Thursday, August 25, 2011

An Eye Problem

Yesterday morning when I went out to see the horses and move them to their day pasture, I noticed something 'not quite right' with one of them. You know what I mean: even from a distance, you can tell when a horse isn't looking quite himself. It's the little things, like the way they are standing, where they are standing, who they are standing with, the angle of their head, their overall demeanor, their focus or gaze, their position to you. Walking closer, I could see that it was Esteban's eye that was troubling him, judging by the way he was angled against the morning sun and the puffiness that was evident, even from 30 metres away.

There are rules here at the ranch about calling the vet. And one of them is with eye problems: call immediately. I had a look as best I could - he was very light-sensitive, sore and inflamed, and then took him over to the stable. Rang our vet who said he'd be here in an hour. Great. I popped two dark flymasks on him (putting them on myself first to make sure he could still see!) and let him go back with herd to graze while we waited for the vet.

Times like this, how glad I am that I have desensitized all the horses to having their eyes handled. If you wait until there is a problem and your horse is worried and in pain, examination would be difficult and possibly dangerous. While your vet will sedate your horse to properly examine an eye, it's very valuable if your horse is calm and accepting of the exam. I've seen even sedated horses throw their heads in the air and push forward, fearful and unsure about what is happening.

Every morning and every night it is part of the routine to check every horse over - including eyes and noses. With spring winds and dust and pollen, there's a higher chance of eye problems. Our vet said yesterday that people need to call immediately when they see an eye problem, as it can quickly turn into something serious. He said, (I quote) "you wouldn't walk around with pus running out of your eye, so why should your horse?"

So Esteban was a perfect gentleman while he was examined, with and without sedation (to inspect under the 3rd eyelid, sedation is necessary when dealing with something as delicate as the eye). His buddy Corbello stayed with us, rubbing his bum on anything and everything, and generally trying to get us to focus on him instead! Diagnosis is a small ulcer, likely caused by local trauma such as a tree branch (we have no wire that the horses can hurt themselves on) which will heal quickly with medical treatment. Good news.

Putting the ointment into his eye is a breeze. Because we have assumed 'the position' so many times in our regular eye care routine, there is nothing worrisome about it, and everyone is relaxed and happy. Handling your horse's more sensitive areas is an important part of the Friendly, Getting to Know You Game, and times like this, just drives home that philosophy. (In all my clinics and lessons I demonstrate how to handle the eyes in a way that builds trust, confidence and respect.)

One of the things the vet commented on was how my breathing and the Gershwin tunes on the CD player in the stable really seemed to make the mood lighter and more relaxing for everyone!

Friday, August 12, 2011

A Moon Walk

On nights where we have a full moon, I like to take a late night walk to visit my horses.

It is cold out there tonight, but still and clear. I pull my gumboots on over my PJ legs and put a warm jacket on over my dressing gown, then a beanie on my head and I'm ready for anything! It's a good look, you've got to admit ... but wait, there's more! The outfit wouldn't be complete without a bright orange scarf (this will help someone find me, just in case I slip down the muddy embankment, bump my head on a pile of manure and pass out in the undergrowth under the fence at the bottom of the hill).

Suitably attired, I traverse the dewy lawn and climb through the fence (not easy in this outfit) to go say hello to the herd. I quickly do a headcount; 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 ....... where's 8 and 9? I wander amongst the boys, who are standing about quietly watching me with mild interest, some are munching on their hay, others are just staring off into the next door paddock, where a few kangaroos mill about. I stop and give each horse a scratch and a kiss on their velvet muzzles, which are soft, warm and slightly moist from the damp grass.

Numbers 8 and 9 are further along the hill, over a little crest, munching on some hay that the others may not have discovered yet on their nightly exploration of the paddock, looking for the hay that I scatter about in piles every evening. This is Zorro and Sharif, my black arabians, who melted into the dark, despite the moonlight. They stop eating to enjoy my caress, and smell my ankle-length robe and PJ's with interest. Sharif explores the possibility that they might be edible.

I squat down on the pile of hay and listen to them chewing. Both boys edge closer to me, suddenly wanting the hay that I'm sitting on, whiskers touching my cheek.

From my perch on the hill, the town lights blink and sparkle, like alien morse code on a faraway planet. There's nothing between me and the huge night sky except the air that I breathe. It's magical. Zorro and I let out a sigh at the same time; contentment reigns.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Unseasonal warm days and your horse

Driving around the Yarra Valley today going from lesson to lesson and home again, I saw over 100 horses (yes, I counted them, just out of curiosity!) standing in the sun wearing winter rugs, with over 3/4 of them in 'combo' rugs (where the neck is all rugged up as well). My car's temperature readout said it was 20 degrees celsius (around 70F) outside, so I had to wonder why these poor horses had been left to sweat all day in their eskimo clothing? Plus, many of them without shade .... They stand alone or in little clusters, unmoving, heads down. Who can blame them for not moving - movement would cause even more heat, especially for those horses on hills. Last night I checked the weather website, so I knew what we were in for today (unseasonably warm weather) and so this morning my troughs were topped up in readiness for thirsty horses! I would hope that horse owners make a regular habit of checking weather forecasts too ... for extremes of weather, warnings, etc. But many, it seems, only care if the weather is suitable for riding ...

While I lean toward the No Rugs camp, I'm trying not to be judgemental when I see horses in the above scenario. A person who agists their horse in a paddock alone and who only visits on a Saturday afternoon, would be at the mercy of the weather, if they choose to rug their horse. When I talk with clients like this, they tell me they put rugs on at the first burst of cold weather (mid autumn and take them off mid-spring), worried their horses will be cold and also to avoid the criticism of their fellow agistees who accuse them of being 'cruel'. Now, I agree, if a horse is standing all alone in a treeless, shelterless paddock, in bitter wind rain and cold, I wouldn't feel good about that either. Obvious thing is to ensure the horse has a shelter (one he will use, ask me for a design) as well as plenty of hay (warms them up in winter) - and a buddy (for many reasons).

I have a student who hails from Germany, and she is constantly amazed by all the rugging of horses we do here in Australia. While we all admire the sleek coats constant rugging produces, we must admit (once we know and understand the scientific facts about how a horse regulates his/her own body temperature) that it's probably not the best thing 24/7 for a healthy, well fed horse who has shelter and friends.

It is a part of the horse owner's responsibility (challenge!) to tend to their horse daily, and where possible, to allow their horse's body to breathe, get dirty and feel free. In short, to ensure their horse feels comfortable. Some horses will try anything to get their rugs off, hence the tears and rips ... but we've fixed that, with electric fencing, special space-age fabrics that won't tear, and miracle strappings that won't budge even with 500kgs leaning on them!

So whatever your position on rugging, please do what you can to help educate someone who doesn't understand how their horse may be feeling (ie: very hot) and do your best not to fall into the trap of leaving rugs on during warmer days. And just for fun, put your heaviest full-length winter jacket on, and stand out in the sun for awhile - will give anyone a whole new perspective!