The Joy of Parenting, er, Horse Ownership…part 15


Checks, checks, checks, checks, CHECKS checks, checks, checks…

The most recent check was for the Saddle Fitter.  Neither Huey nor I are what you’d call “easy” to find a saddle to fit, and the combination of the two of us was…challenging.  He moves through this world to the theme song from “Jaws” as his shark-fin withers slice through the atmosphere.

To quote the woman at the tack shop when I provided his wither tracing, “Gosh, those ARE high.  And narrow!”

To quote the Saddle Fitter, “Would you look at those withers!!”

These withers would be challenging enough all on their own, but he’s got a whacking huge warmblood barrel to go with them, which means that things start out high and sharp as the alps at the top, but they expand pretty darned quickly thereafter.  I can’t quote my trainer, who rode him briefly last Monday, because I don’t remember the exact words, but the sense was somewhere along the lines of “it’s like riding a table-top”.

Beyond this, I’m not easy either.  I’m built on the Amazon scale, broad in the beam and long in the leg.

The saddle was only purchased after the tack shop took a small deposit on a saddle purchase and in exchange, sent a skilled individual out with a carload of saddles, size 18″ and 18.5″, for us to try.  The saddle buying experience was extremely informative, especially the part where there was one and only one saddle that worked for both of us.  It was the second-most expensive saddle we tried, of course, and the sixth most expensive saddle sold by the company.  However, it’s an investment, and the fact that it works for both of us is what is most important.  It is also, happily, a gorgeous saddle.

Or, rather, it almost worked.  In order to really work for my boy, it needed a closed-cell foam riser pad underneath.  The riser was kind of a pain, but it worked…until last Monday when the Saddle Fitter showed up at the barn.  What followed his arrival was at least as much of an education as the initial saddle purchase.  He had a complicated tool with a lot of hinges and arms which – with remarkably little effort – yielded an 18-inch long model of my horse’s back, shark fins, big barrel, and all.  It had levels in it.  What followed this was a strange combination of high-tech (the levels and the hinged thing) and low-tech (tracings on a strip of spare cardboard).  This culminated in twenty minutes of relocation of existing flocking (the wool that pads out the saddle) from Point A to Point B, and the addition of a quantity of carded fleece into the saddle at Point C.  This all happened, essentially, on my way out the door to Provincetown, so I didn’t get a chance to experience the difference until this week.  I did recline in the Happy Knowledge that the days of the foam riser pad were over, and that it would be equally happily repurposed at-large among other horses in the barn.  Other than that, I didn’t anticipate much of a difference.

Which is why I was incredibly surprised to find that riding in the newly-custom-tailored saddle is an entirely different experience than riding in the jerry-rigged saddle of yore.  It’s like night and day.  I don’t know whether it’s the custom fit, or the absence of that riser pad, but I am now getting a massive amount of information about the horse’s back, where it is, what it’s doing, where his legs are, what they’re doing…all transmitted through the saddle directly into my butt.

And, I’m sure, at some point, I’ll know what to do with all of that information.  For now, it’s just a whole lot more…interactive…than it has been.

Worth every blasted penny of the surprisingly small check I wrote to the Saddle Fitter.  “Small” is relative, now, meaning “smaller than the price of the saddle” and even “smaller than the check I just wrote to the vet.”

So, parenting the horse = write lots of checks.  And write checks for weird stuff, too.

Speaking of the vet, parenting the horse = constant struggle for the Right Words.

This morning, I was on the phone to the vet’s office.  Last time he was out at the barn dishing out shots and blood tests, he also dished out some acupuncture for Huey, and some astonishingly expensive antibiotics.  Five days worth of Flagyl.  I can’t ever remember the generic name of this stuff, and besides, whatever it is, it’s a lot longer than “Flagyl”.  So Flagyl it is.  The reason for the antibiotics involves Huey’s digestive tract.

After long though, I have come to the conclusion that Terry Pratchett’s Discworld dragons are modeled after horses.  Not just in the people who work with them, which is also true, but in the extraordinarily complicated and breathtakingly fragile digestive systems.  I’m not going to summarize it here, because that would require an entire textbook-length post.  Trust me.  They’re super complex.  Horses can get inflamed feet from eating too much grass, there’s a start for you.  And it just gets worse from there.

My boy Huey is a right Chow Hound, and a Water Sponge, and basically, a Hog.  He is constantly on the make for food – which, yes, horses are in general, but Huey takes it to the next level.  This is a horse that blew out a pair of cross-ties early last fall.  Why?  Because he wanted to get at the grass nearby.  Yes.  He destroyed part of the barn in his crazed monomania to eat grass.  He’s like a freakin’ junky.  And he loves mud.  And he has…a somewhat minor…digestive upset.

This is the problem.  There is a fairly limited range of “accurate and acceptable” terms for this:  manure.  stools.

There’s an equally limited range of “accurate and not acceptable” terms: shit, crap (both hopelessly vulgar). faeces (excessively pompous).

Then there’s a truly vast range from the Victorian Euphemism to the Colorful Slang: horse apples. poop.  offal.  digestive byproducts.  waste. piles.

And that’s only when dealing with the, er, material and concrete phenomena (how’s that for a circumlocution?).  In addition, it is necessary also to discuss accompanying processes:  breaking wind, expelling gas, flatulence, or – one of the oldest continuing words in the English language – the simply “fart”.

Beyond this is the staggering terrain of adjectives: hard, pelletlike, dry, loose, crumbly, and – heaven help me – squirty, or liquid.

I know that I share the excellent company of every parent who has every found themselves in the position of having to deliver an accurate description of a baby’s bowel movement over the phone.  Really, a picture is worth a thousand words, but I’m afraid that it is the words we are largely stuck with.

So.  That said.  Huey has a chronic issue with “loose stools”.  Solid waste, for a horse, should consist of a little pile of firm, dry horse apples.  It should not be big clumpy crumbly wads that still look like the hay from which they are ultimately derived.  It should also not look like a cow flop.  Huey waffles between the crumbly clumpy wads, and the cow flop.

I know this because I make a point to inspect his poop whenever I can.  Another way in which being a horse owner is like being a parent.  Who knew it would come with an obsession over the size, color, consistency, odor, and frequency of bowel movements of another living being?

This is…an issue.  It is not a problem.  It is certainly not a crisis.  Under some circumstances, it could be, but we don’t have any of those going on.  He isn’t losing weight, he isn’t looking sick, he isn’t sluggish or otherwise failing to thrive.  He just has a nasty tail most of the time, his stall is harder to clean than it ought to be, and he’s got ugly stains on his hocks.

Also, he makes liquid farts.  Sorry, but there’s just no other useful way to convey that.  I won’t dwell on it, because – as you may recall from earlier posts – he always make sure to cut loose with a blow when I’m trying to clean his back feet.


And, again I say, Ugh.

So, it is an Issue.  Because horse digestion is so insanely complicated, it’s not terribly easy to zero in on the underlying problem here.  So we start with the easy stuff: lack of appropriate quantity of intestinal flora.  And the intestinal flora for the horse is part of the insanely complicated bit.  So he’s been on probiotics.  And on more probiotics, and recently, on even more probiotics.  None of this did squat, which means it’s not that he lacks Flora.

At this point, the vet went to Phase 2:  antibiotics.  I guess he was thinking it might be a low-grade chronic infection, or giardia.

And the answer is: yes.  Not “yes, it’s a low-grade chronic infection”, not “yes, it’s giardia”, but “yes. antibiotics had an effect.”

The effect was to turn his droppings (how is that for a euphemism) into proper little dry horse apples.  And to – thank the lord – take the juice out of his gaseous emissions and dry them up.

And all this lasted…until the 5 days of antibiotics ended.  Now they’re creeping back, which is why I was on the phone to the vet’s office this morning, sharing that experience of parents the world over: describing bowel movements to a total stranger.  Heaven help me, I found myself actually using the term “break wind” with reference to the aforementioned liquid-oriented gaseous emissions.  And now I’m waiting on a call-back from the vet to find out how to proceed.

You can’t be prissy when you have a horse.  I suppose you can, but it takes a heck of a lot of effort to maintain that state.

Speaking of prissy, Roy loves Huey…in theory and concept.  The reality of Huey, with the mud and the manure and the flies, is rather a different matter.  I think he’ll eventually come around, but for right now, it’s not…well…let’s just say that Roy is gifted with an unusually acute sense of smell, which creates some difficulties for him with respect to Things Equine.

Now, I love the way Huey smells.  I had heard of mothers getting some kind of bio-chemical “high” when they sniff their baby’s heads.  I understood this on a purely intellectual level…until I sniffed Huey’s neck one day when I was grooming him, and it made me swoon.  Good golly, the way he smells…I mean, when he’s not covered in dirt and muck, and certainly forward of his haunches and above the bottom of his ribs.  I read in the paper about one of the mounted police on the Boston Common whose horse died under him one day from a heart attack.  The cop said he just sat there and cried, which I understand completely, and then he cut off the horse’s mane to keep it, which I did not understand at all at the time, but now also understand completely.  It’s like truffles, as I said in an earlier post. Intellectually, I know that he “stinks” but my brain chemicals just go nuts when I get a whiff.  He stinks so good, I guess.

I had to stop using his nice plush fleece blankie midwinter because, even though it is undeniably warm and looked fantastic on him, it also had an undeniable tendency to build up static, and as we all know now, The Princess Does NOT Like To Get ZAPPED.  So the fleece blankie came home to live on my sofa, where after three trips through the washing machine and plenty of soap it still smells like Huey.  I consider this a good thing, because now I can lounge around watching Ghosthunters, or Downton Abbey, or Grey’s Anatomy, and get high just from wrapping up in the blanket and smelling it.  Awesome.

He has a huge wardrobe of blankies, though, so the loss of the fleece one didn’t make a big dent.  He spent a lot of quality time this winter in what I always think of as his parka.  It’s a huge, super heavy duty, mondo insulated, ultra-warm coat.  And he hasn’t needed it for a couple of months, and a few weeks ago, it graduated from the blanket rail outside his stall to a pile on top of my tack trunk.  I couldn’t leave it there because it was just too bloody big…but I couldn’t take it home either, because I knew it would be unacceptably pungent to Roy’s Delicate Nasal Sensibilities.  So I compromised by tossing it into the trunk of my car.

Unfortunately, last week I received a letter from the EPA advising me that my car had been submitted as a potential Superfund site.

This week, I got a letter from the UN warning me to cease and desist from my ongoing violation of the Geneva Protocols banning chemical and gas weapons.

Or, as I said to Roy the other day when I asked him to put something in the trunk, “Just don’t breathe after you open the trunk up.”

He thought I was kidding, poor guy.

And later, I realized I was Creating a Public Nuisance in the grocery store, as the pungent aroma du Huey had infused my reusable shopping bags that are also stored in the trunk of my car.

It became clear that I was not going to be able to wait and ship all of the blankets off at once for cleaning…at least, not if I wanted to avoid acting in an antisocial manner.  What I know from laundering the saddle pads at home is that Horse Clothing not only takes on a vile odor, but it is unbelievably grimy, and incorporates an impressive quantity of hair.  Raise this to the 100th power for horse blankets.  Even if I could have fit this thing into my washing machine – which I could not – it would not have come clean.  Or anything like clean.  And I’ve already been warned that the laundromat will close and lock the doors if they see you approaching with a horse blanket.  So the only viable option is to drop it off at the local tack shop and have it handled by a professional hazmat team cleaner.  The woman at the tack shop had me fill out a form.

“Now what?” I said.

“You drop the blanket off.” she said.

“Where?” I said.

“Here.” she said.

“Here?” I said. “You want me to bring the blanket in here?”

She considered for a moment. Then she produced a bag with a drawstring.  “You can put it in here” she said.

Roger that.  There was a little hole at the top even after I pulled the string as tightly as I could, and concentrated Horse Smell was still wafting upwards.  I had a vision of the curling smell lines rising up from the base of Pepe Le Pew’s tail.  No doubt they found a sheltered spot at the back of the building where our blanket can wait until it’s picked up by the hazmat team cleaner.  I don’t expect to get it back smelling breezy and fresh.  At this point, I’ll be happy if I can just store it without contaminating everything else within a six-foot radius.

Checks, creative descriptions of bowel movements, and antisocial effusions.  What next?


About Lori Holder-Webb

I'm a Southern Woman by birth and a Texan Woman by upbringing...and yet I find myself living in New England and married to a New York City boy. Up here we use the same currency as we do at home, and I don't need to travel with a passport, but the commonalities pretty much end there. The language is different, the jokes are different, the people are different, and the weather and terrain sure are different too. I moved away from Texas in 2002, and ever since then, I've been the stranger in the strange land... I've had some questions about the name of the blog - if you were not alive, or living abroad or under a rock, or in grad school during the late 1980s, Oldsmobile attempted to shuck its stodgy image with a series of commercials intended to bring brand appeal to the younger generation: this car, they said, is not your father's Oldsmobile. If you have a morbid curiosity, hit YouTube for William Shatner will take you right there.

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