Spot Turns Thirty!

We horses are generally longer lived than our four-legged, human-companion counterparts, the dog and the cat. Dogs get the short end of the stick (pun completely intended) with a life expectancy of just seven to fourteen years, depending on breed and size. Although, there was one little Cattle Dog (good news, Chico) who lived to twenty-nine and a half. Cats live longer, in the fifteen to twenty range, with one outlier named Creme Puff living to thirty-eight years old.

Horses, on average, live to be anywhere from twenty-five to thirty, but many live into their thirties and a handful have lived decades beyond the average age. Three reached fifty-one, a pony named Sugar Puff lived to fifty-six, and a guy named Old Billy made it into the record books when he lived to sixty-two. Wow, right? Based on Creme Puff and Sugar Puff both living well beyond the majority of their species, I just might change my name to Storm Puff. What do you think?

Enjoying his birthday meal and party hat.

Nevada isn’t registered and there’s no record of the month and day of his birth, but, as a horse born in 1991, he officially turned thirty on the first of January. It’s likely he was born between April and July like the majority of Alberta-bred horses.

He was added to T and Nollind’s then collection of one horse and three cats in 2002. As T tells the story, Nollind started taking riding lessons that year and in the fall started shopping for a horse. Nevada was advertised as a well-trained, eleven-year-old, Appaloosa gelding. Another horse named Jack, advertised at the same time, was in his teens and reported to be a very experienced trail horse. Since the two horses lived in the same area, a day was set aside to go and see both of them.

Still likes showing off in the snow.

They saw Jack first. T loved him, thought he was perfect. Great temperament, good age, lots of trail experience. Nollind thought he was okay until they drove up the driveway of Nevada’s home and the big guy came loping along the fenceline through the deep snow, looking majestic and impressive, as he does. Nollind’s eyes lit up, and the two rides that followed, one outdoors, one in, were really just for T’s satisfaction. Fortunately for Nollind, Nevada passed her scrutiny and has been part of the clan ever since, moving here to the farm with Alta, T’s mare, in the spring of 2003.

Nollind’s new (and first ever) horse at Park Stables west of Calgary.

In case you’re wondering what happened with Jack, T liked him enough that she sent a student down to see him and then buy him, and years later, when that person was ready to sell him, recommended him to a friend who was shopping for a husband horse. In 2010, T, Nollind, Nevada and I went trail riding with Jack in the Smithers area of BC where his new people had moved. By then he was in his mid-twenties but still rocking it on the trail.

Jack in the lead, where he most liked to be.

Nevada’s name was Snowflake when they bought him, usually just called “Flake” for short. I won’t comment on whether or not Flake suits him, but Nollind didn’t think so. Since we horses are more inclined to come for the sound of oats in a bucket or maybe a whistle with a bucket of oats to follow, name changes aren’t really a big deal.

T and Nollind had learned some Spanish while travelling in Central America so started searching for a good Spanish name that was a translation of something snowy, to keep the spirit of his existing name. When they landed on Nevada, Spanish for snowfall, they’d found it. Little did they know they’d be spending quite a lot of time in Nevada a decade down the road.

Lunch break on the trail.

Somewhere along the way, he earned the nickname Spot, sometimes Big Spot, which is how I tend to think of him. He’s the biggest horse in the herd and has spots. I like things that make sense.

Spot was Nollind’s mountain horse for about ten years, until he was in his early twenties, and he really excelled in his trail boss role. Strong, brave, and setting a good pace, I couldn’t have asked for a better leader when I started out on the trails as a youngster.

My first big, multi-horse trail ride with my trusted leader as coach.

When he began to show signs of hind end challenges on steep hills, Nollind retired him and started riding Rosa. On Spot’s last trip to the Rockies, he was ponied behind me without a rider and that didn’t sit with him too well. On one narrow, downhill trail where the hill rose and dropped steeply on each side, he climbed the bank and went around me, accustomed to his front-of-the-ride position.

There was another creek stop that wasn’t this peaceful, but that’s for a future “adventures on the trail” post.

So, the big guy is thirty this year, which puts him on the back edge of the life expectancy range, but other than some of his incisors being worn down to nearly the gums, and a bit of a hitch in his backend, he’s in great shape. He needs a little extra feed to keep him in good condition through the winter months, but he keeps up with the rest of us just fine. Maybe he’ll find himself in the record books with the horses mentioned earlier. Nevada, you up for another twenty or thirty years?

How many?

Seven Secret Herbs and Spices

It’s been a very long haul for Rosa since July with recurring and persistent bouts of laminitis. For those who aren’t familiar with the disease, laminitis (also called founder) is inflammation of the laminae of the foot – the soft tissue structures that attach the coffin or pedal bone of the foot to the hoof wall. This inflammation can be caused by a number of things but, in Rosa’s case, it’s all about the sugars in her feed. And she does love her some sugar … aka green grass.

In this case, the grass was greener on the other side of the fence.

T’s known about her metabolic issues for years, and the amount of grass Rosa gets is managed as a result and she’s kept on a supplement that helps her process carbohydrates. But, this year, the usual methods just didn’t work, and Rosa had to be pulled from the pasture and dry-penned in July. It’s a sad thing for all of us when one of the herd is separated. Luckily, she’s an easygoing gal, and didn’t raise much of a fuss after the first day or so. She had hay and soft bedding and very sore feet so I think she saw the benefit of her confined situation.

Rosa’s summer dry pen.

Normally, a week in a dry pen would have her sorted out, but that just didn’t happen this year. She stayed in her pen, getting out only for walking on a lead all through August and into September. By late September, after some frost and the assistance of the rest of us in clearing out anything edible, they expanded Rosa’s world to a larger paddock to get her moving around more. There was just the smallest amount of barely-green grass in her new space but even that had her tender-footed again.

First day in the big pen. Feeling good.

By mid-October she was looking much better, and then her condition deteriorated suddenly. She became reluctant to put weight on her front feet and developed some heat in even her hind feet. The only culprit T could come up with was the hay being fed in small piles around her pen to encourage her to move. So, that was it, everything stripped away but hay fed in slow feeder nets with 1” holes, minerals, salt, and water. No loose hay, no supplements (because they need to be fed in some kind of grain), and the time out with the herd we were hoping for by mid-October, cancelled.

Rosa’s new “buffet”.

In early November, things had improved from the very lame horse she’d been a few weeks earlier, but still there was heat in her hooves. Horse hooves are generally quite cool to the touch, almost like they’re not attached to something living, but Rosa’s were melting snow. That was when T decided it was time to do some more research, find out what might accomplish more than the herbal blends she’d tried that were supposed to assist with her metabolism and inflammation.

Regular trimming is part of her rehabilitation program.

Thanks to a few knowledgeable vets and practitioners on the internet, a program was put together. I call it Rosa’s “seven secret herbs and spices”, the SSHS program. Other than the apple cider vinegar, everything came from T’s favourite source for all things equine healing, Herbs for Horses. I won’t bore you with the list of vitamins and minerals, but I will tell you that Rosa didn’t like it much at first. She’s had to acquire a taste, helped along by the apple cider vinegar and flax oil which taste pretty good and mask a lot of the other things.

One of the earlier herbal concoctions in her ultra-low-sugar feed from Hoffmans.

After three weeks on her SSHS program, Rosa was turned out with us for a morning. Although most of it is dead and brown, we still have a lot of grass out in the pasture, and T wasn’t sure how she’d respond. Two days later Rosa was turned out again for the morning, and again the two days following. On Monday, December 7, she was turned out in the morning and this time she stayed out. She’d officially rejoined the herd. It was a joyous day!

First morning of turnout.

She’s still not completely out of the woods. The inflammation has caused some physical changes in her feet that have left her unsound, at least for the time being. If she stands too long, she gets sore. If she walks on hard ground, she’s sore. But Nollind trims her feet every few weeks, according to what’s recommended for a horse in her condition, and T keeps up the SSHS program. I do my part by chasing her away from food that I want… or, that she probably shouldn’t have was what I meant to say. The hope is that she’ll be back to her old self by spring, with a little help from all of us.

Good to have our girl back.

So, as we wrap up this year of more injuries and illness than we’ve ever dealt with before, all is well in the herd. Even the weather has been outdoor horse friendly.

Out where she belongs.

Until the new year, this is Storm, Fur-iday Files correspondent, signing off, from the field.

Last Horse Standing

Well, not really. We’re all still standing. But I’m the only one in our herd of four to not suffer some kind of injury or lameness this summer. Although, come to think of it, I did have that choking episode last month. More about that later.

First on the injured list was Nevada with his previously-written-about, skewered-by-a-stump wound in June. That was a doozy, and definitely the most impressive effort at equine self-injury we’ve had on the farm since I’ve been here, and I’ve been here from the beginning, less one year.

Since I blogged about Nevada’s wound in “A Hole in One”, he’s continued to heal nicely with no further complications. All that’s left is what you see below, a fingernail-sized scab surrounded by a rather cool looking scar. Trust old Spot to add another interesting feature to his collection of spots, brands, and scars.

All that’s left of the “hole in one”.

The next to run into trouble was Gidget with a sore, swollen knee. T and Judy thought it was the result of some kind of impact at first, possibly even a kick. But I swear it wasn’t me. I’m just not the kicking type. Gidge and Rosa sometimes get into what I like to call “mare matches”, where they back up to one another and go to town with the hind hooves, but that wouldn’t impact a joint on the front leg.

Turns out the most likely culprit is old age and the arthritis that often comes with it. She’s been on a supplement called OsteoAid for the past couple of months and that really seems to be helping. She’s still a little stiff on that front left but still able to keep up with the herd just fine.

Gidget’s lumpy left knee still works quite well.

Our most recent invalid is the lovely Rosa. Back in May when I wrote about Rosa in my “Shesa Lil Ichi” post, I said “we’ve all got hooves crossed that she won’t have to be locked up in a dirt pen and fed hay for the spring and summer.” Well, she made it through the spring okay, but in late July she came up lame and has been in her grass-free, private accommodations since the 25th.

It’s not terrible. She has free-choice hay in the net feeders, a third of the shelter, and an area where she can roll. But she misses being out with the rest of us and, most of all, she misses grass. She loves her grass … which is a big part of the problem. After two weeks in the pen she was looking so much better and when they started exercising her she held up just fine.

Rosa enjoying her private buffet.

Tuesday we went on a trail ride and she trucked along in her Renegade hoof boots for the two-hour ride without issue. With everything looking so positive, she went out on grass early Wednesday morning for a short while. Whether it was the trail or the grass, or a combination of the two we’re not sure, but she sure is sore again. Poor Rosa. Just when we all thought her life was going to return to normal. For now, it’s back to a hay diet, some pain meds and supplements, and a few days rest to see if it will settle down again.

Dipping our toes (and nose) in Bragg Creek.

If you’re not familiar with this problem that afflicts some horses, it’s called laminitis, and is an inflammation in the feet often caused by too much rich food, like green grass. Having a sensitivity to what would seem like your most natural food source is a cruel trick of nature. I admit to having an enthusiastic attitude toward food and an easy time putting on pounds, especially during the grass season, but never has it made my feet hurt.

My own little health incident resulted from my aforementioned enthusiasm for food. With everyone else in the herd getting one supplement or another for one issue or another added to their feed—probiotics for Nevada’s digestive system, SimmirDown for Rosa’s metabolism, OsteoAid for Gidget’s arthritis—lucky me gets a little something too. I’d like to think it’s because I’m such a great guy and deserve it, but the truth is that it keeps me away from Rosa’s and Gidget’s food without T having to manage everyone.

Nevada’s is the deep, pink bin with more than the rest of us combined. Age has its benefits.

So, anyway, T bought this new kibble from K&K Livestock that’s extra low in sugar for Rosa and decided it was the best thing for me too. In my excitement over this new feed, I more inhaled than chewed and suddenly had a great wad of the stuff in my throat. I lay down. I stood up. I lay down again. I stood up. I coughed. I coughed some more. That was when T started to get worried. Although choking isn’t as immediately serious in horses as in humans since it doesn’t block our airway, it can result in serious complications if it doesn’t resolve quickly.

I’m learning to be patient and settled or T makes me wait longer.

The best thing, according to Google, is to keep the horse quiet and give the obstruction time to pass. I didn’t need Google. While T was browsing the internet, I went to the shelter and stood quietly in the shade until all was well. She’s put me back on my old feed now, which has bigger chunks and isn’t quite as dry.

Back to my original, less-inhalable feed.

Perhaps I should have called the blog “We’re Still Standing” since that’s closer to the truth. In a summer filled with bumps and hitches, we’re all hanging in there, looking forward to a long fall season filled with warm weather but no bugs (thanks to an early frost). I guy can dream, right?