Happy Holidays

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

There wasn’t time for a real holiday photo shoot this year but Juniper and Highlight did try out their reindeer antlers. One set had lights and bells which Juniper was fine with but were a bit too much for Highlight.

Juniper with the bells and lights.

Here is Highlight with the regular reindeer antlers.

You can see how toed out highlight is in this picture. She’s still young so we’ll wait to see how things pan out once she is fully mature.

We did film the process of putting the headband with bells on it. Highlight didn’t do terrible, but she is still a baby and we’re still getting to know each other so I didn’t feel it was worth pushing it. Gives us another thing to work on before next year.

And here is Juniper having zero concerns about the bells.


Horse Update-Fall 2023-Part 2

The Trials and Tribulations of Being a Teenager

Now we come to our metaphorical teenager, Highlight.

Highlight’s arrival into our lives was overshadowed by Juniper’s health issues but a few things stand out for me. My very, very first though was “please don’t get hit by a car” since the shipper opted to just park and unload from the road rather than navigate our curvy driveway with his giant rig, but right on its heels was “you are much shorter than I was expecting.” Granted she’s still young and will hopefully get a little taller, but how much taller is an open question and I would be surprised if she gets as tall as I had anticipated she would. The shipper said she was a good passenger and really levelheaded for a horse her age. She seemed to be taking everything in stride (pun intended) as we walked down the driveway and through our yard to her new home. All signs were pointing in a good direction. But I also clearly remember thinking to myself “Do not analyze her conformation, wait until you fall in love with her, then take a good look.” And at first that plan was working. Highlight is a very personable horse, she almost always comes up to say hi if you approach the gate, and if I go out with a halter she comes running up to greet me. She is very curious about the world around her and about people, she pays close attention to what people are doing and she will try to mimic you, which of course can be a double-edged sword. Even when something is new and kind of scary she’s more brave than affraid. It only took a few tries before the overhead door in the arena went from a scary horse eating monster to no big deal. Though the yellow rope used to pull the door shut stayed scary for a few more days. Then two things happened the same day. Juniper and Highlight got introduced together in the same pasture and our farrier came to trim their feet.

The farrier was the first one of my horse professionals to see my new horse and with him there I finally looked at her conformation for myself. She is severely toed out in the front. Severely. And every so often she stands so that her humerus/elbow standout oddly from the rest of her body. How the hell did I miss that?! I know that there is no such thing as perfect conformation, she was going to have some flaws, and I’m not saying this would have been a deal breaker had I known about it, but how did I miss it?! And how did the vet doing the pre-purchase exam not see it and/or say anything to me about it. I’m not saying this makes her a terrible and unusable horse, and it is possible that as she grows up and fills out it may not be as severe as it is now, but after searching so hard and making such a big deal about finding the best conformation it feels anticlimactic and frustrating. All of which I could probably get over if I could just fall in love with her, but she is making that very hard by being a total jerk to Juniper every day.

Horses have hierarchies and these pecking orders are totally normal and totally healthy. This means there are dominant and submissive horses, and Juniper is unquestionably a submissive horse. She will always be the bottom of any pecking order she is ever in. Which doesn’t have to be a bad thing. A healthy herd with a good hierarchy means that the horses on top make sure everyone is okay and following the rules. By the time Leeloo was ten-ish she was the single most dominant horse of a heard of 30+ and she was good boss mare. A good boss mare is always on alert keeping an eye out for danger, deciding when it’s time to go eat, when it’s time to go drink, when it’s time to seek shelter, and when it’s time to rest. They also make sure that everyone is following the rules and behaving themselves. However, Leeloo didn’t even start moving up the hierarchy ranks until she was four or five and even then she didn’t catapult to the top, she slowly worked her way up spot by spot. She didn’t make it anywhere near the top until she was older and mature enough to handle that responsibility. Highlight is three and a half and in no sane world would she be the boss mare of any herd because she’s basically a teenager. You wouldn’t put a teenager in charge of a business or a family and expect it to go well but that’s what we have. When you only have a herd of two and one of those two is Juniper that means the other horse is going to be the most dominant horse and Highlight is not handling it well at all. Thankfully for all involved things are slowly, so slowly, improving. After the first two days I was genuinely concerned for Juniper’s life because Highlight was straight up attacking her. Resource guarding everything, trying to drive Juniper away from everything, pinning her in corners and trying to kick the crap out of her. I took a night off of work to start the process of separating them back out, but the next morning things were a tiny bit better. And the day after that was a tiny bit better. And now things are okay. Not good, but okay enough that I no longer fear for Juniper’s safety. But Highlight’s behavior towards Juniper has put a huge dent into the “fall in love with her and then her conformation flaws won’t matter” plan. It is really hard to fall in love with someone who is tormenting a creature under your care, one that is already having her own set of issues and does not need this shit right now.

And adding to that is my own guilt at not realizing this would happen. I know Juniper was going to be the bottom of their two-horse herd and I know a three-year-old has no business being the dominant horse, but I put them into this situation and now we’re all having to deal with it. This means I am frequently starting out my interactions with Highlight already annoyed at her because of how she is treating Juniper which means I have no patience for her very normal three-year-old behavior. Much as adults are often low-keyed annoyed with teenagers before they do anything so the moment they aren’t perfect the next step up is more frustration/anger than necessary. It took a few less than stellar interactions for me to realize this and as soon as I did I added another layer of guilt to the emotional turmoil I was dealing with – which we all know is super helpful.

What has actually been helpful is to pause and ask myself what I would do if this were “teenaged” Leeloo. When she was three and not listening as well as I would like, or being easily distracted, or just generally misbehaving, how did I react? Highlight deserves the same treatment. It also helps that I am trying to set aside dedicated time at night to work with Highlight and to take a moment to ground myself first. It is not her fault she is not perfect and it is not her fault she’s been put in charge when she doesn’t know how to be in charge, but she’s doing her best and I will do my best and that is all any of us can ask for.

Horse Update-Fall 2023-Part 1

The Trials and Tribulations of Being a Teenager

Literally and metaphorically. Well not literally, well, we thought literally but turns out we were misinformed, never mind – let’s just get in to it.

When we got Juniper last fall her previous owner thought she was about seventeen, which would make her eighteen this year and thus a literal teen aged horse. However, every vet who has seen her thinks she’s older than that and is probably in her early twenties. Which would be fine, ponies tend to live into their thirties, however Juniper’s teeth are rapidly approaching their end of life which is problematic since the rest of Juniper is not.

She had been very slowly losing weight all summer, which wasn’t a bad thing at first since she had a little more weight than she needed, but those two back-to-back colics this fall saw her drop close to fifty pounds in two days and went from “we should probably try to get some weight on her before winter sets in” to “holy crap she is too thin, please don’t die.” There are of course several complications to this (I of course have been gaining weight without any complications at all). Juniper has PPID so we have to be careful about gaining weight safely without triggering laminitis or founder, meaning anything high in sugar is out. Her teeth are no longer up to the task of grinding food properly so filling up on hay is out. And she is an unreasonably picky eater and doesn’t like wet food if it has gotten too cold meaning most mashes are out.  

Her original diet was free-choice hay of varying degrees of nutritional value and quality as well as soaked grass hay pellets and some oats fed in the morning. I would have upped the amount of soaked hay pellets but she is a messy eater and drops a lot of food back out of her mouth and won’t eat it again if it isn’t in the dish and if the soaked pellets sit around for too long she won’t eat them anymore.

When I realized she was consuming very little actual hay and was mostly just chewing it and spitting it back out in little half-chewed hay-balls (“quidding” as it is known) I started looking into alternatives. My neighbor had a spare bag of some manufactured chopped hay from trying it out herself a few years ago so we started with that. She had the all herbivore Square Meal Hay Biscuits and they worked okay but most of the chunks were too big/hard for Juniper’s terrible teeth so I had to break the big ones up before feeding which was it’s own pain in the ass. That led us to the senior variety “Senior Supper” of the same brand, which worked great. A little too great, because when we put Juniper and Highlight together Highlight also REALLY liked the Senior Supper and she eats much faster and much more than Juniper does and we just can’t afford to feed that much since they get expensive! They are supposed to be a complete feed so if it was just Juniper eating them I think we could make a go with it because she wouldn’t need any other feed. But we cannot afford to feed both of them the Senior Supper free choice and we are not currently in a position to keep them separated long term (see this post for why).

That led to us buying a mulcher and chopping our own hay which is an ordeal in and of itself.  You have to be very careful when you chop your own hay to make sure you are in fact only chopping hay that is safe for horses to eat. It is always good practice to check your hay as you are feeding, regardless of method, because all sorts of things can get into a bale of hay. I have found in our own hay and the hay at the various places I have boarded Leeloo things like dead snakes, mice, lizards, tree branches, milk weed (which can be toxic to animals), moldy bits and many other things a horse shouldn’t eat. If I find these things when feeding hay normally, I toss them out and depending on what it was I may toss the surrounding flake(s) or the whole bale, but in general I’m not too paranoid about it because our horses always have enough to eat and generally avoid things that they shouldn’t eat. However, once you run it all through a mulcher the good and the bad get mixed together and a horse can’t always tell them apart and will either eat something bad for them or won’t eat any of it at all. That means every flake of hay needs to be broken up and examined before it gets chopped which causes quite a mess all by itself and that doesn’t even touch the dust issue kicked out by the mulcher and the sheer amount of time the task takes. The entire “hay chopping” section of the barn is a mess and the process was taking way too much time, but at least the girls were eating it.

Notice the past tense in that sentence. They were eating it. For whatever reason our homemade chopped hay is no longer good enough and they are both back to eating normal hay. Which is fine for Highlight, but the number of quidding balls I am finding is on the rise and I’m concerned about Juniper’s overall food intake. Making things worse is that with the colder temperatures Juniper won’t finish even her small amount of soaked hay-pellets. If it is too wet and it drops below a certain temperature she stops eating it and if it isn’t wet enough the hay pellets stay too hard and she can’t eat them.

We’re trying to help you Juniper – eat your damn food!

I’m going to look into getting one of those heaters they use in greenhouses to put under seedling trays to see if I can keep her soaked pellets warm enough that she’ll eat all of them and long term we’re going to see if we can figure out how to separate her for at least a few hours every day to eat her special Senior Supper, but until then we’re just going to have to hope she’s getting enough from the regular hay and keep putting out the chopped hay.

She’s also wearing a blanket this winter so she doesn’t waste as many calories staying warm. Doesn’t she look cute in her coat.

This post has already gotten too long so Highlights update will have to wait until part 2.