Visitors and Viruses

It’s been a strange few weeks. It’s felt very busy, but we don’t seem to have achieved much. Frustrating really. All my plans to have some more lessons on Florence, and do some more work with Breeze and Leomie, have somehow evaporated. In fact, my poor girls have been a bit neglected of late. The reason? I have been struck down by a really nasty virus, which has affected my hearing and balance, rendering me incapable of doing the most basic task. The good news does not stop there though. Oh no. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, i’ve gone and given it to Hal! It doesn’t seem to be effecting his ears so far, but, like me, he is running on empty. Fatigue makes every task five times harder than it should be. It feels like you’re wading through chest deep treacle.

The animals still need looking after though. Dogs, cats and horses all need to be fed. Stables need mucking out. So, as much as we both might really want to, there’s no taking to our sick beds . The girls do look appalling though, as does the yard. Neither has had the mud brushed off then for ages.

Despite this, we haven’t exactly been living like a hermit. We have some visitors. Well to be more accurate, Florence has had one very important visitor, whilst Hal and I have had some animal loving, but non-horsey, visitors who we used to both work with many years ago.

Just before this virus really took hold of me, and only a few days after Florence’s second anniversary, Florence his old owner, Clare, Came to visit her. I have kept in touch with Clare over the years since we bought Florence home, and she has always been welcome to come and visit any time she wanted. However I couldn’t help feeling extremely anxious on the run-up to the visit, I don’t really know why. Perhaps she wouldn’t think I was keeping Florence to her own standards, I don’t know. Actually I think the day went extremely well. The weather was kind to us, and Florence was her usual gorgeous self. I truly hope that Claire went home feeling happy Florence settled in a loving home for the rest of her life. I hope Clare knows that she is always welcome to come back any time.

Actually I think it’s very brave thing to do, go and visit a horse that you really loved after you have had to sell it. I’ve only ever done it once myself, and it broke my heart. It turned out that The horse in question, Oliver twist, a 14.2hh chestnut, part bred Arab gelding, Who was actually my second horse, and who I sold after only eight months because, frankly, he terrified me, had gone to a terrible home. He was not being looked after at all. He was in such a state when I saw him, that I actually reported him to a local horse rescue charity. Sadly it was only a few weeks later that I heard that he had been killed. Allegedly this has been a terrible accident whilst being ridden on the road, but I have always had my doubts. I sold my first horse, Jigsaw, a 3 year old, skewbald, heavyweight cob gelding, to the riding school where I kept him on livery. When the riding school closed down, Jigsaw was told by a family who only lived up the road from us. They kept him for the rest of their life, so I always saw him regularly. Surprise, horse No.3, was the first horse I ever had to have put to sleep, she died when she was only eight. Horse number four, Bella, I actually had on loan, but we had put to sleep when she was 28. I reluctantly sold course number five, Massey, after only 18 months, because I was developing a hip problem, she was extremely wide, and I find riding her extremely painful. I have always regretted selling Maisey, and could not bring my self to visit her, as I was scared of what I might find. However A friend of mine did encounter her from time to time, and I believe she had fallen on her feet. The next horse I bought was sapphireand the rest is history. Now we are here, I hope never to have to sell another horse ever again.

I really hope that I start feeling better soon.

A Bit Off the Front Madam?

Yesterday we had one of those experiences. The really good kind. The kind of experience where, having believed that something would be very difficult and traumatic for all concerned, it turned out to be a walk in the park. Yesterday we had had Breeze and Florence clipped. Not a hunter, not clipped out completely, not even a trace or blanket clip, just a bit taken off the front. Nothingcomplicated, just enough to make them feel a bit cooler in the little bits of work they do. I however, feel like I have won a massive prize. It all went so smoothly.

To be honest I didn’t anticipate that we would have any problems with Breeze. It was Florence I was worried about. She is a sensitive soul, and I did not know sif he had been clipped before. I asked her previous owner, Clare, if she had ever clipped Florence, or if she knew whether she had been clipped previously or not. Her reply was that she had tried once, but it had not been a good or successful experience. This wasn’t going to be easy.

Why did I want to put us all through this? To be honest I was beginning to ask myself the same question. . Well, Florence and Vreeze , and Leomie too for that matter, all what is known as traditional cobs. This means that they are heavyset, deep girthed, short legged, and very very hairy. Picture a lovely sleek thoroughbred racehorse, then picture it’s exact opposite, there is your traditional cob.all horses change their coat according to the season, growing a warm, thick,dense coat for winter, then shedding it in spring, to reveal a shorter, finer Summer coat. . This is a biological response that is triggered by the amount of daylight hours, as much as it is by temperature and weather conditions. A horses breed, age, and general state of health wil influence heavy a winter coat and individual horse will grow. So if nature designed the horse to grow a heavy winter coat, why clip it off? Because nature never intended horses to do any heavy work. In nature, horses live on planes and savannas, in large family groups or herds, grazing, playing, having babies, and trying to avoid being eaten by the local predators. Being ridden or driven by humans was never part of the plan. Like humans, when horses exert themselves they get hot. Also like humans, horses cool down by sweating. Sweat forms a layer of moisture on skin, which evaporates, thus cooling the skin. The trouble is that when you have a particularly thick, debts, covering of fur, sweat, or for that matter any other form of wetness, gets trapped in the fur, and cannot evaporate. This means that the coat gets wet, and the horse becomes cold and chilled. This not only makes the horse uncomfortable, but can lead to skin infections, and even things like Lemonia. In Florence’s case, this problem is exacerbated by the fact that she has A condition calledPPID, also known as Cushing Syndrome. Two of the symptoms of this condition are excessive sweating, and extreme hair growth. Bless her, as the weather has been so mild and damp over the last few weeks, she has found it virtually impossible to dry out. I really had no choice but to try and clip her.

Having booked the ever patient Amy to come and do the deed, i set out to try and reduce the risk to horse and handler. I got some oral sedative paste from the vets. Then I set about trying to desensitise Florence and Breeze to the sound and feel of the clippers. Not easy when you don’t actually have any.what I needed was something that vibrates and buzzes loudly. Enter a battery operated back massager, that I got is a a Dove gift set several years ago. Starting by running it briefly while standing outside the stable door I gradually increased the length of time I ran it for, and slowly got closer and closer, until I was able to run the back of it over the 10 days. Or at least that’s how it worked with Florence. It took abarea I wanted clipping. whole process took about 10 minutes with Breeze. As soon as I turned the massager on outside the stable she was leaning over the door demanding a go.

Whether it was my efforts with the back massager, or Amy’s calm controlled attitude, I don’t know, but things could not have gone better. Both horses behaved impeccably, and we did not actually hath to use the sedative at. I could not be more delighted. The cherry on the cake being that when I went down to do the horses this morning Florence was lovely and dry to the touch..

Ophelia & Brian

Things have been pretty quiet around here since Sapphire left us. At first Leomie, Florence, and Breeze were very subdued, and stayed unnaturally close to each other. One horse, three heads! Kowever, things are pretty much back to normal now. There is a little bit of a power struggle going on between Leo and Breeze over who takes over the lead of the herd. It’s all academic though. The job belongs to Breeze.

Hal has been keeping himself extremely busy repairing and reinforcing the stables. Sadly, two years after having them built, it is evident that our so called Stable Stables are actually anything but. Yes, my lovely little Welsh girl was quite destructive, but really! Last Tuesday I scrubbed out with disinfectant, and then Hal jet washed, the three actual stables, and then bedded them down for winter. Leomie has now moved out of the tack room and into Sapphire’s box, and with bedding and hay In the barn, and rugs washed and proofed, we are winter ready.

Just as well really, because the weather has been appalling. Last year I brought them In overnight on 15th November, or thereabouts, and considered that early. They are already in this year!
My dislike, well, total terror, of strong wind is no secret. So you can imagine how I felt when I heard Hurricane Ophelia was heading straight for us. HURRICANE!!! Everybody talks about the Great Storm of 1987. Weather Man Micheal Fish’s fated words, “No madam, there is not going to be a hurricane”, thousands of fallen trees, structural damage, lives lost. However, I don’t remember it being that bad in Plymouth. What I remover, and what I think is significantly responsible for my wind phobia, is what happened in January 1990. It happened to be the day that I advertised my then, second, and totally unsuitable horse, Oliver Twist, for sale. Bad timing. Believe me, nobody in Devon and Cornwall was reading horse ads that day. My memory starts with standing with a group of colleagues, in a 1st floor room of a four story office building, with my eyes out on stalks and my heart racing as the metal framed windows bowed inwards, and my companions described the roof tiles flying off the houses opposite and the street lights being bent like rubber. We had just been told not to leave the building because the cars were being blown round the car park, the cladding was falling off the building, and the flat roof was peeling back like the lid off a tin. I have never been so scared! That wasn’t the end of it though. When, the next day, I managed to get to the little Riding school where I kept Oliver on full livery, it was to discover that one of the stable blocks, a 5 box wooden unit, not unlike our stables here at Albert’s Bungalow, had been lifted clean off it’s concrete base and deposited 20 foot back behind where it had been. It was pure luck that there were no horses in any of the stables at the time. They had been turned away for a weeks winter break. My blood still runs cold when I think about what might have happened otherwise. I think some people think that I am weird, cruel, or stupid, when I keep my horses turned out during extremely windy weather. I think they would have a different opinion they had seen that stable block as I did on that day. None of the usual resident horses would have survived if they had been shut in.

As it happened, Ophelia, down graded to an X hurricane, changed her course slightly, and did most of her damage over Ireland. Yes it was windy, but we have definitely had worse. What was incredibly strange though was how Hot it became on Monday, and how strongly everything smelt of smoke. The Internet and social media Full of colour of the Sun & sky. Of course I couldn’t see this, and when I asked Hal, Who had been working on the stables all day, about it, he said he hadn’t noticed.

Feeling very relieved that we had got a way with Ophelia so lightly, imagine how I felt when I learnt that storm Brian was coming straight at us! Not even a week in between! As Brian was forecast to be bringing a lot of rain with him, Hal persuaded me to bring the girls in. Mow, it just so happens that that over the summer we have been trying to teach the horses to bring themselves in. Breeze Has obviously done this before, and Florence is getting that idea, but Sapphire and Leomie never really got idea, and would go off in all directions. On Friday afternoon, with Brian already beginning to make his presence known, and the way out of the paddock but the horses were in almost impassable, Hal suggested he let the horses out to bring their own way up to the stables. All I heard was the thundering hooves, and thought to myself that they were coming up rather sharpish. What was actually happening though, was that while Breeze and Flo were slowly working their way up to the yard, stopping every now and then to craft a mouthful of grass, Leo, God love her, had The wind well and truly under her tail, and was galloping around in excited circles, bulking and kicking like an idiot. On one of these circuits, she managed to side swipe Hal, and catch him with her back feet as she bucked. He ended up sitting in one of the water troughs, on the other side of the fence. Luckily, although he is extremely sore, and has some lovely bruises, he has not been seriously hurt. This could have been so much more serious. We won’t be doing that again in a hurry.

As it happens, Brian seemed to be much worse than Ophelia. The wind was much stronger, and oh boy did it rain! The horses seem to be quite content in the stables. Both oh philia and Brian, came from the south, so we were relatively sheltered in both cases. I read on the Internet yesterday, that we are expected to have another 11 storms that are strong enough to be named over autumn and winter here in the UK. Another 11! We’ve already had two and it’s not even the end of October yet.

It’s going to be a long winter

Sad Times

Have you ever noticed how life has a way of slapping you down when you get too happy? Well, it happened to us big time this week.

Sadly on Wednesday our beautiful, fiesta little Sapphire made her final journey.

As I have alluded to in previous posts, Sapphire had been living with Maast Cell Cytoma for the last 8 years or so. She had several large lumps in various parts of the body, And every now and then another one would appear. These were only the ones on the surface. Maast Cells are present in all endothelial tissue, so the tumours can develop anywhere throughout the body. Over the years various treatments have been tried. Some lumps have been surgically removed, and she has been pumped full of steroids. Th best veterinary brains in Britain have been consulted. Each year another lump would appear, or an existing one get bigger, but Sapphire was otherwise happy and healthy. We knew full well that complications from the condition would most likely bring her to an early end. We just weren’t ready for it to be now.

She was put to sleep at home On Wednesday. . We are all devastated, especially 10 year old Ben from next door, who had a very special relationship with her. The other horses seem to be coping, but they are a little subdued. It will be interesting to see how things develop, Sapphire was the matriarch of the herd.

I just want to say thank you to Justine from Penbode Vets in Holsworthy for handling everything with such tact and empathy.

In Memory

Kissimmee Sapphire (6 August 2000 – 11 October 2017)
14hh Dark Bay, Welsh Section D, mare.
Escapologist extraordinaire, ripper of rugs, breaker of stables. Gentle and fiery in equal measure. Adored children, tolerated adults. Far far too clever.
You taught me so much, mostly about myself.
You have been loved t

Fireworks part 2 – inconsiderate Neighbours

So , in this village, every 5th November, the local bell ringers turn The Devil’s Stone. They do this to ensure that the Horned One is kept at bay for another year. If the stone doesn’t get turned, well, who wants to risk that?! It’s a big thing here, and much fun is had. It also means that fireworks are a rarity round here. Hal and I have never yet made it to the Turning of the Stone. The first year year we were here we didn’t know what the firework situation was going to be like, an so didn’t to leave cats, dogs and horses unattended. Last year I was only a few days post op, and really not feeling well. So this year I was really looking forward to finally going.

It wasn’t to be.

The people who own the field next to ours decided to have fireworks! At the bottom of their field! Right next to our horses! They gave us 30 minutes warning! Mind you, we were lucky. They didn’t bother telling the people who own the field on the other side of them, where 9 sheep live, at all! Or anyone else for that matter.

So Hal froze his bollocks off monitoring 4 terrified horses, while I attempted to ignore 2 terrified dogs with the combined weight of 57kg while they tried to climb onto me while shaking violently, hyperventilating, and barking hysterically!

Luckily we seem to have got away with it. Nobody’s hurt, and no colic. The sheep are OK too thankfully.
I am quite sure that this little fireworks display was all arranged well in advance. I am also sure that these individuals have been fully aware of the horses on one side of them, and the sheep on the other. So not giving us advance warning of their plans is at best thoughtless, selfish and inconsiderate. It may also be construed as a deliberate act of animal cruelty.

The people who did this aren’t youngsters. In fact they’re grandparents. They also have animals of their own. You’d think they would have more sense and decency.

Thankfully, due in no small part to the amazing temperaments of our horses, nothing bad happened last night. It could have been so much worse.

Fireworks – A Plea From the Heart

It’s often said that the last person to enter the House of Parliament with honest intentions was Guy Faulkes.
“Rememver remember the Fifth of November
Gunpowder treason and plot”

So here we are. Tonight is Halloween, Saturday is Guy Faulkes Night, and, I understand, this week , this year, I understand, it also happens to be Diwali. All this adds up to a fabulous week of fun and celebration. A jolly good time will be had by all!

Well no actually .

There at least two groups of people , and I belong to both, who dread this time of year.

They are?
Horse owners, and dog owners, and more specifically, Guide Dog Owners.

The reason?


Now, OK, I grant you, fireworks aren’t traditionally integral to Halloween, but for some people it’s any excuse to party with a bang. Also, while fireworks are a big part of Diwali, it is a festival of light after all, Diwali itself is a moveable celebration, so happens at a slightly different time each year. However, most people would agree that the celebration of Guys Faulkes takes place on far more days than just the 5th November..

There are supposed to be regulations controlling when, and to whom, fireworks can be sold, as wel as when, where, and by whom, they can can be letoff
Yeh right!

I don’t know of many Guide Dog Owners who don’t actually dread this time of year. I expect it’s the same for other Assistance Dog Owners too. A frightened, anxious dog can’t work safely. So what do you do? Do you reach for the white stick and leave Fido at home? OK if you aren’t going to be very long, or there’s someone at home to look after the dog; and if you’re a confident cane user. Do you stay at home and live like a recluse for the duration? Hardly practical, or possible, especially if you have to get to work or take the kids to you carry on as normal and prey/hope/trust that nothing bad will happen?

Guide Dogs often have to hang up their harness for good as a direct result of being terrified by fireworks.

For horse owners it’s just as difficult.. Even if you know that there is going to be an organised display or private party close to where you keep your horse, you have very few options. Very few, if any, of us, are able to take our horses elsewhere for the duration. Even if we could, there’s no guarantee that there won’t be fireworks there too! So, do you leave your horses out, or shut them in? There’s no right or wrong answer here. Horses, being prey animals instinctively flee , or bolt, from scarey, things. Their mantra is, ‘Run first, ask questions later – Your life might depend on it!’. A terrified horse is dangerous, both to themself and anyone who gets in their any. They are runnin on pure Adrenalin and they are not engaging their mind.

Every year horses die as a direct result of fireworks. I’ve already read about one this weekend. Usually horses have to be put to sleep, or even sometimes shot, because of injuries they sustained while trying to run away. Often , prolonged exposure to adrenalin from the fear, stress and anxiety that prolonged or repeated fireworks cause, leads to a lethal bout of colic. Some horses just drop dead because their heart just can’t take it anymore. Whatever, the result is the same, a dead horse, and a decastated owner. All because of it worth it? If it was up to me fireworks would only be allowed at organised public displays, and those Chinese Lanterns that float off indescriminately with a lit flame inside them would be banned outright. It’s not up to me though.

So please, if you are planning a fireworks party this year, let people know. Then, they can at least try to make it easier for their animals.

28 Days to Save the World

As regular followers will know, this has been a particularly difficult year for Florence. She took quite seriously ill in the first week of January, and although she responded to the vets interventions really well at the time, she hasn’t really been right all year. As a result, she has done very little as she doesn’t really seem to want to be ridden. We’ve tried all sorts of interventions, from treating her arthritis, to looking at her tack, feed, supplements, teeth, you name it, we’ve tried it. We’ve had a few little glimpses of hope along the way, but no real progress beyond a certain point. Our gorgeous girl is trying to send us a message, but we just can’t hear what she’s trying to say. It’s frustrating, soul destroying, and heartbreaking in equal measure. Florence is the absolute centre of my universe, I adore her; she challenges me teaches me, and validates me on a daily basis, sitting on her back is my happy place, and when I’m riding her I feel invincible.So it absolutely destroys me that we haven’t been able to find a solution for her.

Florence is quite an old lady now, officially 20, but only she really knows how old she is. Her passport was drawn up before they were compulsary, and her date of birth is a ‘think of a number’ guestimate. Only Florence really knows how old she is, and like any true lady, it’s a closely guarded secret.She owes me nothing, and, if she’s not right by the New Year, or even beforehand to be honest, then I’m OK with the idea of her hanging up her saddle and retiring. However, before we do that, there’s one more avenue to go down.

Gastric Ulcers.

OK, if you just look at Florence, and don’t take any of her behaviours into account, she’s not a classic Ulcer candidate. She’s a big heavy cob, who is a very good doer, and who, at the moment, is scarily obese. She has a light work load, does not compete, and lives out most of the time. However, recent research has shown that any horse can get ulcers, apparently some studies have shown that even ferrel and wild horses show some sign of ulcers on post mortem examination. Also, Flo is a very sensitive soul, and a bit of a worry wart. Her behaviour sometimes includes some classic ulcer related traits; girthiness , sensitivity to touch, mild colicky signs like pawing the ground, which is something she never used to do, refusing to be mounted, and generally being grumpy. Some of you may remember that a few years ago she had two unexplained bouts of colic. She also has Cushings (PPID).

So today we have started a 28 day ulcer protocol to see if it makes any difference. Normally a horse would have an endoscopy to see if there are indeed any ulcers, and whereabouts they are exactly. Differently located ulcers need different medication. However, we would need to take Florence to the vets to have this done, as the equipment is highly sensitive, and does not take kindly to being transported around, and we do not have our own transport yet. So, after having a conversation with my wonderful vet, he decided that we could run Flo on both medications for 28 days to see if it makes any difference.By the time this is done, we should have our own horsebox (there’s a whole new blog post coming about that soon), so if it’s made a difference, then we can take her to be scoped and find out where the ulcers are, and then continue treating with just the most appropriate medication. However, if there is no change, then that’s the end of Flo’s ridden career. Luckily there are no serious side effects of the medications she is on, so this approach will either make a difference, or things will just stay as they are. However, if we all survive the next 28 days it will be a miracle!

This intervention isn’t simple. Both meds have to be given on an empty stomach. This means that Florence has to come in over night so she has nothing to eat for at least 8 hours before. Having her meds; and, because of Flo’s seperation anxiety, the boys have to come in too. This will be a massive challenge for Mayo, who is not used to being stabled overnight, and who is just that little bit claustrophobic. The boys don’t have to be starved though, so it’s not all bad news. Next, one of the meds cannot be given with food. It has to be delivered via aural syringe like a wormer. In the very nearly 4 years that Florence has been with us, worming has always been a battle royal; and now we’ve got to do it every morning for 28 days! It’s going to be a long month!

Normally I don’t bring my horses in over night until at least the middle of November, and later if I can possible do it. Last night we brought them for the first time, and started the ulcer regime. Everybody was fine until we went to check them last thing. Mayo barged out of the stable 3 times in the process of trying to give him a hay net! Bless him, he really doesn’t understand the need to be shut in. Perry though seems to be taking everything in his stride. Honestly, as long as there’s food, I don’t think he minds much to be honest. No early in the morning visit from me today, which felt really wrong; but I neither wanted to start a riot by given the boys hay and not Flo, nor did I want to be flattened by a forced exit from Mayo. However, Hal and I went down later and gave Flo her meds, and the boys some hay. Actually, Hal gave Flo her syringe medicine, and she took it really well. The other med went into a small feed half an hour later. That didn’t touch the sides! Once again Mayo came out of his stable like a cork from a bottle as soon as the bolt was taken off the door. It’s not nastiness, he doesn’t have a nasty bone in his body, he just doesn’t understand, and he probably doesn’t feel all that safe being shut in. Let’s face it he hasn’t been here 3 weeks yet. I’m sure he’ll get the idea. Perry though was as laid back as you’d like. He might be a monster, but he knows which side his breads buttered.

They’re all turned out for the day now, in the Old School Paddock (left hand side as you go into the bottom field) which neither Mayo nor Perry have been in before. We took the boys down together first, and they both walked down really politely. Then Hal went back and got Flo while I stayed in the field to monitor things. The boys both had a really good gallop around, with some bucking and leaping in the air for good measure. Life apparently is good. However, by the time Florence joined them, they’d already got down to the serious business of grazing.

Let’s hope the next 27 days pass as smoothly.