Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Good luck or good management?

The next installment....

Assegai passed his vet check with flying colours. Hurray! It was one of the most thorough and epic vet checks I have ever experienced. He was flexed and pincered and x-rayed and sedated so his teeth could be examined. Incredibly thorough (and expensive!). I was quite proud that he stood up to all the poking and prodding. A huge source of pride was the vet's comments about his hooves. She said warmbloods often have overly large hooves that have weak and splitting walls. (Interesting - I wonder how many are barefoot? I'd lay money on none to a handful.) However, Assegai's feet were in good proportion to his size and weight (680kg!!!), were very strong and showed no signs of disease or weakness. Now if that isn't a big affirmation of the benefits of barefoot I don't know what is.

So, the big teenager has gone off with his new family for a couple of weeks trial, but I don't think he'll be coming back. He has taken quite a shine to his new owner, a lovely quiet girl of 14, and I think they will be firm friends. For a horse that really doesn't like anybody much that is a great step forward.

And miracle of miracles, Tux, the Holsteiner I went and looked at with the supposedly locking stifle, also passed his vetting with flying colours. The vet rang me sounding quite exhausted, saying he'd done everything to try to make the horse lock up but just couldn't fault him. He said Tux is clean as a whistle with good bone and development, no soundness issues that he could find, and a temperament to die for. Bloody awesome. :)

Photos to come. They don't seem to want to upload at this point. :(

What a couple of days! Now the scurrying begins as I try to organise everything. Tux is shod (a little poorly - unbalanced and in shoes that seem too big), so I rang my new BFF Kirsten the trimmer and asked her advice. I want to compete at Berrima HT on 15/16 June so the obvious question was, shoes on or off? She firmly advised to leave them on until after Berrima (at which she offered to strap for me!) when we could start transitioning him to barefoot. Never having done this before, I'll be blogging about it like crazy just to track our progress. I've only ever bought horses already barefoot, so this should be a whole new learning experience.

And then there is the awkward moment when I tell Robyn the bodyworker that I went and bought the horse she said had a locking stifle. In all fairness, the breeder did come clean and say he had a bit of a problem as a four year old, so she certainly wasn't wrong. But apparently he's outgrown it, and with a bit of management I'm sure we'll be able to keep him sound.

So, Tux should arrive in a couple of weeks and in the meantime I've just got big Rose to look after with her rehab. She seems to be slowly coming good - lots of cross-hill walking and over poles, carrot stretches and semi-confinement all seems to be paying off. She still drags her hind toes a bit, but she seems a lot more comfortable using her quarters and has started stepping under herself when I turn her which is a major improvement. She would simply plant her back legs and swivel before!

The move is looming large now. We start the process the weekend after next with the first truck load and the yards will be built that first week. Then move the horses and all our furniture out the second weekend, with a final clean up of the old house the third weekend. I've been kindly given a lovely old mare called Persia who I may get one more foal from (she's 19 but fit as a fiddle). She's a gorgeous old thing, great bloodlines and a good mum. Even if she doesn't go into foal again she'll be a perfect 'camp mum' for the horses that stay behind when I go out to comps.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Who to trust?

So, the next installment in my selling/buying melodrama unfolds. Assegai is about 90% sold. He goes on trial on Monday with the lovely young girl who came down to try him out a couple of weeks ago. He'll get a vet check before he leaves Canberra and he'll go to a Pony Club rally while he's with them. If they're coach gives the thumbs up, he's found his new home. I'm really please - but the fat lady has yet to hit the high notes so I'm not relaxing yet.

I have found a horse I want to buy, and the offer I made on price has been accepted, though not without some anxious waiting and discussion. New problem. I sent a video the owner/breeder made of him as a 4yo after limited work to the bodyworker who's done so much with Assegai, and now Rose with her fractured pelvis. I really value this person's expertise and opinion and I thought it would be prudent to see what she thought.

Next day I get a frantic call from her telling me not to buy the horse - that she'd seen a locking stifle at least once in the video. I watched it with her while we talked on the phone and I could see what she was talking about. His right hind toe was dragging, he did a little hop when she asked him to canter to the left, he seemed to be uneven or 'bridle lame' to the right. My heart sank. I really wanted this horse to be the one. I'd driven 10 hours to ride him and he felt like the most amazing cross country machine. Like sitting on an old-fashioned steam engine. Power horse-onified!

But I do not want an unsound horse, especially for the amount of money I was about to fork out. Who does? After doing quite a bit of research online, looking at vet sites and reading papers on locking stifles in young horses, I decided I couldn't buy him. The articles seemed quite clear on the fact that an intermittently partially locking stifle (it has a fancy name but the acronym is UFP from memory), ie one where the ligament that pulls the hind leg forward just 'catches' across the head of the femur, is notoriously difficult to diagnose, especially when the horse is not in any pain at that moment.

I called the breeder, perhaps stupidly and naively, and asked her if he'd ever been vetted before. Emphatic 'No.' Had he ever had any problems with his stifles? 'No, never.' I told her what the bodyworker had said and, understandably, she got quite upset and pissed off, as I would have too, but I was expecting that. After a long discussion, which got heated and emotional, we agreed I would wait for the vet check on Tuesday and both of us would accept the outcome. I would buy the horse if the vet was positive there was no stifle issue and she would accept I wasn't going to take him if he couldn't pass the horse. The breeder even promised that she would allow me to return the horse and get my money back if he developed a stifle lock down the track. Gonna get that in writing, I think!

So, I may have bought a horse. And he is truly lovely. Everything I want. I went back online to do some more research, especially after I sent a more recent video of the horse to the bodyworker who replied that there was no locking or hopping, no toe dragging, but just the slightest of shorter steps. I found an article last night presented to an American vet conference specifically on stifle problems and it said that there was no clinical evidence to support the idea that watching a horse move provided any diagnostic assistance in identifying stifle issues. That confused me - how could the bodyworker be sure it was stifle lock? He was not reluctant to back up. He did not seem uneven when I rode him, after 6 weeks without work (considered a prime time for locking up). And on and on....who to believe? Who to trust? Even if the vet passes him will he have a problem?

Stay tuned....5 more sleeps....

Saturday, 20 April 2013

It's a very odd business, the buying and selling of horses. On the one hand, it's very much like buying or selling any livestock - does it suit the purpose for which it will be used? Is it of sound confirmation and health? Is it a good price? And on the other hand there is the very human element of 'will I like him/her? Will we get on?" And I'll miss him/her.....

So, that's the environment I'm in at the moment. Selling Assegai is both easy and hard, as it is for everyone, I imagine. Easy because the decision has been made after much agonising, but hard because he's been a great mate over the last 3 years, restoring my confidence and skills after a long absence from riding. I'm proud of what he has become - a reasonably well-educated, strong and calm rideable horse with quite a lot of promise. So, it's a bit of a wrench.

But the most interesting part of buying and selling horses is the people you get to meet. There's some absolute nutbags out there! Now, I would have thought that a horse that's advertised for $10K as a performance horse would have indicated he was a performance horse that was above average. Doesn't deter the woman who'd just got a compo payout (apparently) from ringing up looking for a trail-riding horse! Ummmm....no. I don't think he's suited for that. Although, if she'd been super-keen, who am I to stop Assegai from having a life of leisure?

And buying is just as interesting. No, you're OTT is NOT worth $12K just because it LOOKS like a warmblood. And your 3 year old warmblood gelding is NOT worth $25K just because it's brother is a C Grade showjumper in Sydney. Or maybe it is, who am I to say? A horse is only worth what someone will pay for it in the end. Bloodlines don't mean jack in a gelding - it's all about performance. If it's a lovely horse with great movement that obviously counts, but not to the tune of a new car. And don't even get me started on ponies! Highway robbery!

Rant over. :)

On a lighter note, I've been really pleased with the massive change in my riding since last Manu clinic. I'm way more upright, my elbows are by my sides and I'm getting far better at closing my hands instead of opening my fingers all the time. I rode a horse today that I would love to buy (at the right price!) and was quite happy with how I rode. It's truly amazing what good coaching will do.

Til next time... happy riding!

Friday, 12 April 2013

The breakthrough just when it's all too late

Selling a horse is usually a bit of a heart-wrenching thing. The decision itself is often made over quite a long time, and the placing of the ad may or may not induce twinges of sadness. But nothing is more devastating than feeling that just as things are coming together you're going to be parted. Yesterday was definitely that feeling.

So my second lesson with Manu was even better than the first. While Assegai still gets quite heavy in the contact, I have ways of mitigating it - slowing him down, doing lots of quick self-carriage tests to stop him really leaning, trot-halt-trot transitions. And by the end of the lesson I felt like I was on the big moving warmblood I've seen him be in the paddock when he's showing off. Amazing. And I could actually sit that trot!

We even pulled off counter canter round the entire short side. Manu was quite confident he'd do a change if I set him up and asked. Might not be pretty but she thinks he'd find it relatively easy.

There we are. After 3 years of work I now have a really nice horse! But even Manu was supportive of my decision to sell him on. If anything were to happen to my kids I'd never forgive myself, and Assegai is still too anxious and aggressive around them to risk it.

So, there's someone coming to try him out on Monday and he goes into Horse Deals in May. Fingers crossed he can go to someone who'll really take him out and about. :) He looks bloody amazing at the moment - clipped, fit, hooves are great. Such a bugger! :)

On a lighter note, we should be moving onto the farm in three weeks or so and the planning of the property has begun in earnest. I'm working on the 'central point system' advocated by Jane Myers (her book is pure gold) and am quite excited to see how it will all work. The idea is that you have a central hub of sorts that horses can access all the time that has the water and shade to bring them in and mooch. The area is covered in gravel or similar to eliminate dust and provide drainage and helps prevent dusty areas being created on the property. This in turn promotes good grass growth and encourages the horses to move around a bit (not that I seem to have that problem!).

I also really like the concept because of the time-efficiency and ergonomics. I work a day job and don't want to waste time traipsing up the other end of the property to haul horses out of a paddock when they could do it for me and be waiting in the yard! I also don't want to have to put them back after they've had a feed or after a ride. So, I've come up with an idea that may or may not work - one-way yard gates. The thought is that if I need to separate the horses for feeding hard feed I have two yards connected by a gate that only opens one way (ie out) by way of a metal plate welded on the gate itself to stop it swinging past the post. I put the horse that is less dominant, and probably has more to eat, in that yard and teach it to push on the gate to test if it will open. When the horses are finished and ready to move away, the horse in the one-way yard can simply push the gate open and leave. I'm dying to try it out. I ran it past Andrew Mclean and he was interested but dubious. :) Worth a shot!

I'll keep you posted!

Thursday, 11 April 2013


Well, since last post, we've bought a farm, sold our house and now Assegai is for sale too. Sadly, he's just not great around little kids and, when you're living on your own property that's a real problem. Agisting him has meant I've been able to keep him and the kids apart but we're going to be moving in a few weeks and I wouldn't forgive myself if something happened. He just gets so anxious around small children and his default expression of anxiousness is aggression. So, that's been a big decision, but I feel the right one in the circumstances.

We're in the middle of another cracker clinic with Manuela Mclean. We had our first lesson yesterday and it was such a leap forward. For a long time, Assegai has been so problematic with the contact - moving his head around, coming above the bit, behind the bit, dropping his back so he wouldn't have to work so hard, leaning like a dead weight....and we seem to have found the problem. Me, of course! I have a habit of opening my fingers and allowing him to pull me down with him, or letting my reins slip, or doing any number of things that confuse him. So, he just moves around right back!

The main things we worked on was basically setting my elbows so they're as still as possible and pretty much locked to my sides. Then keeping my fingers closed and using my fist rather than my fingers to soften and harden. When he comes above the bit I open my hands to maintain the contact and 'keep his poll between the reins' is how Manu put it. He started doing some really lovely work and everyone was quite enthusiastic about him! It was such a positive lesson I felt even sadder about selling him.

We also tried a new trimmer last week as we were supposed to be heading down to Albury Horse Trials the weekend Glen comes (though we ended up scratching in the end - like I didn't have enough on!). Kirsten Davies from Barkala Barefoot came out and did both Assegai and gigantor baby Rose. She did a fantastic job and was really fun to chat to while she worked. The horses' feet looked so neat I was worried she'd trimmed too much but they weren't footsore at all afterwards and they're pretty happy little vegemites. Interestingly, Assegai was not anywhere near as aggressive as he has been with Glen. Not sure if it's that she's a woman...... Really recommend her. :)

So, we move in a couple of weeks. Rose's fractured pelvis is healing extremely well. I'm thinking, if the right horse doesn't come along straight away to replace Assegai that I might do a bit of work with Rose. At least I won't be horseless! I'm not really planning ahead for any comps, though, in case he's sold. There's someone coming to look at him in a few days so she might be the one.

Fingers crossed!