Sign-up for our newsletter to receive news, updates and more from Nanette Levin!

Horse Care

Seven tips to help your horse weather a brutal winter

horse barn with melting snow
Enough of winter already! The snow even wants to hang on to the barn roof.

It’s snowing again – pelting and stinging missiles brought forth from another day (actually night at this point) of 30 mph winds. The horses here are suffering from this extended brutal winter, as am I. Last year, I was busy harvesting some of the vegetable produce from the garden by now, with (very unusual) temperatures in the 80s beginning March 15th. The horses were grazing on lush grass, dappled, completely shed out, robust and happy. This year, those remaining at Halcyon Acres® (the ones who have trucked out to anywhere else in the country had hair coming out in clouds almost immediately) are hanging onto their winter coats with zeal. It’s probably a good thing.

In the twenty years I’ve been at this Upstate New York farm, I can’t recall a more punishing winter. I can take the snow – and often relish it. We didn’t have much of that this year, but the frigid temperatures, non-stop whipping wind and high humidity (something new, yet seemingly all-season lately in this corner of the word) has made this the most challenging winter I’ve ever had in my more than 40 years of owning horses. Add last year’s horrid hay season (major drought conditions) and the transport of most quality forage out-of-state to the mix and it’s no wonder the horses here are struggling to maintain their weight. I’ve never seen anything like it (other horse owners in the area are expressing similar challenges).

horse barn at halcyon arcres with ice sliding off roof
It’s hard to capture the intensity and wonder of this sight in a photo, but this is the back side of that snow hanging on to the roof of the tack room at Halcyon Acres pictured from another angle above.

Perhaps locking a horse in stall for the season could mitigate some of these effects, but there’s a price to be paid for such an approach (well beyond monetary). Even with 24/7 hay, the horses are already shunning shelter to try to graze the 30 acres they’re confined to. Those coming in at night for manufactured feed and special hay (most of the time they might saunter over, but aren’t particularly interested) are galloping to the gate when called. I’m so ready for spring. These poor horses need it more than I do.

It’s probably going to be another year without a spring (my favorite season). Even so, I’ll welcome summer if it means and end to this punishing winter.

Seven tips for helping your horses weather a brutal winter

  1. Even if you’re against blanketing, when weather is severe, some need help. Older horses, those with sensitive or compromised systems and others who are struggling getting through a harsher or longer season than normal might need some help with warmth. While constant access to hay can help here, some need more. Just make sure you check every day by removing blankets to ensure no sores, rubbing or issues with bad fit. Take them off when the weather warms or you may risk pneumonia cases due to sweating.
  2. Rain sheets are a relatively inexpensive way (about $60) to give extra protection or help when precipitation is heavy, winds are brutal or for horses with heat loss signs. The issue is usually deeper when you see snow melting on a horse’s coat (it’s normal to see this in close to freezing temperatures or after a good frolic in the field), but at least you can offer some short-term relief by offering to help keep coats dry.
  3. Ensure water is always and easily available. Dehydration in winter is a common cause for colic.
  4. Provide shelter always. Your horse may not use it but at least offer the option.
  5. Give constant access to hay to help your horse generate body heat.
  6. Check your horse daily for injuries, issues and comfort. If she’s shivering, she’s burning off a lot more calories to stay warm and might require more help from you than usual. Run your hand across his back, shoulder, hips and barrel to ensure you don’t feel bone. Winter coats (and blankets) can hide weight loss before you see it.
  7. Pray, hope, dance or do whatever it is you do to call for spring.

P.S. I wrote this post yesterday. Today was a beautiful day (forgot what it felt like to be out in the sun) and it looks like we’re on easy street for the next week or so with lows forecast in the 20s and 30s. We’ll see if it lasts.



Horses can help in surprising ways with farm chores

Animals are more intuitive than most people give them credit for. Remi’s certainly not the brightest canine to walk the planet, but she seems to always know when I’m headed downstairs to leave the office instead of taking a trip to the kitchen or bathroom. It’s not that she hears me putting on a coat or readying boots, she’s up and halfway down the stairs before I reach the bottom.

horse with rider
This is Clover, my lovable brat.

I find the horses at Halcyon Acres® sense a lot of things you might not expect too. What’s amazing is, once you’re able to connect with one or more in a way they understand, you can easily use herd members to help with daily management activities. While training is one way, I tend to prefer asking.

Clover is a lovable brat. She’s an instigator and can be challenging to work with. It’s important to channel her energy and engagement if you want to keep the peace – and your sanity. This six-year-old Registered Irish Draught Sport Horse is clever, athletic and has a sense of humor (really). I know I probably shouldn’t, but I can’t help but chuckle watching as she gets the herd racing around on slippery ground, maneuvers an instant 90-degree turn at 35 mph and then watches as others try to follow and start skidding and flopping to the ground as hoofs come out from under them. I swear you can almost hear her giggling.

Recently, deep snow, biting winds and too many layers of clothes have slowed me down at feeding times. There are a few rules that are non-negotiable at the farm. Kicking up heels near the meal ticket is one of them. So is being rude by grabbing at food before it’s laid out. Sometimes, though, when winds are whipping and excitement is flowing, they can’t help themselves.

Clover started this (of course). She began sniping at the bales before they were opened and distributed and others followed her lead. I let her know I had enough – and targeted her with the message. She got it and also seemed to sense I could use some help. Who knows what goes on in her mind sometimes. Whether it’s a genuine effort to help and protect me (she’s done this enough before it’s not a stretch) or a conviction that if she couldn’t grab, no one else was going to either, but the end result was incredible.

Instead of viewing the gate as the entryway to a shark tank, I feel more like Moses as a wide path is cleared in front of and around me as hay is doled out. The first day or two there was some chasing and circling as Clover let every herd member know if they came within ten feet of me they’d incur her wrath. Now, except for the occasional glare, she doesn’t have to do anything. Thanks, Clover!

Horses seem to love to have a job – even if it’s a simple one. Think about selecting a horse to help you with a task and you might be surprised at how they jump in with solutions. Do you have a fun horse story to tell? Please share in the comments below.

Horse happenings at Halcyon Acres®

It’s been a crazy month at Halcyon Acres®. We spent much of it struggling to get temporary water to the house, trucking it in to the farm and figuring out a fix. Last week we were finally able to get an available backhoe in here to dig a new water line. Might sound like a simple task, but wasn’t.

Diagnosing the problem took a while. First, we suspected the well was dry (we’ve been dealing with horrible drought conditions here). Seemed odd given the super producing underground stream, but I can’t recall a time when we’ve had so little rain fall coupled with high heat.

It wasn’t the well. Good news on the biggest problem front, but not so much on the ‘when will water flow’ question. Ultimately, we determined it the line.

By the end of the week a temporary fix was rigged. The problem was, we were asking a pump that was already working pretty hard to draw a longer distance and up an extra five feet of height. Holding the prime became a challenge. It was enough water to brush teeth, flush toilets, wash dishes and take rapid showers – all spaced throughout the day to put as little stress on the pump as possible – but we’ve been trucking water in for everything else.

The backhoe was a bigger challenge. The narrow, steep terrain, shale (and a foundation, as it turned out) and mud (getting to the well required digging through this productive underground stream) required a gutsy yet agile machine.

Seventy-five percent of the organic produce crop is gone. We had to resort to some insecticide treatment in the end.

The rain dances have paid off and water is flowing again at the farm.

Funny, I never realized how much I depended on water for most waking moments of my life. Now I do. It’s wonderful to find a new appreciation for something most of us take for granted.

Young horse training help found

Good kids horse for sale
Sweet Dixie charmed her rider who was aboard her for the first time.

This past month marked the hire of an assistant trainer. It took a while to find someone qualified. Many applicants had been riding a long time, but didn’t know how to do much more than be a passenger. Ultimately, we settled on a gal who was kind with the crew, had enough experience to be able to work with some of the greener horses and could operate independently. She set the compensation rate and her hours. She loved the horses, was awed by the beauty of the property and enjoyed the job. She pulled a no-show after a week’s time and later quit via an e-mail message claiming time constraints.

My wonderful vet stepped up and offered to lend a hand. This week we videotaped some of the kid-friendly stock under saddle and captured a bunch of conformation shots of others. Advertising will commence in the coming weeks.

I was also put back in touch with a lovely young rider/trainer in South Carolina. Some of the horses will be shipping down there for polishing and rehoming.

Remi’s stepped up and is trying to lend a bit of a hand with the horses in Gatsby’s absence. None of the horses have taken on Redford’s role.

Horse life on the farm

Crooked (she’s not any more – probably should come up with a new nickname) continues to grow and show how clever she is. She’s probably close to 15.3hh at only a year old and has a lot more growing to do. Her new game is to eat grass only on the outside of the fence. We’ve been doing a lot of work around here so the fence has been off. She knows it.

fun kids horse for sale
Cute little Midge is so much fun. You can see how intense she is in this shot.

Einstein has a different approach. He’s a jumper. Of course, he can’t seem to figure out he can get back in the same way he left. At least once a week I hear thundering hoofs and screaming through my office window. Fortunately, he knows where the primary entry spot is so it’s a merely matter of calling him and swinging open the gate, then watching him whoosh down the hill, corner the ninety degree turn at 35 mph and gallop full speed to the herd hollering all the way.

Midge hasn’t lost her spark. She’s loving being back in training. Riding her again is bringing back the old memories on what attracted me so much to this delightful mare. It’s so funny to witness her energy, enthusiasm and stamina. She’s game for anything, handy as can be and always ready to go, go, go. You can feel her smiling through every request and especially the new challenges.

Dixie is a gem. She was one of our video-taping projects. My vet couldn’t get over how sweet she was. This is another gal that was put back into training after a long hiatus. I forgot she’d never been ridden at the farm. She handled mounting with a stirrup and the trails like an old pro.

On the young horse training front, Judie’s old-soul mentality makes her one of the steadiest and easier horses on the trails. She seems to enjoy quiet rides alone. She comes running when she’s called and relishes her individual attention. As one that’s relatively low in the herd ranks, she appreciates a new routine that has her in the barn during the day. Clover and Leah are back in training too – both sharp little gals who pretty much started back right where we left off last year.

The herd’s starting to segregate. They were running as a band together until recently. It’s interesting to watch the dynamics. Sometimes you can learn more about a horse by watching how they interact with other equines than you can through direct contact.

Hope you all are enjoying the seasons and the horses that make them so interesting.

Is keeping the horse you love a struggle?

Horses aren’t just tools – they’re friends. Photo courtesy of Gesina Smith via Flickr

It can be heartbreaking to look at a horse you envisioned as a family member, companion and partner for life as an expense you can no longer afford. ‘Buyer’s market’ is a mantra we’ve been hearing in the equine industry for too many years. When that translates to needing to find a new home for a trusted friend that’s been your spiritual rock, recreation and health club combined, there’s more to consider than the money of the matter.

Fortunately, if you’re willing to be creative, you can find solutions that may allow you to keep your trusted steed healthy, happy and home or at least ensure his life without you in it will be a good one.

Know you’re not alone in the challenge to make ends meet while having a horse around the house. In fact, according to the National Center for Policy Analysis, Americans pay more in taxes than for food, clothing and shelter. In 2012, we’ll pay approximately $4.041 trillion in taxes, which is $152 billion, or 3.9 percent, more than we’ll spend on housing, food and clothing combined.

Not to get into a political discussion here, but what’s scarier is the transfer payments (basically monies allocated through taxes that are given to citizens to pay for housing, food, clothing, health care and transportation). In 1929, the percentage was .05 percent. When Medicare began (1965) it grew to 11 percent. Now, it’s close to 35%. Of course, it doesn’t take a genius to extrapolate that a growing number of people in this country are depending on others to pay their way. For whatever reason this is happening, with so many unable to even care for themselves, it’s no wonder more are labeling horses a luxury they can’t afford.

But horses aren’t just recreational vehicles to be sold off as commodities when times are tough. They’re pets and partners representing ‘me time,’ emotional bonds, spiritual enrichment, psychological stabilizers and confidants. Before you decide you can’t afford a horse anymore, consider the real costs – and try to get creative about how you may be able to hold on.

In your decision to sell have you considered:

  • What you’ll do to replace the mind calming components of your horse relationship (or the toll of not having an equivalent outlet)?
  • Do you have another source for the affection and connection that comes from your horse?
  • How will you replace the physical fitness and connection to nature components of your horse time?
  • Will saying goodbye to your horse rob you of the only personal time you have?
  • Are you ready to deal with the stress of wondering where your horse lands during his life and how he’s doing? If you’re firm about selling, save yourself the misery of looking up the horse later unless you have a buy-back agreement.

Fortunately, there are a lot of ways you can reduce, share or cover the costs of owning a horse. The possibilities are as vast as the ideas you can entertain. It’s not necessary to sacrifice if you’re willing to work a little more or make concessions that allow you to continue to spend time with your horse for less.

Saying goodbye is heartbreaking. It’s not always necessary. Photo courtesy of Tricia Hope via Flickr.

Here are options for getting creative about solutions to keep your horse:

  • Look at alternative, less expensive and often more effective feed programs that include quality pasture forage
  • Explore barefoot as an alternative to shoeing
  • Do bi-annual fecals instead of following a regimented worming approach
  • If you board, see if there are jobs you can do (mucking stalls, turn-out, fence repair, cleaning tack, etc.) around the facility to help reduce your monthly fees
  • Approach other horse facilities to inquire about board in exchange for work if it’s not something you can do where you are
  • If your horse is home, adding more fencing and outdoor shelter can decrease feed and bedding costs
  • Defray costs by offering a friend ride time in exchange for splitting care costs (with a contract vetted by an attorney that addresses liability)
  • Seek out a co-leaser that shares board and other costs of care (insurance is a factor here)
  • Sell the horse to someone close, who you trust willing to let you continue a relationship with the horse (this may involve a discounted sale price or a monthly lease fee – or, just a kind soul who gets it)
  • Craft a sale agreement that includes a for-life home and/or first option buy-back offer
  • Create a bank account where you put all money usually spent at retail outlets on coffee, fast food, bought lunches, lottery tickets, prepared meals, entertainment, restaurant meals and other items that are impulse buys or part of your routine and make your own or go without

Before you cast off your horse with the conviction he’s costing you too much, consider what you’ll lose when he’s gone. Money isn’t the only factor in the equation. If he’s not the right horse for you – or you’re not the right person for him – that’s a different story. But, if you have a horse that’s been your partner, your biggest enjoyment in life, your only exercise and/or your rock, the price of losing this lifeblood is a lot higher than the savings you’ll see by eliminating what you’re shelling out to keep him. If he’s really important in your life, take the time to get creative with answers to keep you both happy. Sometimes selfish is good.

Have you ever sold a horse and continue to regret the decision? Are you challenged right now with an equine you feel you can’t afford to keep? Please share in the comments below. You’ll certainly get some kindred souls sharing your pain and might even find the ideal answer to your challenge from blog readers.


Introducing a new horse to the herd

It’s always interesting to witness herd dynamics. Just when you think you have the players and likely responses figured out, horses surprise you.

Heard hanging close together as usual

Grania has been here a couple of years (since her second arrival at Halcyon Acres®) and even though she’s now a farm-owned horse for all practical purposes (her owner died and the surviving husband has put decisions regarding her care in our hands), she hasn’t joined the herd – until now.

For a long time she was a client horse here to be transitioned as a future stroke recovery therapy horse. Sometimes there’s a good reason to add a transient to the mix, but usually it’s not worth the angst for the herd – nor me – to introduce a temporary resident to the home gang.

Judie, the client, a friend, New Mexico resident and determined survivor was getting mobility back from the stroke when she succumbed to cancer. One of her last wishes was that we ensure Grania was provided with a happy home for life. As an aside, we know ultimately it’s not here (Grania loves to train and there’s just not time to give her the kind of attention she relishes).

Finding company for Grania

Grania tried some initial posturing when introduced to the herd. She's the one with the wide blaze in the background snaking her head.

Recently, company became important to this previously independent loner. In the past, we found companions (victims) to put her with, but she usually responded with unwarranted aggression until they retreated to an area far away from her space and path. Putting such a mare with the curious and social farm herd crew could be dangerous.

Interestingly, Grania took a liking a to a docile TB mare that came in here for starting under saddle lessons, and later, winter conditioning training. For the first time since she’s been here, Grania allowed a horse to graze alongside her and even nickered when she left and returned from riding time. Grania’s buddy trucked out this month. Suddenly, Grania developed a desire to be near the other horses on the property. After she jumped a fence then thundered toward the big pastures (I stepped out of the way as it became clear she had one thing on her mind and halting at my feet wasn’t it), it was clear her loner tendencies had changed and so must an approach to keep her happy.

Over the years I’ve met some horses (they’re rare) that don’t like other horses. You may recall Lulu from prior blog posts. She’s home now and happily segregated into her own private pasture. We tried all sorts of company arrangements and tactics to help this filly learn to appreciate equine companionship. It just wasn’t in her wiring, nor a case of prior trauma. She simply doesn’t like other horses. Porky, my best ever farm hand, was another. She’d get along fine with everyone, but preferred human companionship to horse company. The more horses that came to the property, the less she liked it. In fact, she was happiest when she was the only horse here. Grania, though, is the first I’ve ever seen go from happy loner to herd attached.

Considering a new turnout arrangement

Crooked is the photo bomber in the foreground. She was facinated with the new introduction to the herd and the only one besides Leah and Judie who demonstrated a fearless desire to be friends.

Part of the reason we delayed culling a companion from the farm herd is because it looked like Grania would be changing homes to take care of a kid through the Pony Club ranks. She liked this gal and was an ideal fit with her joy of jumping, some exquisite foundation dressage training and an ability to handily adjust to the level of the rider aboard. That fell through and it was time to make a decision about how to handle her new desire to be social.

Since we’re getting ready to start rotational grazing, it didn’t make a lot of sense to allocate an entire pasture to a single horse or pair. In fact, it would have required two (six acres) to make water delivery easy and shelter readily available with the current configuration. So we decided to take a shot at introducing her to the herd.

Preparing for a safe herd acclimation

Judie and Grania are in the background - far away from the rest of the closely gathered herd. Redford's resting place is in the foreground. Still not sure what to do with the spot.

We picked Cowboy for Grania’s initial single companion. The two shared a couple of pastures adjacent to the herd with access to the other horses over the entire fence length.  This 8 YO TB gelding is one of the most amiable in the herd, big (16.2hh) and unflappable enough not to be bothered by her possible aggressive behavior. He also didn’t seem to have any strong peer attachments. Bad decision.

The first three hours were uneventful. In fact, the pair didn’t even go through any squealing or striking rituals, but instead, merely planted their heads in the grass next to each other and grazed without much notice of each other. Of course, everyone in the herd ran over to the fence line to investigate the new scene and gathered like soldiers in formation (wish I had a picture of this one), but ultimately went back to routine.

I was working in the vegetable garden when the sound of pounding hoofs caught my attention from more than a half mile away. The sight was horrifying. Cowboy, neck out-stretched, teeth bared and hoofs chasing at 30 mph went into an attack-mode frenzy (I’ve never seen this kind of behavior from him – and he was born on the farm) aiming for the jugular. I’m not entirely clear what set him off (didn’t see the engagement moment), but suspect he was reacting to a separation from Leah. She was running the fence line with the pair. I bolted out to the pastures, opened the gate, Leah entered and Cowboy exited.

That actually worked out better than I had envisioned because Leah was my second choice. She gained alpha status in the herd (we have several with this designation) because she refused to move when the most aggressive mare in the herd (she’s so not an alpha) tried to chase her out of the run-ins or away from water. She’s a leader that’s been appointed even though she’s never shown any aggression toward others in the herd. She’s only three.

Leah was great about being kind and accepting in her requested role as Grania’s baby sitter and short-term friend for herd introductions. I had promised Leah a single day of separation, but it wound up being two because Cowboy’s continued aggressive behavior over the fence line was a concern.

Meeting the farm herd

After the Cowboy incident, I was anxious when the time came for herd introductions, but fortunately, it was basically a non-event. Crooked (a fearless yearling filly) was most curious about this new herd sight  (she’d been with the same crew since a couple of weeks after birth) and spent time touching noses with Grania for hours. Leah helped keep her safe (what a gem this filly is) guiding her away from herd infractions likely to result in a beating. Grania did err as she tried to command one of the run in sheds as her own (she learned that lesson quickly and exited at a gallop), but didn’t make that mistake again.

Judie apparently figured the best way to show friendship intent was to introduce Grania to the only tiny mud hole available in this 26-acre pasture. It was amazing to witness Judie's willingness to offer herself as a fast friend to keep Grania safe.

Interestingly, Judie (yes, her nickname was given to honor Grania’s former owner while she was still alive – her registered IDSH name is Halcyon’s Keepsake – karma or what?) decided to be Grania’s buddy and secluded herself from the rest of the herd to provide companionship and guidance.

Maybe it was a good thing Cowboy went into stallion attack mode. It seemed to humble this mare that was previously an unrelenting aggressor. As I picked up my head from garden activity to see what all the noise was about, even at the distance, it was clear Grania felt she was running for her life. She probably was. Teeth marks (fortunately all superficial) were apparent along her jugular. She did get in some good kicks (mostly on Cowboy’s chest – all superficial but well-aimed).

Curiously (or maybe not – this is an incredible filly) Leah jumped in as the kind companion and artful leader she is with all. While she wasn’t initially thrilled about being separated from the herd, she seemed to quickly understand she had a job to do and managed to help Grania easily transition with wise and watchful counsel. She even stepped in to put herself between Grania and Cowboy when he became threatening with body language. Leah’s only 15.1hh and dwarfed by Grania’s bulk and Cowboy’s height.

I continue to be amazed at how intuitive horses are. Whether they’re picking up signals from me or jumping in to ensure a safe and peaceful living arrangement, I don’t know, but it sure is neat to witness.

Special horses can make you cry

Sweet, little Redford

This past month has been heart-wrenching. Days have been marred with a constant struggle treating symptoms without a known cause to try to help dear, sweet Redford recover. This takes its toll – on both you and the horse. The time and angst involved in playing the guessing the game without uncovering an answer can be all-consuming – and devastating.

Redford, a 14.2hh, three-year-old Thoroughbred gelding has served as my buddy, a source of inspiration and on-the-ready helper for so many different farm tasks. He began this ordeal with what is commonly called colitis, but can mean just about anything once you get past the outward signs and discover what’s really going on inside. Sadly, in many cases, this isn’t discovered until after a necropsy (or autopsy) is performed.

Redford’s always been one of these really special horses with personality, an intuitive cooperative spirit and a helpful cleverness that makes you smile. Everyone introduced to this horse wants to bring him home. He’s just always been a character with a kind, gentle approach that’s tuned in to whatever the person he encounters needs to feel comfortable.

Incredible horse helper

Redford becoming a handsome little boy

It amazed me to watch what I came to regard as ‘my little helper’ in action. We have a group of farm-owned horses at Halcyon Acres® that spend most of their time on about 26 acres of pasture spattered with run-in sheds where hay and minerals are provided as necessary. During much of the year, about half the horses get culled out daily to go into the barn for grain and/or treatment or training. We keep a routine, and that helps, but Redford somehow figured out how to jump in with influence to save me tons of time while adding a huge grin to my face.

Redford wih the herd

What struck me as so odd about all this is Redford certainly isn’t a herd leader. In fact, he ranks pretty much at the bottom of the hierarchy. Yet, I discovered if I called his name first when it was time to bring horses into the barn, he’d take notice immediately and start heading toward the gate. As I called others’ names he’d check to see if they were following. If not, he’d go round the ones indicated up one at a time as names were called and head them toward the barn. Every horse he approached would then fall in line and head down the hill as instructed. He only culled out those called.

When Ferris Hills came out for the first time (they do this annually now), we called on Redford to make the trip more fun knowing he’d stay safe. All other horses are behind a fence. Redford was a yearling colt (in-tact) at the time (he’s the one saying hello to those still on the bus).

One in the group was the lead mare and I couldn’t trust her to take the herd to the barn unfettered as she would occasionally delight in heading everyone off to the corn field. My first approach was to halter her prior to opening the gate, but this need stopped when Redford became the guide. All I’d have to do is open the gate and ask Redford to ‘take them to the barn’ if Midge decided she was going to pull one of her excursion exploits, and he’d get back on track down the hill with other horses taking notice and following. He’d go with the herd initially and naturally, but the moment I requested his assistance, he’d jump in to fill the role.

Sick but still happy

We started treatment with stall restriction but soon it became apparent he needed grass. For a week or so, he was confined to small paddocks for limited time to ensure the exposure didn’t lead to a laminitis issue. After that, he couldn’t be turned out with the farm herd because it was important to limit his exertion and this crew can get pretty vicious with a sick horse that’s been out of the mix for a time. The paddocks didn’t offer shelter or safe socialization opportunities.

So I decided to turn him loose, ultimately for about twelve hours a day (on those days when I was at the farm continuously). Redford, in true fashion, appreciated the privilege and kept me smiling with his wise and accommodating approach to this offering. He’d graze along the fence line to be close to the other horses when they were near the barn, travel down the cherry laneway, nap in the tree line or in his stall and return to the barn when he wanted shelter from the wind, bugs, rain or sun. Sometimes he’d sample hay from the stack, but never made a mess, nor did he get into the grain (besides the complete feed bag set out for him). He developed a routine that usually had him grazing all morning and late afternoon, hanging out in the barn in the early afternoon and returning to his stall in the evening just before last chores to be closed in for the night.

The one – the horse of my dreams

My plan was to interact with Redford at liberty for everything we did to prepare him for a riding career. He was going to be the first horse I started without any tack. I imagined the two of us riding out sans bridle and saddle tackling whatever challenge appeared with an understanding and connection that didn’t require restrictions, but was instead, drawn from a trusting and intuitive connection that had us both in sync in uncanny ways. We were already there on the ground so it wasn’t a stretch to see this during riding time.

Some dreams don’t happen

Something wasn’t quite right with Redford on April 15, 2012. We later learned things were very wrong.

Redford was born on my birthday three years ago. He died yesterday.

In Redford’s case, we did all the tests – blood work, fecals, belly tap, etc., etc., etc. There wasn’t anything that came back indicating an issue. When we opened him up we discovered cancer.

He spent the last month of his life spewing liquid manure, sporting a high temperature we often had trouble controlling, tolerating needles, dosing syringes, thermometers, baths to prevent scalding on his backside (he hated these but stood like a trouper when asked), losing tons of weight and demonstrating a positive and resilient attitude in the face of pain far greater than we realized. On Tuesday, he gave me ‘that look.’ I listened.

I’m going to miss this little guy so much. Every day he enriched my life. It’s sad we weren’t able to save his. I get things happen for a reason, but I haven’t yet figured out what I’m supposed to take away from all this. In fact, there are going to be a lot of tomorrows that will seem empty without him.

Maybe the lesson comes from the extreme kindness and generosity that poured forth through the horse community as we struggled to find an answer that provided a cure – or at least some relief for Redford. There were many, but I should make special note of Kay Aubrey-Chimene (in Arizona), Karen Miller (a referral from Lisa Derby Oden in New Hampshire – I didn’t know Karen prior to this challenge) and of course, my wonderful vet, Dr. Janet Wilson (in New York). It’s comforting to see time and again how genuine and truly caring the people in our industry are. Thanks to everyone for the outpouring of support through this ordeal. Each of you helped to make a very tough month a little easier for both Redford and me.


Horse wishes for the holidays

  1. My two front teeth back
  2. Horses that view shelter as their pristine palace and don’t hold it in then deposit with pride the moment they enter their stall or shed
  3. A sawdust pitchfork that doesn’t break on the first stall a horse care farm hand tackles (the same one that held a year prior to ‘his touch’)
  4. Time for mud to dry and be leveled before the next deep freeze
  5. Snow drifts that are satisfied with a height below chest level
  6. A winter without 30-40 mph hour gusts and 20 mph sustained winds sweeping across the pastures
  7. Fence posts that don’t wait until the ground is frozen solid to crack in two
  8. Ice-free ground for routes to pastures, barns and training areas (please repel ice from training areas as well)
  9. Hydrants that don’t crap out the moment it’s too difficult to dig through the ground for a fix
  10. A young horse training trick to teach Leah that has her cleaning out her hoof before she crashes it through the water trough
  11. Gloves you can work and ride in that actually keep your hands warm
  12. Boots that repel water and snow moisture that don’t have your feet numb after ten minutes of standing
  13. The secret to keeping warm while holding horses for the farrier
  14. Sunny days that don’t turn snow to ice
  15. A tractor that starts when it’s cold and needed to lend a hand
  16. Double-ended snaps that don’t require bare-hand warmth to function as designed
  17. Uninterrupted electricity throughout the winter to power the well
  18. More training clients who are happy to include the horse in the conversation when it comes to activities and results
  19. No more than 100 inches of snow
  20. Hoses that don’t freeze
  21. Furry coats that repel rather than absorb dirt
  22. An early, temperate and long spring

Of course, this is a greedy list for one, but bet I there are more than twenty-one people who are wishing for the same as winter attacks (sans the Leah request, of course). How about we each ask for one and suggest Santa share the gifts with all? What do you all think? Have more to add? It shouldn’t be hard to find additional supporters to spread the spirit if you want to add to the list. Yep, this is a bit of horse humor, but imagine the answers may be among readers of his blog.Please offer your deepest desire in the comments below as it relates to horses and we’ll see if we can’t build some Santa support (and will probably get some good advice from the readers with ideas to help make our wishes come true).

Many of you have been asking for this (particularly overseas, although we do have distributors in the UK and EU), and I’ve been remiss in not announcing this earlier – sorry. The Turning Challenging Horses Into Willing Partners book is available as a Kindle edition for $9.95. It’s a great Christmas gift for the horse lover in your life if you’re a last-minute shopper.

Eleven quick tips for horse care in the fall

Fall signals the approach of winter. If you’re in a colder climate where winter means snow, you’re likely thinking about what you can do to help your horses fare well in freezing temperatures and whipping winds. There’s a lot you can do to prepare so you have a healthier horse come spring (or even now). Here are some quick tips to help you avoid costly resolutions in the future:

Prepare your horse for winter now
Winter's coming soon for your horse - prepare now
  1. Fall brings burdocks. If you’re removing these nasty buggers from the forelock, put a fly mask on before you start. If even only one of these small hooked seeds gets into a horse’s eye, you’ll likely be dealing with weeks of medical treatment and associated vet bills to resolve the irritation and likely associated infection. Don’t learn this lesson the hard way assuming your horse will remain perfectly still as you try to rip them out.
  2. Do fecals after the first hard frost. This way, you can ensure your horse is either worm free, or apply a customized solution to any parasites that may be an issue. Regular worming regimens are no longer endorsed by the majority of equine professionals due to documented concerns of resistance and unnecessary chemical introduction to the equine body. Still, it’s critical for your horse’s health (as they approach the hard winter months) to ensure they’re not also feeding uninvited residents.
  3. Do a blood or hair test to determine if there are any nutrient imbalances or toxins invading your horses body and customize an associated supplement solution to address this before hard winter hits. It’s easy (albeit expensive) to ask your friends or colleagues about what supplements they’ve found most effective. The fact is, unless you understand what your particular horse’s issues are, you can’t determine what they need to be healthy. In fact, supplementing indiscriminately can do a lot more harm than good. We discovered two surprising results from tests recently at Halcyon Acres®. High magnesium and selenium levels in all horses tested. Ordinarily these would be things you’d supplement as a matter of course, but doing such here could have been deadly.
  4. Survey your horses to ensure they are at a good weight. For hot blooded horses, broodmares, foals and outdoor residents, it’s best to have them a little on the heavy side before their bodies need to work overtime to generate heat. Now’s the time to help them put on a little extra to prepare for the cold.
  5. Keep the blankets off for as long as possible. You’re not doing your horse a favor by ‘keeping them warm’ during dropping fall temperatures. Let them grow a natural coat and reserve blanketing for those who can’t handle the cold after their hair has grown (usually older horses or those too unhealthy to grow an adequate protective layer).
  6. Ensure all horses have shelter from wind and cold rains. Healthy horses can handle snow a lot easier than they can rain and winds. If you don’t allow escape from wet and winds, you’ll likely head into winter with a skinny horse that will only get thinner as temperatures drop.
  7. Find a hay supplier that can get you through the winter or get enough in your barn to keep horses munching until spring. Good quality hay in ample amounts (read constant supply) can do a lot to keep your horse healthy through the cold winter (or any other time of year if grass isn’t available). Don’t wait until winter hits to wonder if you’ll have enough.
  8. Design water delivery systems that keep your horse’s thirst at bay. Whether this is in the barn or outside, it’s critical that horses are kept adequately hydrated during winter months. Now’s the time to figure out how to make this so. If your solution is hoses – they freeze in winter unless you remove them to warmth daily. Hydrants are good, but troughs freeze. Automatic systems are expensive, but effective. There are a number of devices sold that heat, but that requires electric and safe solutions that don’t put the equines in danger. Now’s the time to ensure you have a plan to get amply daily water to wherever your horses reside.
  9. Resolve any drainage issues to avoid ice around the barn or in the pastures. This can be as easy as a shovel and a path dug now, but is much easier to do now rather than after winter hits with associated frozen ground.
  10. Repair and replace any pasture board, breaks in the electric line, broken or weak posts or cranky gates. You’ll thank yourself for getting this done before you have to brave driving snow, frozen ground and loose horses.
  11. Enjoy the remaining reasonable weather for fun time with your horse. Take that extra hour off from work or miss those TV shows that have you wondering where your day went. Now’s the time to enjoy moderate temperatures, decent footing, beautiful scenery and great bonding experiences with your horse.

    Have fun with horses in fall before winter hits
    Enjoy fall riding before winter hits

Do you have tips you’d like to share that have helped you prepare for a better and healthier winter with your horse? Please offer them in the comments below.

Horses do the strangest things

It’s always amazing to witness horse herd behavior – even when it involves domesticated equines. We’ve been dealing with a sad situation at Halcyon Acres® in recent weeks, but it’s been fascinating to watch how the horses are respond to these odd circumstances.

A filly was born here in May out of one of our best Irish Draught Sport Horse (IDSH) producers, a mare that has always been a devoted, protective and superb mom. It’s been a difficult four weeks for mom, baby and me.

Herd mechanics experiment

We’ve been exploring using herd mechanics at Halcyon Acres® a bit in new and different ways (for us, anyway). After our spitfire colt of last year kept figuring out remarkable feats to get to the main herd and away from his mom at a very young age (jumping a 4-foot, 4-strand high-tinsel coated electric fence; managing to crawl through two-strands of interior electric without touching the wires; rolling under the fence; running through it; etc.), we decided (read gave up) it would be best to save the maiden mare the angst of being separated from her darling and turned the pair out with the farm-owned crew. He was a huge, independent and smart colt who managed to buddy up with everyone almost immediately, unscathed.

So this year, we made the decision to put our broodmares and babies out with an appropriately selected group of horses who weren’t towing a foal (or waiting for one) after a brief period of giving mare and foal time to bond. The older I get, the more I come to welcome the help other horses provide in schooling young horses – and realize how significant an imprint the right horses can make on a foal’s behavioral development. At about five days of age, Crooked (I need a better nickname for this foal – suggestions?) and her mom joined three other gals in the big digs.

Foal challenges – filly takes a turn for the worse

Right about the time we moved the pair into this segregated herd, health issues started escalating with the foal. Early on, we were focused on a localized infection near the umbilical cord (she came out of the mare with a huge stump and large hematoma right in front of the site – likely due to the cord breaking in the birthing canal) and noticed the crooked legs, but hoped they’d straighten over time. Then, she almost doubled in size in less than a week. The front tendons contracted first, next the back, which were worse. Now, most of her time is spent lying down to minimize the pain – she’s also recently been relegated to stall rest all but 2 hours of the day. Tried small paddock turnout, but the mare was so much more interested in the gals, she ran the foal ragged and knocked her down if she traversed into her tantrum path.

Mare’s aloof, client filly steps in

As I write this post, a three-year-old client filly is standing at the gate screaming to the foal in the barn. This big gal spent the winter in low status with her gang of ‘babies.’ They left, so we culled out a few kind horses to keep her company. When the birth mare started to ignore, leave and reject the foal (she’s still letting her nurse, but otherwise seems to wish she were gone) this young mare kept watch over the baby as she lay in the grass for hours, resting her sore and constricted legs. Mom left the filly, heading up the hill for richer grasses – or into the barn unconcerned about her whereabouts at feed time. Funny, this nurturing role seemed to boost this filly’s confidence (and rank and popularity in the herd) in ways no grouping of horse company could.

Horses will surprise you

Horses do things you never expect. This mother went ballistic for the better part of a week a few years ago as I tried to remove the second twin – born alive, unlike her sister – when she died after a struggle to save her. By the time I was able to separate the dam and the carcass, she had scraped all the hair and skin off the baby in an effort to get her up. Witnessing her now ignoring a young foal because it isn’t perfect is a shock. Similarly, this three-year-old TB filly is a classic follower. Watching her take the lead in giving this foal the comfort and protection the mom failed to provide was a joy to observe. This experience will likely serve both horses well. The baby knows where the milk is, but clings to the filly for other needs. The stand-in has blossomed into a confident and expressive equine in many aspects of her existence, which should carry over into future career requests.

It will be a very sad day when the two must part, but the weeks where they touched each other will likely last them a lifetime in terms of how they handle future challenges.

Do you have horse stories to tell?

Have you witnessed surprising behavior from horses in the herd? Please share in your comments below.

Foals are too much fun

Midge is the one mare at Halcyon Acres® that has always waited for me to witness her miracle. All the others seem to prefer foaling out without an audience (so I need to be crafty about getting there in time in case there is a problem without being a disturbance as they decide they’re ready). Oddly, Midge has always been able to time her delivery when she knows I will be around. Last night I was late on my rounds (by about ½ an hour) and missed her birthing (for the first time ever – this is her sixth foal) by probably about four minutes. She’s one of these mares that goes from start of labor to a foal on the ground and the placenta passed in less than ½ hour, so it’s hard to believe it’s a coincidence that all her births coincide with when she knows I will be there.

She showed no signs of an imminent birth. In fact, we even did a calcium test on her milk for the first time with low levels  indicated there was no way a foal was coming any time soon. Midge didn’t wax up at all. There was no restless behavior (never is with her anyway) or indication this baby was on its way. Yet, there her newborn filly was, bloody, wet and huddled in a ball when I made my tardy appearance.

This is a mare I’ve always had a special bond with. She anticipated our training time together at the track with so much enthusiasm she drew the wrath of all the grooms in the barn (digging a hole to China while getting the other horses wound up as she waited the hours before her turn – never did understand why she wasn’t put earlier in the schedule, but this was a big trainer with a system and she didn’t have a stall located at the front of the shed row).

Early on, I indicated to the trainer my interest in buying her when she was done racing. My intent was to train her as a lead pony for the youngsters that come in to Halcyon Acres® for under saddle training, but sadly, she was flipped into a ditch by a violent groom on her last race day. This incident caused sight damage to the right eye (among other serious injuries).

So she became a kicker because she was afraid of not being able to clearly see the horse in tow. Later, when I looked into her breeding (there was no reason to do this initially), I realized she had some super bloodlines behind for our venture into breeding Irish Draught Sport Horses. Of course, her conformation, heart (she had tons of it), size (she’s only 14.3hh – which was a plus given the size of many of the US RID studs) and beautiful head (yes, this is a factor in every mare we select) were bigger concerns, but it was curious to find Key to the Mint and Northern Dancer as Great Grand Sires, top and bottom respectively.

After making quick work of scanning the mare and foal to make sure no obvious issues appeared, I cleaned the stall and added another bale and a half of straw (it was bedded light figuring we had at least another week) and headed up to the office to send my vet and farm help an e-mail to alert them on the birth. I then grabbed some Novalsan® from the house (to dunk the chord) and headed back to the barn. The filly was up already, but the mare down (very odd for Midge). I was concerned about Midge, but it proved to be just a rest break.  When the little gal bounced up again after mom stood (probably 20 minutes after birth), she was up non-stop for more than ½ hour. This is one strong, healthy filly.

This spitfire filly is going to be gray (which you won’t see from the video, but the white ring around the eyes and nostril coloring gives it away). Even though a large percentage of Registered Irish Draughts are gray, this will be the first Irish Draught Sport Horse (RID X TB mare) at Halcyon Acres®. If readers are interested, we’ll keep you posted on her exploits.

Please indicate in the comments if you want periodic commentary and footage on this first foal of the season (yes, we had a horrid year in 2010 getting mares caught – gave up with one more due in July). If so, we’ll devote some time and space to including you as she comes along.