Monthly Archives: March 2012

  • Feeding for Digestive Health

    Written By Dr. Kris Hiney 

    The digestive tract of our equine companions is typically the system which most often goes awry. Colic and other digestive related upsets are the leading cause of death in the equine, but luckily can largely be avoided with careful management. If we understand the normal digestive physiology of the horse, we can avoid errors in our feeding program.
    One of the most important features of a good feeding program for horses is providing an adequate amount of good quality forage for our horses. If we think about how a horses’ digestive system is designed to function, the relatively small stomach of the horse is designed to ingest small amounts of material throughout the day. This provides a constant influx of roughage to the hindgut, where it undergoes microbial fermentation. This is certainly the most healthy system and natural way of feeding horses. However, most horses managed in current stabling scenarios are meal fed, typically twice per day. While perhaps unavoidable, we try to offset this somewhat unnatural system by ensuring the horse receives enough forage for both its digestive health, and mental health as well.  Typically, horses will consume 2% of their body weight per day in dry matter. Most hays are usually around 85% dry matter (meaning they still retain 15% moisture after drying). For a thousand pound horse, that means that we should offer at least 23 to 24 lbs of hay per day. See calculations below:
    1000 lbs x .02 = 20 lbs of DM
    20 lbs DM/.85 = 23.5 lbs of hay as fed (or what you would actually weigh out)
    Beyond just the shear amount of hay we offer, we should also think about the time the horse spends consuming that feed. If we again think about the natural feeding behavior of the horse, they eat for about 18 hours a day, continually traveling and searching for the most tender, nutritive grasses. When horses are deprived of feed, the pH of their stomach begins to drop, making them more susceptible to ulcers. In fact, a drop in pH of the stomach begins within 5-6 hours after the horse ceases eating. At 10 hours post feeding, the horse’s stomach is completely empty.
    Beyond the obvious health risks this poses, the horse is unable to perform its natural foraging behavior. This encourages the development of stable vices such as cribbing, wood chewing, etc. which can be further detrimental for the horse’s health.
    Therefore, our feedings should be spread out through the day to account for this.  Alternatively, we can offer more hay to our horse then the previously discussed 2% to allow them to participate in their normal desire to pick through their feed to select the most desirable parts. Realize this may increase the amount of hay wastage and economic loss. In addition, offering more hay can result in horses gaining more weight than desired if not offset by adequate exercise. If this is the case, look for hays that are lower in digestible energy (typically grass hays). However, this does not mean a decrease in quality such as the inclusion of dust, molds, weeds, etc.
    In addition, the regular intake of roughage allows for a more stable population of bacteria in the gut. When the diet of the horse is radically altered, a shift in population of bacteria in the gut occurs, responding to the new environment supplied to the bacterial. This sudden shift in bacteria can result in digestive upsets, as well as development of laminitis. Therefore, any feed changes should occur gradually.  This includes the new pasture growing in the spring. Horses which are kept stalled or in dry lots should not be suddenly turned out into rapidly growing pastures in the spring. Ideally they should be introduced gradually, increasing the duration the horse has access to the pasture.
    While maximizing forage intake is certainly ideal, what if you have a horse which cannot meet its energy needs through forage alone? Such horses usually fall into our moderate to heavy work category, or our lactating mares and growing babies. These horses then need to have a more calorically dense energy source, such as concentrate (or grain). When we feed a large amount of concentrate to a horse, the pH of the digestive system also changes, which may be detrimental. To avoid this, it is advisable to feed no more than .4% of the horse’s body weight in non-structural carbohydrate at any one meal. Our traditional grains such as corn and oats are abundant in nonstructural carbohydrates, which provide an excellent source of energy, but more care should be taken in feeding substantial quantities. Alternatively, we can provide feeds which are higher in rapidly digestible fibers, such as beet pulp, citrus pulp and rice bran. Many horse feeds now contain these ingredients as energy sources. In addition, rice bran is high in fat, which provides an extra boost of calories. Fat is 2.25X more calorically dense than carbohydrates, and provides a great way to increase calorie consumption with a lower risk of digestive upsets. Fat added to feeds may also dampen the increase in blood glucose seen after feeding concentrates. Finally, a horse will need less feed by weight when consuming a fat-added feed than a traditional concentrate.
    One of the final considerations to maintaining a healthy digestive system of the horse is to ensure it receives adequate water every day. Horses on harvested feeds need adequate water intake to maintain the fluid environment of their digestive tract. If forage is higher in fiber and less digestible, it is imperative that the horse receives enough water to keep digesta moving normally through the tract. Most horses consume at least ten gallons of water a day. It is ideal to provide more water than the horse consumes (i.e., the bucket should not be empty before refilling).  Also be sure that, in the winter, the horse has access to water. In cold environments rapidly freezing water may lower a horse’s overall intake and make him at risk for impaction colic. Using bucket or tank heaters or a more frequent watering schedule will ensure that everything keeps moving regularly through your horse!
    Following these simple guidelines for feeding will help avoid costly veterinarian bills and keep your horse healthy, both mentally and physically.

  • Enjoying the Winter that Almost Wasn’t

    Written By Jenny Pavlovic

    We haven’t had much of a winter here this season, at least by Minnesota standards. Not much snow, not very cold weather. It seems like the temperature has hardly even dropped below freezing. By the time you read this, I might be trying to dig my way out of a snowstorm. But while writing this in mid-February, we’ve gotten off easy. I suspect that March may bring a barrage of snow, and April may fool us yet. So far, though, most of our winter walks have been on slippery mud and ice, not snow.
    I’m always surprised to hear that some people stay cooped up inside all winter. With three very active dogs, I need to get out every day. I would get no rest on the sofa with three dogs bouncing off the walls. They need to run and play off leash to get worn out, so we go out for our daily walk/run no matter the weather. The dogs usually lose weight in the winter because they’re doing the same things, except in the snow. They’re less active when it gets very hot in the summer.
    I bought Cayenne a wonderful new dog coat from Duluth Trading this year because she tends to be a freeze baby. We haven’t had much occasion to use the new coat this season, but when the temperature dropped, we were glad to have it. I keep Cay lean because she was born with some minor joint problems and I don’t want extra weight to make them worse. Her leanness and her fine coat make her more sensitive to the cold than the boys. She came from Tennessee and apparently wasn’t made for harsh winters.
    Cay loves to run and play in the snow and doesn’t want to miss a thing, but when it’s just time to go out for a potty stop, she makes quick work of doing her business. When she first joined our family, she was even afraid to go out in the dark. She doesn’t like the early morning and late night dark and cold temperatures. She runs right back to the door, willing me to let her back in.
    Bandit, on the other hand, stays out to play with the jolly balls in any kind of weather, apparently not noticing crisp cold air or bitter arctic winds. He has a thicker coat, but more importantly, he has focus and a strong work ethic. True to his Australian Cattle Dog ancestry (with middle name “Cattle”, not “Careful”) , he was born to focus on the task at hand, whether it is herding cattle or carrying one jolly ball while herding a second one around the yard. His play is his work and his work is his play, no matter the weather.
    Without Bandit, I probably would never find myself playing ball out in the yard at 11 o’clock at night, experiencing the wonders of nighttime. I would have missed the quiet stillness of the night, the amazing clear night skies with astounding arrays of stars, and the bright full moon casting its light across the yard. I would have missed seeing the northern lights and listening to coyotes howling, prompting my own three dogs to join in the song. Without Bandit, I probably wouldn’t spend much time outside at night at all; I likely wouldn’t even know what phase the moon is in.
    Chase has a good thick coat to keep him warm. He looks like a cattle dog-collie mix. When we go out, he keeps track of the birds and animals, including the crows that fly overhead and the rabbits that live just outside the fence. More of a border patroller, he checks the perimeters each time he goes out. He uses his nose extensively to keep track of everything in the neighborhood. He has shown me a bald eagle way up in the sky, one that I would have missed without his help. He also notifies me of anything that seems different or out of place, and pesters me until I check it out.
    Without my three dogs, I would have missed so much of the day time and night time beauty of winter. No matter the weather, I appreciate what my dogs teach me. I’m comfortable knowing that Omega Fields Omega Canine Shine® and Omega Nuggets™ give them the optimum nutrition they need to cope with the varying weather conditions here in Minnesota. I’m taking good care of them as they are taking good care of me.

  • Getting Started Right

    Written By Don Schrider
    It feels like spring here in Virginia, and thoughts are turning toward hatching and raising baby chicks.  Many of you will be starting your chicken adventure by purchasing baby chicks.  Here are a few tips I’d like to share to help you achieve great success.
    The first thing to do is to build or purchase your brooder.  There are many designs out there, from a livestock tank with a heat lamp to a cardboard box with a desk lamp.  But basic brooder design provides an area that is warm, 95 degrees Fahrenheit, prevents drafts, and provides cooler areas with food and water.  I have seen a wooden brooder 2 foot by 4 foot by 18 inches high with a ceramic lamp base mounted on the side.  This design is nice and puts the bulb near the chicks. A 100 watt bulb can be used and replaced with a lower wattage bulb to reduce the temperature when needed.
    Another good brooder is made from a single 4'x8' sheet of plywood and is called an “Ohio Brooder” after the Ohio Experiment Station which invented it in the 1940s.  You simply cut a 4 foot by 4 foot piece for a top and then rip the remaining plywood into four 1 foot by 4 foot pieces which act as sides.  Use 1x2 or 1x1 lumber to lightly frame this and make four 18 inch tall legs.  I suggest using a set of hinges on one side so that the lid can be opened.  Inside, mount two ceramic bulb bases in the center of opposite-side walls.  Use 100 or 150 watt bulbs and your chicks have a brooder that hovers and can be placed inside any large pen.  
    One variant on this design uses the new insulation made of silver bubble wrap – a material made of plastic bubble wrap sandwiched between silver, reflective foil sheets.  This stuff is nice to use with chickens as they will do little damage to it and it will reduce your heating bills.
    A variety of heat sources can be used with the chicks.  Incandescent bulbs are getting harder to find, but they have the advantage in a brooder of giving off both heat and light.  I am not a fan of the large heat lamp bulbs – they can start a fire easily if too close to bedding, splashes of water from drinking chicks will cause them to blow out, they eat energy, and they are quite large.  There is an infrared halogen bulb design that replaces these and is much safer and a better product – Syrvet offers these.  My favorite heat source now is a product called the Sweeter Heater.  This is a plastic rectangle that emits radiant heat.  It does not go much above 95 degrees, but its height can be adjusted and even on the coldest days the temperature under it stays the same.  I’ve put dayold chicks in a brooder in an unheated shed in January and they were happy.  The disadvantage with this new heater is that you still need a light source near it, though you could simply use an appliance bulb.
    Often you will see recommendations to brood at 95 degrees and then drop by 5 degrees per week.  This is not the plan I suggest; rather, provide your chicks with a warm zone and a cool zone.  Start by placing the food and water near the warm zone so that the chicks will venture out, without becoming chilled, to eat and drink.  After day 3, start moving the food and water a little further out every few days.  This will encourage them to exercise.  They will come out from the warm area, eat and exercise, and drink, and when they get cool they will return the heat source.  This imitates nature best – chicks going to mom when they are cool, and mom brooding them at the same temperature each time.
    One of the best tools to tell if chicks are happy is to watch them in your brooder.  Happy chicks will sleep in a group under the brooder, and when awake will spread out evenly around their pen.  When all the chicks lay as far from the heat source as possible, then the brooder is too hot.  When they crowd under the brooder and seldom come out, then they are too cool.
    The biggest killers of dayold chicks are dehydration and chilling which occurs when their down becomes wet.  When you first receive your chicks, you should have the brooder setup and warm (having run it for a few days to be sure it is up to temperature), and food and lukewarm water should be ready.  Dip chick’s beak into the water as you add them to the brooder.  In this way you ensure that some will know where and what water is; chicks imitate their parents and each other, so if some eat and drink others will follow them.  Water devices should be designed to prevent the chicks from falling into the water and getting wet.  If your water device is a bit too big, add marbles to the drinking area so that chicks cannot get wet.
    To keep chicks from eating the bedding (pine shavings make the best brooder bedding) place newspaper or brown paper bags in the area of the feed.  Be sure the material you use is not slick, as slick surfaces will cause leg injuries – usually pulled ligaments.  You can remove the paper after a few days.  Sprinkle a little bit of Omega Ultra Egg™ over the top of the feed – its color will attract the interest of the chicks and aid them in learning to eat.  Keep the dosage low the first few days, gradually increasing over the course of a week.
    As the chicks grow, their natural curiosity will cause them to peck things; when they become crowded, growing larger and the brooder staying the same size, they will sometimes peck at each other, even to the point of wounding and killing each other.  Allowing plenty of space is one cure.  When space is limited, simply building some visual barriers will help greatly.  Visual barriers imitate bushes, giving chicks places to go where bullies do not see them and creating the feel of fewer chicks.  You can nail boards or cardboard against walls, on an angle, to creating places the chicks can explore and hide in.  You can make little a-frames that can be moved around. You can even clip bushes or branches and hang them from the top of the pens to create private little areas.  Visual barriers work for adults as well as chicks.
    Another idea is to give the chicks something to peck, thus positively applying their natural instinct, or reduce their pecking inclination.  Hanging bits of wood or bone from strings just a little above their heads will entertain them for hours.  Hanging cabbage from a string will give them a nice treat while focusing their attention.  Millet heads or, for older birds, sunflower heads are also excellent treats and vent pecking instincts.  You can also prevent brooder pecking and cannibalism by using yellow bulbs, a.k.a. bug lights.  My experiences show that chicks exposed to yellow light alone will not peck each other even when badly crowded.
    To medicate or not to medicate… I have never been a big fan of medicated feed.  The chief aliment that medicated feed is designed to cure is coccidious – an ailment caused by the organism coccidi, which can be found anywhere.  Coccidious is manifest when an overabundance of this organism enters the chicks’ mouths, make their way to the chicks’ intestines, and damages the intestine lining.  Outwardly, the chicks express their discomfort by hunching up – that is, holding their shoulders high, tails low, and neck retracted.  You will notice blood in their droppings.  Coccidious occurs most frequently when there is wet bedding in the brooder, usually near the water fountain.  So keep the brooder dry!  A natural coccidistat (preventative) is apple cider vinegar.  Simply add 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar per gallon of drinking water as a preventative.  This may be increased to 6 tablespoons per gallon if you have evidence of coccidious. It will take 5 days at this level to cure the coccidious.  Apple cider vinegar has the advantages of providing some vitamins, it provides riboflavin which causes the feathers to be more flexible and beautiful, and it will prevent algae from growing on the water fountain.  Apple cider vinegar can be fed to poultry of all ages.
    Some other good brooding tips: Add a handful of shavings each day.  This will help keep the chicks from laying on their own manure and keep the brooder smelling nice.  If you smell ammonia, clean the brooder.  Ammonia causes damage to chicks lungs long before we smell it.  Clean up feed spills.  Feed in moist shavings begins to mold and molds are very bad for poultry, sometimes causing sickness and death. In general, keep the brooder clean and you will have few problems.
    Feed the chicks treats from day one.  Chicks will learn to eat many things, such as garlic, if offered from the beginning.  Pulling dandelion clumps and placing them, roots and dirt and all, in the brooder will give the chicks something to peck at, teaches them to forage, and offers them healthy treats.  Give them slices of soft vegetables, bits of cooked egg, and grains beginning after the first week.  Just be sure to remove leftovers after an hour or so, so that these foods do not mold.
    Last, but not least, spend some time watching your chicks. They will become better accustomed to you and you will find hours of enjoyment!

  • Everybody Admires a Well-Turned Leg…

    Written By Walt Friedrich
     …especially when it’s on a horse! Same goes for a pretty foot, also especially when it’s on a horse. I’m going to talk a little about horses’ legs and feet here, but I’ll refer to the feet as “hooves” for the sake of both accuracy and clarity. Know how you think of your foot as everything from the heel to the toe? If we do the same when referring to a horse, we’d be talking about fully the bottom half of an entire visible leg! (More on that a little later.) His hoof is the hard shell at the very bottom of each leg, plus its contents.
    But the hoof, simple as it looks, is more than just a hard shell on the end of a horse’s leg, it’s actually a very complex system with a number of movable parts that all need to work together. And I do mean work – a feral (wild) hoof is in actual work typically twenty hours per day, seven days per week, all year long, for many years. With that kind of usage, the hoof had better be well-designed, well-built, tough, strong, and self-rejuvenating. If a horse moves twenty miles every day, and lives for twenty years, he puts 150,000 miles on each hoof over his lifetime, and even at the end most of those hooves are still functional! Only his teeth and jaws give his hooves a run for the money, so to speak, and they don’t support all that weight while they’re doing it.
    Here’s a little food for thought: Enough fossilized remains have been studied that we know something of how today’s horse has evolved over the millennia. For example, vestigial bones in a horse’s leg suggest that that big old hoof is actually the equine equivalent of the last joint in your middle finger!
    Let’s follow the finger analogy: his hoof is part of an “assembly” consisting of three bones, each articulating with its neighbors, and whose joints are held together with extremely strong and tough ligaments. Each of these bones moves with respect to its adjoining bone(s), controlled by tendons at the ends of muscles. Those tendons are encased in sheaths, to keep them positioned properly. You and I call this three bone assembly a “finger” – but on a horse, they’re known as the “pastern”. The last bone in the set, the bone that is encased in the hoof capsule itself, is known as the “coffin bone” – though there’s nothing at all eerie about it.
    But let’s get back to that well-turned leg and examine it, top to bottom. Because they look so different, you’d never think that a horse’s foreleg and your own arm are very much alike – but they actually are, as you’ll now see. Remember the old song, “Dry Bones”? Let’s play an equine version of it -- you can follow it on the adjoining sketch, and you’ll see how it relates to your own arm, step-by-step:
    His shoulder blade’s connected to his upper arm bone --
     Technically, that’s his scapula connecting to his humerus – both are buried inside his body, so you can’t see them;
    His arm bone’s connected to his elbow bone --
    Which, finally, you can actually see (but probably have never noticed). It’s very easy to feel, though -- run your hand up the back of a foreleg, and just as you get to his torso, you’ll feel a hard, round knob – that’s part of his elbow;
    His elbow’s connected to his forearm bones --
    Radius and ulna, that is – his forearm is the top section of his leg that’s visible to you and me;
    His forearm’s connected to his wrist bones --
    These are a collection of small, vestigial bones called the carpals, the “wrist” joint forming what most of us call his “knee”, because it’s in the middle of his leg and it bends forward like our own knees;
    His wrist bone’s connected to his hand bone --
    -- by way of the one carpal bone that survived the evolutionary process to become his “lower leg”, which is actually the equine version of your hand. It’s called the Cannon bone;
    His hand bone’s connected to his knuckle bone --
    That joint is called his “fetlock”, the equivalent of your middle finger knuckle;
    His knuckle bone’s connected to his finger bone --
    Which, as we have learned, is his three-boned pastern.
    Now, that’s the leg of the horse!
    To help you orient yourself, that well-turned leg is vertical down to the fetlock, at which point his pastern takes an angle of 30 degrees, give or take, forward.
    Let’s not omit his hind leg: the hoof is pretty much the same as those in front, right up to the fetlock. The long bone that extends from there half-way up his leg meets the joint we refer to as the “hock” – which is analogous to your heel and ankle joint! Continue upward to find his knee, which you won’t see unless you look very closely – but you can find it by running your hand up the front of his back leg, and just as you reach the torso you’ll feel the bony knob that is part of his actual knee. His thigh bone is inside his body, attaching to his hip.
    Two incidental points of interest: one, his hind leg, from his hip down, appears longer than his foreleg, which leads us to question how he can run so smoothly. If they truly are longer, you’d expect many more steps by his forelegs than his hinds in order to keep up. But remember, his “upper arm” bone is buried inside his body so you can’t see it; furthermore, a horse has no collarbone (clavicle) to lock his scapula in place, as do you and I, so effectively he has an extra “leg bone” in his fores, which makes front and hind legs essentially of equal length. And the second point, the “cowboy tale” that you can predict the adult height of a newborn foal by measuring the distance between his “knee” and fetlock, and substituting “hands” for “inches”, turns out to have some basis in fact. It’s not an exact science, but as empirical evidence, observe a newborn standing beside his dam: his lower leg (cannon bone) will be close to the same length as his dam’s, and will grow but little more – except in girth, as it develops muscle. That makes it a fairly reliable predictor of adult height.
    Whew. Congratulations, if you’ve stayed with it thus far.
    Now let’s get to the hoof. We’re going to take something shaped roughly like a slip-on shoe (his hoof) and stuff it full of several interesting items, the items that make up the hoof’s “innards”.
    We are all familiar with the shape of the hoof – rather like half a cone, with no top. Well, the coffin bone itself is shaped in very much the same way, attached to the leg’s bony column at an angle so its base can sit flat in the hoof capsule. It tucks neatly into the front section, and fits like a glove. The back half of the capsule contains a large wad of very tough, fibrous tissue, known as the “digital cushion” – flexible as well as tough, as it supports the horse from directly under the bony column of the leg, and it absorbs the shock when the hoof lands. The digital cushion is held firmly and tightly in place by a “belt” of even tougher material known as “lateral cartilage” – it “cups” the digital cushion from underneath, behind and both sides.
    All we need to hold it all together is to sort-of glue the coffin bone to the inside of the capsule around the toe. That gets done by Velcro-like layers composed of billions of cells forming what are called “laminae”. One layer of laminae is part of the coffin bone, the other layer is part of the hoof wall; these two layers interlock like Velcro, and these form one of nature’s strongest bonds.
    Finally, what’s underneath the hoof? At the very back, the wall forms two ultra-strong columns, called the “heels” – one on each side – capable of slight sideways and vertical movement to stabilize the horse when he’s moving. Between the heels and stretching toward the toe sits the “frog” -- triangular-shaped, tough fibrous tissue that provides both support at the back of the hoof and stimulation for the digital cushion, immediately above it. And what’s left, covering most of the bottom of the hoof, is the “sole”. It holds everything together, and in conjunction with the wall and heels, provides the total support for the horse’s entire weight – for an average horse, that amounts to a load in the area of 200 to 300 lbs per hoof, just standing; imagine how much greater when the horse is walking, running, jumping...
    Tying it all together is the blood supply. And it is RICH. It has to be – it’s the only protection the hooves have from the cold, and that protection is superb. The hoof’s components, together, are very demanding of constant, steady blood flow. They get help from what’s known as “hoof mechanism”; because of the hoof’s architecture, its blood supply is cut off for an instant with every step the horse takes, allowing a momentary pressure build in the arteries feeding the hoof and a small pressure decrease in the hoof itself. But as the hoof completes each step and raises off the ground, that blockage is released, and the built up pressure forces a spurt of blood flow through the hoof. The hoof itself also expands slightly as it takes weight with each step; that forces blood through the hoof, and when the hoof is raised, the expansion relaxes, allowing the blood pressure in the hoof to restabilize. These two actions are synchronized, with the result that each hoof is referred to as a sort-of auxiliary heart – that means five hearts working to pump blood with every step the horse takes. The laminae in the hooves especially require a strong and steady supply of rich blood, and Nature’s design provides it for them.
    While the hoof and the horse date back into antiquity, you might note that the hoof is also the first four-wheel independent suspension system on the planet. The shock absorbers are the digital cushions together with the frogs, and the springs are the heels, working independently of each other. That’s why when his feet are healthy, he can stride fast across a path of rocks – each heel retracting and returning as necessary on the uneven terrain.
    So you see, those four little hooves – little in comparison to the bulk and weight of the rest of the horse – actually do wonderful work, far greater than their own size and weight. But then, that sort of thing is true of the horse in general.


  • Elephants in the Pasture - a Tale of Partners

    Written By Julia Edwards-Dake

    There are some riding partners who cannot be replaced. If you are lucky you’ve had such a partner. You’ve ridden beside the person with whom all your cogs and all their cogs just mesh. There’s a knowing without knowing. For me it was Debra.Our partnership began in 2001, when a mutual friend introduced us. We clicked. Both married, working and both struck with the ‘sickness’; our love for horses. The give and take was almost immediate. We meshed.

    The pace at which we did things together was perfect. We knew without saying what would come next. We drove down the road at the same pace. We rode with no hurry. No flurry. We moved down the trail in a quiet congress with each other. We knew when to saddle and head out. When to gallop or take the lunch stops all rolled together. Even knowing when to be quiet and just ride came naturally between us.

    Our geldings seemed to understand. They would stand quietly, the tall elegant Arabian and the stout grey quarter horse, while we had a cup of coffee and watched the clouds slide past the hills. From the beginning, even our horses meshed.

    Debra is one of the most natural and knowledgeable horsewomen I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and riding with. She has a common sense that comes from a lifetime with horses. To this day, she doesn’t comprehend the depth of her horse-knowledge. Few really appreciate it but when she shares it with you, you’ve gained a full measure as a horsewoman. Debra isn’t one to go about spouting information, flaunting her experience. She waits until the question is asked and then offers her answer. If you pick it up; you gain. If not, she doesn’t offer again and you lose.

    I suppose the strongest basis of our relationship was her willingness to share her horse sense. She was willing to teach and I was willing to learn. She taught me how to haul my big gooseneck horse trailer and just how tightly you can turn. She taught me to trust her when she soaked the fenders of my brand new saddle in water and twisted them in place with a broom handle. I thought I’d die of heart failure during the night and day of drying time. I was certain I’d allowed my friend to ruin my new saddle but the stirrups turned nicely and my knees stopped hurting.

    She might offer a simple thing like nail polish on Chicago screws. It takes a bridle coming apart on the trail one time to appreciate that kernel of information. I am amazed when I offer that information to people and they smack their forehead just as I did when she offered it to me. Duh.

    Sometime it’s a big thing such as, ‘Don’t pick at your horse. Set him up. Set him straight and get on with riding.’ In the beginning I didn’t know what that meant. I treated my ranch-raised Wyoming quarter horse like a glass figurine. And he took advantage. Now, I set him straight and we proceed without a murmur. No picking. Duh.

    Debra stands out as the eye of the storm during a crisis. I was thrown from a horse I had no business riding and broke my back. We were in the middle of nowhere, of course. She calmly called 911, directed the gathering of my gelding and all of this over my protests of “I can ride out….okay…I’ll walk out…okay I’ll crawl out but NO helicopter.” A half an hour later she is directing the helicopter to our location. I still laugh when I remember her telling the emergency transport personnel, ‘We are under the tallest tree.”

    When I started riding again 4 months later, I bought a GPS. At least next time (please, no next time) she’ll be able to give the longitude and latitude. “Under the tallest tree”. Smack. Duh.

    I am not saying Deb is perfect. No. Certainly not when it comes to objects in the distance. More than once she’s pointed out a bird or bear only to discover it is a branch or a rock. While she claims her eyesight is perfect those of us who know her know better.

    One day she outdid herself in prime Debra-style. While hauling to one of our favorite trail heads we passed a ranch that always had a pasture full of exotics. Emus, ostrich, yak and long, long, long horn cattle. Deb points and says, clearly and truthfully, ‘Look. Elephants in the pasture.’ Silence. I look, after all the rancher has exotics. All I see are two huge downed trees with the root balls exposed. Silence. I drive down the road not looking at Debra, just nodding and driving.

    I know the exact moment when she realizes the elephants were the root balls of the trees. Silence. I start chuckling, then laughing. I am laughing. Debra is laughing. Neither of us can say a word. Nor do we want to. We both rather like the thought of elephants in the pasture. What I really liked was Debra’s willingness to see, with her vivid imagination and usual flamboyant style, “Elephants in the pasture”.

    Together, Deb and I camped and dreamed, laughed and cried. We were together through divorce and death, money and living off credit cards. We fought and made up. We doctored sick horses. We doctored each other. We rode and when we didn’t, we missed the pleasure. We watched the stars, named the constellations and called to the wild turkeys. Miles of trails passed under our horses’ hoofs while secrets passed between two good friends.

    Debra still rides in California and I now ride Carolina trails. Even after three years of living on opposite coasts, our friendship stretches the miles. We talk ‘horses’ at least once a week sometime more often. I call on her for advice and a laugh. She calls me for a laugh. And we remember the ‘Elephants’

    Perhaps one day you will be on a trail in Northern California. You’ll meet a lean woman on a tall grey Arabian. Ask her is she’s seen any elephants in the pasture. If she says yes, give her a smile from me.

    ©2007, Julia Dake, January 22, 2007

5 Item(s)