The Mare Search Continues – Part 1


The search for my next mare, the one that will be the cornerstone of my breeding efforts, has been ongoing and frustrating. I have “known” for as long as I can remember that there are a lot of problems within the horse industry, particularly with starting horses too hard, too fast, and too young and breeding horses for the wrong reasons, usually for fancy names on a piece of paper or for fancy color. Sure that stud has terrible conformation and went lame at four and is utterly unrideable, “but he’s a blue roan!” That is literally what one lady said to me when I expressed concern about her choice of stallion.

At first, I thought that this utter dearth of sound horses with good conformation could work in my favor. Purposely and intentionally seeking out healthy, sane, sound, horses with good conformation to breed would inherently improve my odds of having foals that were healthy, sane, sound horses themselves and that would help me stand out in a very crowded market; it would make my horses something special and worth having. The longer I searched though, the more I realized that a large proportion of riders and horse people don’t have a clue what good conformation is and why it matters. They have simply accepted the current reality where horses are lame by twelve and need corrective shoeing, yearly injections, and all sorts of other maintenance just to stay rideable. This has become the new normal and very few people seem to be questioning it.

I put that word “known” in quotes in the first paragraph because in today’s current world lots of people “know” things that are in fact total bullshit and when I first started this search my “knowing” was based on very hazy remembrance of 4-H horse judging practice sessions, various presentations attended at horse expos and clinics, and my own personal experiences. But that knowledge wasn’t based on any source I could point to and as mare after mare fell short of my expectations I started to wonder if my “knowing” was in fact bullshit and if maybe I was the one out of touch with reality. I have thus spent much of the summer seeking out verifiable references and knowledgeable people with true study and experience behind them to ground my knowing in reality. These sources did confirm my knowledge and I am far more confident and comfortable in declaring that I do actually know what good conformation looks like and that it is in fact important! They also confirmed that  yes, the horse world today is filled with crappy conformation; and yes, horses are in fact started way too hard, way too fast, and way too young; and that yes, the combination of these two things is behind many of the lameness issues horses and their people have to contend with. Below is a list of the references I have been consulting.

Horse Conformation References

Where does that leave me, other than being frustrated and still horseless?

Upon completion of The Modern Racehorse, I returned the book to the library by actually walking into the library and handing it to an actual librarian, as a book that age is due. Once in the library I couldn’t just leave without taking a turn through the stacks and while perusing I found The Small-Scale Poultry Flock by Harvey Ussery. Another truly amazing book which I will talk more about in a future post, but relevant here was a reference to The Livestock Conservancy, an organization dedicated to the conservation of endangered livestock breeds. While checking out their website I noticed there was a horse category, and within the horse category were a number of breeds I had heard of but several I had not and then it hit me. Why waste my time, effort, energy, and money on trying to fix a breed that numbers literally in the millions and that has drifted so far from the breed standard and good conformation that any good I did in my breeding efforts would be but a single drop of rain in the ocean when there are really nice horse breeds out there whose populations are genuinely in jeopardy and for whom my efforts would make a tangible and lasting difference? Most of the horse breeds listed are not suitable for my personal goals being either too small (there are many pony and small horse breeds on the list) or draft horses who are meant to pull things and are not well suited to riding. That left three breeds that are riding horses capable of doing a variety of disciplines and that naturally get up to at least 16 hands tall or taller:


I found this photo on Wikipedia –


I found this photo on the Breyer Horse website as this was the horse they used as their model for the Canadian Breyer horse – 

Cleveland Bay 

I found this photo on the Livestock Conservancy website – 

Next step – a new mare search with a new focus, but which breed should we pursue?

Sugar is Evil!

Leeloo decided Juniper was getting too much attention

Sugar is evil, truly evil. No matter what type of health issue you are dealing with, mental health, physical health, chronic, acute, whatever, sugar makes it worse. I’m not talking carbs, I’m not talking fruit, I’m talking sugar. If you are dealing with any health anything, but particularly any mental health things, I would really encourage you to consider giving up sugar for two or three weeks and see if you notice a difference. Of course, you will need to be very careful to read EVERY label of EVERY food or drink you put in your mouth because they put sugar in EVERYTHING!

In 2011 Nate and I totally changed the way we eat and now follow the paleo diet, or at least we usually do, and one of the biggest things about that is cutting out sugar. Again, I’m not saying no carbs, we get plenty of carbs (probably too many), but we are pretty careful about actual sugar intake. Anytime we are not careful about our sugar intake many things go wrong. We’re both more physically tired, mentally tired, unfocused, cranky, short-tempered, and headachy. Even worse for me, is that sugar makes my depression and anxiety so much worse. SO MUCH WORSE. You would think knowing all that, we would be good about not eating sugar. But sugar is evil – EVIL! – and so tasty, so very, very tasty, and is so very, very, addicting. And the reality is “willpower” (which some argue isn’t even a thing the way many people define it) is severely hampered when you are stressed and tired and we’ve been working so hard on getting this hay shelter built and giving Juniper two different meds that both have to be given six times a day, but not at the same time, we are exhausted. All of that combined to work against us and we broke Saturday and got some desserts. That meant Sunday morning I was suffering from a major sugar hangover and my mental health, which has already been under pressure for the above-mentioned reasons, was just not up to what I found in the pasture.

Nate has been helping me with chores on Sunday mornings, mostly so that when I am gone and he has to do them himself he feels more comfortable, but also because things are always better with a buddy. I was dealing with Juniper and her five million different medications and not really paying attention to Leeloo, other than thinking it was odd she wasn’t coming over for her breakfast like normal. Nate asked if he should go get her and I said yes and went on to step one thousand of Juniper’s morning routine. It took them forever to get over to us and then I handed Nate Leeloo’s feed to give her. As she’s eating I finally LOOK at her and realize her back left leg is really swollen from about halfway down the cannon bone to her hoof. I palpate it, and it is very tender and warm, but there is no obvious injury. Then I realize her front left leg is also really swollen from about halfway down the cannon bone to her hoof and she also doesn’t want me touching that leg. And so is her front right leg, though to a lesser extent. Then I touch her chest and she is hot, which considering she was just standing in the shelter doing nothing and it was relatively cool outside made no sense (I didn’t take her actual temperature because I couldn’t find my horse specific thermometer and I wasn’t prepared to sacrifice our human one yet; once a thermometer is used on a horse, it can never go back). She also had discharge from both nostrils and I remembered that I had found two coughed up mucus things in the pasture the last two days. Great.

I decide to give her some bute and call the vet on Monday (because of course it was Sunday so any vet call will be an emergency call which costs significantly more money – sometimes I think Leeloo has a calendar and specifically waits for the weekend to have health emergencies). Unfortunately, my bute was just a bit expired (2016) but I did have some powdered aspirin and decided to try that. She ate about two bites and stopped, so she didn’t get much aspirin. As I walked away with the uneaten aspirin, I actually saw Leeloo move for the first time that morning and I immediately got teary eyed and went to call the vet. For those of you new to Leeloo, Leeloo has been lame a lot. A LOT. It would fill a LOTR length book to talk about the many different ways Leeloo has been lame and the number of different vets and farriers and equine health specialists we have seen. I used to call the vet out pretty frequently, but at this point I’m pretty good at recognizing most things and I’ve also learned that many things just need to heal on their own (hoof abscesses – I know people have very different opinions than me on dealing with hoof abscesses, but after dealing with an untold number of them I have found that most of Leeloo’s didn’t heal any faster or better when we messed with them than when we didn’t mess with them, so unless the pain is unmanageable I let them work themselves out) or can’t be fixed, only managed (arthritis). This was none of those things, Leeloo looked like she was drunk and in pain, her limbs didn’t seem to be moving in a coordinated fashion and every step seemed to hurt. My brain instantly went into this super helpful train of thought “of f*ing course, you finally, FINALLY, get Leeloo home and you manage to kill her in less than a month – way to go!”

I call the vet and get the weekend emergency receptionist who says “How can I help you today?” at which point my teary-eyed went into full on crying and I’m trying to talk through the crying, which never goes well, and explain what is wrong with Leeloo. We agree the vet should come out and look at her and I go back outside to finish morning chores, which is 90% picking up poop.

As I’m picking up poop and trying not to cry, Nate is raking up the various hay piles from this past week so I can scoop them together to create Leeloo’s rolling pile of hay. Leeloo prefers rolling, and sleeping, in hay, which is annoying because I would like her to eat said hay. I’ve been trying to compromise by collecting the older hay into a suitable rolling/sleeping pile and hoping she’ll leave the new, for eating hay, alone (this is reason number one I need hay boxes). It is sort of working, sometimes. However, after a week as a rolling/sleeping pile I like to take that hay out to use as mulch for our trees. So, I’m picking up poop, and Nate is raking up hay and dumping out the two hay boxes to get all the little hay crumbs out and to move the boxes to a different position so we’re not making any one spot too muddy/dead. As he’s doing that, I see Leeloo very slowly follow behind, picking over every newly raked up hay pile and newly exposed tasty hay crumb from the hay boxes. I also watch her drink some water, and pee, and realize that maybe I overreacted just a tiny bit. She’s still not sound, she’s still very clearly in pain, and there is still the fact that three of her four limbs are stocked up and sore to the touch which is not normal, but she’s not dying. The call to the vet could maybe have waited until Monday but it wasn’t unreasonable to have called today, however the crying was unnecessary as was the super fun mental diatribe of “this is why we don’t ever try anything and just sit around and read books because you finally bring your horse home and manage to kill her” both of which were absolutely the fault of that sugar from the previous day. SUGAR IS EVIL!

The vet calls, we talk about what I’m seeing, and she agrees Leeloo should probably be looked at today. Of course by the time the vet gets to us Leeloo is doing better, still swollen in three of the four legs, still clearly uncomfortable and not as coordinated as normal when moving, but definitely better, and had I found Leeloo in the condition she was in when the vet arrived I would have waited to call said vet on Monday. We talk through possible causes: could be an allergic reaction to something she ate or experienced in her environment, could be an infectious disease, could be a tick-born illness (great). There is an in-the-field blood test they can do for infections, if the result is over 50 it means that there is some sort of infection present and antibiotics should be started. Leeloo scored a 48. We opted to do more blood work and give her some banamine for the day, and I’m going to continue to give her banamine for the next few days. Neither of us thought it was enough of an emergency to pay the through-the-nose cost of having the blood analyzed on a weekend so we’ll get the results late Monday or early Tuesday.

As we were doing that last blood draw and administering the banamine I noticed a bee flying around Leeloo’s chest. We have had a ton of bees and wasps around our house the last few weeks. I asked if it was possible that this could be a reaction from a bee or wasp sting and the vet said it could be, she could have gotten stung on her left side which is why that side is having more of a reaction, and had she just gotten stung that morning it would be why she was so bad then and why it was already getting better.

By the end of the day Leeloo was looking much better and moving more comfortably. I saw her trotting around a bit as well, mostly to herd Juniper to wherever Leeloo wanted them to be. We’ll get the results of the bloodwork soon but my current working theory is that Leeloo heard me tell Nate this morning that at least we didn’t have to pay board this month so that saved us some money and she decided to fix that for us.


Photo of Leeloo taken at Elysium Farm, in Maple Plain MN
I didn’t think of taking any photos of Leeloo this morning (sugar makes you mentally foggy too – nothing good comes from sugar!) so enjoy this photo of her taken at one of our previous boarding facilities. 

Where Will She Go?

Coming home from that uplifting appointment I tell Nate that I want to try to bring Leeloo home this summer and though supportive, he was understandably skeptical. We had already agreed to, and taken payment from, a local farmer to farm most of our land for this year, so where exactly was I going to put Leeloo? Also the whole point of bringing Leeloo home was to get her to move more – how exactly was I going to do that?



In the course of our lameness issues, we have worked with at least six different vets, six different farriers, four different chiropractors, a massage therapist, acupuncturist, and osteopath. The one thing they all agreed on was that Leeloo needs to move more, and move in terms of low intensity activity, i.e. walking. So how do you get a couch potato of a horse to move more? I’ve been pondering this for years now, and a while back when discussing this issue with a friend I shared my ingenious (laughable) idea for a hay feeder that would force my horse to move. The general outline was creating a long rectangular box which you would put a perforated barrel, filled with hay, into and Leeloo would have to roll the barrel up and down the track to get the hay out. There are obviously lots of flaws to that idea, but my friend was very kind and just listened and when I was done, asked if I had heard about paddock track systems. I had not.

The basic idea is that you spread out the horse necessities (food, water, shelter) in different locations that require the horse to walk between them. Intrigued I searched the internet when I got home and discovered Jaime Jackson and Paddock Paradise. I acquired his book of the same name, devoured it, and knew that this was my answer. This was how I was going to get my horse to move! One of the many beauties of the Paddock Paradise system is that you don’t need a lot of land to make it work. So, I pulled up an overhead view of our land (thanks ever present observation satellites, your existence isn’t creepy at all) and thought yes – I can get a paddock paradise track set up around our existing yard and house.

We can do this!

Why Now?

So why now? What happened to make me nudge that eyelash and come at my goal of bringing Leeloo home in a different way?

Leeloo has lameness issues, and no, I don’t mean she thinks fanny packs are cool, though apparently fanny packs are cool again? Lame as in not sound enough to ride. I’ve been attempting to get to the bottom of her ongoing lameness issues for years and have spent a lot of time, money, energy, and hope – all followed by heartache – and gotten nowhere. Last summer, when I was adjusting to the fact that the cost of my barn had apparently gone from x to 3x and silly me I had only saved up x (if you are asking yourself, wait, didn’t you say it was 5x – you’re thinking of the price quote I got this year; 3x was the quote I got last year – isn’t our current economic state fun?), I decided that the barn dream was clearly being postponed so I would instead focus on getting Leeloo sound in her current living situation. This led to yet another very expensive vet visit, which I’ll detail further in a future post in case anyone wants to nerd out about equine lameness checks, but the end result of that visit was a decision to inject her right hock. Did the injections help? Who knows! We spent the next several months going through round after round of hoof abscesses – which are just as much fun as they sound. One hoof after the other, round and round, for months. I would maybe get two or three weeks of soundness before the next round began. But then very early spring this year she was lame again and it wasn’t an abscess. The vet was back out and we tried another set of injections (they wear off between 6 months and a year and we were at 9 months). And what did they do this time? You guessed it, nothing. Right around this time my farrier was out for our regular trim, and I was expressing my frustration as he was looking at her back feet and asked “How much does she move? On a scale of 0 to” – ZERO. She moves not at all. The way her current situation is configured the round bale (giant bale of hay) is under the shelter and right next to the water. Leeloo also happens to be the most dominant horse on the entire property, so nobody moves her. She can camp her butt at the round bale, pivot to get a drink of water and then pivot right back to shove her face in food. All day, every day. When the weather cooperates the horses do have a pasture they all go out on, but there is only one pasture so the barn owner is very protective of it and that means once the spring thaw starts the horses don’t go out at all until the ground is firm and the grass is established for the year. I mentioned to the farrier that I come out to the barn regularly to exercise her and his response was – “It doesn’t matter, you could work her every day, what she needs is constant low level movement – lots and lots of walking and even with that there is no guarantee she’ll be sound, but it’s just not going to happen in her current situation.” After that fun pep-talk I was leaving the barn and sitting at the top of their driveway staring at my own house (I live very close to where Leeloo is currently being boarded) I saw my own patch of yard around our house, surrounded by a tilled field and thought… maybe, just maybe, I could figure out how to bring her home now.