Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Old Red Mares

The old red mares ain't what they used to be. I am talking about me and Silk. Today, Silk fell when she was running around in the pasture with Siete. The ground was slippery, and she crashed down on her right side. It took my breath away and hers. Fortunately, she got up and seems to be moving around okay. She's 19 years old and has quite a bit of arthritis in her hocks.

Stiffness has been on my mind and in my bones a lot recently. I got some excellent advice from a fellow blogger, ljb, about ways to stretch out Siete. She wrote about it at One of the things she mentioned is that perhaps I'm stiff and that may be part of the problem. She's right. After spreading tons of compost on my garden beds and digging out heaping piles of wet heavy mud and hay mess in the horses' corral, I am so stiff.

It must be a message coming at me from the blogosphere. The same day I heard from ljb, I checked in on, another favorite blog of mine. She was writing about the importance of exercise and stretching for the aging rider - for all riders actually. She had some good references of videos and books designed for equestrians.

So, I am going to get with the program. My stepson is arriving in a week, and he promises to give me Tai Chi lessons while he visits us. I've pulled out my yoga mat and my exercise ball. But first, I'm going to take some Aleve and a little nap.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Trust In the Wind

The weather today is crazy. It started out this morning in the 50's and they are predicting the temperature will drop to 29 tonight. The horses really feel the change. As I turned them out in the pasture, the wind began to whip up. Yesterday, they spent the whole day in their stalls and corral because it was raining. Siete was frustrated and paced around, like a little kid who wanted to play outside.

In the interest of fairness, I always lead Silk out first to the pasture, and when I bring them in, Siete goes first. It teaches Siete a bit of patience to have to wait for her mama to be walked calmly to the pasture while she watches eagerly over her stall door.

Today, Siete was desperate to get out there. Based on past experience, I was expecting her to try to charge out of her stall. I don't let her do that, so we have had some battles of will. Instead, to my surprise, she waited all pent up until I gestured for her to follow me and then pranced like a circus horse next to me. With each step, she squealed with excitement. I could see how hard she was working to contain her energy. The squealing reminded me of my daughter and her friends when they are revved up over something. I started laughing.

Once I opened the pasture gate and we danced politely inside, I unclipped the lead rope. Siete waited for me to step out of the pasture before she leaped straight up in the air with all four feet off the ground. I felt a definite difference in her acceptance of me as her leader, a new trust that probably resulted from our experiences with the antibiotics and the Lyme Disease. Even though she could hardly wait to kick up her heels and take off, she knew that as long as I was in there, she should stand still.

My horses notice every move I make, so I try to instill respect and calmness into everything we do together. Now, if I could only do that with my daughter as well.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Does A Horse Enjoy Being Trained?

Now that I'm meeting new friends in the blogosphere, I'd like to pose a question that I've been mulling over alot recently: Does a horse enjoy being trained? I've read that horses want to feel useful, so I think that they should enjoy learning if it is presented to them in a kind and engaging manner.

Silk was incredibly well-trained by two famous Western trainers, Charlie Cole and Cynthia Cantleberry. Then, she was sold to several people, and along the way, someone abused her. When I bought her, I had to work hard to earn her trust and affection, but her training under saddle was impeccable --far beyond my wildest dreams. When I ride her, I just have to think what I want to do and she does it. She teaches me much more than any horse I've ever ridden. Now, I face the challenge of training her daughter, Siete, to be as sensitive and responsive as SIlk.

When she was born, my cowboy mentor, Joe, warned me, "This little horse is really smart. She'll learn the bad things just as fast as she learns the good things." I think that I've got a basically well-mannered five year old. But I want her training sessions to be something that she looks forward to doing. I understand about always ending on a good note. And about trying to do a little "ranch patrol" or trail riding after working in the ring. I guess I'm looking for suggestions of ways to make it all more meaningful for Siete.

Am I crazy? Do I ask for too much? What can I do so that she looks forward to being ridden?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Joy of Mucking

I confess that I enjoy mucking. I couldn’t say that until I had my horses at home. Until then, it was mostly annoying to come to the stable and discover that no one there had mucked yet. I would do it grudgingly. Here in my own barn, it’s a different story.

I have some of my most inspiring thoughts while I muck. I experience break-throughs in my writing and my relationships with my 93 year old mother and my 12 year old daughter. I come to deeper understandings of my horses and how to communicate with them. It’s sort of a sacred time of day for me. No one else wants to do it, so they all leave me alone.

I’ve noticed that anyone who mucks on a regular basis is convinced that they know how to do it best. My husband and I totally disagree about how it should be done. He is the King of Compost, so his concern is to leave as much shavings in the stall as possible. He hates having shavings and hay delay the breaking down of the material in the pile. I am more interested in the health and comfort of the horses. So, I tend to dig the stall up more to clear out the stinky, wet stuff that gets stomped down under the shavings.

And while I’m on the subject of shavings, that’s another greatly debated area of personal preference. I go out of my way at the Agway to insist on a brand called Hancock. The boys who load the bags for me think I’m a bit crazy. I try to explain to them. It doesn’t disappear in the stall as quickly, and it is softer and fluffier. My horses lie down every night. Silk even takes a siesta at mid-day. So, I want the shavings to be banked high on the sides of the stall to discourage anyone from getting cast, and I try to give the horses a comfy surface on which to stretch out.

When it comes to equipment, I highly recommend the Wonder Fork. It is a mucking tool that I can’t live without. The basket is deeper, and it’s ergonomically correct. Before we bought our house in Connecticut, we were living in Virginia. The first thing I did after we signed the closing papers was run to the local tack and feed to buy myself a Wonder Fork. It was my gift for finally having a place where I could keep my horses in the backyard. Not many stores carry this brilliant invention. You can order them from Valley Vet Supply. They cost more than the average fork, but they are well worth it.

We’ve built compost bins out of shipping palettes that I pick up for free at my local nursery. Each horse poops about forty pounds a day. My husband aerates the compost religiously, and it looks like the finest black dirt in the world by the time he’s done. The piles don’t smell bad, and we use Spalding Lab’s fly predators, so there are not many insects. It is heaven for red earthworms, which I mix into the garden beds with the compost. We have so much more compost than we can use, so we give it to our neighbors. They show their appreciation by dropping off vegetables and bottles of wine on our doorstep.

The biggest benefit of all this mucking for me is that I don’t need to go to the gym. Heaving eighty pounds a day keeps my upper body in good shape. Dragging manure back to the compost bins is great exercise. I take breaks to hang out with my horses. They stand at the pasture gate watching me as if they want to help. Maybe I can train them to carry the buckets.

Friday, November 23, 2007


Our sweet, docile girl, Siete, turned very irritable this summer. She was a model student with her trainer until suddenly, she began resisting and pinning her ears. Was it changing the bit to a short shank snaffle and adding a curb chain? Was it asking her to side-pass? Was it too much too fast? My good little horse started rearing. To say that I was alarmed and upset would be an understatement.

So, I immediately insisted that we stop and go back to square one. We went back to the simple snaffle and easy walking and trotting. I didn’t want to push my horse if she wasn’t ready. She was trying to tell me something, and I couldn’t understand her. Then, the hoof abscesses started. I figured it was Nature’s way of telling us to take a break in Siete’s training. I really believed that her bad behavior was her reaction to some kind of pain. As the hoof abscesses healed, Siete developed a weird lameness in her hips. It was difficult to tell which side was sore. Some friends suggested it might be in her stifle. When John, the farrier, trimmed her, he mentioned that it could be Lyme Disease.

Since we’ve moved to Connecticut, three and a half years ago, I’ve dreaded the day when someone in my family, two or four-legged, got bit by a tick. Silk was the first one. Last Spring, she acted like she was going to colic. When I called the vet, she was at a horse show, and her associate came out and tubed Silk. Two days later, my dear mama horse wasn’t feeling better. She spiked a 104 fever and went into shock. I thought she was going to die. There was a moment when she started to lie down, and I forced her to walk with me because I knew that if she went down, it was all over. My regular vet drove here at ninety miles and hour, took one look at Silk and said she had been bitten by an Erlichia tick. She saved her with a massive dose of antibiotics and Banamine.

This time, I delayed calling the vet about Siete. My daughter had pneumonia, and I was consumed with nursing her back to good health. Siete was obviously stiff and hurting, but it was hard to tell where. The next day, she’d be okay again. I gave her a little Bute ,and it helped. Then, in the morning, she was so sore on her front feet that I feared she had laminitis. A friend came by to advise me, and my horse was lame on her back right and front right legs. My vet arrived three hours later, and Siete was painfully lame on her left back and left front legs. It was scary and awful, and the vet wasn’t sure what was going on. She decided to take blood and test for Lyme Disease. It takes a week to get the results, but we didn’t wait to start treating Siete with antibiotics.

I had to give her forty pills of doxycycline twice a day for a month. Crushing the pills was difficult. With a mortar and pestle, the doxy dust blew up into my nose and mouth. I tied a bandanna across my face like I was herding cattle. The medicine was so bitter that even with molasses and applesauce, my horse refused to touch it. I added sugar and salt to cut the bitterness. There was so much powder that I had to mix it and fill four big syringes full. It required my husband and my brother-in-law holding the horse and me jamming the medicine into her. Siete hated it. I hated it. Trying to dose her at 6 am and at 9 pm, before and after they got home from work, only made it worse.

When Silk had Erlichia, I had to give her the same medicine for two weeks. I just poured the molasses/applesauce concoction into a low bucket and left it in her feeder. She ate it morning and night, even though it obviously wasn’t a favorite treat. I realized that after over a decade, Silk knows that if I do something to her, it’s because I am helping her feel better. She trusts me.

I decided that treating the Lyme Disease was an opportunity for Siete to learn to trust me. She’s never been fond of having a syringe full of anything, dewormer, Bute, stuffed in her mouth. I looked at the medicine giving experience from Siete’s point of view. We came in with two strong men and held her down first thing in the morning. Then, at night, after she fell asleep, we turned on the lights, woke her up and forced that nasty stuff down her throat again. No wonder she didn’t like it.

First, I changed the schedule. I recruited my daughter and my neighbor to help me hold her. We dosed her mid-morning and mid-afternoon. It was still difficult, but having two females with me seemed to make my horse less agitated. I realized that ultimately, I had to be able to handle this alone with Siete, and my goal was that she would like to take the medicine. Siete moved without pain, and even though the blood test came back “inconclusive” for Lyme Disease, the vet and I believed that it was the cause of her strange, floating lameness. I was determined to finish the entire month of antibiotics since they were obviously making her feel better.

There’s a compounding pharmacy in Cross River, New York, that makes flavored medicine for pets. I called Stu, the pharmacist, and explained my problem. He mixed up packets of doxy flavored with apple for me. The amount of powder was much more concentrated than when I crushed the pills and added the sugar and salt. I could mix it with a tablespoon of vanilla yogurt and a teaspoon of molasses and fit the whole dose in one syringe. To entice Siete to open her mouth, I sprinkled sugar on the tip of the syringe.

We got into a routine. At first, Siete would spit the sticky stuff all over me and her stall. I discovered that closing the stall door, clipping the lead rope on her and holding her up against the door gave me a brace and gave the horse a sense of security. I wasn’t invading her space and with me holding the lead tight, she couldn’t step back or pull her head up. The dosing continued until the day before Thanksgiving. In the last week, I began to realize that Siete was enjoying the experience. She waited for me to come out with the syringe. I didn’t have to hide it behind my back anymore. Her mother, Silk, was jealous of the attention and the “treat” I gave Siete. Twice a day, Siete and I bonded over a syringe of doxycycline.

Yesterday, when I didn’t have to give her the medicine, Siete obviously missed it. I offered her apples instead. On the one hand, I was relieved that the ordeal was over. It makes me so happy to see my five year old running around the pasture and bucking with pleasure again. The difference between Siete’s reaction to the medicine on the first week and the last week was so amazing. She actually reached her nose out and opened her mouth for the syringe as I gave her the last dose. I am so proud of both of us. Once again, my horses have taught me that patience, kindness and perseverance can get us through even the toughest challenges.

So little is known about Lyme Disease. Even though there's a vaccine for dogs, they haven't invented one for people or horses. Most of my neighbors suffer from the long-term effects of this illness. I have no idea what will happen to Siete now that the disease is in her system. The vet suspected that it manifested so dramatically because my horses came from California and were never exposed to it. They didn't have the immunity that local equines have built up over time. It's all speculation, but it might offer some explanation for the mysteries of Lyme.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Time for Gratitude

There's a "Horse Bloggers' Carnival" going on and the subject is "Why I'm Grateful for the Horse". I started to write about Silk and it turned into a poem of sorts:

Why God Invented Horses

On days when things don’t go so right
When plans are crushed
or my heart aches,
I take a walk to the barn.

I hear a welcome murmuring
and then, Silk’s fine red head
peers out from her stall door.
She listens to my troubles
and never tries to blame.
I lean against her strength and softness,
rest my head on her rumpled mane
and take a long deep breath.
She bends her neck to cradle me,
making sure that I’m okay
and then goes back to munching hay.

The rhythm of her chewing,
The smell of my dear horse,
The comfort of the old box stall
Reassure me that life goes on.
So when I need a better reason
to keep moving on down my path,
to clear the air,
to forgive, if not forget,
I take a walk to the barn.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

It's All About Softness

There is one more gem of an idea that Mark Rashid mentions in his new book, A Life WIth Horses. He believes that the ultimate "softness" is when you can have the same feeling of calmness and no stress when you interact with your horse as the horse does when standing around relaxed and eating grass or hay on its own.

I thought about this as the farrier trimmed my horses feet yesterday. The calmness and confidence has to come from inside me. I don't have what my husband refers to as "farm sense", a level of experience that develops when you grow up interacting with horses and other farm animals from the time you were young. I rode horses since I could walk, but I didn't have to take care of them as a child. As much as I desperately wanted a horse, my parents wouldn't allow me to do more than take lessons at local stables. Then, after a 20 year hiatus from horses while I lived in New York City and Los Angeles, I came back to them as an adult with much love and some apprehension.

My greatest aspiration is to have that deep-seated confidence and calmness - even if the horse is really wigging out. As I stood holding Silk's lead rope, watching John, our farrier, trim her feet, I appreciated how good my horse is. She was as relaxed as she is eating grass in the pasture. Even though John and I chat while he works, I've learned to always keep my awareness on my horse. I can tell Silk appreciates it by the way she nuzzles my hand every once in a while. Her daughter, Siete, is another story.

For five years, Siete was very good about having her feet trimmed. Unfortunately, over the last few months, with hoof abscesses and Lyme Disease, she's gotten very nervous about anyone doing anything with her feet. I'm working on it with her daily, and she's getting calmer, but the problem is not solved. I decided as I led her over to John for her trim that it was all dependent on my attitude. If she got upset, I had to ground myself and not get scared. I decided to take slow, deep breaths to see if I could sync up Siete's breathing with mine. I rubbed her neck with some of Linda Tellington-Jones'
" T Touch" circles. I explained to the farrier what I was trying to do - give my little horse a sense of security. He's a very kind man and agreed that we needed to convince Siete that no one would hurt her when we did things to her feet. When she tried to yank her back hoof away, we didn't punish her. John set the foot down, made sure that Siete was solidly balanced on all four feet and picked up the foot again. He had to stop several times. It took longer than it should have, but it worked. We got through the whole thing without any drama. I really appreciated his patience.

It may not have seemed like a big deal to most people, but it made my day.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

CHECK OUT "A Life With Horses"!

A big box from arrived in the mail today. It was Mark Rashid and Kathleen Lindley's new book, "A Life With Horses- Spirit of the Work". Happy day! I restrained myself from diving into it because I had some barn chores to finish. After putting fresh shavings in the stalls so the horses could be cozy during the predicted thunderstorms tonight, I settled in my comfy chair.

Here I am, forty pages into it, already compelled to sing its praises. Mark Rashid talks about how horses are controlled by two emotions - fear and curiosity. I instantly flashed on the night that my little horse, Siete, was born.

It was a soft warm California night, around ten o'clock. I was standing with Silk, resting my hand on her back as she gathered her strength. The foaling stall was open on one side with a fenced corral. The lights were glowing orange and around us was blackness. There were three dogs who lived at the barn. They were all lined up at the fence, watching the action. Suddenly, Siete stood up and took her first steps. She headed right into the darkness at the edge of the corral. Who were those creatures looking at her? Wobbling over to the dogs, my little horse stuck her nose down right into their midst. The three dogs nuzzled her in welcome.

Joe, the wise cowboy who did an amazing job of delivering Silk's foal, watched his dogs greet my horse and laughed. He said, "That's one brave baby." I hope that Siete will always be more curious than fearful. And if she is afraid, I intend to be there to reassure her and protect her.

Anyway, I love this book. Gotta go back to reading it.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Rainy Days

It's raining today, so I poured another cup of coffee and took my quiz that I posted last time I wrote. The two answers that I really need to work on were 1) Siete doesn't like to have her back hooves picked ever since the hoof abscesses drama and 2) Both horses aren't happy when I tighten the cinch on their saddles. I promised myself that I will take some extra time to work on those issues. I've also been thinking about what I read yesterday in an excerpt from a book about animal communicator Jane Dicker. She posed questions to horses about what was most important to them. The number one thing was that they want to feel useful.

I know that at this point, neither of my horses feel useful. I can tell that Silk really enjoys it when I ride her. Before the weather gets too cold and the snow hits the ground, I am going to make an effort to get back on a regular schedule riding. Between my twelve year old daughter's schedule and taking care of my 93 year old mother, who lives with us, my plate gets too full. Riding is a luxury, often pushed aside. I try not to beat myself up if I don't get to it. The horses are going to be here tomorrow, next week, as long as they live, so I will eventually saddle up when things calm down. It's the one thing that I do for me. And now, if Jane Dicker is correct, it's also the best thing I can do for the horses.

Today, since the weather is bad, I am going to wash the horse blankets. I don't look forward to the "Mission Impossible" aspect of this task. I have to sneak into a local laundramat to use the big machines that hold rugs. When we lived in Virginia, there was a very official metal sign over those washers saying "NO HORSE BLANKETS". I was always afraid I'd get caught and thrown into the street with soapy wet horse blankets. Here in Connecticut, I try to go at odd hours when it's quiet. I'm usually the only one in the laundramat. I've got a new blanket wash made by Eqyss with Microtek in it. I'll let you know how it works. The sun is supposed to come out around noon, so I can hang the clean but wet blankies over the corral fence to dry.

I will also clean the horses' feet and put some Keratex on their hooves this afternoon. It's great stuff, and I go through a regime of applying it every other day for a week at this time of year. It helps keep their feet hard and protected for the wet winter weather. Once I do the initial treatment, I continue to brush it on their hooves once or twice a week. It's expensive, but I only go through one bottle a year.

I will also put Borium shoes on their front feet in December so they don't slip on the ice and snow when I turn them out. Siete loves to play in the snow. Our first winter, I didn't put the shoes on them because I didn't know what could happen. Poor little horse slipped and fell and really knocked the wind out of herself. Last year, she was able to run and kick up the snow without sliding since the shoes have little cleats on the bottom. RIght now, they're both barefoot. Siete is recovering from a nasty bout of Lyme Disease, so she's not being ridden until we're done with the antibiotics. More on that in another post....

I think I hear the theme for "Mission Impossible" - - must be time to stuff those dirty horse blankets into the black garbage bags and stealthly head for the laundramat.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

How Well Do You Know Your Horse?

I was mucking in the barn this morning and thinking about ways I could improve my relationship with my horses. I came up with some questions that I decided to ask myself to just keep tabs on how we are doing. I’d like to share them with you.


1. When you want to put a halter on your horse, does the horse come to you willingly? If your horse is in the pasture and you want to catch it, how do you do that?

2. Can you touch your horse anywhere on its body without getting a negative reaction from the horse?

3. What kind of food does your horse eat and why do you feed it that specific type of food? What does your vet recommend that you feed your horse?

4. Does your horse have a safe, comfortable place to sleep at night? Does the horse like to lie down? Is the surface it stands and sleeps on healthy for the horses’ legs and hooves?

5. How often does someone muck the area where the horse lives? Is there a consistent place where the horse poops and a certain number of piles each day? Do you notice if the piles look different?

6. Have you checked recently to be certain that the saddle you use still fits the horse?

7. What does your horse do when you tighten the cinch?

8. Why do you ride with the bit that you use on your horse?

9. Does your horse stand still when you mount and not move until you ask it to?

10. When you are riding your horse, if you stop and ask the horse to back up, taking several steps, how does the horse react?

11. Is there anything that you do while you are riding that annoys your horse?

12. Does your horse enjoy being ridden?

13. After you ride, do you do anything to let the horse know that you are glad it has allowed you to ride it?

14. What could you do to make your horse happier? How do you know your horse is happy?

15. If you were your horse, is there anything that anyone does that would upset you? If so, why?

16. What is one thing you can do each day to let your horse know that you appreciate it?

Monday, November 5, 2007



The horses were grazing happily in the pasture while I was pulling a muck bucket into Siete’s stall. Suddenly, our neighbor’s cat ran through our yard. My twelve year old, severely arthritic dog chased after him. I shouted, “Pepper!” I tried to run after her. Both the dog and I fell at the same time. My horses spooked, and ran to the fence to see what was wrong. I scraped my knees. The dog needed to be lifted to her feet and half-carried into the house. When I returned moments later, one of the horses was lame in her back left leg. Siete, who is only five, had mysteriously injured herself.

I hosed her leg with cold water for about ten minutes and crossed my fingers that it was just a little twist. After owning horses for ten years, I’ve finally learned that they do just limp sometimes and work their way out of it. With all that weight carried on those four skinny legs, it’s amazing they aren’t injured more. Sure enough, in a couple of days, Siete seemed to get around fine. I had almost forgotten the incident when the following Saturday, I came out to the barn, and she was holding that back left leg in a very protective stance. It hurt so badly that she couldn’t put any weight on it. I touched it, and there was no heat. When I tried to pick out the hoof, she kicked out at me like I had just stabbed her with a hot poker. Hoof abscess, I thought, here we go again!

Before we moved north to Connecticut, we spent two muddy, abscess plagued years in Virginia and North Carolina. Epsom salts, feet in buckets, poultice of sugar and iodine, I knew the drill. Before I could begin though, I need to have someone open up the hoof and drain it as much as possible. Farrier or vet? The farrier was cheaper, but he’s a hard man to track down on short notice. The vet came in twenty minutes.

She worked hard. The temperature that day was in the nineties, and Siete was cranky. The vet opened up a hole, but couldn’t get the abscess to drain. She was soaking wet with sweat, and my horse, who is usually a model patient, was really upset. Her foot was sore, and we weren’t making it feel better by digging in it. Finally, the vet decided she’d gone deep enough. She left me with some green goo called Pharmacid(?) and some Bute. I asked about the sugar and iodine, and she said that the iodine might burn so I should use this other stuff. I dug out the Epsom salts, the baby diapers and the duct tape from my tack room. Let the soaking begin.

Siete apparently had forgotten how she used to stand happily with her foot in a bucket of warm water and Epsom salts. In Virginia, we called the process “a horsey spa day”, and gave her massages while she soaked. Then, Betty, my friend who was a vet tech, would help me wrestle an “Easy boot” over the sugar/iodine slurry, the diaper and duct tape. We agreed that “Easy boot” was a misnomer.

Now, with my husband, Mark, and my daughter to assist me, I tried to doctor Siete. My good little horse, who usually stands calmly while I pick out her feet, kept trying to kick out and pull her back leg away. Finally, Mark offered to have a go at it. Siete is very fond of him, and he was strong enough to hold on when she tried to yank her hoof out of his hand. I could keep her under control better holding her halter. The only problem was that my husband had no idea what he was supposed to do. I tried to talk him through it. I was reminded of those disaster movies where the pilot can’t fly the plane, so he has to tell the stewardess what to do.

We managed on the first night to get the green goo on the diaper and the diaper on the hoof, securely wrapped in duct tape. Siete limped around unhappily and mangled her bandage without pulling it off. The next session didn’t go as well. My husband got home late from work, and the horses were fed and settled in for the night. I think Siete was already sleeping when we turned on the lights in the barn and led her out.

She was not a happy camper. We managed to pull off the bandage, which was full of green goo and some black stuff. As soon as she got her foot wet, she kicked over the bucket and put a big hole in it. I rushed to mix more warm water and Epsom salts in a new container, which she promptly spilled again. I had prepped the diaper with the medication and pre-arranged the tape on it so Mark could just slap it on. Unfortunately, Siete kicked out and the whole thing fell in the dirt. Tempers flared all around. I opted for quitting, which I rarely do. I was afraid that my husband might decide we should sell the horses or that Siete would get so worked up that someone would get hurt. That night, I went to sleep feeling inadequate and wondering why I owned horses.

I called the vet in the morning and told her the whole sad tale. She laughed and asked me if there was any black or grey puss in the bandage when I pulled it off. I remembered that there was that black stuff, and she congratulated me that the abscess had drained. She recommended that I continue to soak the foot until the end of the week and try to keep the hole in the bottom of the hoof clean. Fortunately, Siete’s trainer was scheduled to come that day. I also remembered that the farrier was going to be paying us a visit on the following afternoon. Liz, our trainer, helped me clean, soak and re-bandage the hoof. She also offered to help me hold Siete when the farrier trimmed her since I now had a horse who didn’t want anyone to touch her feet.

One of my biggest fears about having my horses at home was that I wouldn’t be a skilled enough horsewoman to handle problems that would arise. I realized with relief that I wasn’t out here all alone. I actually had someone experienced who would help me. The next day, Liz kept Siete calm while the farrier and I got a good look at what was going on with Siete’s back feet. He opened the abscess further and determined that it had drained. Then, he discovered another small abscess on her other back foot, which he also dug open and drained. He recommended that I buy a “medicine boot”. It covers the whole foot and you can just dump the medicine in it and wrap the straps around her pastern. As I moaned about my problems, he also pointed out that these were only hoof abscesses, not laminitis or strained tendons or anything serious.

It caused me to take a step back and look at the positive aspects of the situation. I had some really good back-up. The vet, the trainer and the farrier were all very concerned about me and Siete. It was also true that things could be much worse. We would get over this eventually, and there wasn’t any deadline. I decided to use this time to train myself to be more calm, patient and confident around my horse. Silk, who was Siete’s mother, learned to trust me over the years as I took care of her injuries and made her feel better. I needed to see this as an opportunity to show Siete that she can trust me the way Silk does. So, at each step, I asked myself two questions before I did anything: First, what do I need in order to feel comfortable handling Siete as I proceed? Then, what will make Siete feel most safe and relaxed while I do what I need to do to heal her feet?

I bought a “medicine boot” at my local feed store. I filled it with the green goo. My husband and I were able to soak each of Siete’s feet for about ten minutes, and pull the boot on the hoof with the bigger abscess. While I was at the grocery store, I ran into my local “medicine woman”. One of my neighbors, Fran, is a Sioux Indian who has a gift for training horses. Her daughter, Kathy, helps me feed Silk and Siete if I have to go out of town. I asked them for help and advice. They recommended that I buy some icthamol ointment at the pharmacy and offered to come over to help me doctor Siete that afternoon.

Without using any force, the three of us were able to clean and soak each foot for fifteen minutes. Using a big empty syringe which I had for oral paste medications, Fran helped me shoot the Epsom salt water mixture into the holes in the hoof to really flush everything out. Then, she showed me how to fill the holes where the abscesses were with the sticky black icthamol ointment. We really slathered it on the bottom of each hoof. She said I should leave Siete’s feet alone until the next day when she and Kathy would be back to help me again. I also gave my horse some Bute to reduce the inflammation and relieve the pain. When I came out to the barn the next morning, Siete was standing solidly on all four feet for the first time in a week. We continued to soak the hooves in warm water and Epsom salts and jam as much ointment as possible in the abscesses for another three days.

Then, I had to go to Virginia for a few days. I left my husband home to care for the horses alone for the first time. Mark did an admirable job, but the smaller abscess blew up the day I returned. We used the medicine boot and the green goo for a day. I called my friend, the medicine woman, and she came over. As Fran watched my husband coax Siete to stick her foot in the bucket of water, she pointed out what a good little horse we had. She also noted how capable Mark was at handling Siete. My husband had never spent any time around the horses until they moved into our backyard. I could see his confidence soar when Fran complimented him.

I never expected that my horse’s hoof abscesses would provide me with some life lessons, but they did. Now, five weeks later, both of Siete’s feet appear to be healed. I gained a new friend and mentor and plan to spend more time with Fran. It feels less scary to deal with my horse’s medical issues now that I have a good relationship with a vet, a trainer and a farrier. Siete trusts us more than she ever has. Most important, I learned that I am capable of taking good care of my horses, and I’m so glad that I own them.