Monday, March 29, 2010

I ride on Crane's Beach!

Yes! On Sunday I rode my Morgan Commander on Crane's Beach, Ipswich.


Yes, it was as chilly and blustery as it looks, and it was around 6:00 p.m. (low tide was 5:30), so the daylight was fading. But the beach closes to horses on April 1st, and there's a mighty storm rolling up the coast, arriving today and planning to sit over New England and drench us for the next three days, so this was my one shot at it, thanks to a kind acquaintance.

Here is Cherie on her Morgan Mica:


I left my good cameras at home and took along a little point and shoot, so the image quality ain't so hot, but still we got some good ones, passing the camera back and forth.

This one's my favorite:


That's an Australian stock saddle I'm in; as out of riding shape as I am, I was taking no chances. Commander was on fire! He's been to the beach many times with his previous owner and he knew just where he was when we unloaded. He was good about being mounted, and followed Mica politely, but you could tell he was pumped to be there.

Going out he walked politely, and jogged easily when I asked (I didn't ask much since he's as out of shape as I am), but when we turned to go back, well, I had myself a little jigging machine under me. And yet, it was no big problem. He'd jigjogjigjog to catch up to Mica -- who is a much bigger walker than Commander and would pull ahead; I'd check him back to a walk; he'd walk, slowly fall behind, and jigjogjigjog up again. If I'd merely hinted at it, he'd have broken into a canter (I know his previous owner would gallop him sometimes on the way back) but he obeyed when I refused to go along with the idea.

He's such a blast to ride. Cherie's going to take poor trailerless me this summer to ride with her in the local state park, Bradley Palmer, and back to the beach next fall. Woo-hooooo!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Commander gets jealous

Jealous of Ben, that is. Jealous of Ben being ridden, and he himself not.

Which is amusing, since Commander has a lazy streak and will cheerfully suck out of a diligent effort if you let him get away with it. But then, once he determines you aren't taking "nuh-uh" for an answer, he'll work as hard as you ask him to, and not complain. So I suspect the tests of his rider's intent are more a game for him than a real disinclination to earn his easy keep.

But jealousy, how did he reveal that side of his increasingly intriguing personality? Because Ben's pet teenager, Rebecca, has come to visit the boys over the last two days. She's groomed them both and fussed over them both, but only ridden Ben each time.

And Commander has not been pleased. After all, hadn't he joined Ben in greeting Rebecca enthusiastically? Hadn't he revelled in her industrious grooming of the mud crusted on his coat, in her scrubbing away at the itchy fur he's shedding? Why, then, oh, why wouldn't she ride him too? He could see Ben being tacked up, right in front of him, since Rebecca did that outside in the run-in; he could see them working in the ring next to the run-in; he was right there when Rebecca brought the big lug back and untacked him and made a fuss over him.

Why did she then ignore him? Why wasn't it his turn then? It wasn't fair!

No, really, Rebecca told me that both days, after she was done with Ben, Commander stood right at the gate, facing out, waiting for his turn to go to work. It couldn't have been plainer what he was thinking if he'd been wearing a neon sign flashing "What about me?!?" Today I got to the barn just as Rebecca was leaving, and I can attest that Commander was still waiting with muted indignation. I grabbed his bridle, a saddle pad, a helmet, and the crop (I never have to use it but it's an effective visual aid with this guy), trotted down to the paddock, and sure enough, there stood Commander at the gate, still waiting to take his due turn at serving the humans. Unlike previous times when I've come to ride him, this time he stood still for bridling instead of pulling his initial slow-motion duck-away. I swear, he seemed relieved that someone, finally, was going to do right by him.

He stood politely while I flicked the saddle pad over his back and hopped aboard from the mounting rock (I'm getting better at it; getting into the neighborhood of graceful, even). We had an enjoyable little putter around the ring and he moved right out, the most forward he's been since I started barebacking him over the last few weeks. Maybe he was determined to show the world (or at least any handy human) that he deserves every bit as much attention as Ben.

This jealousy thing could be quite useful, I suspect.

This guy is a hoot, and gets hootier every day.

Friday, March 12, 2010


I've had to euthanize several cats, and while it's always heartbreaking, in every case I knew it was the right decision, at the right time, which made it somewhat easier to bear.

The worst euthanasia decision I ever had to make was for my horse Nick. He was 23 years old and still in excellent health; his age was just beginning to show. He was spending the summer at a friend's farm in New Hampshire, and I'd been up to see him earlier and enjoyed what proved to be our last ride together. I'd planned to bring him home at the end of August, but Anne suggested leaving him with her for another couple of weeks to enjoy grazing relatively fly-free now that summer was over.

A few days before Nick was to be trailered home, I got one of those calls that kick you in the gut: "Nick's been hurt. Hurt bad. You need to get up here fast." A frantic two hours' drive later, I saw my horse: scraped and bruised from his struggle to regain his feet after somehow sliding under the electric wire down a small slope and getting cast on his back in a shallow swale. (We never figured out how it happened; perhaps it was a small stroke?) But that was superficial and not of concern.

What froze my heart was Nick's loss of sensation in his hind legs. He could move them, clumsily, but he couldn't feel them -- he'd lost all proprioception beyond his croup. He could walk, but with each step he swayed terrifyingly close to falling.

Anne's vet did what she could. We decided to see if he would heal, and when I left at last I clung to some shreds of hope through the leaden misery of replaying again and again in my mind what I'd seen.

For the next few days I kept in close touch with Anne. One night came another frantic call: "Nick's down in his stall and he can't get up. I'm getting help. Be ready to come up. Be ready to decide." That evening we almost made the decision. I waited by the phone, unable to leave immediately, knotted up in helpless worry. But Anne's neighbors came over and her vet joined the fight to get him back up; Nick tried, rested, tried again; the human crew who refused to give up on him inched this 1,000-pound animal over to the outside door of the stall, got his front legs out, pushed and heaved him farther, farther -- and Nick slid out, got up on all fours, and tottered off looking for grass. Anne phoned me, exhausted, triumphant, with the good news, and to report that her neighbors had joined the big red goofball's fan club.

But the joy from that rescue was fleeting. A couple of days later I drove up to meet Anne's vet at her farm to discuss what next. I walked down to where Nick was hanging out under the bank barn with Anne's two horses, the vet by his side. And I knew.

He was glad to see me and he gobbled the doughnut and horse cookies I'd brought him and he wanted his belly scratched (oh, how he loved having his belly scratched! He'd follow you around the paddock slinging his flank at you, demanding more) but he was weaker, I could see that, since the Sunday before when I'd last seen him. He was tired, tired of fighting to go on, and so wobbly he almost fell just moving into position to get his belly scratched.

The vet was so kind. Donna told me she'd seen a much younger horse with the same injury who'd never recovered and that I was right to let him go. She showed me the place on his spine where she believed the injury was. We started to lead him -- just with a rope around his neck, Nick was always such a good guy -- we were taking him up the slight slope to where I'd chosen to bury him if it came to that. He tried to follow me but halfway up he lost his balance backwards and sagged down. He folded rather than slamming down, lay on his side with his feet higher, picked up his head and tried, started to try to get up. I knelt by his head and comforted him and told him he didn't have to try any more and told him I loved him and he laid his head back down and trusted me and I stroked his face while the vet gave him the needle and he went so softly so gently he never even drew the harsh agonal last breath. Just... gone.

Anne was at work, distraught because I think she knew what I would decide when I saw Nick. I called her when I made the decision and again afterwards. Donna comforted me as best she could, stayed with me for quite a while afterwards talking and helping me deal with it. We covered his body with a dropcloth and I cut off keepsake strands of his mane and tail. After Donna left I stood leaning on the fence for a while, staring at Nick's body, and cried. Finally I got his tack into the car and drove to Concord where Anne was working and we cried on each other for a bit. And then I drove home.

That was in September 2005. I'm crying now, reliving it. He's buried in Anne's front field. I have a picture of him happily grazing on the spot that became his grave. I look at it every day.



Wallowing in filth.

Wallowing in filth till its foul glutinous slime encrusts every inch of the wallower.


In other words, it's mud season, and the horses are making the most of it.

Ben isn't quite so bad as Commander, but only because he's still in a winter blanket, so he has to make do with layering the muck onto his periphery.


Still, he does his best to get down and dirty. It takes some serious wallowing to get his inner ear hair all crusty with dried mud, after all.


But the ear hair isn't Ben's proudest achievement in muckification. Oh, no. No, I'd say it's the gigantic globs of mud crusted in his coat and tangled in his mane that truly impress (or horrify, depending on whether one had any foolish hope of grooming him). Like this:


You've got to admit, that's some serious filth there, eh? And yet, if you holler and screech about what an unholy mess he is, and how the devil can I ever get you clean, he looks back at you with such uncomprehending innocence:


That string of mire beads in his forelock is a nice touch, wouldn't you say?


And then there's Commander. Commander, the hardy little Morgan whose thick coat needs no blanketing.

Whose long, thick, fuzzy coat is one hideous mass of dried, semi-dried, and still glutinous MUD.


True, he hasn't daubed and smeared his head as thoroughly as Ben, but then, I've never seen another horse as impassioned as Ben is about grinding his head into the dirt whenever he rolls.


Whew, that near side of Commander is truly gross and disgusting, isn't it? Perhaps his off side might be....


Um, no. No, it's just as bad, with an extra heaping serving of muck right where the saddle would sit if one could excavate far enough down to find his back.


So, I'd say Ben gets the concentrated filth prize, but Commander wins the overall muckification honors.