Saturday, April 9, 2011

My Little Pony, Part 1


As someone who used to train horses for a living and dealt successfully with a number of "problem" horses, I really struggled with this admission: I was scared to ride my own horses. Chronic pain issues have been plaguing me for about ten years now, and after trying various treatment modalities from acupuncture to osteopathy, I was worse, not better. Not only did I hurt all the time, but I GOT hurt very easily -- a situation I found both depressing and frustrating. I started riding less and less, and over time I realized that a big part of why I wasn't riding was that I was afraid of getting hurt. The problem wasn't that I was thinking I would fall off -- I don't come off easily, even now. Unfortunately, I had learned by experience that I don't need to come off to get hurt. One little buck can put me in agony for months -- and my morgan Gryphon, bless his soul, is one that will occasionally have a rodeo moment, or sometimes just jump four feet sideways when something scares him. He no longer does the spectacular caprioles he used to do when he was four years old, especially happy and full of himself, but still, his antics do not inspire relaxation and confidence when you feel like your entire body is made of glass.

Then there is my APHA, Obie, who is young, huge, exuberant and extremely green. Also not one I feel great about getting on right now. He is supposed to be my husband's horse, so I don't feel quite as bad about not riding him, but even so, I've got two gorgeous horses in my yard and I wasn't riding. Finally, I decided to admit my fear, which meant that I had three options: 1) try riding my boys, feel terrified about it, and hope for the best, 2) stop riding altogether, or 3) get myself something I would feel comfortable riding, try to rebuild both my strength and my confidence, and then maybe I would get back on the boys.

I decided that what I needed was something small -- a large, sturdy pony, around 14 hands would have been perfect, and that's what I set out to find. Well, turns out it's not that easy, especially where I live, to find the perfect pony -- quiet, sensible, comfortable, well-behaved, etc. I started looking further afield, and lo and behold, came across a truly beautiful, black and white Welsh/Pinto cross named Twister. She was too far away for me to drive to see, younger than I wanted, more money than I wanted to spend, and she was a mare (I have generally preferred geldings) to boot. But, as my friend Pam says, "We have the same disease, Susan: we completely lose our minds around black and white horses." Thinking Twister was out of the question for all the aforementioned reasons didn't get her out of my head. In fact, the more I looked at other ponies and small horses, the more I found myself heading back to YouTube to watch the videos of her (this one really got me:

So, I started making inquiries. Talked to the hunter/jumper trainer who was selling her, talked to the lady who bred her and started her, talked to another trainer who had worked with her. Rave reviews all around, with the breeder saying she wishes she had never sold her, and the past trainer saying she wishes she could have afforded to buy Twister for herself. Now, Twister was smaller than what I was looking for -- only about 13hh -- but all the ladies said that she had carried adults before with no problem, and I was honest about my size and weight...not a problem, they all said. That was it for me -- I gave in to my B+W addiction, convinced my ever-wonderful husband Michael that we somehow had to come up with the money for her, and I bought her, sight unseen. Remember, I have a disease!

Finally, after much delay (pain-in-the-patooty commercial hauler!), nail biting (did I do the right thing?) and anticipation (can't wait til she gets here!), Twister arrived April 8th, around 7:30 p.m. I had hoped she would get here at an earlier hour so that there would be more hours of daylight for her to get a sense of her surroundings, but that's when she arrived. Michael rigged up a light outside to give her some ability to see her way around the paddock -- which has lots of trees, rocks and ruts...dangerous in the dark for horses that don't know their way around), and that was very helpful.

The first thing I noticed about Twister when she got off the trailer was that she had the characteristic "fat pads" of insulin resistance -- the condition Gryphon has. This problem is VERY common in ponies, who should all basically be treated as if they are IR, even if they have not yet shown symptoms. So, I am not shocked, especially since she was raised on rich Oregon pasture -- terrible for ponies in general, as it will bring on IR. I was planning to feed her as if she was IR anyway, so this doesn't change anything for me, though I'm not happy to see such an obvious symptom in an animal not yet five years old.

What I next noticed about Twister was that she led very well, considering that she had every reason to be frightened. She was clearly scared (I had to lead her down the road a ways before getting onto our property, then we had to deal with the automatic gate, etc.), but she did not pull on the rope, she stopped when I stopped, and she seemed to be looking to me for reassurance. All very good signs. Once I put her in the paddock -- which we had divided in half, with the boys and Rogie on one side and her on the other -- she didn't pay much attention to the horses, which I thought was good.

The boys, of course, were VERY interested in her, particularly Obie. He got all excited and started running around, showing off with high-flying bucks and a bouncy, tail-up prance. Gryphon took a look for a bit and then didn't seem to care all that much. All seemed fine and we eventually went inside.

Then, I went out to feed at around 11:00, and this note that I wrote to my friend Mary Jane tells what happened:

Well, it's 1:00 a.m. as I sit down to write this note, and I've just gotten in from doing a triage job on the hotwire, as Obie decided to run through the whole thing that was separating the grassy part of the paddock (where he and Gryphon were) and the dry part, where Twister was. I went out to feed at around 11 and lo and behold, there were TWO sets of eyes glowing at me from Twister's side! GACK!!! I said, "How on earth did you get in here, Obie?" and then I saw that he had simply destroyed the whole fence. Total disaster, as that inside part was attached to the main perimeter fence, and that was all droopy now too. Gryphon and Rogie were still in the grassy side, too afraid to deal with all the broken strands of tape on the ground every which way, but Obie was having a grand time introducing himself to the dainty new lady!

Fortunately, he was being quite nice to her and she wasn't bad with him. Then, as I was trying to fix it (Michael came out to help me), Gryphon and Rogie came in and Gryphon was CHARGING her full blast and looking like he was going to kill her. Michael was trying to protect her and we figured this was not a good scenario, so I grabbed Gryph and put him and Rogie into the tiny "Obie's separate feeding" paddock, left Obie with Twister, and soldiered on trying to figure out some way to make at least the exterior of the paddock hot again. I sent Michael inside, as it was such a mess and was previously already such a complicated hodge podge of splices and dead ends, that I knew he'd never make heads or tails of it, and it took me two dang hours to do it myself!

And of course, I had to scoop up whatever of the oat hay the lady sent for Twister was in there, as I didn't want my boys eating it! So, Twister is on our hay, for better or for worse -- hardly the "slow switch over" I planned. I did get her to eat a handful of mash with a dose of the Dynamite pre-biotic in it, so I hope that will help her. It's a pretty radical transition and a lot of stress. If you're ever a praying type, MJ, now would be a good time!

I only hope that everyone is in one piece and where I left them when I wake up in the morning. Among my fears is the worry that Obie will now realize that it's not so bad to charge through multiple strands of hot tape. That would mean that we have no way to contain him until the four rail fence goes up, which will be god know's when. Scary!

Just goes to show you, though, that you can't predict horses. Who would have thought he would do that, and here I thought he would be more troublesome to introduce to Twister, and that Gryphon would be easier. Go figure!

So much for day one! Stay tuned for more...


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