The Tale of My Birthday
Since we got the ranch, I've known that I'm not really going to be using my vacation time as true vacations as much, so some time ago I resolved to take vacations to work at the ranch. Last week was my birthday, and also the near wrap up of my project, so I scheduled three days off. And how did I spend my 5 day Birthday vacation? Read on.
Oh - first thanks for all the birthday wishes you sent last week (ok, several weeks ago by now..). Many people mentioned they enjoyed reading the diary - it's great to get this feedback! A friend is helping me investigate a true blogging service - so maybe someday soon you'll be able to leave comments in response to entries... stay tuned.
We started off Thursday by driving down to Watkins to pick up the two new horses - the gray and the sorrel. Yeah - we were really inventive on the temporary names. The trip went very well, and other than getting used to (Dave) driving a trailer that is about 12 inches narrower than the lane, it posed no difficulties. The ponies loaded nicely, and unloaded even better. We walked them around a bit to have a look-see, and it wasn't too long before the three stooges came galloping up from the far end of the pasture. Ohh Boy! New friends / enemies! Even little mustang got into the welcoming act by running around the round pen. The pair were thrown into the welcome pen, and Jordan spent a good part of the rest of the day hanging his head over, squeeling, and generally keeping a close eye on the new comers. It was interesting to see that the sorrel - who is a good foot shorter if not more than Jordan - was right up there nose to nose. Gray, however, wasn't all that interested in conversing.
Both of these horses came off of 'slaughter lots'. While there are no equine slaughter houses in Colorado, there are lots that collect horses that are then shipped to Texas where the closest one is. In fact, I think there are only 2 left in the US. Canada has more. As they were gotten from a lot, very little is known about either them or their histories.
It is a tragic fact that lots of perfectly healthy and sound horses go to slaughter just because someone doesn't want to put the time and effort into finding a new owner. Story is that the sorrel's owner died and the family didn't know what else to do with him.
Squick alert - here's where I delve, albeit briefly, into the topic of equine slaughter. Skip the next paragraph if this bothers you.
Don't get me wrong, I am not opposed to equine slaughter. There are horses who have lived up to their true usefulness, and for them I say it's kinder to end their life than let them degenerate out in pasture with little or no companionship. Why don't you just put them down then? Speaking as one who attended the carcass disposal seminar last summer - it isn't easy to deal with the remains of a horse. Most places you cannot bury it, cremation sometimes is an option - though often costing $1/pound (our horses range from 950 to 1350 pounds) and then you get to dispose of the 50 or so pounds of ashes. Because of mad cow disease and the resulting regulations that prohibit including animal protein in livestock feed - even the rendering plants are unable to make use of carcases like they once could. CSU's Veterinary Hospital has an interesting device called a digester... I'll just leave it at that. Slaughtering, whether for human consumption or pet food is a valuable outlet. The human consumption part actually does give me the willies, however probably not for the reason you think - horses are subjected to a lot of medications that are labeled "not for use in food animals", and I don't think we have enough (i.e. any) controls to track this. **
So anyways, there are quite a few rescues around that try and divert some of the healthy sound animals out of this path. Turns out that there are also a lot of individuals who rescue horses. Whether you call it rescuing or horse trading may be a matter of perspective, but it does keep some horses out of the killer's hands. Our two new horses are perfect examples of horses that have very long useful lives ahead of them.
We were initially sold on the sorrel - whom we've since named Rio. He's cute as a button - very typical arab build and physically in excellent shape with a beautiful auburn coat. Since he is smallish he'll be good for smaller students, and is very gentle on the ground. He rides very nicely too. He was pretty much a slam dunk for our program. (4/26: huum, not thinking so much any more... but more on that later)
Shadow is bigger, and better trained such that a true beginner may easily give him cues that they don't intend. But he is totaly a lap dog if you've ever seen one. Loves pats and people, and is as sweet as any horse we've met. We're banking on him adapting to being a lesson horse just fine, and if he has to be used only by our more experienced riders, then so be it.
Unfortunately, Shadow has had a worse time of it. The vet says he's probably only 12 years old, but he easily looks 25. He's underweight and many of the black markings on him are scars - not spots. I'm afraid he's had a hard short life. His feet were in particularly horrible shape - having had shoes left on him 6 months or more. Horses hooves, of course, continue to grow while steel shoes do not - making for a bad combination after even just a few months.
We had our farrier out on Monday. She said his soles are collapsed and may need shoes, but otherwise he looks and moves much better now. We're going to give him a few weeks barefoot before reevaluating. The vet was out Tuesday, and gave all three of the newbys a once over. He said he didn't see anything obviously concerning.
The pair stayed in the welcome pen until Tuesday, when they got turned out to the north pasture, while mustang, recently named Chaco (I'm-not so secretly-calling him Chakotay) was moved into the welcome pen. This weekend we'll experiment mixing herd groups. Slowly. Because, like the other day when I turned them out with our herd it wasn't so successful. Fortunately after about 10 minutes of chasing and terrorizing gray and sorrel, our herd retreated to the pond AND the new guys stuck around us so we could easily remove them again. So tomorrow we'll take it a little slower.
** It very much saddens us to report that our neighbor's horse had an accident late last week and didn't survive. It was so surreal, after having written this entry to suddenly be faced with having to vicariously actually make this decision. Booger had been the family's only horse for many years, and they burried him in the corner of the pasture where he spent most of his time. Dave helped. I called the county and got the low down on burial restrictions - turns out there are very few in Weld County, but this has certainly spurred some discussion amongst the three of us as we don't want to be caught evaluating options should the same happen to us.