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.


  1. Sounds like you really need to move - good luck - there have to be better places where he can either be out most of the day or out all the time with a nice shed to go in. I had a mare (Lily) who had to be retired due to heaves, so I know about that. If he's in a stall, you might want to try changing to pelleted bedding - it's less dusty and also absorbs the urine better with less odor.

    Congratulations about the hunter paces!

  2. Bummer. You have been a trooper. I wish I could help, but I haven't even been to Ohio in years. Good luck!

  3. all the best with finding a new place, you are right in wanting to move him, it is no life for a horse to live boxed up in a "cage" and it impact them negatively not only physically, but emotionally as well...good luck and I hope your boy will feel better soon...