Sunday, August 5, 2012

Tica Exonerated, Why Ainslie Took the Fall, Lovey Dovey's Cage Is Her Ticket To Freedom, and Clem's Feather Dreams

                    Tica in Gold                                                                            Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

Why Did Tica Toss Me Off ?

       For those who didn't read the last blog, six weeks ago my fifteen-year-old Andalusian mare Tica bucked me off her back and onto a waiting pile of our ever-present New England Rocks.  The result was seven broken ribs,  a bruised lung and liver, and a emotionally destabilized rider.  Tica has been with me since she was a yearling.  Other than being a wee bit of a spook she has been a wonderful mount--eager to please, talented, a lovely mover, and cooperative.

      A bees' nest was ruled out since she started grazing immediately after she was free of me.  She'd been through that particular area of the trail hundreds of times before.  She didn't appear to be lame.  But when my wonderful trainer Linda Parmenter came to our barn to ride her shortly after I was released from the hospital she saw--and felt--things I had not.  Tica's musculature, she thought, was not what one would expect of a horse doing dressage four to five days a week.   Though she tried her heart out to comply with Linda's requests, it was obviously difficult for her.  My saddle, which had been stuffed to conform to her back, was now unbalanced and ill-fitting.  She had lost critical muscle mass.

       As planned before my accident, a short time after I returned home from the hospital, Linda took Tica to her own Pinehaven Farm in Hubbardston, MA, to continue her training.  But that would not begin in earnest until she had been thoroughly examined by Liz Maloney, a talented veterinarian, chiropractor I am now proud to call an essential member of the Windflower team.  Liz is also an avid show jumper who trains with renowned Olympian Leslie Burr Lenehan, so she brings that experience to her assessment as well.  One look at Tica told Liz something was seriously amiss with her front feet.  The X-rays which immediately followed revealed a terrible problem.   And it had been in the works for years.

       Her heels were way too low, too much sole had been cut away, and her hoof wall was beginning to pull away from the very bones it is supposed to protect.  Her pain had been acute but  she had been stoical and trying to do the best she could for me.  But on that last ride down and up a ditch she'd been through hundreds of times I became impatient and told her to speed it up.  And speed it up she did with the emphasis on "up."  Take one horse in ever-increasing pain, add one sharp bank to be gone down and up, and my insistence, and it was stoicism be damned!  She blew.

       Why, in God's name, didn't Tica limp clearly and demonstrably years back? 

       Why couldn't she have bucked more frequently but with less strength and altitude?  I would have gotten the message.
       I don't have a completely uneducated eye when it comes to lameness.  In fact,  I've witnessed a lot of horses that were obviously off--at least, to me--whose owners seemed oblivious to their animals' discomfort.  And in all those Hollywood westerns, from Gene Autry to the Magnificent Seven, I'm always able to spot some poor lame creature compelled to gallop full tilt then come to a screeching halt, often in front of a saloon.  I've seen lame horses performing tests at recognized dressage shows. The judges usually excuse them but sometimes they do not.  Why?  I just don't think they see it.

       But I saw none of this in Tica.   And that is because some horses are more stoical than others.   Why is this the case?  I wonder if it doesn't have something to with what is called "Wild Animal Syndrome."  If a prey animal is in great pain it is not in its interest to behave as such.  A limping or writhing creature serves as a "Free Lunch Here!" flag to predators.  I've seen this on a number of occasions with a bird or squirrel I've rescued, even though I'd been following all the correct shelter and food protocols.  They seem to be just fine but then all of sudden, there they are, dead at the bottom of the cage.  Though domestic, couldn't some horses, i.e., Tica, still harbor this survival mechanism?  Well, mechanism or not, I failed to notice her distress signals, however faint.

       But these signals were not faint to the professional eyes of Linda and Liz.  They knew she was a horse in trouble, and they knew what had to be done.  Enter the third star in this extraordinary trinity--Danny Dunson, the farrier.  He hails from Tennessee and his skills are deemed so vital that he flies around the U.S. tending to horses in need.  He rotates through our great state every four weeks.  He is nothing less than a hoof magician.  With one glance he knows exactly what is wrong  and, more importantly, how to fix it.  He took to Tica's feet like a maestro takes to a violin.   It will require a full year for her hooves to be put completely to rights (that's how long it takes for a hoof capsule to replace itself), but she is already so much more comfortable.  She is now back in full training and if all goes well will be ridden by Linda at the NEDA Fall Festival, an international (CDI) dressage show and the largest in the Northeast.

    Tica free-jumping                                            Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

       This is Tica free-jumping two farriers ago.  I thought she was having a blast.  But is she in pain here?  Perhaps.  It does seem her heels have been cut too low.  If she unfolded those legs it looks like she'd almost be resting on the bulbs of her feet.  So, Tica, my darling horse, if you were hurting I do so apologize. 

       And what of my other horses?  I had Ron Hill, trained by Danny Dunson, in for a look.  More of the same.  To a horse, their hooves were too short in front, soles too thin and heels too low.  They were heading down the same path as Tica.  Like Tica it would be several months before Firefly's hooves were in tip-top shape.

      A good farrier is hard to find, a great one even harder.  (All my previous farriers were considered "good.")  As an owner, I had frequently found myself torn between what my vet told me my horses' feet required and my farrier, who would say, "No way, can't be done."  Additionally, ignorance, inflexibility, and professional jealousies often intrude, especially when the farrier is flown in from another part of the country and charges more.  Yes, I am now paying more, but I was paying much much more in the long run in terms of the suffering my  horses were enduring, their longevity as sport horses,  training and competition expenses, as well as in the their actual market value.  

       Here is an example:  Years ago Tica rebelled against dressage.  She couldn't relax.  The movements extracted by her then trainer seemed forced and artificial, the opposite of how dressage movements--natural to the horse--should appear.  Again, she appeared sound so I just determined she didn't like dressage and began to have her jumped by a professional as well as jumping her myself.  We started off well enough--great enthusiasm--all jumps cleared, but then she increasingly refused.  I remember crying on Jim's shoulders in the charming town of Woodstock, Vermont where a series of expensive refusals dashed my hopes. 

       Her disappointed and frustrated trainer told others (many others) Tica "had no heart."  She said it was a pity because Tica  had demonstrated the jumping ability of, at least, a $60,000  horse.  But I know now that Tica was indeed at least a $60,000  horse.   It's just that her feet hurt!   And she has plenty of heart.  It was all of us who were supposed to be training her, helping her to get to that joyful level of fitness athletes enjoy, who were the heartless ones.

       So after Woodstock she came home to what I thought would be a non-competitive riding career.  All those show entries, training fees, hotel and gas expenses, had been for nought.  But once again, at home here in Acton, when I asked for some basic dressage movements they were willingly and beautifully executed.  And so, yes, one more try--I found Linda Parmenter and what I thought Tica's end is now her beginning.

      So, my hard-earned advice is, please, get the very best farrier you can.  Get a vet with a string of clients with successful sport horses to recommend one.  And get a sensitive--a truly sensitive--rider like Linda to to sit on your horse and listen to what she has to say.  In the end you'll save money and perhaps even avoid the moment when your poor horse finally says enough, and you find yourself lying flat on your back in the woods waiting for an ambulance. 

Lovey Dovey Our Mourning Dove

                           Lovey Dovey                                  Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012   

          That's what Wikipedia's fledgling photos identified her as a Mourning Dove, also sometimes called a Turtle Dove.  But initially, I had no idea what she was.  Missing feathers, bloody and eyes half-closed I doubted she would meet the next sunrise.  I forced small amounts Gatorade down her beak then placed her in a cage under a heat lamp.  I promised her that I would learn what she needed for food if she survived the night.  To my surprise she did.  Her eyes were open and she had enough energy to flee from my hand.

         However, she was in no shape to be released.  Clem had tugged out almost all her flight feathers on her left wing.  Flying was an impossibility.   Though she did make it through the night I still doubted she would live.  But, a promise is a promise, and so I set about finding how to feed her.  Since she had fledged she should have been interested in the dove seed I scattered at the bottom of her cage.  No dice!  It seemed she still needed something called squab milk.  Doves and pigeons are Columbaes and the young are fed a digested form of seed milk from their parents' crop until they are able to consume  whole seeds.   I called two local feed stores and our vet who specializes in exotics--birds, reptiles and the occasional tiger kitten from a local zoo.  The feed stores never heard of it; the vet had but squab milk is something that needed to be ordered.   Lovey Dovey couldn't wait for that.

       Back to the internet.  After a more aggressive search I found I could make my own form of squab milk.  I just needed to re-purpose our coffee grinder to pulverize the dove seed I had on hand and mix in enough Gatorade so it could be taken into an eyedropper then into Lovey Dovey's recalcitrant beak.  Her little gulps were reflexive.  I've fed a number of baby birds with eyedroppers and those who were going to make it demonstrated a least a degree of enthusiasm when presented with the eyedropper.  But not this little one.  

       Yet, she did improve.  That is until one day she appeared listless and on her side.  I gently turned her over and saw she was impacted.  This had occasionally happened with a couple of our chickens so I knew what to do.  Several applications of mineral oil and we were back in business.  And just a few days later she started to peck at the seeds at the bottom of her cage.  

   Lovey  Dovey                                                                                      Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012


               Here you see a now older, healthier Lovey Dovey but still lacking all the flight feathers on her left wing.  But I am happy to report that a new set has just started to come in, so we should be able to release her in a week or two.

       I did learn something about Mourning Doves as a result of our partially de-feathered patient.  Mourning Doves are currently the most hunted game bird in the U.S. --20 million taken each year--but their population is listed at a robust 220 million.  So it appears, in the foreseeable future, they are unlikely to go the way of their now extinct cousin--the Passenger Pigeon.  (For details on the sad story of the Passenger Pigeon  please visit this earlier post:   

       However, it seems more Mourning Doves are being killed by hunters than originally thought.   Some believed to have escaped the shotgun, in fact, have not.  Because they eat seed off the ground they often inadvertently ingest the lead pellets that missed their original marks.  But they haven't.  Many birds experience a cruel end by lead poisoning.

        Mourning doves, also known as Turtle Doves, are prolific breeders.  While they usually lay only two eggs at a time, they will do this up to six times a season.  As I mentioned, they feed their hatchlings crop milk which is made from the thousands of seeds they semi-digest each day.  The record for seed storage went to one bird who had stashed 17, 200 blue grass seeds in his crop.  This brought other questions to mind:  Who was the lucky ornithologist who got to do the counting?  Or, and this more likely, did the task fall to some poor graduate assistant?

      Here is yet another interesting and constructive fact I learned about Mourning Doves:  When they set about building their nests, the male and female have distinct roles.  The male's task is to gather nesting material and the female's to construct the actual nest when the material is delivered.  It is the method of delivery I find amusing.
The male lands on the female's back where he unloads his shipment. He then flies off for another while the female, twig by twig, blade by blade, unloads her loving burden and begins building her nest.

Feather Dreams

      Feather Dreams                                                                                   Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

       As for the perpetrator of the crime, our little Clem seems to have survived the emotional loss of his first live capture.  However, every time Lovey Dovey goes a-flutter in her cage his attention is riveted. But with one--sometimes two--"Leave it!"  Clem complies, walks off, and turns his attention to a toy or raw hide chew.  However, a few nights ago he carried in a new, more modest, prize from the outdoors--a Blue Jay feather.  Here is Clem nodding off with his treasure, perhaps to dream about the one that got away, or that next one who won't! 

       Soon Jim and I are off to Cape Cod for a few days in Wellfleet and the National Seashore.  Of course, this just happens to coincide with several sightings of Great Whites in that exact area.  I'm a wimp about swimming in cold water--two years living in Hawaii spoiled me--so I bought a second-hand wetsuit which I hope will allow me to stay in longer.  And, I must admit, it did occur to me that that layer of neoprene might be just thick enough to mitigate a chance encounter with Jaws.

       Thank you for reading The Windflower Weekly.  See you soon.

                            -- Ainslie