Monday, February 21, 2011

Dr. Metro and Mr. Meteor

I own two horses. One is a gentle, slow-moving, 8 year old thoroughbred with the body of a horse much older. His racing days are over, but his body still shows the wear of racing. He has bad knees, makes all kinds of grunting noise when he is asked to trot. He is retired and he knows it. He only does what he has to, and that is usually under protest. He is suitable for beginning riders. I would not hesitate to put a five-year old child on his back, because he won’t go any faster than a slow walk, if he has anything to say about it.

My other horse is a lightning bolt. Only riders with experience dare get on his back, because he is a rocket, and you better be prepared to go fast. He is perfectly sound, and full of himself. He can go from 0 to 40MPH at a drop of a hat.

My dilemma is that both of my horses occupy the same body.

On most days he is just Metro. When I ride him it is at an unbearably slow pace. He is in no hurry to get anywhere, and when I ask him to go faster, it usually results in a toss of the head and some equine four-letter word muttered towards the fat guy on his back.

Then there are days when he is Metro Meteor, Stakes horse. Winner of $300,000 and still wanting to add on to that total. He changes personalities faster then Clark Kent can take off his glasses. It is like he can smell competition in the air, and wants to be a part of it.

After the last Fun Day competition at the barn, when Metro turned into Metro Meteor and we had to scratch him from the events, I was determined to take a different approach to this one.

We arrived at the barn early. I was not planning to ride in any events, but I was hoping to, depending on what horse showed up. I was hoping to enter the trot competition in the barrels and poles. I think Metro would do well in the trotting class, where as the trotting class would be beneath Metro Meteor.

It all started out well, with my plan of slowly acclimating him to the day’s activities. I walked him out of his stall, and down the gravel road in front of the barn on his lead line. So far, so good. This is farther then we got last month, before he got the whiff of competition and morphed into a racehorse. We walked around the far end of the arena and entered through the door to watch the horses warming up.

Still calm. Last month he was kicking out at anyone who passed close to him, but today, his head is down, and he is taking it all in stride. We walked through the aisle way and out the other side with no fatalities. This might just be the day.

We headed over to the outdoor arena where there are more horses warming up. I will get him in there and trot him in a few circles and see how he does. We headed into the arena, and then…
Metro began to change.

It was like “Bad Moon Rising” was playing on the jukebox and the Dr. Pepper guy was turning into a werewolf. (American Werewolf in London reference.)

His tail went straight up in the air, his mane stood on end, and his winter hair puffed out like I just pulled him out of the dryer. His neck and chest swelled to twice their normal size.

And he began to dance. He did the dance that only REAL racehorses know how to do. How to jog in place and not actually go anywhere.

This horse that just 2 seconds earlier, was dragging his nose on the ground a step behind me, was now 2 times his normal size and floating like a butterfly on the end of my lead line.

He was beautiful. I spotted my wife on the other side of the fence, and just had to yell out “Hey Wendy… Look what I have!”

The other people in the arena, probably sensing that I had too much horse on the end of my rope, reminded me that there is a round pen right across the drive.
They didn’t know that my horse lives here and we are perfectly aware that there is a round pen, but it was a heck of an idea anyway.
So out of the arena I led my dancing horse.

We entered the round pen, took his halter off and pointed to the fence. This is his cue to walk to the edge of the round pen and await further instructions.
On any other day, the further instructions would be me pointing the direction I wanted him to go, and trying to get him to go faster in that direction.

But Metro already new what direction he wanted to go and how fast he wanted the pace, and that pace was FAST.
He did a couple of bounces 4-feet off the ground and then took off like a bottle rocket.
I have cantered him in the round pen before, usually with a lot of protest from Metro, but this was a whole new gear for him.

He was running his own private Kentucky Derby, only in a 60-foot circle and I was in the middle of it.
He was going around that round pen so fast and digging in so hard, I was afraid he would lose his footing and go sliding into the wall like Apollo Ono after he just clipped a South Korean’s skate.

I didn’t know what to do. I thought about trying to slow him down or change his direction, but by the time my brain told my feet to step in his path, he was just a blur going by me. So I just let him run.
I glanced up at the other riders, who by this time had stopped what they were doing to watch this crazy horse set the short track record at Bristol.

If I can’t slow him down, maybe I can stop him. I tilted my head, and looked at his butt. This is his cue to turn in and come to me in the center of the round pen.
Which he did… at full speed. My heart stopped as he came to a sliding stop right in front of me.

I scratched his head and looked up at the people watching. They were now looking at us and talking, and even though I couldn’t hear, I knew what they were saying.
“He’s not planning on riding that horse, is he?”

Not today, he is too much horse for me.

Metro Meteor may never come down to my level of competition, but if my skills ever get close to his, we are going to win some races.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Running the Gauntlet

We had just returned from the Horse Expo in Maryland. This is the first time that we went to a horse show and I didn't find myself in the supplement aisle looking for some magic cure for Metro. Usually Wendy and I split up, she goes one way looking for sparkly baubles to adorn Pork Chop with, and I end up in the medicine section. I am always on the lookout for any scientific breakthrough that would make Metro a healthy horse again.
If equine science ever advances to the point that knee transplants are possible, Metro will be sporting a brand new pair of Chestnut colored knees, courtesy of Pork Chop.
Wendy thinks that we bought her Pork Chop so she could have her own horse. I am of the mind, that we bought Pork Chop for spare parts, in case Metro ever needs a kidney.
But Metro has been doing great lately, so no need for magic cures today.
When we returned to the barn, we found all the neighbors riding around in the arena. When the ground is frozen, and they can't ride outdoors, Ed lets them ride in the indoor. There were 4 horses and riders in the arena, mostly cowboy types, roping barrels and dragging them around.
I nice opportunity to expose Metro to some activity and hopefully de-sensitize him to the the whole "getting excited when other horses are running around" thing. So I ran to the other barn to get my boy and bring him in. I found Metro covered in mud. Good old Metro. Always the one to make a good first impression with the neighbors.
We brought him and Pork Chop in to watch the action. Metro was alert but not out of control like he was over the weekend. His eyes were wide and his ears were up as he watched every move that the horses made. Pork Chop went to sleep. I think he will be fine for the next show in February.
Pork Chop was a pony horse at the track for a year before we bought him. I think they are called "outriders".
He was the horse that rode along side the racehorses as they did the post parade and warm up on their way to the starting gate. He was the one that had to get chewed on by the overactive thoroughbred about to race. Nothing fazes the big boy except not being the first one fed.
Metro, on the other had, was the overactive thoroughbred doing the chewing on the way to the gate. He still gets excited by all the activity.
Talking about Metro and all his quirks, I sometimes times fail to realize how far he has come since we got him off the track.
The horse that I couldn't lead from Point A To Point B, because he was so stubborn, he had to plant his feet and refuse to move, has turned into the horse I can back up 15 feet with just a wiggle of my finger.
The horse I couldn't groom or blanket without his head being restrained by cross ties for fear of losing an arm, is now ground tying.
I can drop his lead line on the floor of the barn, groom and saddle him and he will stay in the same place.
I can walk into the tack room, have a sandwich, come back in 10 minutes, to find Metro in the same spot I left him.
Not having him in the cross ties does open me up for his intimidation tactics though. He will still swing his head around as I cinch up his saddle, just to let me know that he could bite me, but at this time chooses not to.
He will play this game with Wendy also. I groom Metro right in front of the tackroom, so when Wendy needs to get Pork Chop's saddle, she has to run the "Metro Gauntlet".
Metro will see Wendy coming to pass through the 4-foot opening between himself and the wall on the way to the tackroom and swing his head around to block her path like a Russian border guard dropping the gate.
"I need to see zee papers." After a short stand-off Metro will let her pass, only to play again on her way back.
I don't know if he is trying to intimidate Wendy, or just buying time for Pork Chop, who doesn't take the whole ground tying thing as seriously, to go over, open the tack box, and help himself to the horse treats. Which he always seems to do, when Wendy is out of sight.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The New Mission

About a year ago, Metro had just gotten re-shod and the farrier had his right front leg resting up on a platform to elevate it so he could give his foot the finishing touches with his file.
We had just dug out from 2 back to back snowstorms that left us with a couple of feet of snow on the ground. It was warming up and the snow on the barn roof was starting to come loose and slide down in chunks making an awful noise when it did. You didn’t know when it was coming, but when it did, you better be prepared because the loud noise really freaked the horses out.
It was when Metro had one foot in the air and the farrier was standing next to him that one of these chunks deciced to break loose. That’s when the farrier decided to turn tail and run, fearing the impending doom that Metro the uncontrollable horse was about to unleash in the aisle of that barn, leaving me there holding the lead line.
When the farrier was about 20 feet away, Metro just stood there with one foot in the air, and turned to me with a “What’s up with Mr. Chicken?” look on his face.

Metro has never been a spooky horse, sometimes I thought nothing would scare this horse, but I have found you never know what is going to get his heart rate going.
A 300-pound block of snow sliding down the aluminum roof over his head doesn’t faze him, but rain hitting that same roof proves to be his Kryptonite.
A deer jumping out of a bush 20 feet in front of him, and he won’t move a muscle. A cinder block peaking out of the same bush will make Metro take 5 steps sideways.

So when he got all excited during Fun Day, and I couldn’t calm him down it took me by surprise. He had been in crowds before, he was a racehorse. He had to parade down the path at Saratoga with crowds on both sides of him.
But then maybe he acted the same way there. The only difference is that his handlers didn’t care if he was excited. An experienced rider was going to hop on him and ride him at 40 MPH. Being excited and up, was probably not a bad thing.
For novice rider who wants to get on him and ride him at a trot in the “Potato Race”, being excited is not a good thing.

The next fun day is in a month. My new mission is to Bombproof him as much as I can before then. Ideally, I would like to expose him to crowds and lots of horses to de-sensitize him. But being the only boarders at our barn, doesn’t give us a lot of opportunity. So we will just have to work with what we can, and see if it can help at all.
I ordered a CD online that has sound effects from horse shows. All kind of crowd noises, banging noises, and thundering hooves, that he can listen to. Now I have to figure out how to get Metro to wear an Ipod.

We went to the dollar store and bought all kinds of toys and objects to throw around the arena.
We had balloons on the ground, plastic tablecloths, and a hundred of those little kid eating balls they have at Chucky Cheese’s. We also had 4-foot long foam noodles in a pile, a bouquet of helium filled Mylar balloons, and blow-ups of Nick Nolte’s mug shot. Anything we thought would scare the hell out of our horses.

The arena was filled with toys and shiny objects. We were one bear riding a bicycle away from having to get a circus permit.

From the moment Metro entered the arena, his eyes locked onto the bunch of Mylar balloons. I figured I better start with those, or he was going to keep looking at them out of the corner of his eye.
I walked him up, prepared that if he shied away I would just work him around the balloons until I could get him closer. But he walked right up and took a sniff, and jumped back 2 steps when the balloons moved. Soon he had his head buried in them and even picked them up in his mouth by the strings and paraded around with them.
He even provided me a Kodak Moment when he had his head sticking out of the balloons, if I only had a camera with me.
Everything went smoothly. The only thing he seemed to have problems with was the foam noodles. I had to work him a little before he finally walked through them.

Next, I guess we will have to get a lot of battery operated toys in boxes and see if we can get his heart rate going with those.

I don’t know if any of this will help with the crowd situation, but if they ever have a race involving foam noodles and Mylar balloons, we should be a lock.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Part 24: A Big Class Drop

A good horse trainer, besides being a good judge of horses, and knowing how to get the most out of those horses, also knows which races to enter them in.
Enter them in too high of a class, and your horse has no chance of competing.
Run them in a class to low, even though you have a chance to pick up an easy win, with lower purses, you are lowering the value of your horse. If it is a claiming race, you also run the risk of someone claiming your horse at a bargain price.

Back when he was known as Metro Meteor, he competed as high as the Graded Stakes class. When the knees started to go bad, he quickly dropped in class ranks, trying to find a level he could still compete at, until finally, he could compete no longer.

Now that he is retired from racing, and is now known as just Metro, he takes the biggest class drop of all. The “Egg and Spoon” race at fun day. Wendy was planning on riding him in a few events.

Metro has been looking pretty good lately. The footing in the arena was made a little more shallow and packed down, and Metro has been trotting without the usual little limp.

I wasn’t hoping he would win anything, just make a good showing and not look lame. Usually when there are other horses in the arena, Metro picks up his game, and has a little more bounce to his step.

We weren’t prepared for how much bounce he was going to have on this day.

We groomed him and tacked him up without any hint of what was to come. Metro has turned into a pretty calm respectful horse, and I had all the confidence in the world that he would be on his best behavior. But when we opened up the arena door, and  Metro saw the aisle lined with people, and 20 horses running circles around in the arena, “just Metro” became Metro Meteor.

He held his head high and began to dance around. We worked our way through the people to the gate, to get into the arena. It became pretty obvious that we better get Metro into the arena and out of the crowd, because I didn’t know what he was going to do.

“Wendy, do you have your helmet?”
“I left it in the barn”
“I will go get it, walk Metro around the arena and try to calm him down.”

Apparently walking Metro around the arena with 20 horses running circles around him isn’t the best way to calm him down.
When I came back with the helmet, I found Wendy in the corner of the arena trying to hang on to Metro. I saw the fear in her eyes.

“I’m not riding him. He’s rearing up and kicking the walls.”

We better get him out of there. He had turned into that racehorse in the paddock at Saratoga, who just wanted to get loose and run. He was “UP”.

We have spent hours de-sensitizing our horses to moving objects, scary objects, loud noises, and they have become fairly bomb-proof. But how do you de-sensitize your horse to large crowds and lots of horses running around when we are the only boarders at the barn.

I figured I better take advantage of the crowds while they were there. I took Metro out into the field where a lot of people were galloping their horses around, and tried to work him. Tried to keep his feet moving and his attention on me.

I tried to keep his eyes on me, when all he wanted to do was dance around and look at what the other horses were doing. I probably backed him up  a quarter mile through that field to keep his feet moving and attention on me.

It worked for a little bit, but I didn’t hold his attention for long. There was no settling him down today.

Metro Meteor was scratched from “Fun Day.”

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Part 23: Yet another barn

Barn #4, and hopefully final resting place. We stayed at Matt and Emily’s for as long as we could afford it, got some good training, but it was time to move to somewhere more permanent.
We had been familiar with this one barn for about a year, and had always wanted to move there, but were always committed somewhere else.
When the time came to move, we talked to the owner and he had 2 stalls opening up in a few weeks. Great that will work perfectly. We gave our notice to Matt and Emily and prepared for what would hopefully be our last move for a while.
We thought...
3 Days before we were supposed to move, we got a call that the horses who were vacating to open up stalls for us were now staying. We had no stalls to move to.
That’s when the panic set in. Our boys were soon to be homeless. 
We have a large basement, the horses could live there. The ceilings might be a little low for Pork Chop, but he can learn to crouch.
Barn Owner: “I feel real bad about this, I have a friend who has a farm 2 miles away. He has open stalls.”
When I heard this I had visions of Uncle Jed’s farm, with his 200 year old barn. Most of the holes in the roof are covered by tarps, but not all of them. The horses sharing a small muddy pasture with the chickens. I was not expecting much. If there was a nice place in the area, we would have heard of it.
But we didn’t have a lot of options, so we called and made an appointment to see the place.
We drove right by the entrance. It is not marked, no signs with the barn name on the road, and you can’t see the place when you drive by. Just an unmarked gravel road into the trees.
When we came through the trees, our jaws dropped. This is not Uncle Jed’s barn. This is the Taj Mahal of barns. This place is beautiful. This is the nicest barn we have ever seen.
The owner, Ed, is a great guy and showed us around. An indoor, and an outdoor arena. A round pen, large pastures, and 120 acres of wooded trails to ride through, with several creek crossings.
The indoor arena even has a “Big Ass” ceiling fan. I’m not being rude, That’s the name of the company, Big Ass Ceiling Fans.
I didn’t count, but I think there are 18 stalls... all vacant.
“Where are all the boarders?” I asked Ed.
“I don’t advertise.”
“What’s the name of your barn?”
“It doesn’t have one.”
This is very strange. Ed has built a first class facility, and just doesn’t seem to care, if he fills it up. Besides Ed’s horses, we are the only boarders.
We would find out later that Ed is involved in several businesses and doesn’t need the barn to generate income. He just does everything first class, and that’s how he built his barn.
So for now, we have the place all to ourselves.
Metro and Pork chop have their own stalls with a back door that opens into a paddock area they share. So they can be in their stalls or go into their “backyard”.
When we turned them loose in their new home, they ran from stall to paddock to stall and back. They were like 2 kids moving into a new home, deciding who would get what bedroom.
If there were beds in the stalls, they would have been jumping up and down on them.
Then Ed said. “Trail ride at 2 o’clock.”
We love it here already.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Part 22: "If you touch my junk, I'll have you arrested."

The San Diego man informed the TSA screener who was about to give him a pat-down, “If you touch my junk, I’ll have you arrested”.

Metro tells me the same thing, but he has no intention of calling a supervisor, he will just take the law into his own hands.

So when asked when the last time I cleaned his sheath was, I said “never”. “I’m not touching his junk.” I let the Vet do it 6-months ago when Metro had his teeth floated.

The vet liked to do the sheath cleaning the same time he floated their teeth, because they are already sedated, and easier to clean.

My mind flashed back to 6 months ago. Metro was still sedated after his dental work was complete. Unable to lift his head, it was resting on the little padded platform the vet uses to work on their teeth.
Putting on his Magnum glove, the vet kneeled down to clean Metro’s “junk”.

He soon found out that the sedative didn’t make it all the way back to the rear legs. Metro soon began to kick out and try to take the vet’s head off with his rear hoof.

Time for another dose of happy juice.

After the second dose, it was time for round two. Unable to lift his head, or his feet, I could see in Metro’s eyes, that if he could, he would be dining on someone’s arm this day.
The most he could muster though, was to violently spin his tail like a helicopter about to lift off.

That’s when I vowed to never do that myself. Let the vet do it, he has insurance.

Pork Chop and Metro have two different views when it comes to sheath cleaning.

Pork Chop looks forward to it. He watches the calendar, checks off the days,  and shows up on sheath cleaning day, sporting a bath robe and carrying his Barry White CDs.

Metro despises the act, and anyone who performs it should not be allowed to live. Metro doesn’t roll that way.

So when informed that his sheath cleaning wouldn’t wait until his next dental visit 6-months away, I went to YouTube, and researched do it yourself sheath cleaning.

While I was doing my research, Wendy, always thinking ahead, was increasing my life insurance.

Metro and I have made great progress in coming to terms with Metro’s “don’t touch me spots”, but there was still one area that I have been reluctant to work on him with. But the day of reckoning had come.

Armed with my new-found YouTube knowledge, clean white sock on my hand, and bottle of sheath cleaner,  it was time to dive in with both lubed up hands. Wendy was prepared to assist by barking out instructions from 20 feet away.
Cover me…. I’m going in.

They only problem was Metro wasn’t heavily sedated this time.

It went about as well as expected, my horse wanted to kill me. I positioned myself in the safe spot. With Metro tied in the cross-ties, he couldn’t reach me with his teeth and I was positioned far enough forward that he couldn’t reach me with the hind foot, though he tried repeatedly. The act of cleaning wasn’t so bad, and the cooling breeze provided by Metro’s violently spinning tail provided a nice ceiling fan effect.

My only concern was with the strength of the cross-ties holding Metro’s head from reaching around grabbing my body in his teeth, and running up and down the aisle of the barn parading my bloody torso around like a hockey player with the Stanley Cup.

Knowing that Wendy is the type to flee from danger, I knew I could not count on her to save me.

After the cleaning was complete, I spent the next 20 minutes trying to de-sensitize him. I would touch him, wait for him to settle down and retreat.

He did get better with it, but I am not to about to get a bathrobe embroidered with his name on it just yet.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Part 21: The Magic Shoes

Retraining the Racehorse: Part 21: The Magic Shoes

Time for a new barn. We moved in with Matt & Emily at their new training stable. It is a little  out of our price range long term, but the training is good, so we are going to stay as long as we can afford it.

I haven’t ridden Metro for a couple of months. The last time I rode him was on a short trail around the property. When Metro and I were climbing the final hill, he was really struggling to get up it, so I jumped off him and we walked the rest of the way.

Him struggling and me causing it really bothered me. I know he is going to have to live with those bad knees for the rest of his life, but I made a promise to myself and Metro that I was going to do whatever it took to make him comfortable, not cause him pain.
So I have been reluctant to ride him. I have been working him on the ground just to keep him active, but right now I have a phobia about getting on him and causing him pain.

One morning Wendy and I showed up at the barn to work the boys. Matt & Emily noticed that Metro was piling up his shavings in his stall. He was standing on these piles with his heals slightly higher then his toes. This seemed to make him more comfortable.

We mentioned this to the farrier on his next visit to shoe Metro. He fit Metro with a 2 degree wedge shoe that lifts his heels slightly, hoping this will give Metro’s joints a more comfortable angle.

The next day, I took my boy and his new Hushpuppies out to the round pen to run him around and get some exercise. As I was watching him trot around, I noticed something different.
The funny little gait he had when he trotted was gone. I don’t think he is in pain when he trots, he just compensates in his gait so it doesn’t hurt.
But today he was moving normally. He looks like a normal horse.
Gotta be the shoes.

I immediately scheduled a training ride with Emily, to see what he can do under saddle.
That half hour watching Emily ride Metro around at a walk, trot and canter, was the best half hour I have had with Metro since I had him.
It had taken a year, but when the supplements are right, the adequan is right, the footing and the shoes are right, and the planets are all aligned, Metro can move like a regular horse.

I scheduled Metro for a month of training, to get him some training under saddle, and to get him back into shape.
I showed up every day with my folding chair and watched Emily put him through the motions.

Metro was getting into shape, and was looking the best he had looked in a year.