Friday, December 28, 2012

Another Year Gone By...

The New Year is on its way, and with it will come a new name for this blog.

I started this adventure when my gelding, Vince, went lame. That was one year ago. At first we thought it was EPM, a neurological condition caused by possum poop. What actually happened was damage to both of his suspensory ligaments on his rear legs. Now after treatment at Auburn University and a year off, come January Vince goes back to light work as we endeavor to find out if he will ever be sound again.

But this column has moved beyond just one horse. It really is all about horses and horse rescue, and Blue Skies Riding Academy in general. In keeping with that, this column is undergoing a name change. I will still track Vince's rehabilitation, but I will also be reporting on rescues ready for adoption along with our programs and news as it comes up.

The URL will stay the same for now. If I decide to change it, I will give plenty of notice. I hope everyone likes the changes and will continue to check in and stay in touch with our 'children's' antics. They surprise me, annoy me, and I wouldn't trade a one of them for anything.

So, effective January 1st, this will now be entitled:

REDWOOD'S BLUE SKIES

The name is in memory of our Belgian colt, who passed away one year ago on the 29th of December after a tragic pasture accident. We saved his mother from slaughter and were unaware she was pregnant until a week before his arrival. It is in his name we dedicate ourselves to the rescue, retraining, and rehoming of equines.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

UPDATE - Sterling's Second Start

Sterling and Kim placed 2nd in the GHJA Show this weekend. Here are a few pictures of his big weekend.


Sterling and his rider, Kim Payne, at this past weekends GHJA finals.


Sterling and Kim, along with their trainer, Sami Malik, and Sterling's mom - Tiffany Brown


Sterling and mom Tiffany having a moment at the GHJA finals this past weekend.

We are all proud of Kim and Sterling. Just wait until next year!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Sterling's Second Start

Once upon a time way back in 2007, in a land far removed from Georgia, a little Thoroughbred colt was born. With wide brown eyes and a taste for wood, "Dixie Jammin'" wasn't your typical colt. We don't know everything, but we do know he learned enough about racing to earn his gate card and Jockey Club tattoo. But from that point until September 2010 the story gets muddy. Why September 2010? Because that is when Blue Skies Riding Academy heard about the West Virginia seizure of 52 horses from Hidden Meadows Equine Rescue for starvation and neglect.

This is what our instructors Heather and Sami found when they first saw "Dixie". Scoring only a 1.5 on the Henneke Body Scale, the poor gelding was deemed fit by the on site vets to travel; and so with two other survivors Connor and Ella Grace began the journey to a new life. When I arrived the next morning and took their liquid breakfast out to the West Virginia babies my heart broke at the lack of spark in their eyes. Even food didn't perk their interest. At the so called rescue they were freed from, the animals were eating acorns and rocks just to fill their bellies.

It was agreed by one and all Dixie did not fit this gelding! He was shy, introverted, a cribber of unparalleled determination, and afraid of his own shadow. I don't remember who first came up with "STERLING", but it stuck. As the weight slowly came back and his rehabilitation progressed, it was time to find Sterling a person. Many of us took time with Sterling, working with his wood addiction, teaching him ground manners, and giving him more love than he could handle. Due to starvation, his growth was stunted. As he gained strength, he popped out abscesses, strained muscles in his rump and was butt high more months than we could count. Now, at 5 years of age he is over 17 hands and all horse. But he still needed a person. Enter Tiffany -


Tiffany works at the barn part time, as an instructor and volunteer. While her background is in dressage, Tiff couldn't help but fall for our little "Ster-Fry". His movement, when correct, was beautiful; his legs long and delicate, and keeping him at a trot for more than 10 paces a joke. And so, the long-legged dressage rider became the person for a green hunter prospect.

Sterling is technically grown up now. At 5 his size might not change, and his cribbing obsession is just as strong as day one, and he is still afraid of his own shadow, but what a magnificent horse he has become. Tiffany is finishing up her art degree, and Sterling has become the model for many of her school projects.



With Tiffany at school, another person has stepped up to love on our "Chicken of the Barn", Kim. Kim has been riding ponies at BSRA for many years, and when it was decided Sterling needed another rider to help train him, Kim happily volunteered. The pairing is awesome, and they have already made quite an impression together in the local shows. Sterling is still green, and sometimes it shows, but he is all heart!


This weekend, Kim and Sterling will be competing at the GHJA finals, and Tiffany will be there ringside cheering him on. Our little Thoroughbred has come a long way from the dull, ragged, neurotic baby I first met sucking on the top rail, but I know his future will be brighter still with the love of two good women, a barn full of friends, a round bale to dive into and a piece of wood to suck on!



If you would like more information on Blue Skies Riding Academy, our rescue and retraining program, or our riding lessons, please visit our website at www.blueskiesridingacademy.com.

Friday, November 9, 2012

And On Our Sister Station...

Today, on my personal journal/blog I am participating in a Blog Hop! There are over 200 author bloggers participating and everyone is giving something away, like gift cards and FREE books!

So hop over and read about how we feel about Autumn's Harvest!

Blonde Not Dumb

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Happiest Little Pony in the World

This week has been a good one for my Blue Skies babies.

Connor, a rescue from West Virginia, who arrived at BSRA in September of 2010 at the ripe old age of 18 months, has an adoption pending. Connor hasn't had an easy life since birth. We don't know where he came from or when he entered the slaughter pipeline. We do know he was saved from slaughter and sent to a facility in West Virginia. When the police and animal control stepped in to save the dying and starved horses at this 'rescue', we took three home to Emerson.



When Connor arrived, his weight wasn't too bad, but it was obvious he was at the bottom of the herd. His sides were covered with bites and kicks. Luckily with only two other horses in a very large pasture he was able to perk up much quicker than his two companions: Sterling and Ella Grace.



From the first we didn't try to ride Connor much, especially being unsure of his age. When he was ridden or worked with from the ground, he proved to be a very bombproof little Quarter Horse. Still growing we were excited for his future when disaster struck our beloved 'Khan'.


One summer night, while the herd was in the pasture, Connor ended up impaled on a wooden fence post. The barn manager came quickly, hearing the commotion in the barn, but the damage was already done. Connor's chest was split from top to just behind the front legs. That was June 2011.

His recovery has been slow, with forward progress and a few relapses. Last March we took him along with Vince to Auburn to have the slow closing wound ultra sounded to make sure there was no wood still caught in the chest. Once they gave Connor the 'all clear', we began using him for pony rides, walking only. He has spent his days growing (he is approaching 15 hands while we never thought he would go over 14), eating and regaining his strength.

Connor's personality is pure Quarter Horse. He got a little nippy when on stall confinement for 8 months, so you have to remind him not to grab for treats, but other than that his personality is all sunshine. Now, he has met a little girl who adores him, and it is easy to see he loves her too. The happy ending we all were afraid might never happen for this miracle horse is now becoming a reality.

I will miss him greatly. In the pasture he was the quiet companion of any horse who felt alone. Everyone loved on him, but we all wanted so much more for him than the life of a sanctuary horse. Thanks to all of those who have prayed for this little guy, brought him treats, hand walked him during the rough early days, and to Heather and Sami for bringing him into our lives. I cannot imagine our barn without him, but I wouldn't change this adoption for the world.

He's earned it.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

For the Love of An Animal

After the winds and damage of the past week left for other pastures, we went to the barn today. First time I had seen my four legged babies in two weeks, due to work and family commitments. Pulling up the drive, all the horses mingling around the barn for breakfast and morning hay, I remembered that long ago fall day my darling daughter took her first lesson and another generation of women fell in love.

My first memory of pony love is of a fat little pinto at the neighborhood fair. Of course back then each pony was tied to a wheel and walking in preset circles for 5 minutes then stopped for the next group. When it came time for me to leave that pony I screamed like someone was cutting my legs off. At that age it was hard to put into words the peace and sense of purpose I found on the back of that pinto.

Throughout my life I have ways to be around horses. My cousin was the lucky one, she actually became a jockey back when that was strictly a male profession. She has the injuries and scars of many pileups and dismounts but worse, she lost the passion for the horse itself. Because racing is a big dollar business, thoughts of what happen to the poor horses that don't make it on the track are avoided as the cost of doing business. That side, unfortunately, I am all too familiar with. Perhaps sadder than the grown animals discarded around the country are the poor foals, stripped from their mothers after only days in order for the mares to nurse the foals of more valuable horses.

Several years ago, my friend and her daughter became involved in the rescue networks. Working mainly with off-track thoroughbreds, they soon found themselves the savior of more than one OTTB. At Blue Skies Riding Academy we have more than 8 OTTB currently being trained for dressage, hunter, jumper, and trail professions. But these "throwaway horses" existing in more industries than just racing.

For any of my friends who are on hormone replacement therapy, I apologize in advance. In case you don't know it, the hormones the pharmaceutical companies use come from pregnant mare urine. And how do they get this urine? Mares are kept pregnant, then stripped of the foal after birth so they can be re-inseminated to produce more urine. The poor babies who are taken from their mothers are divided. If female, they might be allowed to mature, so they can join or replace their own mothers "on the line". Males are not wanted or needed. Three guesses where they end up.

So the next time you see a post on my Facebook or Twitter about a horse needing a sponsor, think about the Starbuck's latte you drank that morning and consider exchanging your caffeine habit with something better - being a part of saving an innocent from the avarice of mankind. Listed below is the link for Blue Skies Riding Academy. Your donation is tax deductible as we are a registered 501c(3) non-profit. We also do pony rides, Girl Scout and Boy Scout programs, birthday parties, lessons, and summer camp.

If you don't live in this part of the country, namely the South, check into local rescues in your state. Horse Rescue United, located in New Jersey works and listed reputable rescues in several states. In Georgia we also have Iron Gait Percheron Rescue, Georgia Equine Rescue League, and Save the Horses to name only a very few. I know there are a lot of people out there asking for money who have no viable references. Always check into a rescue before donation. But please do donate - dogs, cats, horses, donkeys, mules, you name it they need help.


To Donate to Blue Skies Riding Academy

Sunday, October 21, 2012

How a Rescue Prepares for Winter

Yesterday was the Blue Skies Riding Academy's 2nd Annual Fall Festival. We had a bounce house, games, pony rides, the fire department came out, and concessions were fabulous. It was a great day and lots of fun. While the event was fun for everyone, the meaning behind not so pretty. Winter is coming, it's time to prepare for the lean months.

When you work with rescued animals, the need to raise funds is constant. As long as the economic climate in this country remains volatile, the volume of animals needing help will continue to grow. With each save, the need for money to feed these innocent bystanders grows. Whether assisting cats, dogs, or horses the people and groups working with these fringe survivors are heros. We see things which would appall most people.

BSRA saves horses. We bring them to a place of love, we feed them and heal their physical wounds. Once they are well on the way to recovery, the instructors and volunteers begin identifying their previous training. Interesting isn't it, we have these animals, who have come from many different backgrounds, and we only know what we can learn from watching and riding them. Some have little to no training, like Daisy. Others we know were racehorses, such as Oakley (Chilean Princess) and with a few there is only silence. A black void where only our imaginations dare to venture.

Once we know each animal's training, we build on that to restore their jobs to them. Horses need their jobs, it is their part of the unspoken contract between man and beast. We provide the food, shelter, protection and the animals help plow our fields, carry us to market or to war, provide a friend to listen when only a strong silent type will do. We build relationships with them and they with us. Part of that relationship is to swear they will never end up hungry and scared again.

Drought has caused the prices of hay to rise dramatically. The grains which go into commercial feed have risen as well. With the economic putting the squeeze on everyone, rescues are relying more and more on donations to keep rounds bales in the pastures and feed in the buckets. Forgetting reseeding pastures for spring; if it is between buying seed or buying grain, you buy what grain you can and seed when there is extra.

I don't usually use my blog to solicit funds, but harsh times call for new measures. Rescues need help, regardless of what area of the country you live in. $7.00 purchases one square bale of hay, $50.00 one round bale. We have 25 horses, and go through 100 square bales a month. There are 6 active pastures, that means 12 to 18 round bales per month. That does not include grain, supplements, farrier visits, vet trips or chiropractic. Sometimes it gets a little overwhelming.

So, as we enter into fall, knowing the holiday seasons will soon be upon us, how about sharing a little love for your local rescue? When you go shopping, add an extra bag of dog or cat food for the county animal shelter. $14 can feed our herd of horses with hay for one day; $20 would include hay and grain for one day. But any amount is needed. If you live in other parts of this great nation, look around. There is a struggling rescue in your area, working tirelessly to save the innocent from man's neglect and abuse. If you don't have money to give, volunteer! Just coming around these animals will restore your inner strength, your faith that we have a greater purpose on this planet.

If you would like to contribute to Blue Skies, there is a pay pal button on our website: www.blueskiesridingacademy.com. And stop by sometime - identify yourself as a patron, and come meet the magnificent beasts who owe you their thanks. It will change your life.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Falling Back in Love

It's been three months since I last posted on Vince and our daily struggles. Spark Plug's death, coming so soon after Sneaky, took the wind out of our sails. Going to the barn, missing those faces, knowing we did everything we could to save him only to be defeated by the long term effects of starvation brought all of us to a hard place. The other horses felt the change just as we did. These are highly intelligent, feeling, caring, creatures and they have been in their own form of mourning for the loss of members of their herd.

Summer down here was hard - hot, humid, steamy. The horses stayed in their stalls during the day, heads low as they slowly munched hay to expend as little energy as possible in the stifling Georgia heat. At night they walked through their pastures, dark shadows voyaging from round bale to water trough to round bale in the still night air. With little rainfall and high temperatures for weeks on end, it was hard to keep spirits up and weight on all our harder keepers.

There were some bright spots. Thanks for a generous private donation to BSRA, we now have a tractor with bush hog to help with manure management and pasture maintenance. Dozer, another of the Paulding Super 6 rescues, continues to improve and is now under lease to one of our students, working on their first level dressage test. They make a great pair. Maple's foot, after the procedure at Auburn Vet School, has healed well and she is back on turnout with several of our older bachelor geldings. Maple is quite the flirt and the old men are eating it up. And my grumpy gelding himself has finally found a herd group to fit into.

But for every good moment there have been the bad, the sad, and the frustrating. Katie, the OTTB who had her teeth fixed earlier in the year, fell in the trailer coming home from a show and skinned her hip. Mr. Big went home to his owner for a visit, leaving another space in our hearts. And Paulding Super 6 horse, Daisy, was discovered one morning with an arrow wound in her hip, the apparent victim of poachers looking for the deer herd on our property. To top off the summer, super pony Grits, after a high fever with no results on his blood work went to Auburn where it was discovered he has the flu and a torn stifle ligament.

So, summer is ending and fall is just around the corner. I'm ready for a change. The horses are ready too. Looking forward to cooler days, longer rides, and a little slower pace for everything. Of course, with horses I am sure it's just a matter of time until somebody does something and the whole show will start all over again.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Heart As Big As the Wind...

Today the sun rose in the sky and the birds sang in the trees, but at Blue Skies we discovered our beloved Spark Plug, rescued with the Paulding Super 6 in March, had succumbed to a sudden downturn in his health and passed away quietly in his sleep. We are all in mourning for a life cut entirely too short. But our memories of his three months with us are crowded with a little pony with more personality than one frail body could contain.

From the day we arrived to save some of the animals bound for slaughter from abuse and certain death, Sparky made his mark on our staff. Though one of the most severely emaciated horses on the property, he promptly marched up to the barn manager and made it known he would be our first of six animals we brought home to BSRA. Small, a bag of skin and bones, with dull coat but bright eyes, his spark of life became the obvious name for this little gelding. With a body score of 1.5 we knew he faced a long road, but all of us were eager to go.

From the moment he set foot on the trailer, Sparky knew he was home. In the quarantine paddock he was so weak Sparks spent more time lying down than standing. He drank well and approached each portion of alfalfa tea or watered oats with a real zeal. Within a week, he was standing on his own and the true personality of this amazing equine began to shine.

He was a prankster, who loved to bellow for treats or demand his pasture time. He was the first head over the door every morning and the last to say good night. He would follow mildly to the gate if he was of a mind to do so and he was just as likely to run off as obey. The barn and back pastures were his playground and Maple was his fast companion. They shared meals, hay and water and took care of each other during times of uncertainty and quiet.

Sparky began his downward slide last weekend, and magnificent Dr. Sue was called. Our little Spark Plug wasn't doing well. He had a heart murmur ( a side effect of the severe starvation his body had endured) and a hernia in his intestines. The diarrhea in this heat complicated the weakness. Monday he spent more time lying down than standing, Maple watching anxiously from the stall next door. During the night he made his way across the rainbow bridge.

Rescue is hard, and sometimes the only reward is knowing you gave an animal back their pride and dignity. We mourn today and continue our care of the other 5 members of the Paulding rescue group, along with our other OTTB rescues who are in training for their second careers. Soon there will be another phone call, another Spark Plug waiting for someone to care enough to act. And we will be there,, along with the other wonderful rescues who put their hearts out there every day.

Tomorrow the sun will rise in the sky and the birds will sing in the trees but at Blue Skies, our little Spark will still be gone.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Did Anyone Capture That On Camera?

I realize I left off the second day of the Rob Gage clinic from last weekend, but that is because we didn't actually spend much of the second day at the barn. My darling daughter ended up in the Cartersville Emergency Room so I missed all the other divisions after hers. I have heard many people comment on the wonderful things the learned from Mr. Gage. But that's boring, let's talk about M and her adventures in jumping.

Since my darling daughter began riding at the age of 8, I have always worried about her choice of discipline. I grew up in a Western saddle, all four feet on the ground loping long and low and careful. When she decided that hunter jumper was her goal I cringed a little, smiled wide and dived in with both feet. While most of her lessons and shows have been uneventful, that doesn't mean she's never had a fall. She has had several.

The first was a wild thing who was walking along fine then decided to buck M through the air and onto her chest. A hyper extended neck and tender ribs were aggravated three days later when a pony names Sparkles spooked over nothing and pitched her onto the sand. With Penny, she has fallen but nothing too severe. But never off Ara Bella, not until last Sunday morning.

Saturday M and Ara Bella had been recipients of Mr. Gage's praise. Sunday did not start quite as well. Just over halfway through, Bella ducked to the right just before an oxer and darling daughter twisted to the left. I'm not quite sure how to describe what happened except to say, she ended up hanging over the jump like a gymnast on the uneven bars; her left wrist was between her slight body and the hard wooden rail. Laughter over the unladylike position was soon replaced with tears as the blood began flowing again through the wrist.

Handing Bella over to one of the girls, we drove to the closest emergency room, the hospital in Cartersville. It was an experience. Enough said. After three hours we were on our way, ready for a long afternoon putting a new garden in.

Working with Judge My Ride for this clinic was amazing, and I hope the first of many such events at our facility. This would not have gone as smoothly with the priceless assistance of several BSRA families. Here are a few I would like to single out:
The Payne Family; The Wood Family, A.J. Martin; The Malik Family; Naomi Katz; Sadie Arnold; The Eiselle Family; The Johnson Family; The Berry Family; Doug's Restaurant in Emerson; all our volunteers and students and friends as well. Plus anyone else I might have forgotten. Sorry - my memeory isn't what it used to be.

On that note let me just remind everyone, Blue Skies Riding Academy, Inc located in Emerson, GA is a 501(c)3 non-profit and we survive on personal and corporate donations to provide the food, shelter, shoes, medical care, dental care and training of our rescues. If you would like to contribute we have a paypal account reachable through our website: www.blueskiesridingacademy.com.

Monday, April 30, 2012

"Please Ride Toward The Horse Eating His Door"

I know that updates have been sporadic this month, but my real job has been on overdrive since the first of April. Since that is what affords me time with my horses, Penny, AraBella, and Vince; it behooves me to be attentive when the need arises. So I will try to condense an entire month into two posts. It might take three, but let's see how it goes.

Since we last were together, BSRA has attended the Atlanta Steeplechase, bush hogged the back unfenced pasture and this past weekend, hosted a clinic with Robert Gage and Judge My Ride for Equitation. Wow, something every weekend, plus my normal routine and a demanded injured goofy gelding - no wonder I am exhausted!

The Super 6 have been thriving. BIG NEWS: Dolce is now sharing a pasture with Maple and Sparky. Last Friday night, with the trailers arriving and new horses coming in upset our newest residents. It never occurred to us this special event might trigger memories, but all weekend Dyna stood in front of the gate barring any one's way. None of her herd was going to be loaded on a trailer without a fight. Once we realized their agitation, we spoke to each of them quietly, assuring all that these were going away without any additional trauma for them. As soon as they saw the visitors leaving, the anxiety level dropped, but not before Dynamo and Dolce had a nasty confrontation on who is boss mare. I'm not sure in horse language who won, but Dolce is now living with the other two.

Everyone is still gaining weight, which is good news. Sparky's hair continues to come out in clumps, so he will be bald very soon. But there is visible difference in his barrel, the ribs are not as pronounced as when he arrived. Dolce's bite marks have healed and under her fly sheet a  beautiful butterfly is maturing. Maple's coat is improving, no more lice, and she is so sweet, I love rubbing her head and watching her liquid eyes, so much kindness and peace growing there.

Dozer is still Dozer, man of the pasture, defender of Daisy at all times. She hates to leave his side, especially if Dyna is in a mood. On a positive note, the dentist said it looks like Daisy never had any front teeth, not that they were knocked out. She has not been ridden again, we don't want any further upset, but she is still the shy retiring flower. Dyna is deeply in love with my goofy gelding. Every time he is allowed out for his quiet pasture time, she stands and stares longingly at him.

The Judge My Ride clinic was amazing. All the girls learned so many things, and they took his critiques without any grief. Saturday morning started early - I was at the barn before 7am. Oh the hectic pace in the barn when there is a show or clinic or other opportunity to clean up our horses (and ourselves!). By 9am when the first section started I was already looking for nap time!  I did manage to find some personal time to work on Vince's dreadlocks and to massage hair growth creme into his thin spots. As the clinic was going on and I'm in Vince's stall I suddenly hear Mr. Gage instruct one of the students, "Just ride the line toward the horse eating his door!" Oops, that was us.

Lunch and Dinner were provided by Doug's Restaurant in Emerson, GA. Great food, awesome people and friendly atmosphere, if you are in the area I heartily endorse dropping in, especially for breakfast! Everything was awesome and the conversation covered many areas, from natural farriering to marrying rich. By the time all the animals were bedded down and fed, the arena dragged and the trash carried out, it was after 8pm and I was bone weary. I headed home, knowing all too soon I would be back in the barn for round two of the clinic. As I was leaving down the driveway, Stella Blue the donkey serenaded me with a long and happy bray. In spite of it all I smiled. I really enjoy our little slice of heaven in our own Blue Skies.

TO BE CONTINUED: "Are you riding the pony, or is she riding you?" Day Two of the JMR clinic.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Catching Up With My Friends

I hadn't been out to the barn for almost two weeks until yesterday. Unfortunately, I do have a real job which allows my to have my horses and spring is one of my busier seasons. So when I arrived for my normal barn day I had almost forgotten we had a schooling show on the books. Oh well, there is nothing happier than the sound of happy people around the horses. Since we had visitors from another barn, several people wanted to know more about our rescue program.

Nineteen months ago BSRA joined with several other mid-Atlantic rescues to save horses from a supposed rescue in West Virignia. The lucky three who came home to Georgia that September day were Ella Grace, Sterling, and Connor. I have written quite a bit on our newest horses, but tonight I want to brag on the West Virginia 3.

Arriving at the barn the first morning the 3 were at BSRA I wasn't truly prepared for the emotionally diverse animals we had been entrusted with. Connor was a baby, around eighteen months old and unattached to the others. He accepted the alfalfa tea and hay offered with all the manners of one who had been kicked down the seniority line. Only after noting that Sterling and Ella Grace had their own piles to eat from did he settle in. Connor's life hasn't been blessed, ten months ago he impaled his chest on a fence post. The deep, life threatening wound healed slowly, keeping Connor stall bound for almost six months with minimal hand walking. Too much activity might open the wound again and set his recovery back.

To help Connor with his 'imprisonment', Sterling was voted his steady friend. When Stir-fried arrived he was more than three hundreds pounds underweight, a two year old with a vicious cribbing problem. A crippling dependency on Ella Grace made it hard to get the scrawny Thoroughbred into a stall, but soon he began eating and growing, a process which he has repeated in many cycles, now standing more than 16 hands and still cribbing despite collars, herbs, special hay nets and grazing muzzles. While never a speed demon, Sterling is graceful, his long legs delicate at the trot, and his foster mother loves him with a ferocity and depth of heart this wonder pony needed.

Ella Grace, the mother of the West Virginia 3, is a twenty-something Thoroughbred who was never raced, never tattooed. Feminine and lovely she endured the obsessive Sterling and worried over Connor until she was slowly worked into the mare herd. She moved smoothly and can jump cross rails with the grace her names implies. But she isn't truly a lesson girl, Ella misses a special person to care for her. While several of our riders love Ella, so far there hasn't been just one for this beautiful little mare.

Three lives, intersected and joined by the whims of men, to be on that farm at that time to be placed in our care. One mare, two geldings, three stories - how far they have come since that first Saturday when I met them. Ella has been in the program and is currently up for possible adoption to the right person. We love her, and don't want her to leave, but know she deserves that important 'one person'. Connor's chest has healed, and overnight he has turned into the sweetest little cow pony anyone could ever desire. His attachment to Sterling is iron-clad; when his buddy is in the ring, Connor stands right outside the door to hear how Sterling does. Once they are together in the pasture, Connor will go his way, but one eye is always out for the cribbing bay gelding, no matter what fence post he is worshipping at the moment.

And Sterling? Well, in some ways he has hit the proverbial jackpot. With one loving foster mom, Tiff, and under the instructions of our two fabulous trainers Kristina and Sami, Sterling is winning classes and divisions in the Hunter / Jumper competitions around Northwest Georgia. At the true age of almost 5, Sterling is finding his groove in life.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Daisy, Daisy - Give Me Your Answer True

Last Saturday we had an Easter Egg Hunt at Blue Skies. We did pony rides, face tattoos, along with the hunt itself. It was a magical day, warm sunshine but not too hot. Just the sort of day that belongs to Spring, warm enough to hint of the summer that is to come and to forgive the drab winter past. Most importantly we raise more than $500 for the support and maintenance of our horses.

But in the midst of all the happiness, the day was tinged with sadness, because Sneaky wasn't there. No matter how many times we looked at each other and shrugged it off, the emptiness of him was everywhere. For the first time we all grieved in public while attempting to put on a happy face.

After the crowds went home, we worked with the rescues. Dyna and Dozer are progressing very well. They enjoy being under saddle and have obviously been someone's partner in the past. They even attempted the ground poles and crossrails with interest and vigor. Daisy, was another story.

Daisy came to us, the little run dun mare with broken teeth. We discovered very quickly she does not like anyone handling her on the right side. While we had always suspected abuse, Saturday confirmed our suspicions. First, we went to quick release tie her for grooming and she pulled back hard, more upset than expected. For a short period of time, she let one of our assistant instructors on her, walking along behind Sami, following quietly. ear pricked forward and a spring in her walk. Then, Sami bent down to pick something off the ground, and as the story goes, "that was all she wrote."

The mare exploded in a shower of bucks and straight into the air leaps. The poor assistant dived for the ground, but not before one of Daisy's hooves grazed her on the way down. Luckily there were enough of us in the ring to calm down Daisy and handle the downed instructor. We aren't sure what triggered the meltdown, but it showed us the deep truth of this poor little girl - some where along the line, she has had the crap beaten out of her for no reason, either with a whip or pipe or wooden bat.

So while five of our Super 6 are making strides toward healing, Daisy has taken a step backwards. After she was returned to their pasture, I went out to talk with her, assure her we understand, we love her and will never hurt her for acting out. The road to recovery is long and paved with stumbling blocks, and we just found one on her path. No problems, we drop back and reassess. No hard feelings.

But I know if I ever find out who beat this poor mare, I might revive the old custom of tar and feathers. The depths to which mankind can sink never ceases to amaze me. Did beating on this poor girl make whoever you are feel like more of man? Because I will tell you the truth - a man who will beat an animal will beat a human, just give them time.  What will be their excuse then? Remember - karma is a bigger witch than I am and it will catch up to you.

It would almost be nice if Daisy could mete the punishment out to those who abused her. That is what I call fair.

Friday, April 6, 2012

A Spring Fling

Things have been noisy around Blue Skies the past few weeks. We've been adding more pastures from the acreage cleared last year along  Pumpkinvine Creek. The Super 6 have enjoyed mowing the grass for us. A big thanks to Jim Berry and his crew for all they have accomplished. I cannot wait to finish construction. Every time we make new pastures it is another small setback for the grass. Of course if we could get some rain around Atlanta that would help. Last night's storms were south of the city and we got none at the barn.

Tomorrow is our Easter Egg Hunt, open to all ages. We also will have pony rides, a cake walk, and other games. The weather is supposed to be clear and sunny so everyone come out and enjoy a peaceful day on our little slice of heaven.

The Super 6 are becoming more and more amazing every day. Sparky, Maple, and Dolce have been moved into the main barn now that their quarantine is over. Maple and Spark Plug are next door to each other, as it should be, and Dolce can see both of them. Daisy, Dozer, and Dyna are outside but loving it.

Dozer has 'bedroom' eyes and watches over his two women carefully. Whenever Dolce sees them in the pasture, she demands to be along to join them. Daisy and Dyna prefer eating to fence visiting, so I have to enjoy them from afar. Dozer has been ridden as has Dyna and both have wonderful gaits. Dozer, as befitting a Halflinger cross, is truly living up to his name, but gosh darn it - he's just so cute with those blond tips on his ears!

Tomorrow is another Saturday, my day at the barn. With so much going on, I can't wait to see what these lovable four-legged children come up with. Their antics make my days sweeter. I miss that when I can't get out there. If only we could bottle that love.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

An Update On A Goofy Gelding

Last Thursday AJ and I returned to Auburn University Large Animal Clinic for a one month check up for Vince.  The big boy was more than ready for a field trip, having been on stall rest since his PRP injection procedure. A large high strung gelding in a 12 x 12 space for an extended period of time is not a nice experience, but Vince has endured though he might not think so.

Our appointment this time was at 9am, so at the crack of dawn, we pulled out of BSRA and onto I-75 south and early rush hour traffic. Unlike our first trip there were no major slowdowns and we actually arrived in Auburn thirty minutes early. They showed Vince to an outpatient stall while the doctors finished their morning procedures. Right at nine, the entire cadre showed up to watch Vincent trot up and down.

His two doctors, whose names I cannot spell but will acknowledge in full when this recovery is complete, watched the big boy take three steps and pronounced him still lame. Meanwhile, I am jumping up and down with happiness because there was no deep drop to the left shoulder as he trotted nor did he trip over his own feet. Dr. W looked at me like I had lost my mind and said, "But he is still lame." I replied, "But he is better!"

So we retired to the ultrasound room to see the exact measure of recovery. The news is good. The ligament in the right leg is no longer inflamed and the left leg has no more tear but it is still swollen. For the first half of the ultrasound, Vince didn't even need any sedative. It wasn't until she had to start reaching through his legs to reach the right side that his ears began to twitch and the restlessness set in. Out came the dreaded needle and soon the light weight drunk had his big white blaze buried in my chest.

Since we had pulled Vince's shoes after the first trip to Auburn, Dr. A. decided she wanted the Auburn farrier to trim his feet, especially the rear to start shortening the toe and hopefully rotating the heels to relieve pressure on the suspensory ligaments. He was a good boy for their farrier (much to the surprise of our BSRA farrier who considers Vince's feet an all day project after his previous shoeing.) The sedative soon wore off and before a hour and a half and passed we were back on the way to Atlanta.

So Vince is on his way, but still has one more month of stall rest with confined turnout alone. They also have prescribed a mild sedative so that when he is outside the coming and going of other horses doesn't work him into a frenzy. Of course, as much of a light weight as he is with drugs, we will have to play with the dosage to see what works best. Hopefully this will also work on his cribbing habit. It would be nice to see him doing anything rather than sucking on his stall door or window frame. We return in 10 weeks now, a long time but Dr. A. will be spending the month of May in Kentucky working. Rather than break in a new resident who hasn't been included in the process I will wait for Dr. A. Also, we will probably be taking Katie when we return, to have a broken tooth removed which is below the gum line and is causing her to toss her head.

When we first thought Vince had EMP, one of the comments I read the most was that you would learn more about the personality and stamina of your horse throughout the recovery process. I would venture to say any long term injury can teach you how to connect with your equine partner. While I complain about his goofiness, my gelding is handling this injury with a patience not many geldings exhibit. He knows we are making him feel better, so his tolerance for many things had grown. I know him so much better.

He likes to have his head rubbed and to be brushed. He likes to roll in sand rather than dirt or grass, I guess a nod to his Florida roots. He likes sunshine and thinks the biggest crime in the universe is an empty Nibble Net. He misses Sneaky, his buddy, and is uncertain of his place in the pasture when he returns. He knows the sound of my car along with my voice and woe be unto me if I don't come see him first before any other horse. 

While we still have a long road ahead of us, at least we are going together. Dr. A. feels certain that when all is said and done, Vince will be jumping again and that was the purpose of the trips, to make an injured member of our family healthy again. There is no distinction in my mind between my two legged and my four legged children. When they are in pain, I want to make it better. In a perfect world, everyone would be the same way.





Friday, March 30, 2012

Katie - A Rescue Success Story.


Blue Skies Riding Academy is more than a lesson barn, more than another boarding facility. Our primary focus is the rescue and retraining of horses who through no fault of their own find themselves in horrendous circumstances. Currently we have nine rescues which have come from slaughter bound situations. Once the animal regains weight and personal interest in people again, we work to discover their natural abilities and to adopt these recovered gems to loving, forever homes.

One such horse is know to us as Katie, but a long time ago, in a different life, her Jockey Club name was Sought Out. Katie worked the tracks the hard way and when her usefulness was done, she was rescued by a group of very determined women.

Furlong Transition Center acquired Katie after quite a harrowing ordeal. Originally a group of rescuers were networking to bail out a horse that was auction bound. When the network dispatched a local resident to evaluate the nice, large gelding of possible thoroughbred breeding, she arrived to find he had already been sent to auction. Very upset, she called Wendy O’Hara-Mickels at Furlong and another member of the network, Diana Baker. Diana in turn sent one of her friends to the suspected auction house, Marshall Auction in Virginia on a hot Saturday afternoon. While many waited and others called the offending owner it was too late and our target horse, a bay gelding, was sold and gone from the auction yard. Never one to be out done Diana asked her person on the ground, Jan Snodgrass, to see if any other TBs needed rescuing. Jan saw two mares go through the auction both very skinny; one had a terrible scar on her back leg. Since the better mare was bought by a mother/ daughter, Jan set her sights on the other scarred horse. To her horror, the mare was tied to the trailer of one Jessie Austin, known meat dealer and sometimes hauler. After speaking to Diana they agreed on a budget and $150 was spent to save Katie, as she became known somewhere during her trips.

Katie was slaughter bound and her last ride was going to be to New Holland auction for the hauler to gather a load before heading to a Canadian or Mexican slaughter house. Ransomed, Katie instead loaded and went home with Jan, beginning a six week recovery. Upon arrival, Katie was approx. 250+lbs underweight. Her back leg scar ran from hock to fetlock and the leg as was twice the size it should have been. Everyone involved was concerned as to the severity of her injury which appeared to  be six months old. The leg was healing, but the extent of scarring lead many to believe she had been given minimal care along the winding road to rescue. In Late July, early August it was determined Katie needed a more permanent solution. Jan had done a great job of getting weight on Katie but she needed a family to complete the recovery. Furlong Transition had been contacted by the rescue network to take in two thoroughbreds from Charleston. When one horse was placed in a home ahead of the shipping schedule Katie was chosen to fill the spot.

Katie was shipped with Rodeo Reba, a beautiful, large, homeless thoroughbred mare to Furlong Transition in the middle of the night. Katie however had other ideas about this trip. She was in no way going through the auction again or with another scruffy man. Wary of the trailer ride, Katie proceeded to demolish the hauler’s trailer along with injuring Reba physically and mentally on the trip down. Katie had to be sedated for the rest of the trip. We were all very surprised with this sweet mare's sudden meltdown, and decided it was from the trauma of her previous experiences.

Katie and Reba arrived at 3am to begin their new lives at Furlong Transition. After a few weeks it became apparent Katie was top horse in the pack composed of Katie, Reba and resident gelding, the Biggie. She and Reba had scrapes and scuffles, but would be OK. For the next year and a half, Katie was in a stall with adjoining paddock during the day and out at night with her buddies. There was little activity at the barn apart from feeding, cleaning and petting. Secluded on a pretty hill top farm with mountain meadow pastures. Katie only had to eat, sleep and socialize with her pasture mates.

In the beginning, Rodeo Reba was the top attention horse in the barn; the few people welcomed to view them for adoption always went to Reba with her huge brown eyes and perfect form. Unfortunately, no adopters were ever qualified enough for a mare with Reba’s special issues, so she remained at Furlong where she is now a permanent resident. Katie’s scar was getting better but remained a big red flag for most horse shoppers. Her mane was fuzzy from malnutrition, she was shy and would not let people handle her head. Katie’s feet were shelly and she did not like to be bathed or fussed over. After about a year, Katie realized this farm was going to stay under her feet and she began to warm up to both Wendy and her family. Even Wendy's oldest son was comfortable turning her out; Katie had perfect manners.

Eventually, it became apparent Katie wanted more from life than the sleepy enjoyment of being a pampered pasture mate, and she began to show off whenever company came to the barn. Katie would run, buck and come to the fence over and over again. For anyone who knew what to watch for, she was saying I am ready. Blue Skies heard Katie was being started under saddle again in the fall of 2010 by Furlong, and that Wendy’s neighbor, a very experienced dressage rider was working with Katie. When pictures were sent of her under saddle Blue Skies just had to come back for another  visit. Gone was the scruffy necked mare and in her place was a confident Thoroughbred, a lady in hand, shiny and ready to move on to her next chapter. After Sami and Ashley rode her and everyone saw the pictures there was no denying Katie was going to be the next addition to the Blue Skies family.

It hasn't been all easy going. It took Katie a while to settle into the routine of a lesson program. She is a big girl with a big stride and has been working and retraining as a Jumper. At her first outing this year, Katie and her rider Danielle were in the tops in all their classes. There are pictures of them on our Facebook page: Blue Skies Riding Academy, Inc. Three years ago this precious mare was tied to the trailer headed to hell and now she is poised to explode in the Jumper rings around Atlanta these next years as her new life expands.

On an additional happy note, the original target gelding from the auction was traced down to New Holland the following Monday, purchased and shipped to Kentucky by a group of very determined women in rescue. He became the pasture mate of Mohamed’s Dream who was adopted to the farm previously and was pasture mate to Those Bailey Blues (Bailey who now belongs to Sami Malik of Blue Skies), during her original transition time at Furlong Transition Center.

 Katie is one of many OTTB's now retraining at Blue Skies Riding Academy.


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

"Now I Will Believe That There Are Unicorns."

The quote is not mine, it is from William Shakespeare's The Tempest, but I know there are unicorns. I saw one leave us last night and my heart will never be the same for having known him.

Several weeks ago I wrote about BSRA's sturdy, grouchy Arabian Sneaky, who had fallen in the pasture and was in difficult circumstances. Sneaky had surprises galore amassed for us, walking everywhere he wanted to be, eating everything in sight and living the country gentleman's life. The hematoma in his chest and belly began to lessen and his winter coat was shedding along with everyone else on the property.

Last Saturday I watched from barn all day as the grand old man stood in the sunshine of the new pastures, eyes half-closed with contentment, chewing the new spring grass. So full of himself and so full of passion; every time I headed for the food, magically he would appear from nowhere to taste test anything which might have value as a treat. He stood patiently by the refrigerator and told me in no uncertain terms that he knew there were carrots inside and it was his prerogative to have one whenever he desired.

He stood in the midst of the front hall, farting with excellent and enjoying the discomfort of any soul unlucky enough to be caught in the back draft. He nibbled hay from every bale around the barn and searched stalls to see if any horse had left their breakfast undone. Sneaky's mane, which had been unceremoniously trimmed several years ago by an unsuspecting and well meaning volunteer, was back to his high Arabian standards. Thinking even now about his indignation over the accidental hair cut I must smile. Sneaky didn't need words to let us know his opinion of the whole experience. His hair was the center piece of his breed, the one vanity the old gelding took to heart. Without the mane, in his eyes, he was just another horse. To anyone who knew him, he was more than his hair.

"We are much stuff as dreams are made on", also from The Tempest, best describes this proud stallion. His space was his space and in his younger days taught many children the basics of riding. With his head and tail held high, if Sneaky liked you then he would allow you to ride. If he did not, then it wasn't going to be a good experience. When he met his girl, D, then he changed. He considered D his person, his other half. Their relationship was another piece of his unicorn magic.

For D, he would allow himself to be painted multiple colors and then washed, dressed up for Halloween and anything else; all he needed was her company and the days were complete. Of the rest of us, he liked some, tolerated others but could always be won with a treat. When Redwood was born the old man willingly took on the position of grumpy grandfather. As we worked to save Red last December, Sneaky was the one who stood nearest the fence, watching over the dying yearling.

Last night we gathered around him and told all our favorite Sneaky stories. We told him it was OK to let go and be at peace. We held him and reminded him of the young one waiting across the rainbow bridge, and to not stay just for us, we would be alright. With large sighs and long in-depth looks we knew he understood. Minutes later he was quietly gone and the world seems a lot emptier now.

Every barn has its wise old man, and Sneaky was our. There is no one who can take his place. As I left the barn last night, tears dropping freely from my eyes, I looked up at the quarter moon and smiled. It looked like a Sneaky smile. The sky was clear, stars brighter than we see them here in the midst of civilization. At the barn, it shone like the nights of our childhood. A perfect sky for a priceless horse - it seemed fitting.

There is an Arabic proverb that states, "A horse of good breed is not dishonored by his saddle." Sneaky honored his saddle, his breed and his people. The Blue Skies family were honored to have been those people.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Saturday, On The Farm

The first weekend of spring 2012 was Georgia beautiful. Deep blue skies and fresh green grass and happy ponies - memories are created on days like these. We let the Super 6 have the free run of the new back pastures and saw true happiness in action. How anyone could think the movements and actions of animals are random and mindless?

Dolce started the day's feasting, then Dynamo figured out the latch on her stall had moved and pushed her way out into the new pastures. Once the barns were fed and settled, we turned the other four out as well. It was so affirming to see these innocents running and grazing with the pure happiness of spirit horses possess. To see Maple and Sparky watching out for each other, even with acres of new spring grass to munch, made me smile and think about their emerging personalities.

Sparky might be small, and need the most weight, but his personality far exceeds his body size. He cantered and snorted and grazed with little notice to his hip bones, so prominent it hurts my heart to look at. Sparky only sees is a good place with 'meals on wheels' and plenty of good scratching. From so wounded a body flows a heart three times his physical size. He makes me smile all the time.

Daisy is wary, yet full of surprises. When she discovered the golf cart contained a ripped bag of feed, she worked and worked until the hole was large enough for her tongue. That attracted the attention of Dozer, Dynamo and Sparky until the offense was discovered and all four ran off squealing with childish delight at their nonsense. Later in her stall, Daisy parked out low, leading us to speculate further on her past.

Later in the afternoon, after they willingly returned to hay bags and grain, I used the shedding blade on Dynamo. I know there are a lot of happy birds in the valley today because I removed enough hair to line every nest in the county! She stood, eyes half closed in the sun, licking her lips and smiling as I brushed and brushed the itchy winter fur. I must confess, I relate to this lady.

The unhappiest of the 6 were Maple and Dolce. Not because they didn't get to graze or kick up their heels, no these two ladies got baths to help with their flaky skin. Of course, each rolled in the fresh shavings as soon as returned to their stalls, but at least some of the shedding was done. Unfortunately several of the 6 may be bald soon, from poor nutrition along with the normal spring shed.

But as the day came to an end, I smiled again, remembering the positive energy that radiated from the 6 all day long. I wish I could bottle that happiness. It certainly is wonderful medicine.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Reclaiming A Broken Heart

Tonight we had to go to the barn to measure out new pastures: one of the Super 6, another for our existing herd, and to plan a small pasture for Stella Blue the pregnant donkey. Currently Stella shares a pasture with three mares: Soleil, Vivienne and Nala. While I don't know how it works with a donkey foal, I do know mares will occasionally steal a newborn for their own.

As I sat and observed the Super 6 it became apparent each horse is in a different place when it comes to their emotional health. Physically they are slowing improving, though they look worse from shedding the winter coats they had upon arrival two weeks ago. But starvation is easily corrected with good hay and grain, carrots and apples. Emotional abuse is different.

Horses which have been trained, handled, and mis-handled are totally dependent upon humans for the basic staples of existence: food, shelter, water. They learn to trust we will provide them with these necessities. But what happens when man breaks that promise? What happens when we break the unspoken contract?

Trust, once broken, is not easily re-established. The horse becomes wary of 'the other hand', expecting the food to come with a condition. Too many times that 'other hand' brings pain, bewilderment, fear. The safety of the herd is breached by men with ropes and whips, or the electric prod. Horses run, fear and panic taking hold and erasing the memory of love and companionship. For some, man brings the final inglorious end - slaughter.

We must break through to these rescued ponies and show them not all humans are to be feared. It isn't an easy task, and some are so broken that reaching through the cage of their fear is close to impossible. But we never give up on an animal unless it becomes a danger to itself or others. If their spirit is too damaged it may be time to send them to a professional who works with wounded souls. Sometimes a horse cannot be healed.

Of the Super 6, one concerns me - Dolce. We have not gotten a confirmation from the Jockey Club on her identify, but if I had to lay odds my guess would be she came out of either Louisiana or Alabama from the race track. She has an air of suspicion, a watchfulness the others do not exhibit. Something is broken, but is she ready for healing? I don't know yet. I will not give up on her, or any horse, until every path has been exhausted.

Somewhere out there is Dolce's story, a past we do not know, a present we are now writing, and a future brighter than anything she has had before. That is the true core of what BSRA does - we rebuild hearts and write new futures. It isn't a bad job, the hours are long and the rewards are hard fought for. And the day Dolce puts her trust in us will be the best reward I can think of. For now.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Yesterday...

Yesterday started Spring Cleaning at BSRA and the weather was, for the major part of the day, wonderful. The horses all had their noses deeply buried in round bales of hay within  the pastures and the rescues ate and napped in the March sunshine. These are the days I have always enjoyed playing hooky, whether from school or work. Not too hot (though it is warmer than March should be) and the sky so blue it beckons one outside to marvel in the brightness of its azure arch.

We have been using a homeopathic topical gel on Vince's legs to draw out any heat, encourage healing from the inside. When the leg was first injected the big gelding would kick your head off at the mere thought of touching the inflamed limb. Now he just flats his ears for a moment, cribs a few times and then returns to his hay. Darling daughter M took his first round of hand walking, along with the other invalids, Mouse and Savannah. Sneaky is currently allowed free rein to wander around the property but can usually be found in the new pastures eating and soaking up the sunshine.

I spent a long time with the Super 6, feeding carrots and using marigold spray against the early crop of flies Georgia is experiencing. Each had a different reaction to the holistic fly spray, which works just as good as any pesticide yet doesn't contain any poisons. Marigold spray also stays working for several days without need for reapplication. I highly recommend it, especially with horses that have systemic issues.

Dyna loved the carrots and stood patiently for the spray. There was no hesitation or shying away from the touch of spray against her skin. I am growing very attached to this intelligent mare. The way she studies me when I come to interact with them, her willingness to come to me and the thoughtful way she smells me from head to foot. I cannot wait until her quarantine is over and we can put a saddle on to see what she knows. Perhaps she was a cow pony, or a sure footed trail pony?

Maple (who I think should be named Joni) wanted my carrots but not the fly spray. She did not even want to sniff the bottle, making me wonder what trials she has been through. Throwing the bottle out of the stall I stretched out my hand to reassure her I would make no efforts with the spray. Poor mare, I find myself full of sorrow as we wait for results on the tattoo to come back. We have asked other Thoroughbred rescues and associates to help us with her poor lip tattoo.

Sparky and Dozer both had the same reaction - spray for carrots was a fair trade in their eyes. Though neither was as patient and willing as Dyna, they didn't shy away or flinch. Good solid geldings, what a wonderful after working with goofy gelding.

Dolce wasn't happy about the fly spray and I make sure to avoid the cuts and bites she received before coming to BSRA. Her eyes are still guarded, Dolce is considering her condition more so than the others appear to be doing. Now that her winter coat is shedding out the ribs are more visible, but so are the bites and kicks endured during her journey.

After spending time with the rescues it was my turn to hand walk Vince. The new pastures have wonderful baby grass coming in and after a month in his stall he was ready for grass! His 1000 pounds of horse dragged my 5'5" frame all over the pastures. Only the increasingly closer claps of thunder saved me from more arm pulling. Then the storm broke over the valley in its full intensity, bringing more rain to the already damp ground. The two ponds are full, the new grass is popping all over the farm and Stella's belly is growing more day by day.

Spring on a farm - there really isn't anything better.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Days Are Getting Longer

I went to the barn today, even though it wasn't a normal day for me to be there. Part of the reason was for paperwork, Bev and I never seem to have time for all the paperwork. Having 30 horses can be more taxing than having 30 people employees. But the other reason was our new residents. The sense of protectiveness I feel for these 6 is immense. Because of the circumstances under which they were redeemed, the mother instinct is kicking in.

The Super 6 are settling in to their new routines. Morning brings hay and grain, fresh water and lots of scratches from loving hands. Once they have finished their first round of hay, mid-day means a little more of everything and plenty more love. When I arrived the first to notice me was Dynamo, of course. I was welcomed with a long round of sniffing. She remembered me and was ready to learn more. It was nice to stand and acknowledge her curiosity. I apparently passed her test, because she head bumped me, then left to start on her hay. I have been accepted.

Sparky was eating, as he should be. We can't wait to see weight (ha ha) return to this guy. Daisy and Dozer either have a 'thing' going on, or she is just a mooch, haven't quite figured their relationship out. She feeds quite liberally from his hay, and so far Dozer doesn't seem to mind. He has such a laid back vibe, it might work out just fine. She is a flirt.

Dolce and Maple were both napping. The next few days here in Georgia are supposed to be in the 80's, so baths and shed blades are the plan for the remainder of this week. Saturday we are gong to string a pen around their stalls, so they will be able to move around and graze but still have their stalls for individual feeding. Changes we hadn't expected but are glad to implement for these babies.

On a side note - our trainer K has two mares expecting first foals between now and the end of the month AND the little donkey we helped Iron Gait Percheron Rescue take from a neglectful owner earlier this year is pregnant. So BSRA is going to have a hinny. We haven't quite figured out how that is going to work, because we have some very dominant mares. Will a donkey let a horse mare steal her baby? Tune in for details as the events unfold.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Super 6

When you have a farm, be it small or large, the work never ends. Even when you have the best of intentions, getting anything accomplished on the list you made at breakfast becomes impossible once you get to the barn and see what is what. Saturday is my day to work at BSRA. This past weekend, a large group of riders went to a local cross country 'pace', which left only a few horses to be managed, including my favorite invalids - Sneaky and Vince, along with two mares that are in different stages of recovery and six newly rescued ponies.

Mouse injured her rear end back in early January and Savannah has a cut on her rear leg just above the hoof. As most of the 'bossier' horses were gone for the day, I elected to turn Mouse out with the few quieter ones left behind. She was getting restless in her stall and the day was too beautiful to ignore. With the new horses in quarantine for 30 days, I put Sneaky inside the arena where Savannah could see him and know she wasn't alone in the barn.

My goofy gelding was also bored with his confined space. After letting everyone out, we set up the outdoor arena for Vince with hay and water. It was big enough he could move around, but small enough he wouldn't be able to re injure the suspensory ligament. With horses outside the arena to keep him occupied but safe, we deemed it time for our newest arrivals.

BSRA ransomed 6 horses, four of them in poor shape. While we worked around the barn they stood in their quarantine stalls, quietly chewing and examining their new location. As soon as we could, Miss Bev and I removed their blankets and took a visual scan of our new charges. What a bunch they are!

Worst of the lot would be Spark Plug, 'Sparky', a smaller Quarter Horse-style pony. My first impression was the dullness in his eyes. This poor boy is approximately 150 or more pounds underweight. From the moment I arrived until I left his nose was deep in his hay. There are no external wounds or scars, he just has been in starvation mode for a while. When I removed his blanket, I could feel every point of the spine, and his tail had been cropped off from the mess it had become.

Next comes the little dun mare, now renamed as 'Daisy'. She is missing teeth in the upper front, victim of a direct kick to the mouth; probably in competition for food, as she is thin and well scarred. In working with her, there might be some residual mental scarring. On her right side along the girth line she raised her hind leg and spun around to warn me something was upsetting her. Rather than push anything, I left. It wasn't the time to probe.

Third would be the red bay mare, 'Dolce'. She has been beaten up pretty well but hadn't been there too long, as her weight was still good. But it was obvious she has breeding. There is a Jockey Club tattoo under her lip, but we cannot find it in the database. When Sami has more time she can investigate.

The other Thoroughbred is a tall drink of water now called Maple Leaf. Not sure if that will stick. Dark bay without a spot of white, her lip tattoo is impossible to read. Only with pictures of her and the remains can we make any attempt at her registered name. She is well under weight and eats like a Dyson vacuum. Her eyes are soft and remind me of our other rescue Sterling. When she gains her health and starts working again she will be magnificent with her long elegant legs.

The other two are thin but only to the touch. From a distance 'Dozer' the Halflinger cross gelding, and 'Dynamo' a Quarter Horse draft cross are both large and in charge. 'Dyna' is leader of the band and watches everything to make sure the others stay in line. Dozer loves three things: food, people and food (not necessarily in that order!). His attitude toward everyone and everything is instant and infectious. His personality really fits with his name.

When I returned after brunch on Sunday, what a happier group awaited me. Late Saturday everyone got groomed and hand walked and loved on. That night they slept warm and full with their blankets. Sunday was a day for the eyes to begin wondering, "Is this really it? Will we be safe?" The noses were extended with more curiosity than the day before, hooves were extended for cleaning. With a wave of love we started the path back to normal, where every horse has a place and a purpose and a forever home with their favorite person.

That will be a wonderful world.

Join us as we track the rehab of the Super 6, along with the exploits of my goofy gelding Vince as he recovers from suspensory ligament damage. Because no day with horses is routine, it's always an adventure!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

We Save All We Can

This is how it is: I work at a horse rescue center. It isn't always pretty. But it is always rewarding.

Yesterday, Blue Skies ransomed 6 horses from a slaughter/auction holding farm. This a person who picks up horses cheaply from auctions around the South, feed them and resells to either another auction site or directly to a kill buyer. A kill buyer takes the unransomed horses (I refuse to say unwanted) and ships them to either Mexico or Canada for slaughter.

That's right - slaughter. If you have gotten rid of a horse in this recent economy, chances are they have found their way into the slaughter pipeline. No, they aren't living the good life on some big farm in the mountains, or teaching lessons at a stable in horse country. They are headed on a one way trip to hell. Sorry, I know that might come as a shock to some people. To those of us who are in the rescue and rehabilitation of horses it is the sad reality.

Here are the facts: There are more horses bred on an annual basis in this country than will ever be profitable to the breeders. With the depressed economy horses are a luxury most people consider expendable. Livestock auctions and rescue centers around the country are struggling to keep hay and feed for the animals they have; there is precious little room for any extra animals.

To most of you, horses are just another animal, like a cow or a goat. Well, wouldn't Alexander the Great have looked pretty funny conquering the known world on the back of a goat!

For the rest of us, it is a sobering reality. So many owners call wanting to surrender their animals for lack of funds, others want to 'trade' their older, usually ill animals for younger healthy horses. And I love the calls looking for the perfect, sane, calm pony for children to 'ride'. Perfect and sane and pony don't usually go in the same sentence.

There is nothing physically wrong of any of the 6 animals we ransomed yesterday that we can see, other than severe malnutrition for several of thems and a new wariness toward humans probably not there before adventures and fate brought them to BSRA. From a detached honest perspective I can see personality and promise in each of them, but I know it will be at least three months before true progress and trust can be established. Is that discouraging? A little, but that is the reward, the human 'carrot' at the of this stick.

Because that is the beauty of rescue. Seeing a defeated and lonely horse coming to life with love, attention and food. Watching relationships and herds form and re-form as newcomers are worked into the farm. Helping a neglected animal recognize that not every person who comes near them means harm. These are rewards that cannot be measured in terms most humans understand. You have to feel their love to know the power of a horse.

And perhaps, one day, everyone will understand.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Majesty of Hooves


Since I was a child, horses have held mystery and nobility. In my mind I have conquered mountains, forded rivers and crossed the plains on the back of a horse; more than a thousand journeys ridden alongside the expressways and plane trips of childhood. In honor of all of us who have taken our noble steed from pretend barns to imaginary castles, a few of my favorite quoted and thoughts about our companions.

A horse is the projection of peoples' dreams about themselves - strong, powerful, beautiful - and it has the capability of giving us escape from our mundane existence. ~Pam Brown

Show me your horse and I will tell you who you are.~ Old English Proverb

The horse, the horse! The symbol of surging potency and power of movement, of action. ~ D. H. Lawrence

A horse is a thing of beauty... none will tire of looking at him as long as he displays himself in his splendor. ~Xenophon

No philosophers comprehend us so well as the horse. ~ Herman Melville

The animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the sense we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. ~ Henry Beston

If you have seen nothing but the beauty of their markings and limbs, their true beauty is hidden from you. ~ AL Mutannabbi

His neigh is like the bidding of a monarch, and his countenance enforces homage. ~ William Shakespeare

Many people have sighed for the 'good old days' and regretted the 'passing of the horse,' but today, when only those who like horses own them, it is a far better time for horses. ~C.W. Anderson

The wind of heaven is that which blows between a horse's ears. ~Arabian Proverb

The essential joy of being with horses is that it brings us in contact with the rare elements of grace, beauty, spirit, and fire. ~Sharon Ralls Lemon

All I pay my psychiatrist is the cost of feed and hay, and he'll listen to me any day. ~Author Unknown

A canter is a cure for every evil. ~Benjamin Disraeli

Brahma was excessively sparing with earth, water, and fire.... The reckless expenditure of air and ether in his composition was amazing. And, in consequence, he perpetually struggled to outreach the wind, to outrun space itself. Other animals ran only when they had a reason, but the Horse would run for no reason whatever, as if to run out of his own skin. ~Rabindranath Tagore

Look back at our struggle for freedom,
Trace our present day's strength to it's source;
And you'll find that man's pathway to glory
Is strewn with the bones of the horse.
~Author Unknown

In riding a horse we borrow freedom. ~Helen Thomson

Four things greater than all things are, -
Women and Horses and Power and War.
~Rudyard Kipling, "The Ballad of the King's Jest"

Wherever man has left his footprint in the long ascent from barbarism to civilization we will find the hoof print of the horse beside it. ~John Moore

In my opinion, a horse is the animal to have. Eleven-hundred pounds of raw muscle, power, grace, and sweat between your legs - it's something you just can't get from a pet hamster. ~Author Unknown

In this time of economic hardship, many animals are being discarded or sent to places of little to no sanctuary. If you are looking for a great cause, support Horse Rescue. At Blue Skies, we rehabilitate and retrain discarded horses and give them back the only thing any horse wants, a job. They depend upon mankind and we have to improve our treatment of them. Thanks for letting me jump on my soapbox. Next post will definitely be an update on our captive audience, Vince and Sneaky; along with an introduction to the 5 new rescue horses coming to BSRA tomorrow.


 


Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Definition of Heart

This was an extremely busy weekend for Blue Skies Riding Academy. On Thursday Miss Beverly left for a training session on natural healing and herbs. On Friday we took nine horses and eleven riders to our first show of the season and little rescue donkey, Stella Blue, allowed me to pet her and kiss her nose on Saturday. All in all a productive three days.

On top of the excellent performances from all our riders (and trainers!), Sneaky decided a five minute hand walk was too boring. While I walked five feet into the barn for a longer lead rope, he decided to take a field trip into the back pasture for some fresh grass. My irritation at him not following orders was quickly overtaken by joy at seeing the grand old Arabian walking free again. He stood in the sun, chewing the new grass, eyes closed in complete happiness in the sunshine. The road to recovery for a 20+ year old horse is long, but I will revel in the small steps.

On a different note, Vince was not having a great day. He had seen the trailer loading Friday morning and the awareness he wasn't going did not sit well with my boy. When I arrived on Saturday morning, instead of happy Vince, I got surly Vince. With all my magnificent volunteers riding at the show, my day was full of stalls and manure and shavings, so it was after lunch before I got time to spend with him one on one.

He loves eating hay while I brush him down, but the back left leg with the suspensory ligament damage is still off limits. No touch, no rub, he barely let my fingertips run along the leg. When I see the immediate pain reaction on his face, my heart bleeds. Horses have no vocal cords for the spoken word, only the twitch of their multi-directional ears and a lifted limb. To know he has been in such pain and I didn't know the source is frustrating.

While I rubbed my goofy gelding and gave him treats with rock sugar in the center (absolutely favorite new treats), my darling daughter was riding her first love in the show ring. Penny (registered name How Much Money) was our first horse, a Quarter Horse with a heart a mile wide and a pedigree that includes Man O' War. (Quarter Horses are a combined breed, usually Thoroughbreds with native pony.) The first years of her life were spent in the rodeo ring as a reining horse. Basically, running first speed from one end of the arena to the other, then slamming on the breaks and sliding on the hocks.

Penny has arthritis in her hocks, we knew that when we purchased her. But she and M have been true partners since the moment they laid eyes on each other. No matter how many other horses my daughter might ride, Penny is her partner, the one I wanted for her first horse. But last year she developed another problem - navicular. With so much pain in all legs, the decision was made to semi-retire Penny. Thus Vince entered into our lives.

This show was supposed to be Vince's big debut, but instead reliable Penny stepped up to the plate. With only minimal conditioning, she went to the show and took home three ribbons, 4th, 5th and 6th. The prize isn't the ribbons, it is that she competed at all. Her navicular has been well managed by proper shoeing, rest, minimal jumping and occasional riding. But when she was called upon, her only answer was "Yes". THAT is the definition of heart.

We have almost 30 horses at BSRA, and all of them have people who love them and cherish them as partners. I own three, Penny, Vince and a wonderful little rescue named Bella, who deserves her own post. If anyone tries to tell me a horse is just a dumb animal, I have 30 four-legged friends to help me prove otherwise. I love the lessons I learn from them. They make me a better person and the unconditional love they exude is precious. Isn't that what we all need?

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

UPDATE: Sneaky and Vince, Comrades in Stalls

We went out to the barn today, to prepare for a horse show this weekend across town. It was the first time I had seen Vince or Sneaky since Saturday. There were a lot of changes.

First, an update on Sneaky. He is feeling good, and the swelling in his sheath has gone down considerably. I walked him around the aisles today and we moved at his pace, which consisted of three steps forward and then wait a few minutes before walking three more. The fluid has settled to the lowest points, along the bottom line from sternum to rump. This causes the skin to stretch tight across the top line making the hip bones more pointed that they really are.

His appetite is still good as is his water intake. What goes in is having no problems coming out in either format. The banamine was making him sweat, so SM gave him a haircut to help with the sudden heat wave we are having here in the South. I presented him a molasses treat with rock candy in the center, which he loved, and a small carrot. That took a little longer, but when we left he had moved around in the stall and was starting in on the evening hay.

Sneakers is in for a long recovery, but as long as his spirits stay good it will be okay. He knows this time he got hurt worse than ever before and this injury is teaching him that age is more than just a number. But he also knows how much he is loved.

There is a special bond that exists between horses and humans. Our bond with them is primal; on their backs we conquered the world. Behind their shoulders have plows brought our food. They have transported us and transformed us, and if we stop long enough to listen, they can teach us. If we are smart enough to hear.

Vince is responding to his PRP injection extremely well. When he heard me come into the barn, he stopped cribbing long enough to come demand my attention. His eyes were bright and his ears were forward, two things that had been missing these past weeks as we fretted and consulted on what could be wrong. Today the goofy gelding was back, complete with a new component - love. After six long months of dancing around together, now we are a family.

Why did it take so long?  Why now? Because I took away the pain. I know, it wasn't me personally but we took him to the big scary place with needles and now it feels better. He knows at last we care about him. In human terms, all we did was take him to a doctor, but in the animal world we did something huge. In return Vince is ready to go forward and get better.

And you know what? So am I.