Thursday, December 31, 2009

*Snort* GONE

The vet came out again today to check on Shorty. He's still not 100% sound (which is to be expected) but he's surprisingly chipper. Dr. Wade put the hoof testers on him and found him to be sore in the very toe, rather than at the apex of the frog, indicating that SOMETHING ELSE is making him sore now.

Make no mistake about it, he did have laminitis but has progressed beyond the acute stage. While the laminae in his front hooves are still healing, the vet beleives that Holly, my farrier, also trimmed him too short. Radiographs confirmed that Shorty's sole is very thin, especially when compared to the radiographs I had done in September to check the progression of his arthritis.

Of course, the only time I've ever had a problem with Holly is the day Shorty has laminitis... go figure. As pointed out by Andrea, it was weird that Holly didn't catch the laminitis or even think of it until I walked in the barn, but then again Shorty is a stoic horse that tolerates pain like a champ. Shorty grows out a lot of beautiful hoof to work with, even during the colder winter months, so it is alarming Holly took off too much. Perhaps she had an off day, but she picked a hell of a day to fall off the wagon. I'm very thankful that I got to the barn when I did to prevent her from putting shoes on. Otherwise, his laminitis might not have been caught in time, and Shorty would have suffered a great deal more than he's already had to handle.

Dr. Wade tentatively cleared Shorty to start up on grain again. I'm avoiding Ultimate Finish altogether. He doesn't need a high energy feed while on stall rest, and, to be honest, I'm wary of using it again. Instead, he got 1/4 of a cup (a small handful) of Grow N Win today. It was the first time he's had grain since last Wednesday, and he inhaled it in one snort!

I will say that through all of this, Shorty's personality continues to impress and amuse me. When I first met him, he was as bland as brown rice. He'd stand at the back of his stall and take no interest in the world around him and didn't care to have his personal bubble invaded by anyone. In high school, I'd gone through severe depression that lasted over three years, so I knew how he felt. At the time, I couldn't afford to purchase him, but I did go out of my way to improve the quality of his life. One of the first things I bought him was a padded halter with a breakaway because his old one chafed his nose and didn't have any sort of safety option. I showed it to him, let him sniff it, put it on him and let him wear it for a while. That was the first time I'd seen Shorty take an interest in something other than food.

Four years later, he's my boy and he's into everything. He must see, touch, smell, taste and hear everything. He simply cannot walk past the garbage can in the barn without at least sniffing it, if not sticking his entire head in there so see if anyone threw out something good. Christmas decorations are constantly in danger of being nibbled on. He's been especially curious about everything because he's been cooped up on stall rest. Today, while Dr. Wade was looking at him, he wanted to nibble on my sleeve, chew on his blanket, pick up the vet's bucket of tools, eat the end of his leadrope, say hi to his neighbors, drag me down the aisle for no apparent reason, and so on. Although I was firm in telling him to refrain from biting, chewing, bragging and engaging in other naughty behaviors, I gave him a break because I know he's bored out of his mind. Honestly, I'd rather have a horse that is into everything than the depressed horse who is in pain. The fact that he's so excited about life makes me feel that he's feeling much better and healing rapidly.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Secret Slaughterhouses and Racehorses

This video comes from Here's the link to the article.

Miami, Florida (CNN) -- Freedom's Flight is a beautiful thoroughbred with an impressive pedigree. His bloodlines can be traced to two of the greatest race horses of all time, Seattle Slew and Secretariat.

But, unlike his kinship, Freedom's Flight's racing career ended before it had even started. It was almost two years ago when the thoroughbred's leg snapped right out of the gate at Miami's Gulfstream race track. The animal's days as a cherished racehorse came to an abrupt end.

"He came from the famous Clairborne farm and ended up on one of the worst farms in America," says new owner Richard "Kudo" Couto.

That "worst" farm in America turned out to be an illegal slaughter farm in Miami-Dade County, Florida. Couto, working for the South Florida Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, participated in a raid on the farm and rescued Freedom's Flight. The timing of that rescue may have saved Freedom's Flight's life. The horse was limping around on his broken leg, he had sores on his body, and you could see his bones protruding from his dirty coat.

Some 18 months since his rescue, Freedom's Flight looks more like the stunning race horse that was worth thousands of dollars than the injured horse that was sold for $50 to an illegal slaughter farm.

"Prior to his rescue, I didn't know that illegal slaughter farms existed in the country -- let alone under my nose in my own county," says Couto.

This new knowledge has motivated Couto. "It really made me buckle down and basically dedicate my life to shut this industry down. It's become personal for me," he says.

Couto suspects that there are more than 100 illegal slaughterhouses in the area. There is only one slaughterhouse that operates legally, Cabrera's, and there the United States Department of Agriculture inspectors are housed on its property.

Many of these illegal places are concentrated in an unincorporated area of Miami-Dade County. The roads are dirt, the vegetation thick and uninviting. This is the western fringe of Miami along the rim of the Everglades, an area considered a sort of no-man's land.

There are signs in English and in Spanish advertising animals for sale. Tarps are put up to hide what is behind the chain link fences, but most of these businesses are open to the public. "You don't have to be a rocket scientist after walking the properties and seeing the dead carcasses, the guts in the trash bins, the slaughter tables, the knives -- all of the tools of running this type of operation is right in front of you," says Couto.

CNN visited several of these establishments. At one location where a pig was being carved on one table and a chicken on the other, we asked to film on the property. "This slaughterhouse isn't as clean as you can see, try Cabrera's," said the unidentified man behind the slaughter table. Like several places we visited there was blood on the floor, dirty butcher knives and an overwhelming stench.

Couto says it isn't the slaughtering of animals that has put him on this mission. It's the way the animals are treated.

"These animals are living in extreme filth. They're beaten. The way they're slaughtered is inhumane," says Couto.

Couto has been on a one-man crusade to shut down illegal slaughterhouses that are operating without licenses and without oversight by the health or agriculture departments. He was first exposed to what he calls the "dark underbelly" of the area when, with the Florida SPCA, he was investigating the slaughter of horses for their meat.

Motivated by Freedom's Flight, Couto left the South Florida SPCA to form his own organization called ARM -- Animal Recovery Mission.

For the past year he has used a video camera to collect evidence. Couto has simply walked right into dozens of slaughterhouses and has filmed bloody slaughter tables.

"I go in acting like a customer," he says, "I ask them, 'How much for the pig?' And they'll say 120 dollars. 'How much for the kill?' '20 bucks. We'll slaughter it for you for 20 bucks.' It's that easy."

One local agency that spends a lot of time in the area because sections of it are considered protected wetland is the Miami-Dade Department of Environmental Resources Management. Carlos Espinosa is in charge of enforcing the county's environmental regulations.

"When we come across other issues relating to other departments, we pass that information on to other departments," says Espinosa.

Couto took his story and his videos to every local agency he could think of with oversight responsibility. He tried to set up a task force with agencies in charge of violations such as animal cruelty, illegal structures, illegal businesses, permit problems and zoning issues. A sign-in sheet from one of these meetings shows many of the agencies attended the meeting, but Couto says nothing came of it.

CNN contacted Miami-Dade Animal Services Department, an agency that had a representative at that meeting. Spokesperson Xiomara Mordcovich said the agency does not deal with issues involving farm animals and directed us to the Miami-Dade Police Department.

The Police Department declined an interview. "We are not actively investigating any incidents involving illegal slaughterhouses," the department said in an e-mail. Then it referred us back to Animal Services and also to the code compliance department.

Charles Danger, director of the Miami-Dade Building and Neighborhood Compliance Department, admits that it was because of Couto's persistence that it is now putting together a multi-agency task force he called "Operation Miss Piggy and Mr. Ed."

According to Danger, part of the reason nothing has been done to clean up this area is because of fear for the safety of inspectors.

"Every time we go in there, we have to go in there with the police -- and even the police don't want to go in there," says Danger.

Danger says the Miami-Dade Police Department is now on the new task force, which also includes agencies such as the state health department and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. "It comes from a lot of years of illegal operation. We have to do it together because it's not going to be easy," says Danger.

One organization that will keep tabs on the progress is the Animal Recovery Mission. Couto says he will not go away quietly. He calls his mission "redemption and revenge for Freedom's Flight and what he went through."

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Beware the Funky Grain!

Merry belated Christmas everyone!

Most of my Holiday season was somewhat expected. Eric bought me two pairs of riding breeches, and, especially for a non-rider, my husband has excellent taste. One pair is cammo, which I'm not totally in love with, but the other pair is navy blue with gold checks. Perfect! More importantly, i got to spend a little time with family, watched Sherlock Holmes on opening night (RD Jr is sexy as!) and enjoyed sitting on the couch for the first time in a very long time.

But alas, more of it was spent at the barn with a worried pit in my stomach. Shorty was quiet on Tuesday. I thought perhaps my boy was colicy, so I handwalked for about thirty minutes. He was completely sound and bore weight equally on all four hooves. He pooped during his walk and again in the cross ties. I listened to his hind gut with my stethoscope and heard sounds in all four quadrants. He was eating fine and drinking. Thinking perhaps his arthritis and the weather was to blame, I wrapped him with his back on track wraps, kissed him on the nose and bid him goodnight with his usual handful of cookies.

The next day, Holly the farrier came for a visit. It is not uncommon for Holly to do Shorty's hooves while I'm at work. I often leave her a check, and she's given me nothing but great service and good shoeing. I got off work a little early and headed straight to the barn to find Shorty with his shoes off, getting trimmed. Holly noted that he was a "touch lame" on his left front. Shorty's never had hoof issues, so I was immediately alarmed. I picked up one of the pieces of trimmed hoof and noticed blood in the laminae, known as sub-surface hematoma. I looked at the piece of trimming and back at Shorty, who was standing in the crossties slightly parked out and putting more weight on his heels. He had a strong digital pulse and a slight amount of heat. My stomach sank... laminitis.

I immediately called the vet and told Holly to put Shorty away without putting his shoes back on. The vet had a four hour wait, so I went to Tractor Supply and bought ten bales of shavings (my car was packed to the ceiling, including the passenger side front seat) and put every single one of them in his stall to give him a great cushion (after picking it out of course). I cold hosed his front hooves, dried them and wrapped them with several diapers, vet wrap and duct tape), wrapped all four legs with standing wraps, took his TPR and changed all of his stall signs to "No treats, no grain, no turnout until further notice."

Once finished, I decided to let Shorty rest quietly in his stall. He was very interested in his hay, so I gave him a big pile of soaked flakes. He laid down several times, but did not trash, so I knew that colic was not my concern... his hooves were the primary source of his discomfort.

I still had time to wait for the vet, and in thinking back to my time in equine health and equine lameness and conditioning, I realized that I should look for the cause. Shorty is not on any medications, and he only gets two and a half pounds of grain twice a day... hardly enough to cause a 1,200 pound horse to develop laminitis. I hadn't switched grains in several months, and I always take a long time to make the switch.

I came down to two possibilities. Scenario one: a well-meaning student passed out too many sugary treats and triggered a GI upset in Shorty. Scenario two: Shorty was given toxic grain. I'd already checked Shorty's grain bucket and knew it to be empty. I checked Shorty's bin in the grain room. The bag of Grown N Win looked and smelled normal. It was about halfway consumed, so if it was the culprit I would have noticed it a while ago. The Ultimate Finish was recently opened. I often leave extra bags of grain in the grain room for the farm owner to replinish as needed, and he had recently opened this new bag. It looked normal, but, surprise surprise it smelled AWFUL. It smelled like cat piss, actually.

The vet showed up and confirmed my diagnosis on laminitis. Luckily, the case was caught early, and radiographs revealed that no rotation of the coffin bone occurred. He is expected to make a full recovery and to go on living a happy, useful life. It should be noted that horses who experience one laminitic episode are often prone to getting it again later in life, so I must be careful in how I manage him. However, the vet believes that a week of stall rest, bute twice a day, cold hosing, wrapping and deep bedding will provide a sound horse.

I made the decision to pull Shorty off his grain completely, although the vet seemed to think Shorty could eat the full amount with no adverse effects. Even if I did return the grain and get another bag of UF (which I will eventually do when I have the time), I would not give a laminitic horse grain. I've always remembered lots of lower quality hay as the primary diet for the laminitis case, and there's plenty of crappy hay at the barn, so Shorty has a constant hay pile in front of his nose and will not get grain for quite a while. Plus, Shorty would go nuts on stall rest with the extra energy. Although he's the master of giving me his cutest face, he's been a trooper about the lack of grain, and I love him even more for that.

I also made the decision to quadruple the vet's estimated date of going back to work. The vet said a week, but I think I will give him the month of January off from work. I will gladly take him for handwalks and put him back on turnout as soon as he's approved, but there's no rush. I'd like to give him time to let his hooves grow out and his gut to recover without the added stress of working. I'll also be getting a second opinion from the veterinary hospital before I officially put the saddle back on. Even one month seems rather short to me, even for a very mild case such as this. Hmm... we'll see.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Its a Damn Shame

I work with school horses that are more than obliging when it comes to slowing down. They may not be refined and athletic movers, but they're more than happy to walk and stop when asked... until now. I noticed this issue when some of the best school horses wouldn't halt at X when my students were preparing for a dressage show. It got to the point where I had to tell my student K to start thinking about the halt at A, when she entered the arena. Yeah, it's that bad. They still missed X at the show, and I could not figure out why. At home, several other horses have been plowing through the bit, taking half the arena, sometimes more, to stop. From a walk, mind you.

I took over the Wednesday night lessons because B* is pregnant. On Wednesday, I spent a lot of time getting to know what my new students know, where the holes are, what their goals are, etc. That night, one of my students demonstrated her "emergency stop."

"You mean 'emergency dismount', right?"

"No. The emergency STOP."

"Okay, show me this emergency stop."

My new student trotted a few steps, viciously ripped the reins back over her thighs and stood up in her stirrups. The horse, an old veteran named Tilly, gaped her mouth open and continued walking through the rider's heavy hand.

Sigh. I have discovered the reason why the schoolies are not stopping, and I'm once again appalled by the piss-poor riding instruction that is allowed at the barn. I hope B never comes back!

Needless to say, my new students took turns on the lounge line riding without reins. When not on the line, they were told to practice the following: SIT down in your saddle, EXHALE, light REIN pressure. I also had to re-teach how to turn because I can't stand it when riders haphazardly rip their horses heads away: LOOK, LEG, light HAND.

These kids are cantering. B allowed them to jump 18" and barrel race at what they called "full speed." (For me, "full speed" is sixteen seconds, and I doubt that any schoolie can pull that off, plus the kids have no clue what a lead is or how to change it.) What that reall means is, B told them to go as fast as they could, which usually ends up being a painful extended trot that is heavy on the forehead and poorly-balanced.

I don't blame the kids. I blame B and I blame my boss for hiring her on her sunny personality alone without testing her equine background. Someone whose claim to fame is showing 4H in high school is not riding instructor quality! I'm ARIA certified with a degree in equine studies and I take joy in riding some of the rankest, most misunderstood and aerodynamic horses in the barn, but I consider myself to be a beginner instructor. I'm not dissing 4H either; its a great program and I was once a member myself, but I would hope that an instructor would ride at a level that is higher than her students.

I do feel bad for my students though. They're going to have to re-learn everything from lesson one. That means no cantering for a while, and now that they've learned it they don't want to do anything else. However, with their riding as shaky as it is, I feel that I must put them through the basics before they can go on. The rider that deomonstrated her "emergency stop" has been B's student for eighteen months! That's a lot of time and money wasted. Its a damn shame.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Shorty's Special Ladyfriend

A few days ago, I blogged about the various transgressions of my boss.

When I mentioned that I was thinking about moving Shorty, and told him about the heaves diagnosis, he freaked out. I half expected it, to the point where I was ready to move that day if needed. He's done that before, and it isn't pretty.

I my surprise, he freaked out in a good way. He wants to fix up the run-in shed on the property for Shorty and put one of his horses with him. We've been trying horses out to see which would get along with Shorty. He didn't like Annie the pony, Oliver is too old to go out in the cold (he's thirty three), and the other pony, Bubba, is an escape artist. I haven't put Shorty out with his special lady friend, Tilly, but we will try it tomorrow.

It would take work, but there's a possibility that we can turn the shed into a cool place for Shorty and a turnout buddy to enjoy the outdoor life with a dry, but well-ventilated shelter. I already own two electric water buckets and wouldn't mind buying a blanket for Shorty's turnout buddy for the really chilly days.

Ultimately, I will do what is best for my horse. If I suspect that the wool is being pulled over my eyes, I will not hesitate to move Shorty. On the other hand, it is convenient to keep my horse where I teach, so I'm willing to give it a shot.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Fall 2009 Recap: Because I'm Bad About Blogging On Time

Before I launch into a whole huge tirade about Shorty's living situation, I have some good news! At a hunter pace race at Southfarm, we got first place out of twenty eight teams. We also got a fourth place at the Chagrin Valley Hunt Ridestrong Hunter Pace. Yay! Here's a picture of Shorty hanging out with his new girlfriend, Tilly, at Ridestrong.

Also pictured is me talking to my two teammates, Heidi and Barb. They are also my adult riding students. They loved both paces. I'm the one in the blue breeches. :)

And now on to other things.

Namely, I am looking for a new place to board Shorty. After four years of working with a boss who is occasionally insane, I have decided enough is enough.

The funny thing is, it all started with a window. I cannot tell you how many times I've put up with him using my flyspray on his horses, stealing my first aid supplies, losing my halter, failing to feed my horse correctly, "forgetting" to put the fuzzy protective sleeves on Shorty's cribbing collar if they fall off and him refusing to turn on Shorty's fan in the summer, even when it is legitimately hot and I pay extra for the luxury. I've come to the barn to see Shorty with a stovepipe leg that went unnoticed. I've come to the barn to find my blankets gone and my horse with poop in his waterer.

Before I purchased Shorty from this boss, Shorty lived in a piss-soaked stall with a light dusting of bedding, a dirty waterer and feed bucket and was fed crappy hay and not enough grain. I was initially hired to train Shorty to prepare him for sale. When the horse didn't sell, I was told I would no longer be paid to ride the horse, but could continue working with him if I wanted to. Since the Shorty was too hot for the lesson program and no buyers lined up to see a generic OTTB, I continued working with the horse for free.

Over time, the two of us bonded. I started supplying Ultimate Finish to boost his weight. I bought blankets for him to keep him warm in the winter. I bought a new halter for him because the old one was too small and chafed him. I started adding bagged bedding at my expense. When my boss refused to get him vaccinated, I paid for the services out of pocket (had his teeth, sheath and shoeing done too). I showed him a few times to boost his marketability; that's how we got started with the hunter pace races.

Last November, my boss gave me the ultimatum. "Shorty's going to the auction next week. I can't afford to keep him anymore. I just thought you should know." My heart sank. Where do OTTBs like Shorty end up? Honestly, they go on double decker trailers to Canada to become dog food. Knowing this, and sensing that my boss wasn't kidding, I went home and weighed my options. Yes, I am student with limited funds. Yes, I drive the world's crappiest car. Yes, I have student loans. But no, I cannot let this horse slip through the cracks. I showed up at the barn the next day with a check in hand.

For the past year, I have kept Shorty at the same barn, but have provided the majority of the care. I do all of the cleaning; he does the feeding. I measure the feed out and supply the grain, so it isn't that hard. I've put up with the aforementioned with patience, often correcting the issue (like moving the flyspray bottle back to its rightful place) without complaint.

It goes without saying that horses need fresh air. Knowing this, I do my best to get Shorty outside and try to keep clean air in his stall by keeping the window open. Since early November, I have been opening his window, only to find it closed the next day. I confronted my boss about this and asked that he leave it open. He refuses because, "the horses will be too cold." I have explained before that really, the horses don't care about the cold. They handle it very well. Just ask any Icelandic enthusiast. A friend of mine owns fifteen Icelandics- they live outside 24/7 without blanketing, and they do just fine as long as there is food and unfrozen water. We're the ones that hate it. So, I can't open my window and my horse's lungs suffer because my boss gets cold and is too cheap to buy a better coat and actual barn boots.

I ignored my hatred for the situation until I heard a single dry cough escape from Shorty's lips during a warm-up a few days ago. I had a horse with heaves (basically equine asthma) before, and it was devastating. The disease usually shows up in older horses and can be identified by labored breathing, wheezing, flared nostrils and reduced tolerance for exercise. Horses that have had it for a while will have a line of muscle on the underside of their ribcage called a heave line. Its usually triggered by living in dusty environments, and let's face it: almost all barns are dusty.

So, knowing this, I immediately hopped off, untacked and grabbed my stethoscope. Sure enough, I could hear a slight whistle as he exhaled, which is an indicator of the disease at work. I called the vet with Shorty still in the crossties. She came out today and confirmed my suspicions. Indeed, Shorty has heaves, probably from living on racetracks for five years during the early part of his life. However, it is very mild at this point and was caught in its early stage (thanks to my paranoia).

The best thing for a horse with heaves is to live outside, they way they were intended to live. That will not be provided at my current barn: fifteen minutes of turnout in the indoor is the standard for all of the horses (except mine, who gets hours of it everyday because I come up everyday and put him out with his geriatric turnout buddy). Even the four hours I give him everyday isn't enough.

For those who are wondering, the symptoms of heaves can be alleviated with medications. Typically, prenisolone can be given to open up constricted airways. However, long term use of the steroid has been linked to founder. Also, the disease is progressive. Considering that Shorty is only 11 years old, I need to do more than pump him full of drugs. We're talking soaked hay, pine pellet and cardboard bedding, watered riding areas and outdoor living. It is clear that this will never happen at my current barn, so I am shopping around for a new place.

If you are in the Northeast Ohio area, do you have any suggestions? Criteria are as follows:
Ten or more hours of turnout daily
Indoor riding arena nice, but not necessary
Must be able to soak hay
Must be able to handle splint boots and blankets
Well-ventilated stall

I can clean said stall, provide pellet bedding and high quality hay for soaking.