My Coat of Many Colours

In the world of horse colours, I am a roan.

Roan is a horse coat pattern that has a mix of coloured and white hairs on the body, with the head and “points”—lower legs, mane and tail—mostly solid-coloured. Roans come in three main varieties: blue, bay and red. I’m of the bay variety. For those who aren’t familiar with horse colours, a bay is a brown horse with black points.

My late-summer look.

The interesting thing about roans is that we tend to change colour with the seasons. In my case, I look almost like any other bay in the winter…until you get close. If you come right up and part the long winter hairs, you’ll see the grey hair hiding underneath, waiting for spring.

December.

When my winter coat starts to shed out, I’m a mottled mix of grey, black, and brown with a brown head and black legs.

Mottled March.

As spring progresses, I become a rather striking, if I do say so myself, grey with a dark head and black points. Lucky for me, this was my appearance the April I ended up at auction as a two-year-old, and what caught the eye of the people who became my new family (T and N). Even though I was a little small for my age and kind of scruffy, my colour made me stand out from the herd.

This is in May, so I’m already losing my grey around the shoulders, chest and flank.

When spring turns to summer and I’ve shed out all of those long, brown, winter hairs, and the shorter grey spring hairs, my coat very much fits the roan definition—a mix of coloured and white hairs.

Middle of summer (Sigh…doesn’t that grass look delicious?)

As summer winds to a close, the white hairs start to disappear in a crowd of dark brown, almost black, hair, and I go through the darkest phase of my seasonal changes.

My autumn trail-riding outfit.

And then, like magic, with the cold weather come the shaggy, red-brown hairs that hide everything else and, from a distance, have the humans mixing me up with Rosa, who is a true bay.

At my full “bay-ness” in January. That’s my doppelganger in the background.

At two, I was small for my age and I didn’t grow much bigger, just 14.1 hands high, which is technically pony-sized. And, I don’t have the kind of conformation that would win ribbons, my neck is about two-thirds the length it should be and I’m a bit pigeon-toed. But, I’ve got colour nailed. Nevada is pretty splashy in his red and white, but he looks much the same year round. I have the element of surprise on my side. Just when you think I’m a very average-looking, somewhat-overweight, kinda-small, bay horse … voila! I’m a grey!

An average-looking, somewhat-overweight, kinda-small, bay horse in February but, you can see the grey lurking underneath.

I’m in my mottled stage at the moment (see photo #3 taken yesterday afternoon). It’s not the best of my looks, but leads to the most dramatic phase of my roan-ness. I’ll check back in a month or so to give you this year’s spring look.

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.

Shesa Lil Ichi

The title of this blog probably seems a bit weird. What’s even weirder is that it’s Rosa’s real name. Unlike the rest of the horses on the farm, Rosa has registration papers, and her registered name with the American Quarter Horse Association is Shesa Lil Ichi.

T and Nollind could have called her Shesa or Ichi or some other derivation of her full name, but they thought she looked like a Spanish lady with her long, dark hair and big, brown eyes and called her Rosa. Even when she first came here to the farm, at just eighteen months old, Rosa had a longer mane than I’ve ever had.

Baby Rosa.

Like me, and many other horses, even the purebreds, Rosa ended up at a livestock auction. Auctions in and of themselves are not a bad thing, but some of them are places to get rid of unwanted animals, and too many of those animals end up at a slaughterhouse. Rosa and I both went through the same auction yard about four years apart. I was purchased by a meat buyer, and quickly rebought by T and Nollind (whew!), and Rosa had the good fortune of being picked up by Bear Valley Rescue, along with her half-sister.

She gave up her sister but got this guy.

T and Nollind bought Rosa from Bear Valley as a project horse, with the intention of finding her a good home when she was four years old, trained to ride, and had seen some miles on the trail. On June 5, Rosa will be fourteen. She’s trained to ride, and she’s seen those trail miles, lots of them, but she was just too sweet to part with.

Demonstrating her sweet nature as a 3-year-old.

I wasn’t exactly well-handled when I came here either, but Rosa was a complete untouchable, not much different than a wild horse. Funny story about that. After being kept in a neighbouring paddock for a couple of weeks, T decided it was time to turn Rosa out with the rest of us. We’re not an unfriendly lot, but we are pretty curious about newcomers, and when our curiosity pursued her to the corner of the pasture, she up and jumped the fence, stood there looking back at us from the neighbouring farmer’s field.

From running from the herd to leading it out to fall pasture.

And how do you catch a horse you can’t get close to or put a halter on? Well, you use another horse, or two. T and Nollind led Nevada and Alta, the herd boss and his second in command, out into the farmer’s field near Rosa and when they turned back toward the home gate, she followed.  

Typical Rosa, quietly waiting her turn at feeding time.

T and Nollind looked after all of her initial ground training, but Rosa was sent to some trainers when she was three or four to have those first rides put on her. Not sure what those folks did, but by the time she came home, she would just stand like a statue whenever T or Nollind got on and asked her to do anything. It’s common practice to desensitize young horses during their training so that we’re not flighty about every little thing, but it was like they took every ounce of sensitivity out of her. After a few sessions with no success, T and Nollind decided they’d just ride her in the fields over the winter, see about putting some life back in her limbs, with me along to show her the ropes.

Starting her ground training.

Once she was outside the fenced areas of the round pen or riding ring, she was fine, walked out like a champ, wasn’t afraid of much, and didn’t mind leaving home. Between you and me, I think that’s when she became a permanent resident rather than a resale project, when she showed her solid mind and easy attitude. The following year on the trails, it was like she’d been doing it for years, rarely spooky about anything and always keen to see what was around the next bend.

Water crossings were no big deal for Rosa.

Her timing was perfect because, by this time, Nevada was twenty and starting to experience some difficulty with the steep trails we ride in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. It was a natural transition. Rosa became Nollind’s mountain horse and Nevada was semi-retired. Good thing he was reaching retirement age or it might have been me left behind at the farm. I love to go, but I can’t say I have the same relaxed attitude toward strange things along the trail that Rosa does.

Trail horse extraordinaire.

She’s Nevada’s girl for the most part, but the three of us are pretty tight. T often refers to us as the three amigos since we’re rarely farther than a few feet apart. She’s my trail partner and also my diet companion, cursed with the same slow metabolism as I have. Nollind refers to her as rubenesque, which I think is part of the reason she loves him so much. 🙂

She might be Nevada’s girl but she’s my scratching post at the trailhead.

Her ability to put on weight easily is coupled with a tendency toward a condition called laminitis, an inflammation in the feet often caused by too much rich food, like spring grass. And she does love her grass. This year, T is trying some new supplements, Nollind’s got her on a different trim program, and 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. It wouldn’t be the first time.

Rosa heaven.

To sum Rosa up … you know that girl you went to school with that didn’t draw attention to herself or show off even though she was pretty, and she wasn’t the star or head or president of anything but just a really nice person that everyone liked? Well, that’s our Rosa.