hairy coats (Stormy came straight up to me so I'd scratch his neck, which was agonizingly itchy). Most of them went straight to the water trough, but not all of them got a drink before they remembered the pens with the feed buckets. It's possible they got a drink at the far end of the canyon where the water is running in a few spots in the creek, but it's possible they hadn't had anything to drink since before 3 PM. I'm pretty sure Huckleberry didn't get a drink when he got back.

By the time I got all the horses in a pen, some had already finished their grain and I started letting them back out. But Huckleberry was standing there looking almost like he was hiccuping, and he'd only eaten a handful of his grain - he was choking!

He looked more perplexed than he did distressed; he kept licking and chewing, and trying to swallow, but it didn't work. I haltered him and started massaging his throat and esophagus, and I could produce some gurgling sounds at different places but I couldn't tell where the blockage was.

Great. It was getting dark now, and the nearest veterinarian is at least 45 minutes away. I ran inside and called the neighbors. Rick and Carol came over and had a look at him. Some fluid was starting to come out of Huck's nose (though it didn't look like any of it was food), and he was continually chewing and licking, and trying to swallow.

The only experience I'd had with choke was that Jose did it once at a vet check at an endurance ride, from alfalfa. The vet had just massaged his throat a while, and we kept an eye on him, and eventually it worked its way down. He never had any nasal discharge. I remembered reading that the horse can get aspiration pneumonia and rupture of the esophagus if the blockage is in there too long.

Carol went inside to call a vet while I stayed with Huck and kept massaging his throat - for lack of anything better to do.

The night vet on call at the clinic said that he could come out, but most choke cases resolved themselves, and tubing a horse didn't always work; the vet recommended lunging him for a while. That might get his neck and throat muscles working and help dislodge the blockage.

Carol lunged him a while - he'd give some big coughs - then let him rest and massaged his throat. She did this a couple of times, and he coughed each time. But when Huck stopped moving, he continued the licking and chewing and the inability to swallow.

The vet didn't sound worried - Huck could breathe alright despite the liquid coming out of his nose, and he still didn't look or act terribly stressed - the vet suggested just leaving him alone and checking on him once in the night, and if he wasn't over it by morning, get him to a vet.

Hmmm... I was a bit more worried than that.

The vet said we could give him a dose of banamine paste that we had on hand, as Huck might be able to absorb some of it through his mucous membranes. In ten minutes he had a great body spasm - like a big squeeze from butt through the stomach through the neck... and out of his mouth came a big cough and a lot of liquid (must have been saliva he'd been chewing on the last few hours) and some of the banamine paste.

After that Huckleberry chewed and tried to swallow less frequently (still couldn't, though). I left him alone for an hour, leaving him with a bucket of water. I went back out to check on him at 9, at 10, and 11. Each time the chewing and trying to swallow had decreased (but he still couldn't swallow), and he stood quietly but alertly.

At midnight I heard him start to whinny. I went out again, and he was pacing his pen. Wouldn't stand still long enough for me to hear if he was licking/chewing/swallowing. He hadn't touched any water.

The herd was probably not 50 yards away from him, but he wouldn't stop pacing. I moved Phinneas and Dudley to a closer pen, not 30 yards from him, in direct sight, and put out hay for them so Huck would have closer company, but he kept pacing.

I went to bed, and got up at 3 AM to check on him. Went out in a driving snowstorm (!!!) and Huck was still pacing. Still hadn't touched water. He was wet, either from the snow or from the pacing, or both.

Well? I didn't want him to keep running his pen, but I didn't want to turn him out because I didn't know if he still had a blockage and didn't want him eating. I really thought it was important to keep him penned to see if he drank any water. I couldn't put another horse in with him because I wouldn't know if Huck drank any water, and I didn't have another pen to put him where I could keep him near the other horses for company and monitor his water intake. He'd probably get sweaty and cold from the snow and the continued pacing, but... what else was there to do? He'd either be fine in the morning or he wouldn't. I went back to bed.

Got up in the morning and he was...

...standing in his pen, quietly, because the other horses were close to him. As soon as they moved off, though, Huck started pacing again. He still hadn't touched water. He was wet and shivering, and the snowflakes were still falling. I took him out and led him to the big water trough, but he wouldn't touch it. I put him back in the pen with another horse, but he started pacing again.

I gave up. Opened the gate and let him out. He trotted straight out to the hay bale and started eating. He ate for a half hour on and off (he's enough of an outcast that the herd won't let him stand at the bale and gorge), an hour, two hours - and I never saw him drink.

He seems fine this afternoon - poop and pee looks good, he looks normal. (And I finally witnessed him take a drink at 2 PM). I guess the blockage dissolved and he's okay. However, I read that signs of pneumonia usually appear 24 to 48 hours after the onset of choke.

Great. I guess we'll know if he's really okay in a day or 2.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Canyon

Monday February 22 2010

I've just started opening the gate up the canyon for the Owyhee herd. They're thrilled. It's like a new toy.

Off they go at at trot, tails in the air,
nearly two miles down to the end. Grass must taste best way down there.

And back they come later in the day, even faster. Sometimes they run so fast they make me gasp.

It's an easy way to get 8 horses into condition.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Amigo - One Amazing Horse

Saturday February 20 2010

It's been a traumatic 5 weeks since a shocking and distressing sight greeted Gary Sanderson the afternoon of January 17 at his barn door in Tennessee. His 9-year-old Arabian endurance horse was standing apart from his herdmates with a tree branch impaled in his side.

"I couldn't talk," Gary said. He did manage to call his veterinarian, Dr Martin, and his girlfriend Kara Disbrow. "He was incoherent," Kara said.

Though they still don't know what happened, Gary and Kara surmise Amigo either slid in the mud into a tree, or a tree fell on him in the 110 acres where Amigo and his two buddies roam. One veterinarian later deduced that Amigo had had the stick lodged in him for 10-12 hours before Gary discovered him.

Dr Martin recommended putting Amigo down immediately. Gary asked him if he had any chance of survival. "Dr Martin said he might have a 2% chance to live if we got him to the University hospital." Amigo had shown Gary nothing but heart in their 5 years together, and, besides, Gary says, "What are you going to do? He's like my son. I had to give him the chance to survive."

Amigo walked on his own and loaded up into a trailer and was hauled to the University
of Tennessee Large Animal Clinic, where his surgery immediately began.

He took it all standing up, and it took the team of veterinarians about an hour to remove nearly 30 inches of the 2-inch diameter branch from his body.

It had collapsed his left lung and broken two ribs, and introduced a deathly load of bacteria into his body. The veterinarians packed the gaping hole left by the branch with four rolls of gauze,

re-inflated his lung, put in ports to drain fluid from the lung and wound, and put him on several antibiotics to combat the bugs and toxins in his system. Eventually his right lung also needed a port. "He looked like he'd been in target practice with all the tubes coming out of him," Gary said.

It was touch and go over the next few weeks;

Amigo came close to death several times and defied it each time. He received two series of plasma from donors, but had an allergic reaction to the second series, where his platelets attacked the plasma, instead of the infections in his body. He went into respiratory distress several times, once falling down kicking in a seizure (a vet deduced he'd had a blood clot in his brain).

Then, 4 weeks after the accident, came the dreaded "L-word" - laminitis. Gary had been hopeful and upbeat up until that day. "That's what got me," Gary says. "He'd been doing so well, getting better, every day progressing a little, PCV (red blood cell volume in the blood) good, lung drains removed, wound healing, bacteria dying, then BOOM. He crashes." Gary had a hard time keeping a positive attitude around Amigo, something his horse definitely needed.

The vets had removed the lung drain because the blood work looked good, but the bacteria had increased. Drain tubes were put back in and the lung flushed twice a day. Amigo returned to the Hyperbaric Oxygen Chamber for daily treatment and got ice boots for his feet. One antibiotic was changed, and a fourth added. He was put on IV fluids, he was put on tube feeding because he needed more nutrients than the hay he was eating (he wasn't interested in grain).

And once again, Amigo thwarted death. The laminitis threat was arrested. He's now alert, walking outside several times a day, and grazing (he is still being tube fed). He's down to two antibiotics.

Through it all Amigo has amazed and stolen the hearts of his veterinarians and the vet students working on him."He's an amazing animal," Gary says. "He's been the best patient. He has never fought or objected to his treatments. In fact, that's one of his problems - this horse doesn't show any pain. He's very stoic."

One of Amigo's veterinarians, Dr Nicholas Frank, concurs, calling Amigo the "most cooperative patient." He credits some of Amigo's amazing progress to Gary's devotion. "He has an extremely dedicated owner who loves him very much. We should never underestimate the power of that in a situation like this."

Amigo's friends started a Facebook page for him; he now has almost 3500 fans following his progress and sending good wishes his way.

While Amigo still has a long way to go, and he's not completely out of the woods yet, his chances of survival are now better than 50/50. He's on the upswing again, though he's pretty exhausted. He hasn't laid down once since the accident.

And while just coping with Amigo's survival has been traumatic for Gary, now comes the reality of the vet bills. The original guesstimate was $5-6000. But nobody could have predicted what Amigo would be going through, and those bills are now close to $20,000.

"Financially, I'm devastated," Gary says, but he doesn't regret anything. "What would you have done, when your horse is showing he's wanting to fight for his life? I love the horse. Next to Kara, he's my best friend. I had to give him that chance."

Gary is starting a second job; some fund-raisers are in the works, by local groups and Leslie Greenwood, a fan from from Canada; and friends and fans of Amigo on Facebook have begun sending donations, which as of Saturday February 20th, totaled over $1600.

Anybody wanting to join Amigo's fanclub and follow his progress and send good wishes can do so on, "Amigo - One Amazing Horse!" Anybody wishing to donate money towards Amigo's bills can do so through paypal using or by sending a check payable to

University of TN Large Animal Clinic Patient #211197 Amigo

University of TN c/o Business office
2407 River Drive
Knoxville, TN 37996

Leslie Greenwood from Canada has started a Fundraiser for Amigo, making Italian Charms (with a photo of your equine friend) for $10, with all proceeds going to Amigo and Gary and Kara. Leslie can be contacted at . Her fundraiser page on Facebook is on this page.

Any money raised over the amount of the vet bills will be placed in an Amigo Fund at the hospital, Gary says, to help other horses in need.

Now, all of you go out and hug your horse and say a little horse prayer for Amigo. He's not done fighting yet.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Go Baby! Whoa Baby!

Wednesday February 17 2010

I've been working with baby Smokey this winter on leading, moving off light pressure from the front end and the hind end, and backing; getting used to a rope snaking around her back, belly, and legs; picking up her feet; getting used to my hands everywhere, on her body, in her face, in her ears and mouth; getting used to a big tarp being dragged around and up to her; and having a big saddle pad land on her everywhere.

She was leading well when she was close to the herd, but if I tried leading her too far away, she'd balk, and if I wasn't prepared with a butt rope already on her to encourage her forward movement, I'd have to turn her head to the side and get her to take a few steps, turn her head to the other side to get a few more steps, and eventually get where we were going that way.

Rick came over yesterday and gave us both a leading lesson. He brought a better halter to use - a rope halter rather than a nylon web halter, which allows her to feel pressure from the halter better. And Rick brought a long stick - Parelli would call this a Carrot Stick, but this one's blue.

One lesson with Rick was all Smokey (and I) needed. One or two little taps on the butt from the stick when she balked, and she got the picture. She quickly learned to lead with her head right near his shoulder - not too far ahead, and not too far behind. She learned to stop immediately when Rick stopped and said whoa, and she learned to step forward at soon as Rick moved forward. Much of it was all about body language. Move forward with energy; stop, and let the energy stop.

Smoky learned she can't leap or lunge away or just stop when she wanted to; she learned that moving forward when asked, and stopping when asked, with no pressure on the head, is the best, easiest, and most comfortable way to respond.

I used Rick's methods today with her - while her uncles watched

- and after a couple of taps on the butt when she thought about lagging, she was just perfect. (And her upper lip didn't stick out, nor her eyes bug out in protest : )

Go baby! Whoa baby!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Hackamore

Wednesday February 17 2010

Some of you asked about Jose's headgear. It's a short-shanked mechanical S hackamore. (And this depends on who you talk to... some say this is not a true 'mechanical' hackamore).

A hackamore uses leverage and pressure to get a response. It's designed, when you pull on both reins, to put pressure on the horse's nose (the noseband), the underside of the jaw (the chain), and the poll. You don't get communication with a hackamore like you do a bit, however. A hackamore is for control, not communication. If you can ride on a loose rein, and only need direct (vertical) pressure to slow down or stop, a hackamore may be for you and your horse. It doesn't work well for lateral steering.

This 'short-shanked' S-hackamore Jose is wearing is a less severe hackamore... but any piece of headgear, bit or hackamore, can be severe with heavy hands - just as a harsher bit or hackamore can be kind with light hands.

If you're a person who rides with contact, i.e. on the horse's mouth all the time, your horse will learn to brace against the hackamore - and learn to ignore it or run away from the constant pressure, or stick his neck in the air. (Of course, he'll do that with a bit, too.) And as always, you shouldn't be riding with just your hands anyway. Don't forget you also have legs and a seat.

Jose's noseband is a kind, flat one, and I keep the jaw chain fairly loose. Jose isn't normally a puller - unless he's on loop 1 or 2 of an endurance ride - in which case I start out with a bit, and change to the hackamore on loop 2 or 3!

The reason I use this hackamore is because this is what we have on hand, and Jose goes well in it. On Stormy I use a sidepull. I haven't tried a bitless bridle.

If you want to try a hackamore, be sure you try it out in a controlled environment until your horse gets used to it. In other words, don't toss one on for the first time and canter to the starting line of a 50-mile ride expecting your horse to understand it and respond to it immediately, as it will feel different to him and he'll have to get used to the new 'communication' and pressure points.

Best reason for using a hackamore is that the horse can eat and drink easily on the trail. Best reason for Jose is that he hates a bit!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Go Baby Go!

Monday February 15 2010

Go Baby Go!

She's about 8 months old now. She's still soft and fluffy... but she's quickly growing. Her hip almost comes up to my nose now. She's friendly, spunky, and has an at-ti-tude! She likes to be petted, loves to have her neck scratched and lifts her head up in the air just like her mama did.

Smokey leads well most of the time... except when she doesn't. If I try leading her too far away from the herd, I either have to get her to move forward by turning her to the side every few steps, or I still have to put a butt rope on her.

She picks up all four of her feet well, and she moves well off light pressure - moving her front end and her hind end and backing up... except when she doesn't.

If she gets upset or worried about something I'm about to ask her to do, she sticks her upper lip out like a parrot and her eyes bug out and prepares to show off that at-ti-tude.

Everybody is still the boss of her (even Stormy!), but she's not pushed around too much, as she's more just one of the herd now.

She's often the spark that gets the herd in a gallop around - they aren't chasing her, they are following her.

She crosses the creek without a problem (she used to be scared of it), doesn't mind a rope being thrown all over her, and one day she came up and bit a tarp that Kazam and I were having a tug of war over. She's got acres and acres to run and play and grow up in - just about a perfect life for a baby.

Think she's ready for the saddle yet?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Higher Ground

Saturday February 13 2010

If the snow won't come to me, I must go to the snow.

Just six miles up Bates Creek, up the dirt (now snowy/muddy) roads lay the Owyhee mountains. I took a cold ride on a 4-wheeler up there to get a taste of the snow in the lower foothills. Not a human around anywhere - it was all my backyard today.

South facing slopes bare, north facing slopes with a foot of snow. Hard going without snowshoes, sinking to your knees with every step. A panoramic view of the Snake river land below,

and the Owyhees above.

Spectacular country. Pronghorn and mule deer are common. Bighorn sheep in the canyons, bands of elk in the mountains. Wolverines are rumored to have once lived here but none have been recorded for decades. If black bear ever did roam here, they were surely wiped out in the mining days. It's different out there when you know you won't come across a bear. But there are rumors of cougars. It's different out there when you know there are cougars and you're the only one playing in your backyard.

Nothing around today though but the frozen footsteps of a coyote and the impressive silence of an extraordinary land.