Monday, May 26, 2014

What horses give us

In the last blog I talked about how resilient we are as riders.  Our bodies might get injured, but after a good ride our minds are in a terrific place.  

We all know that we feel better after a good ride.  The exhilaration and euphoria.  My cousin talks about a "runner’s high" when he runs, but what about a "rider’s high"?  A bad day at work can be easily remedied by going to the barn and seeing our horses--even if you don't ride that day.  We forget about everything.  In the barn we are one with our horse.  Horses are very expensive and are not for everybody, but what do they give us?  Happiness, love, peace, tranquility, back to basics.  No phone, no email, no traumas of the world.  For those couple hours, everything is forgotten.  While I was recovering from my horse related injury, for what seemed forever, 3 months, I would still go to the barn a few days a week to check on my horse.  I would feel so happy after just seeing him.  I remember the first time I drove after my surgery, where did I go?  That’s right---to the barn.  

A friend of mine recently had thyroid surgery.  She was slowly getting better and looked forward to when she could ride again.  Last week (about three weeks after surgery) she called me and her first words to me were “I rode!!!  She was perfect!”  I was so happy for her--I knew exactly what she was feeling.  I could tell from that point on, she was on the right track to healing and getting better-faster.  

We find ourselves trying to rearrange our already packed schedules to get riding time in.  We give up many things to be able to ride.  Inevitably, we decline many invitations because we know we can ride that day.  I know I look ahead at the weather and try to arrange non-horsey activities for days that it will rain.  Do our non-horsey friends understand this?  Some do, but not like our horse friends.  We often say that we “needed” this ride.  Riding is a form of therapy.  Expensive therapy, but therapy indeed.    

Do our horses cause us stress?  Yes!  New shoes and then they pull one.  Abscesses, vet care, the heartbreak of illness and injury.  I am sure you have not had all perfect days in the saddle.  What disappointment we have when we have a bad ride.  Maybe our horse wasn’t in the mood for flatwork or jumping that day.  Maybe he wanted to play with his herd mates and relax in the sunshine.  I know when I have a bad ride, I am very upset.  I feel horrible--until I get up to the barn again.  Nervously, I go out to the field to get him, and he is back to himself and we had a terrific ride.  I am happily riding and driving home only to experience the “rider’s high” again. 

Recently many articles and studies have come out about the benefits of “equine therapy”.  Many things, that we as equestrians know already.  The article below briefly speaks of a study that stress and cortisol levels have gone down when teenagers work with horses for just 90 minutes a week.

Another related article did a very small study of patients with Alzheimer’s.  They brought some of the patients to a farm to work with horses.  They would bathe, brush and feed the horses as long as they were able to handle it.  They found that the patients were more agreeable, happier and not resistant to their other therapies later in the day.  The patients would even push their limits--some who don’t walk, asked to be helped up to stand and others who usually refused to walk would get up to be with the horses.  

My question to you is: What happens when you have a bad ride?  How do you change your mood around?  Do you go to the barn just to feel better?  Do you also feel the euphoria after a great ride?  

Saturday, May 17, 2014


Injuries....They are bound to happen.  I had a pretty good riding streak--riding since I was 12.  When you are a kid, you would fall off, bounce back, get right back on and have a great laugh about it.  Now the “bounce” isn’t so much a bounce as it is a deflated ball.  First you have that “Oh no, I’m falling” moment--sort of in slow motion and then plop.  No bounce.  No laugh.  We just think the following:  Can I move everything? Is anything broken? Where are my glasses? Oh, God! I hope no one was watching!  I’m so embarrassed.  Then when you are riding by yourself, it is a little scarier.  Will they find me?  Will my horse run away?  

We do manage to get back on.  Our confidence might be shook a little, but we do soon forget about it.  My first really bad fall was on a horse about 7 years ago.  “Utah” spooked and I got launched and fell right on my tailbone.  I did get back on, but stopped riding after that injury.   I didn’t start riding until I started leasing 3 years ago and then purchased my horse two years ago.  Could that be why I do get a little nervous?

As a kid I was fearless.  My friend Lauren and I often laugh at the stupid things we did with horses as kids.  We often wonder how we survived those years without killing ourselves.  I do credit her for saving my life--one time we rode and gave our horses baths.  We were letting them graze and decided to “build” some crazy jumps.  I hopped on, bareback with a halter and no helmet ready to go for the jump.  Lauren stopped me and made me put my helmet on.  Reluctantly, I did and thankfully I did.  “Dandy” galloped up to it stopped and then popped over.  I fell off and cracked my head.  I was dizzy, but was okay.  Thankfully, Lauren made me wear my helmet.  I would NEVER attempt that now--even with a helmet and protective vest!  What was I thinking?  I wasn’t thinking---I was a kid and thought I was invincible.  

I guess as we get older we start to feel and worry about our own mortality.  As I was saying earlier, I did have a great riding streak without injuries.  Everything happened in a span of two months with Sergio. First a bad concussion and then the infamous mounting block incident.  But I keep going back.  When I talk to my “non-horsey” friends they think I need to stop riding and that it is too dangerous.  When I talk to my “horse” friends we laugh and are all trying to top each others stories about how gruesome and life threatening our injury was.  I feel like I am one of them.  At work, I am made to feel embarrassed about my injuries, but in my circle of horse friends, I am supported--we all are.  In Windy Hollow Hunt, we even have the “Windie Awards”.   Awards for an array of different types of falls.  Bottles of wine are dedicated to the riders and inspired by the falls.  There is also the “Slippery Saddle Award” for the most dramatic fall.  What does that say?  You fell, you got back on and you persevered.    We always say to each other, you will be fine once you get back on.  There is something to that.  Once you are on your horse and riding, you forget about everything else.  You are traversing land, jumps, ditches, water and wild animals.  You do not have time to think about what hurts.  As long as your mind is healthy, you WILL be fine.  I have met so many kind and inspirational people through riding.  They are very uplifting when you are down and understand exactly what you are going through.  This is so prevalent at The Colonies.  What a wonderfully supportive group of people.  

One of my favorite videos “So you think being an equestrian is easy” sums up what we do.  I usually read rather than watch videos, but this is so incredible.  It is worth the time!  I really hope you enjoy it.

How do you boost your confidence after a bad fall?  Share in the comments below.  

Happy and safe riding to everyone!  

Monday, May 12, 2014

Herd Meetings

Herd behavior was a concept that I had to get used to.  My horse used to be stabled and turned out with three other horses, in a small, dirt paddock.  He would eagerly await my coming to the barn.  I would walk out to the paddock and he would come right up to the gate for me to get him.  

When I moved him to The Colonies, where they live as they should, things changed a bit. He was in quarantine for a couple days and still trotted up to me when I visited. On the second day, Shayne put Smokey with him, where they instantly liked each other and have become great friends.  Now was the time for him to join the herd.  Sergio ran out--galloping at full speed to the herd and whinnied to them.  He was finally home.  My heart swelled with love and happiness for him.  But I wondered a few things. He didn't really know these horses yet--just Smokey. But he was still so excited. Was it more for the freedom or for the companionship? Why was he so eager to get out there with them? Twenty other horses that were essentially strangers to him? Wasn't he apprehensive? 

Flash forward a few months--Spring to be exact.  The horses had their “Spring Break” on April 16th where they move from their winter enclosure to the huge field.  On Easter afternoon, after spending the day with my parents, I went up to see my beloved Sergio.  I went to get him from the field.  He was as far back as he could possibly be.  When I was about 5 feet from him, he walked up to me--I guess he wanted to save me the extra steps.  I got him and started toward the barn and he started neighing--which at first I thought was cute.  (I used to think that I wanted his neighing as a ring tone on my phone, but that's now NOT the case. Instead--I need a mute button for him.) As were making our way to the barn, he planted all four hooves firmly in the earth and then started to whinny. After asking him nicely he would move forward, but then stop and repeat the process about four times on my way down.  As we got to the barn and I put him on cross ties I could tell he was on high alert. I groomed and tacked him and proceeded to the ring. I attempted to mount him and he circled me around the mounting block. He never does this--something was up. I finally got on and walked him around. I could feel his body, ready to explode at any minute.  He kept looking out towards the field and calling out to his herd. I asked him to trot, but it was very fast---much faster than his canter. What happened to my pokey little Quarter Horse?!?!?! Since I didn't want to ruin Shayne's Easter by having to take me to the hospital, I got off of him when I finally got him to listen to me.  I took him to the round pen and tied up his reins. He galloped and galloped and galloped and galloped some more. He would stop and face the field where is beloved herd was. He even reared up and I thought--oh no this horse is going to try to jump over the round pen walls and hurt himself. (Now I will be ruining the vet's Easter.)  Finally after about 45 minutes of galloping like a nut, he finally slowed down and started to listen to me. 

I didn't understand this. I know he loves his herd, but I thought we had a strong enough bond that he would look to me for protection as "herd leader" when he was away from them. I was crushed. I went home very upset. I looked up articles on what to do. Everything was on how to catch your horse that you can't catch. No problem there. I emailed the expert--Shayne. She assured me it was the spring grass and the new freedom of the big field. Shayne was right and my next couple rides were good and he was back to the horse that I know and love. He does still have a few "herd episode freak outs."  For example, we were working and he was being perfect. A few of his herd members came up from the back forty, for a drink of water. He lost it. He started calling them and pranced around. They walked back and he got more upset. What happened to progress?!?! He calmed down eventually, but I was still aghast. Another day Starfire separated himself from the herd and started incessantly calling to Sergio and Sergio was answering him. These two never seem to interact in the field.  But Starfire came running up to us in the ring and was calling to him. What was the urgency? Was a horse hurt and Starfire was trying to tell Sergio? Was there a lion lurking? Was there a herd meeting and they were waiting for Sergio? I never found out the answer. 

We all know that all of our horses race out as fast as their hooves can carry them back out to the herd when we are done riding them. They do this even if we are all riding together and let them loose together. But why?

These instances have made me really think....what's with the herd?  I found a plethora of articles on herd attachments, herd behavior, etc. This article is from Equine Wellness Magazine and discusses herd dynamics. It really helped me understand a lot of these issues that I have been having. It is hard wired in our horses to feel the need to be with the herd. The herd provides protection, companionship, socialization and stimulation. 

Has anyone else had these issues with their horse? Have you come up with any solutions to this? If you do, please share in the comments section. 

Below are pictures of our horses living happily in a herd.

Procession out to the back field
Horses in the fog and mist 
A very content horse.

Some herd members on watch, while others sleep.

Looking longingly for his herd. 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Stressed? You might be, but your horse certainly is NOT!!!!

At The Colonies, our horses live the life that they were born to live.  They have ample space to run, play, sleep and be horses.  They have no worries in the world, because they live in a herd.  Each horse knows his place in the herd hierarchy and the herd provides the protection they need.  They roam and eat all day, as horses should.  Horses that live like this are healthier, more fit, happier and rarely develop vices.  Weaving, pacing, cribbing, pawing, stall kicking and tail rubbing are virtually non-existent. Why?  They are not bored or stressed!

An interesting article from Equine Wellness Magazine, “How to help alleviate your horse’s stress” by Mary Ann Simonds, makes many important points on how to abate your horse’s stress.  Luckily, we don’t have to do any of them, because our horses are living the way they should live.  Check out at the end of the article the “Eight most important things to a horse”.  I can say that our horses have all of them.  

Below are pictures of our horses living the good life.  

Freedom to run and have a good gallop!

Together as a herd.

Stressed?  Certainly not us!  Smokey, Chevy and Sergio all napping in the sun.

Watson and Teddy napping.  Actually, Watson getting up and thinking I might have a treat.