Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Practical End-of-Life Considerations for Your Equine Companion

My beloved horse Buck at 26 years of age. Best horse that ever drew air. Most trustworthy and reliable of riding partners; kindest of heart; and with the sweetest neigh of any horse I've known.

Let's talk about it. Your beloved horse is mortal. Despite the long lives contemporary horses may have with proper care and good fortune, eventually he's going to pass. Setting aside the inevitable sadness and grief, let's talk some practical considerations and some advance planning.

Horses aren't goldfish. They're not easily disposed of and there are some unique logistical concerns involved. Although you can't prepare for every contingency, even when stable planning there are some things in advance you can do to make the final passage more manageable. The person who comes out to remove your horse will have to drag the body at some point and winch it onto a truck or trailer. When I built my dream stable a few years ago (one I left behind in search of more acreage, sadly) I had six-foot wide gates on each side of the over-sized stalls. Why? Because if a horse passes in a stall, it makes removing their body so, so much easier and gentler. If you have portable pipe panel fencing, that makes the job easier as well. If you're planning a facility, consider the final exit of the animals that will reside there. It'll make your life easier at a very difficult time. Ensure a truck and trailer or a tractor can access the turn-outs and stall area at a distance and trajectory that animal removal is simplified. 

Now, about those remains. Some owners are very sentimental about the post-mortem status of the remains; others, more practically inclined. Your budget may well play a part. Again, some advance planning can help you out when you're grieving. Think about how much importance you place on the final resting place or your horse and whether or not you'll realistically be able to achieve that goal; if you can't, look at what compromise you can make that will answer to your feelings as well as your checkbook. If you want to ensure your horse is cremated, you may be looking at the expense of the veterinary visit for euthanasia; the removal service; and the cost of cremation. If it's important enough to you to want these services, set aside the necessary amount (even if you must put a few dollars away monthly until the time comes) in a savings account so you needn't think about them when your horse passes. Even if cremation isn't an option, at minimum you'll have removal service expenses and, very likely, associated veterinary costs.

On-Site Burial

If you own a large property and may legally do so, you can consider burial of your horse on your own property. Although you won't have to pay for removal services, you'll need the use of a tractor with a backhoe. If you already have a rig of your own, you can dig your horse's grave. If you know the end is imminent, it's wise to dig or have the grave dug in advance, and then lead him to the site to say goodbye. A sloping entrance to the grave will allow you to lead your horse precisely to his place of rest without any unpleasant dragging or rough handling of a body, if this is important to you. Your veterinarian can meet you there to perform a humane euthanasia. If you have a padded moving blanket (the type used for shipping furniture) or a horse blanket you can let your horse lie down upon as he is sedated, that will make it gentler for him and easier on you. The moving blankets are inexpensive and if you wish to, you can cover him with it as necessary. From there, the burial is easy; make sure the remains are fully covered and the ground packed well to prevent coyotes from digging at the site. You may be surprised how persistent they can be about digging.

When planning ahead for a site for a horse burial, consider the area required for the earth-moving vehicles to maneuver. They need space to move back and forth and laterally as well as room to put all the dirt until the process is complete; they then have to be able to push the dirt back in. With a larger commercial backhoe I recently required nearly an 80 x 80 foot clearing to allow safe ingress and egress for the digger.


If you do not have a facility where burying a horse is possible, legal, or practical, you have several options and considerations. Do you have a friend or neighbor with a facility where it's a possibility? If so, take the horse there for euthanasia and final arrangements. If not, you may require the use and expense of a byproducts service or a horse-removal specialist. Your local veterinarian can recommend those companies. You may also wish to take your horse to a veterinary clinic for euthanasia; you then need not be present to have the body removed, and your veterinarian can make the arrangements for you and add them to the euthanasia bill. Some companies will offer cremation services; if this is important to you, you will pay more to have the ashes returned to you.

Wildlife Parks

There are even more options. If your horse is healthy but euthanasia is a necessity due to other concerns - an old injury, for example, or aggression / behavioral issues - you may consider donating him to a zoo /wildlife sanctuary / safari park / wildlife rehab center. They will offer humane euthanasia and the horse's body will benefit the facility by feeding predators. Those animals need to eat and they are carnivores, so do not feel guilty about this choice. Your donation will provide food for the animals and will save other animal lives by doing so. However, there are things in advance you must know and do for this option. A contract with the wildlife park is necessary; you must agree not to give your horse pharmaceuticals or medications for a specific period prior to the donation; you must, in all probability, deliver the animal within certain specified times; and he must be freshly and thoroughly washed prior to the delivery. 

Veterinary Colleges

Should you be fortunate enough to have a veterinary college in your area, you may have other options. I had a sweet mare who required euthanasia for severe founder. She had an unusual medical history and I reached out to a local veterinary school to see if they could use her for post-mortem study or medical research. They didn't accept donations, per se, but they did offer me an affordable and humane end of life for her. I found this to be ultimately one of the gentlest, most delicate end-of-life events my horses have undergone. The staff at the college was tremendous and kind. They had a grassy square near the clinic barn where they suggested I spend time saying goodbye to my mare and letting her graze. They had a specially-made heavily-padded anesthesia stall that "embraced" the horse as the sedation took effect, allowing a controlled drop to the padded floor. From there I turned everything else over to them; they took care of the removal, and in addition they were able to use her hock joints as a teaching aid. It made me feel better knowing the mare was able to benefit future veterinary students. The school did charge for the services, but it was far less expensive than having a veterinary call-out plus removal services, and again, providing the money to the veterinary school was well in line with my own preferences.

(c) 2022 Marcy J. Miller 


Now let's talk sentimental / memorial considerations. When you lose a horse, you may wish to save a large swatch of their tail to have a craft item made to remember him by. You can have an artisan craft the tail into a hitched-horsehair item such as a bridle, a tassel or shoo-fly, or you can consider finding a potter to make a thrown-horsehair item. The latter is a craft long practiced by indigenous people; when the clay pot or bowl is fired in the kiln, horsehair (tail hair) is "thrown" on the pot while it is still hot, fusing it beautifully and permanently into the glaze. It is a distinctive and lovely art and makes for an elegant "memory pot" to memorialize your horse. I once had the misfortune of being the "on-call" neighbor for a friend who was out of town. Their petsitter called me when their elderly and very-much-loved horse suffered colic. Sadly, the horse's stomach had ruptured by the time the vet arrived and euthanasia was the only option. I made the arrangements for the horse's burial, but before doing so I saved a section of his tail and secretly had a thrown-horsehair vase made for them. They were overwhelmed with gratitude when I took it to them a few weeks later. The potter made a braided "collar" for the neck of the vase of the remaining tail hairs. You can find artisans who practice hitched-horsehair and thrown-horsehair crafts online via Etsy or their own websites.

If you have saved a horseshoe from your horse, you can also incorporate that either with or without some tail or mane hair to make a rustic frame for a photograph of him. Alternately, you may opt to have a local artist paint him from a photograph and frame that instead. One of my traditions with the many horses I've lost is to buy myself a memorial piece of jewelry on their passing. When I lost Oscar (much too young,) to melanoma, I bought a handcrafted silver necklace with running horses on it. Invariably every time I pull it from my jewelry box I think of that stunning, sweet, funny horse and when someone compliments the necklace, I share a memory of him with them.

Advance Directives

Another aspect of advance planning is to document your preferences for the disposition of your horse's remains for any boarding facility, trainer, shipping service, or horse-sitter you use. Be reasonable, and recognize the impact on the involved parties; keep in mind this is likely not easy on them, either. Prior guidance may well be appreciated and make their job easier should the worst happen when you aren't present or available.

Regardless of how you choose to dispose of your horse's remains, it is your choice. If you have a close relationship to your horse and it's important for you to give him a particularly dignified final disposition, that's your decision. If you're pragmatic or simply can't afford certain options, that's your business. We all have our own sensitivities and viewpoints involving end-of-life issues. You needn't feel guilty for how spending as little as possible, nor need you feel guilty for giving him a human-grade memorial service. One of the most challenging things about losing beloved pets is we don't have a cultural avenue for grieving; sometimes I think an animal funeral would be a wise custom so we can process our grief and move past it. That part isn't for them; it's for us, and as loving and compassionate horse owners, we deserve such compassion ourselves. 

If you are reading this because your horse has recently passed, please accept my condolences. 

(c) 2022 Marcy J. Miller * All rights reserved * No part of this content, including images, may be reproduced without the express permission of the author * Links, however, may be freely shared and are greatly appreciated * Thank you for stopping by!

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Some Songs About Horses

My sweet ol' Dad always had the dusty a.m. radio in his workshop tuned to the local country station, KNIX. In the house, he'd often have Johnny Cash or Marty Robbins on the record player. As his faithful sidekick, I loved listening to the ballads he favored - and as a horse-crazy kid, I particularly loved the ones featuring horses. I still do. Here are some songs featuring horses, starting with those early favorites. Most of them, of course, have been covered by a plethora of different artists over the years, but I'm defaulting to the artist I most closely associate with the song.  I've attached Amazon links to some of the albums, so you, too, can keep playing your favorites on loop while hauling your horses. (Please note that I may make a commission on purchases through these links, which is greatly appreciated and helps keep my own horses, mules, and donkeys in hay, and me in music!) 

Yes, I do sing to my horses. Call PETA!

The Strawberry Roan, Marty Robbins. Off Marty's Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs album, the one with the hot pink cover and Marty in gunfighter garb ready to clear leather and beat you to the draw, this is one of my earliest favorites (along with every other song on that album). The strawberry roan is an ugly ol' pig-eyed bronc who can toss the cockiest of cowboys. Some cowboys just need to be throwed. Buy it here on CD: Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs

The Tennessee Stud, by Eddy Arnold. The beautiful, flawless voice of the artist who performed Cattle Call to perfection captivated me as a child with a song I never tired of singing along to - and perhaps one of the reasons I always had an affinity for dun horses. "The Tennessee Stud was long and lean, the color of the sun but his eyes were green ... He had the color and he had the blood, and there never was a horse like the Tennessee Stud!" I can't hear the words without smelling the sawdust of Dad's woodshop.  Johnny Cash also covered the song admirably. Eddy Arnold Boxed Set

Comanche (the Brave Horse), Johnny Horton. The man who gave us the epic battle ballads, like The Battle of New Orleans and The Sinking of the Bismarck, also gave us a tribute to Comanche, the surviving horse of the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Comanche was quite the equine celebrity at the time. Fun fact: Comanche was stuffed after his death at age 29, and remains intact at the University of Kansas even today. Johnny Horton Greatest Hits

Wildfire, Michael Martin Murphey. I'm going to throw some shade here. I have a love-hate relationship with this schmaltzy sentimental ear worm song about the girl who runs calling "Wildfire." The Best of Michael Martin Murphey

Goodbye Old Paint, Michael Martin Murphey. Tex Ritter and Roy Rogers both contributed to the modern-day popularization of this song, but even back in the 1880s it was a trail song crooned by cattle herders on the American frontier. I choose Murphey's version, though, for quality: Michael Martin Murphey, Cowboy Songs

Cowgirl's Prayer, Emmylou Harris. What's NOT to love about this spectacular, poignant song about a cowgirl whose horse ran away? Oh, Emmylou, you killed it here! And I am going to admit I get a knot in my throat when I listen to this song, which is another one I hit the "back / play" on the truck CD player every darned time it comes back around. Emmylou Harris, Cowgirl's Prayer

Black Horse and the Cherry Tree, K. T. Tunstall. Okay, I love this song. It's one of the songs I can, and do, listen to again and again. Catchy tune, a bit of mystery, and that magical vocal loop she uses - and a horse, of course! K. T. Tunstall, Eye to the Telescope

Horse with No Name, America. Name the damned horse, people. Name the horse! America, A Horse with No Name

Don't Forget the Asses!

Two of our donkeys-in-residence, well-deserving of their own songs.

Dominick the Donkey, Lou Monte. It's just not Christmas here at Rancho Chupacabra without rousing renditions of Dominick, the Italian Christmas Donkey. Here's a link to the video with lyrics:  Dominick the Donkey Video. Admit it: It's adorable. 

One of my first records as a child was a "singalong with Burl Ives," and I have to give an honorable mention to his Mairzy Doats  (mares eat oats) even though that's pretty much the extent of the horse reference in the lyrics. My best friend and riding buddy when I was eleven had a horse named Mairzy Doats in honor of the song. Burl also performed a song called "There's a Mule Up in Tombstone Arizona" which I want to love, having mules and living in Tombstone as I do, but I'll spare you. Five-year-old singalong me would've loved it, though! 

There isn't nearly enough mule music out there, and the best one is so sad I don't recommend listening to it if you have mules and love them as I do mine. It's by the amazing singer Ken Curtis, best known to most of us as mule-riding Festus on Gunsmoke. The husband-person called me to his computer one day to play this for me. I may never forgive him. I don't read dog books where the dog dies because they make me cry my eyes out, and my objection to this song is for the same reason! Here's a link to the Youtube video: Ode to a Mule, Ken Curtis

Copyright (c) 2022 MJ Miller * All rights reserved * No part of this content, including photographs, may be reproduced without the express permission of the author * Thank you for sharing links, however!

Friday, December 18, 2020

We're All Ears Here at Rancho Chupacabra!

Old-timers and long-timers of Scottsdale may recall Yale Siminoff Stables, in its latter years situated on the east side of Scottsdale Road in the area of today's airpark industrial and shopping centers. I first took riding lessons at Yale's place when I was a five-year-old horse-crazy kid. Yale and his wife, a trick rider herself, often had horses on the ranch that had been used in western films; I learned on many of those horses, from albino "Uncle Al" to plain ol' "Brownie." It was at Yale's place that I first rode a mule. Yale had a trail course set up north of the riding arena, and on the day I was introduced to mules I rode the trail course. 

Unless something's slipping my memory, it was many years before I had the opportunity to ride another mule. That one was Michelle McGorky's impressive mule Wilma. She let me spend some time on her while we were on the Billy the Kid's Last Ride in New Mexico. Wilma was stout, tall, and had a "big engine," as Michelle put it. She performed impeccably on the ride, 150 miles of often-aggressive trail pounding from ranch to ranch across the plains. Michelle pointed out how Wilma's ears moved back and forth when she was happy. Wilma, sadly, recently passed away. 

And that was it for my mule-back experience. Having the donkey gang here, though, reignited my interest in creatures long of ear and large of brain. Having recently retired the best riding horse I've ever had, my very much-loved Buck, and finding myself constantly annoyed at the antics of very-marey Sassypants whom I've been trying to turn into a trail horse for some years now, I determined to find a couple of solid, well-trained trail mules - one for myself and one for my husband-person. Weeks of poring over internet ads, borrowing a book on mules from my neighbors, reading up on mule sites, and watching mule videos didn't dissuade me. I settled on two mules from Lindsey Goode in North Carolina and, after satisfying myself that Lindsey represented her mules honestly and accurately, ordered them sight unseen. I could barely contain myself waiting for those mules to get here! Thanks to the outstanding staff at Equine Express, they arrived safely, happily, and in fantastic condition via a rather posh big rig. 

Above, on the day of her arrival, is my mule (now known as "Delta Dawn.")  She's seven years old, 15 H, and gaited.  Below is Russ on his sweet, steady, good-natured 12-year-old mule, Jasper Jeep.

Here's another shot of Delta Dawn, after taking a couple of days to get to know each other and deciding, "Damn, I love this mule."

Delta Dawn is a bit edgier and hotter than Jasper Jeep, but she's neither mean nor crazy. Today we took the mules on their first trail ride out in the desert. They've never seen open spaces like the desert before, being from the more lushly landscaped south, but they were sensible about the newness of it and the sometimes scary-looking saguaros. Delta wasn't too sure about Terror Rock - a boulder that every horse I've ridden out there thinks is some sort of Deathasaurus Rex crouching down and waiting to strike - but she handled it well and with a little encouragement passed by it reasonably. She definitely wanted to go into third gear on the way home and required plenty of half-halts and stop-and-breathe moments, but that's fixable. Jasper Jeep was solid throughout our ride. 

Both of the mules are strong, fast forward mules, well-matched to each other's speed. I was surprised at the ground they covered. They handled the rocks well (although Delta Dawn picked one up in her right rear foot and brought it all the way home, never indicating she had a stone wedged into her shoe). I have to say it again ... I love that mule. When we got home and after I'd dug the stone out of the hoof, I hopped back on her and rode her across the tarp I'd stretched out on the ground. She looked at it for a moment, sized it up, and without any hesitation walked willingly across it. Heck, I'd still be out there on Sassy if I'd wanted that sort of calm approach to an obstacle. 

I know there will be challenges ahead as we encounter new things on these mules, but so far our mule journey is an enjoyable experience. They arrived here just nine days ago and have settled in as smoothly as we could have hoped. Delta Dawn, heavy in the bridle on my first couple of rides, has lightened up tremendously already. The brief moments I've put her into a trot have been a treat; the kind of smooth gait I could ride for hours, and probably never spill my coffee. Things to work on? Standing politely when I mount; standing quietly when stopped on the trail; and calming down on the return trip home. I'll take it.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Rest, Sweet Holly


Thirty-three years. It's a respectable long life for a horse. Holly - Hollywood Royal Lady - was born on April Fool's Day, 1987, to a world barely recognizable in today's chaos and craziness. Six weeks later I'd join the police department. Holly and I wouldn't meet, though, for another 17 years. She was heavy in foal by then, fat and pregnant and looking utterly unglamorous. I was smitten by her and paid far more than I'd ever paid for a horse before. A few friends raised their eyebrows at me - That much for a horse that age? - but I had no hesitation, and I happily brought Holly into my herd.

She had a stunning colt, who grew up to be MJ Royal Smartypants (aka Ziggy), who is the sire of three of my mares. I bred Holly the season Ziggy was born, she didn't take; and the following year, she did. During one of those excruciating nights of barnyard drama and tragedy, she lost the foal during a bout of hydropsy. I nearly lost Holly, too, but after a week in the equine hospital and plenty of follow-up care at home, she survived. 

Holly was, as I often have told people, the most gracious horse I've ever known. Honest to the bone, kind, and exquisitely mannerly, she still had a prankster self hidden beneath that glorious, refined palomino exterior. She did everything willingly: walked pleasantly into the trailer; tied without ever thinking of pawing or pulling back; stood unmoving and unflinching when I'd give her shots, never requiring a halter; did her best at all she attempted. Her lope was truly a rocking-horse lope, the kind you could drink coffee while riding. I rode her in the early Cave Creek Wild West Days, where we'd all saddle up and ride to town and do a poker ride at businesses on Cave Creek Road, then tie our horses behind the Buffalo Chip for barbecue lunch. I ponied Ziggy off her until he was too headstrong and studly to be pleasant, and here was one of the times Holly's April Fool's birthday tendencies would come out. I ponied him to a friend's arena so he could romp while the friend and I went off on a trail ride, and as I got to the arena gate my friend asked, "Do you want a hand opening it?" "Nah," I replied, "She'll ground tie." I hopped off to take Ziggy through the gate and just then caught the look in Holly's eye. Mischief gears were turning. I couldn't react fast enough before she whirled and took off at a trot the half mile home. 

I was in my boots and took off on foot behind her (you all know how much fun it is running in cowboy boots). I felt like a kid whose pony had dumped her at a show, worrying about the neighbors who might see my very recognizable palomino movie-star horse loping, saddled and riderless. How utterly embarrassing. I lost sight of her on the curve but kept running - and as I rounded the curve at the top of the hill, there before me was the garbage truck driver, holding her reins, looking around for whomever she might have dropped along the way. Naturally, being polite Holly, she stopped as soon as he hopped out of his truck and said, "Whoa!" Holly. Prankster.

But most of our rides were uneventful. I rode her bareback much of the time, because I could trust her. We could cross the flowing creek, ride solo, ride through traffic, ride in groups. Holly was always good for it. And then, we discovered team sorting. My sweet, gentle Holly had yet another personality ... the aggressive, ears-pinned cow horse. I couldn't believe it. From the moment she laid eyes on her first cow, she was addicted - and so was I. The first time we competed we won a cash prize. My Holly was always a crowd-pleaser: when we'd wait for our turn, she lunge at the cattle that ran by on the other side of the fence, her ears laid back and her teeth gnashing. Often when we'd sort, she'd get caught up in the excitement and start to buck - not nasty bone-jarring bucks, but delicate, funny, happy-to-be-alive bucks, and I'd laugh and laugh as we worked the cow even while she was bucking. I loved riding her.

I sorted cattle on her until she was in her late 20s. After that I still turned her out with my handful of cows. When Odelia, the donkey, came to join us, I put her in with Holly. Holly, always the boss mare here, immediately was smitten with that little donk. I turned them both out with the cows, much to the chagrin of my husband. "That donkey can't protect herself! She's so small!" but I wasn't worried. I knew Holly would look out for her. And darned if Holly didn't do the same tremendous, heart-filled job she'd done at everything I'd asked her to do. Her little donkey pal would venture towards the donkeys and Holly, always keeping one eye on her and an ear cocked in her direction, would veer away from her bucket of grain, dart between the cows and her precious donkey, and drive Odelia back to safety. It was amazing. Holly was amazing.

I quit riding Holly a couple of years ago. Her hocks had become wobbly and I knew she'd easily fall. Soon she had trouble standing for the hoof trimmer; he's extraordinarily patient and kind, and between the two of us and lots of encouragement we'd support her while he worked. If he raised her back foot just a smidgen too high, she'd tremble all over, but never did she willingly resist - she gave it her best shot, and we looked out for signs of anxiety so we could help her out and not stress her out.

A few weeks ago I had the vet out to float her teeth and give her a checkup. The vet was impressed at her condition; everything was looking fine. I added some senior horse weight booster to Holly's feed, as she was starting to lose muscle tone and body fat. She wasn't skinny; just lean, but a horse in its thirties needs a little bit of a fat cushion, and Holly was losing hers. She was turned out with the donkeys most of the time in between feedings, and she loved those little devils.

Last night, for some reason I walked down to the barn in the dark. It was a broadly moonlit night, so bright as to almost be daylight. I could see a light-colored shape to the side of the donkey turnout. Holly. I knew immediately something was seriously wrong. She'd been fine at feeding time, but the way she lay ... so flat, so unmoving ... I thought she'd already passed. As I approached and called out, she raised her head slightly, but made no effort to rise. She wasn't thrashing; there was no disturbance in the dirt; she hadn't rolled. She wasn't touching her belly; she was barely moving at all. And I knew her time had come. Holly always had so much try, so much heart. Now she wasn't trying. She was breathing heavily and gritting her teeth and not making any effort to get up.

I roused my husband, called the vet, and gave Holly a shot of Banamine, and then I just sat with her and stroked her face. Her donkey hung out beside her, sometimes resting her head on my shoulder, and Holly's pasture pal, Buck, and her two granddaughters, Sassy and Poppy, were turned out in the adjacent pen. Poppy and Sassy were concerned, particularly Poppy; she continually kept her nose near Holly's, quiet and present. 

We tried to get Holly to her feet, but she would do nothing more than rise up partway to her chest and then quietly lay back down. It was clear to me; she didn't want to endure any more. Something had happened and she didn't want to struggle against it, whatever it was. I covered her up with a blanket to keep her warm. I know when people are dying, they often become terribly cold as their organs shut down. I wanted Holly to be warm. 

When the vet arrived, gentle Odelia the donkey abruptly became agitated. She began galloping around the pen, and as she passed each of us - Russ, the vet, and myself - she kicked out with both legs at us. She was terribly upset and she was taking it out on us. I confined her while we took care of Holly. 

The vet and I discussed our options. After a brief conversation she confirmed what I already knew; that it was time to let sweet Holly go. I didn't want to force Holly to her feet only to have her start down that rocky path of steady decline, where we'd have more incidents of increasing severity. She was, after all, 33, and I wasn't going to cause her distress and suffering if she wasn't trying on her own to get up and fight whatever had afflicted her. Holly reminded me of elderly humans who'd decided it was simply time. 

And so we gently helped usher Holly from the world she'd graced with her presence for over three decades. She'd produced a beautiful array of foals; one even went on to win the palomino world reining championship. She'd discovered her true passion in life when we introduced her to cows, and she'd put everything she had into it. She'd been so, so gracious; always steady and reliable, that Holly. And she was stunning. I used to think of her as the horse I, and any other teenage girl, would have given anything to have when we were young. Riding her always made me feel like a teenager again - she was just so beautiful, a golden palomino with an iridescent coat and a lovely, refined head. You couldn't help but feel like a million bucks on a horse like that.

The barn felt empty without her. After she'd been taken away, the donkeys gathered in the spot where she'd lain, staying there for most of the day, licking the ground she'd lain on and huddling. Donkeys form strong bonds, and it was important they be able to grieve Holly's death, and so they did. 

It has been sixteen years since I've had a life without Holly in it. I've had so many memories with her, so many hours of riding our photo was even featured in an AQHA magazine - and I can't imagine not having Holly's voice greeting me in the mornings when I'd walk down to the barn, or hollering on those nights when another horse or the gang of cows would get loose. 

Holly. Love you and miss you, old girl.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Keeping Your Horses Safe During Fireworks

Every darned year, I lament the annual neighborhood fight (on NextDoor) over fireworks. Fireworks are a grand American tradition, and I'm always glad to see the festive displays - especially when the country's seeing such unrest - but horses and fireworks don't mix. Some of my neighbors spend a great deal of energy every year complaining about the fireworks, but despite the fact that July 4th happens on, well, July 4th every single year, they do nothing to prepare.  Here are a few things you can do as a horse owner other than curse people over NextDoor.


If you know your horse is terrified of fireworks, you have 364 days before each July 4th to do some desensitization work., and 364 days after if you didn't prepare for the pending holiday already. Employ round pen techniques to work your horse in the presence of fireworks, cap guns, or other things that go boom. I won't go into the finer details of those techniques here - but you can easily look up round pen work and apply those concepts. The center of a round pen is usually going to be a safe place to light some small firecrackers. Use common sense, folks. If there's dry grass in the middle of your round pen, don't dumb. Be aware of the legality of those fireworks. If you're at a shared boarding facility, perhaps arrange a group desensitization activity, or use other means to desensitize your horse. Just don't dumb.

There are other things besides popping that frighten horses during fireworks displays. Mine don't mind the actual boom noises, but they don't care for the sizzling, hissing sounds. If you want to desensitize your horse to those, even opening a well-shaken (not stirred) can of soda will provide the hiss you need. Compressed air (such as the air cleaners for computers, or Pet Corrector ™spray) will suffice. Fire extinguishers often get their attention. Be creative. You know your own horse, and if you think the horse is going to freak out, jump the fence, and do serious injury to themselves when you first make a noise they don't like, have someone a distance from the pen use it while you're working the horse in the round pen. You can always bring the noisemaker into the round pen and NOT use it at first when you introduce the horse to it, then introduce the noise after they've done a few rounds - and THEN use it at a slight distance. Let me reiterate: don't dumb. This is all about taking ownership, folks, not being a victim. Here's your "don't dumb" T-shirt as a reminder: (Proceeds benefit yours truly, and all the mouths I feed.)

Calming Supplements

Whether you've desensitized your horse or not, consider helping them through the Very Frightful Things with calming supplements. Your local feed store and numerous online outlets carry a variety of nutraceuticals and herbal supplements designed for this purpose. Some, such as the tryptophan pastes, are handy for one-time use prior to the event. It's a good practice to give your horse the calming aid about twenty minutes before you anticipate the Very Frightening Things. Those 364 days of non-July 4th I mentioned? You can use one of them to test each potential calming aid you're considering. Here's a product, Quietex, by Farnam that's widely used: (affiliate link - this means yours truly may receive a little extra hay money if you buy a product through my links)  It's in paste form for your convenience. Those desensitization exercises I mentioned above? Consider trying them while using a calming aid (on your horse, unless you require a little help as well. I won't judge.) See if it seems to help your horse during Very Frightening Things.

Use White Noise / Safe Noise in the Barn

You can't drown out the loudest booms and hisses, but you can certainly play music or turn on loud fans in the barn or the breezeway of your mare motel during Very Frightening Things to minimize the trauma. Consider William Tell Overture for some additional bonus booms. Classical music is actually a great way of covering scary noises with more benign noises. Don't pick soothing music. Seriously, you're trying to minimize the contrast between normal background noise and loud, Very Frightening Things. Pick something lively. I love country music, but it makes us all want to drink beer, so choose classical for the July 4th event. And those big-ass fans? They're great for creating some white noise.

Work Your Horse that Afternoon Before the Very Frightening Things Occur

Horses with a lot of nervous energy benefit from being worked prior to the Very Frightening Thing, whether it is loading them on a trailer or facing down the annual fireworks armageddon. Let them get their ya-yas out. Work them, walk them out, and spend some time letting them be calm and serene prior to the big night. 

Prescription Sedatives

If your horse is Jameel Ibn Basketcase, and calming supplements do nothing for him or if he's already on them for the day to day terrors such as plastic bags, crinkly plastic bottles, and dark spots on the road, you may need to up the ante. Talk to your vet prior to the big day - you know, those 364 other days - about keeping a sedative on hand. Your vet may be willing to draw up just the right dose to administer to your horse when you think Jameel needs some help. Again, you may want to give the dose about 20 minutes prior to the event. As a general rule you never want to sedate an already-anxious animal. Talk to your vet and plan in advance. If you don't know how to administer an injection, and you don't want to use this excellent opportunity to learn, plan in advance to have a helpful friend or neighbor do so for you.

Put Your Horse in the Safest Place

If you have options for where you can put your horse during the Very Frightening Thing, move your horse in advance to the calmest, safest place for the night. Maybe this means putting him next to that quiet geriatric barn-mate. Maybe it means putting him in a stall that doesn't have metal feeders he can gore himself against. Perhaps he's best when he's turned out in a very large turnout that he can race around and get silly without running into walls. If you know your horse, you likely know the place he feels safest.

Distract Your Horse with Forage During the Very Frightening Things

Sometimes all it takes is feeding during the Very Frightening Thing to take your horse's mind off the situation. Don't feed grain - but give him a big ol' bonus flake of hay and maybe some carrot shreds. Make the Very Frightening Thing a positive experience for him.

Buy Ear Plugs for Your Horse. Yes, You Read That Right.

There are things some mounted shooters and mounted patrol officers can tell you about bomb proofing, and one of these things is the presence of helpful devices such as the horse ear plugs in this helpful (affiliate) link:  Introduce them to your horse on one of those 364 prior days, and give your horse the gift of silence.

Spend Time with Your Horse and Lend Them Confidence

On the night of the Very Frightening Thing, spend some time in the barn or corral with your horse. Simply framing the event as a "normal" night will help him out. Talk a lot, and boldly. Brush him. Walk him. Do something with him. Don't just stand and bemoan the horrible neighbors who light fireworks. That doesn't help your horse. And that leads me to one of the biggest tactics:

Don't Impart Your Own Anxiety to Your Horse

Nervous horse owners often have nervous horses. Anxious owners produce anxious owners. They're herd animals, and if you're the boss mare, they'll follow your lead. If you're NOT the boss mare, you have some things to work on. If you want your horse to be fearless and confident, be fearless and confident. Speak boldly. Move bravely. Don't baby your horse and tell him, "Good boy, Jameel!" in a baby voice while he's ramming himself in terror against the wall. That's not a good boy. Scold him and hold him accountable when he dumbs. Praise him when he braves. So often we build nervous dogs and horses by modeling for them our own nervous behavior and unintentionally rewarding them for being scaredy cats. 

Now, plan ahead and get your horse ready for those Very Frightening Things, and your horse will have every opportunity to realize they aren't so Very Frightening after all. 

(c) Copyright 2020 MJ Miller * All rights reserved * No part of this content may be reproduced, excerpted, or duplicated without the express permission of the author * Links to this page, however, may be freely shared and are most appreciated * Thank you for linking, liking, tweeting, sharing, and otherwise helping grow my readership * Most of all, thanks for stopping by.

Monday, March 11, 2019

A Case of Sudden Diarrhea in an Old, Otherwise Healthy Horse

Hollywood Royal Lady

My beautiful palomino mare, Holly - more formally known as "Hollywood Royal Lady," - will turn 33 years old in just three weeks, on April 1st. Not long ago, I was growing increasingly concerned she wouldn't be here to celebrate it with her usual birthday bath and extra attention.

Holly has been in good health, for a gracious old lady. She's a bit wobbly in the hocks, now, and her muscle mass isn't what it once was, and her gorgeous ground-length tail recently suffered a major loss of length when Holly's newest granddaughter chewed it off through the fence. Other than that, she's a healthy old gal, and still a prankster deserving of her April Fool's birthday. A few weeks back, I noticed Holly was having quite a bit of flatulence. Holly's been gassy for a few years, but I didn't think much of it - heck, at her age the social graces just aren't as important. The gas got worse, though, so I changed her feed a bit. I added chaff / chop hay to her daily ration of top-quality alfalfa. The gas continued. Soon she developed diarrhea. It was just loose manure at first, accompanied by gassy expulsions. She looked normal otherwise. I took her off the chop hay, thinking it might be too rich, or that the added molasses was causing trouble. The diarrhea worsened.

Soon Holly had fecal matter on her hocks and cheeks from the diarrhea. I gave her probiotic, wormed her, and did some research. Based on what I'd been reading, my hypothesis was that Holly's old teeth  had become concave and weren't grinding thoroughly anymore. Long stems of hay were making it through her digestive system and irritating the lining of the gastrointestinal tract - and this caused the gas and diarrhea.

I immediately began to transition Holly to a diet of exclusively bermuda hay and bermuda / alfalfa blend pellets. Within a day after her last meal of alfalfa hay, her diarrhea improved ever-so-slightly. Within three days, it was completely gone. The flatulence disappeared with it. After a week, though, the diarrhea returned. I mentioned it to my husband, the chief on-site spoiler-of-animals. He confessed to giving Holly "a little bit of alfalfa as a treat." After a stern lecture, he promised to never give her any alfalfa hay again. The donkeys (who area also on a strict bermuda diet) are stabled next to her - so Holly can't steal alfalfa through the fence.

Holly's bowel movements are back to normal, she's got no noticeable gas (and it most definitely was noticeable), and she is once again thriving. She doesn't exhibit any negative effects of eating some fresh weeds - I let her nibble on the London Rocket and False Chamomile that are prevalent here this rainy year - and they cause no distress. As it's occasionally a challenge to keep weight on many older horses, we let Holly have free access to the bermuda hay, and we give her several pounds of the alfalfa-bermuda blend pellets twice a day.

I'm now confident Holly will be looking forward to her April Fool's Day celebration of extra carrots and a bran mash surprise. If your own geriatric horse develops diarrhea of unknown origin, consider moving them off alfalfa hay and onto an alternative diet.  Pelleted senior diets will, of course, solve this issue. In recent years, I've moved away from giving my horses copious amounts of grain; if you are similarly inclined, consider pelleted alfalfa and bermuda as an alternative. Perhaps your own elderly horse will benefit.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Everything's Coming up Donkeys!

We recently welcomed Odelia to the burro squad. Odelia, a sassy little burro, is from the same BLM herd management area (Cibola-Trigo near Yuma) as Olivia, our OG burro. She's fitting right in; moments ago I ran down to the barn to check on the gang, and all three burros were nestled in, lying down in their straw bedding in the chilly weather.

The burros have been such a joy. There's something peaceful and calming about them; perhaps their innate stoicism rubs off on us, or perhaps it's their affectionate, quiet nature. (Quiet? What about those pipes, though?)

Last night I tapped out some of the more curious things I've learned about donkeys, including some new pics of the three amigas. Read up here: Fascinating Donkey Stuff

You know those T-shirts that say, "I'm only one cat away from being the crazy cat lady?" How many donkeys does it take for me to be the crazy donkey lady? I fear I'm already there.