Monday, May 30, 2011

Lyme disease and why grooming your horse is really important

I am glad I didn't promise to create a post every day. As you might be able to judge by the title, I have Lyme disease. Again. So between the aches and the fatigue I just wasn't inspired to post. But thanks to the wonders of doxycycline (blech awful drug, almost as bad as the disease...but it does work) I am feeling better now.

Now this is the 4th time I have had Lyme's, so I know the signs, and can basically tell when I need to start taking medication. I have a lot of typical symptoms, sore throat, congestion, joint aches, general fatigue, and a couple of others specific to me (most notably an intense craving for salt.) I don't know who is reading this blog, so in case you aren't from the Northeast I will mention a little bit about Lyme. The ever handy Wikipedia gives a description here. Lyme disease is a tick born disease, carried by deer ticks.

Aside from checking yourself for ticks frequently, it is important to know that other animals, including dogs, cats, and horses can suffer from Lyme also. Now this comes to the second part of my title, "Why grooming your horse is really important." And by important I mean crucial. Now the obvious answer to that is not the answering I am looking for. Yes, we need to check our horses and other pets for ticks, and a good time to do that is during grooming. But I have something else in mind.
A horse is covered in fur. So one of the indicators of Lyme disease, the bullseye rash (see above) would be impossible to see/find on a horse. How do you know if your horse has general fatigue and muscle aches? Is there anyway at all that a horse can tell you he has a sore throat? Some things you can tell when riding, if you ride the same horse, and know how they usually behave. In extreme cases they may even become lame. But some things are much easier to observe if you know your horse. And the best way to know your horse is to spend time with them. Not just riding, but interacting on the ground. Learning what they like and don't like. Does your horse have sensitive skin and prefer softer brushes? Or does he have a thick coat and like hard brushes that give a good scratch? Are they comfortable having their faces and ears brushed? Where are the ticklish or the itchy spots?

Now these are important things to know about any horse you are riding. If for example you are going to ride a new horse for the first time, you can learn a lot about the horse from its behavior while being groomed. A horse that is ticklish by the girth might be very sensitive to your leg. Some horses don't like to stand still while being groomed and might be full of energy when being ridden, and some practically fall asleep during the process, so they might be quiet and safe for beginners. Once you've worked with and groomed a horse a few times, you begin to notice patterns and quirks in their personalities. If you take them out to their paddocks, and watch them out there you can learn even more. My current horse is a beach baby. She likes to splash in the water trough and lay out in the sun. Conversely she hates the cold, she is miserable and grouchy all winter long. I ride her in a wool quarter sheet to try to keep her happy. My previous horse was the complete opposite. He loved the snow. Give him a pasture full of fresh white stuff and he was romping and bucking and rolling like a kid on a snow day.

For beginner riders it is especially crucial to spend time with horses on the ground. Key signals can be learned, ear position and what it means, tail swishing, etc. If you don't know how to handle an animal from the safety of the ground, how can you reasonably expect to do so from atop their backs?
Once you have your horses general personality and behavior down, you have to learn to be observant of changes. If you have a horse who is usually nudging you and begging for treats and attention in the stall and suddenly they are facing the wall and standing still a lot, this could be a sign of something wrong. If your horse normally loves being groomed and suddenly they are ticklish and snapping then they could be in pain. (Now some horses just don't like being groomed, so if it is their normal behavior to complain about it, then that is their normal, be observant if they suddenly stop acting that way.)

A better understanding of your horse's personality and behavior will help insure a happier and healthy horse and make you a better rider.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Horses in Norse Mythology

So I saw the movie Thor last night. I admit freely that I have in my time been something of a comic book geek. I adore the X-Men, and since their movie, most of the Marvel superhero movies have been very well done. I really enjoyed the movie, and Chris Hemsworth made a nice piece of Norse god eye candy. There were also a couple of fun scenes where they got to ride horses, flat out across the rainbow bridge. So I decided to post about horses in Norse mythology.
Now being the comic book/X-Men geek I am, the first thought that came to mind was Valkyries. In New Mutants, Danielle Moonstar (Psyche, Mirage, Moonstar, pick your code name) became a Valkyrie on a trip the New Mutants accidentally took to Asgard, when the winged steed Brightwind chose her. So on the assumption that this bit of comic book lore was based at least partly on fact, I went exploring.
So while, according to Wikipedia and several other websites, the Valkyries did indeed "fly" there seems to be no evidence, other than a few modern artistic renditions that the horses of the Valkyries had wings. In fact I have not found much about them at all, other than this snippet here .
A Valkyries horse was created from air, and when they traveled to Earth, frost and dewdrops would fall from their manes onto the ground. The Valkyrie was also Odins messengers and when they ride forth on their errands, their armor causes the strange flickering lights known as the “Aurora Borealis” or Northern Lights. 
The part about the Northern Lights can be found in Bulfinch's mythology, but I can't find what his source material for that assertion was. As for the bit about the dewdrops, I cannot find source material.
I have also discovered that many sources and translations believe that they did not ride horses at all, but rather  wolves. Also that they were associated with either Ravens (traditional carrion eaters, which could easily be associated with battlefield mythos) or Swans, when their "Choosers of the Slain" moniker became more romanticized as they were thought to be selecting the fallen warriors to be taken to Valhalla and help Odin when Ragnarök arrived.

Close up of Sleipnir on Tjängvide image stone
Disappointed, I went looking for a more verifiable Norse horse, and found Sleipnir. I can find many historical sources that reference Odin's 8 legged steed. Sleipnir, a grey horse, depicted as the son of Loki, is said to be the best of horses. (As is only fit for the Allfather of the gods.) Sadly, in the movie, Odin does not ride, so Sleipnir is not present. Then again, there were not any Valkyrie about either.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Kentucky Derby

This is my Kentucky Derby post, very much belated. (What can I say? It is that time of year. When everyone with any sense wants to ride, so the lessons pile on.)

I have no idea how most people pick their favorites for the race. (Or for any race for that matter.) I know there are different variables and calculations and odds that can be factored in, but my methods are not nearly so scientific. In fact, my methods (if you can call them that) are as whimsical as any derby hat.
This hat and many others located at Dee's
I pick the pretty horses, the elegant names, and occasionally I pick by jockey. So this year I had 4 horses I was rooting for.  Midnight Interlude is just a lovely name. I always wonder why some people can think of wonderful elegant names for their horses, and others pick "Mucho Macho Man"? Seriously? Then during the post parade I decided that I really liked Decisive Moment (I've always been a sucker for a black horse.)
Decisive Moment
And then there is Calvin Borel. It isn't often that a jockey captures my attention. I'm not a sucker for a sob story, someone doing it for their mom in Mexico who has some dread disease or whatever. But I do enjoy people with an affinity for horses. And when Calvin Borel won the Derby with Mine that Bird (another astonishingly silly name) and switched onto a filly, Rachel Alexandra, for the Preakness and then won, well that cemented him in my mind as one of my favorite jockeys ever.
Calvin Borel on Rachel Alexandra
And of course lastly, had to give a nod to Pants on Fire (possibly the worst name in the field) because of Rosie Napravnik. Hard to be female and not give a girl credit (same as a filly) for competing with the boys. 
Now of course, I will be rooting for Animal Kingdom in the Preakness, because I would love to have a Triple Crown winner. No horse has won the Triple Crown in 33 years. The last horse to do it, Affirmed, was in 1978.  2011 marks the tenth anniversary of Affirmed's death (at age 26 from Laminitis.) So it seems an auspicious year for another winner. 
As a side note, 6 of the 11 Triple Crown winners were chestnut. Including Affirmed. Man o' War was also a chestnut, so perhaps a fiery coat is a good sign for Animal Kingdom. I do wonder however, which jockey will get to ride him in the remaining races. His regular rider, who did not ride him in the derby, due to an injury, or the rider who rode him to a win in the derby. It is sure to be a tough call for his owners and trainers. (He is owned by a conglomerate of some sorts known as Team Valor.)

Animal Kingdom


Thursday, May 5, 2011

Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame

So yesterday I went to the Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame in Goshen, NY. I had no idea that such an historic and influential piece of Harness Racing history was only an hour from where I live. I don't intend for this post to go on and on about the entire history of Harness Racing. There is too much. What I will say is that you should go to the museum yourself and see all there is to see.
We went there on a weekday afternoon during the school year, so we had the place nearly to ourselves. Admission is free, but they do have a gift shop, so it is only polite to purchase at least a little something. The only other visitors were a camera crew shooting a documentary. There was no rush to hurry along, or annoying loud or bored children to be avoided. We spent 2 and 1/2 hours just browsing, taking pictures(allowed and encouraged) and reading the extensive placards along the exhibits.
The museum is also quite family friendly with many interactive features. There is a Standardbred auction game, where you "bid" on young horses, trying to match the price they actually sold for without going over. A 3D simulator ride, meant to make you feel like you were driving in a race. (But the perspective was off, or rather kept changing, sometimes you were the driver, sometimes the horse, and sometimes you were facing into the oncoming was a bit odd.) There is also a talking animatronic horse head. (He was a little creepy, I nicknamed him the Terminator Horse.) The horse head had several different speeches that he made when you walked close enough to set his motion sensors off.
There are also several fun photo ops. You can sit in an actual sulky. (And wear actual jockey silks according to the tour girl) Or you can put your head on top of some jockey cut outs. Very silly. The sulky one has a fake horse attached to it, which was nice. The seat on the sulky is actually very comfy.
The museum guide also gave us a brochure and told us that while the track doesn't hold regular meets any more they will be having racing 3 Sundays in June, and all of July 4th weekend. I will be definitely attending one day, so I will report back on that.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

What's in a name?

The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn't just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I'm as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
First of all, there's the name that the family use daily,
Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo or James,
Such as Victor or Jonathan, George or Bill Bailey--
All of them sensible everyday names.
There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter,
Some for the gentlemen, some for the dames:
Such as Plato, Admetus, Electra, Demeter--
But all of them sensible everyday names.
But I tell you, a cat needs a name that's particular,
A name that's peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?
Of names of this kind, I can give you a quorum,
Such as Munkustrap, Quaxo, or Coricopat,
Such as Bombalurina, or else Jellylorum-
Names that never belong to more than one cat.
But above and beyond there's still one name left over,
And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover--
But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.

Something similar could be said of horses. Because certain breed registries, particularly the Jockey Club, place limits on length and reuse of names, some horses are known by quite arcane appellations. For example, what exactly is a Secretariat? Known as "Big Red" to his friends like another famous race horse before him. (Man O War) it seems that all the creativity race horse owners have for naming is used up in the search to find a name to register a horse with that hasn't been used before. Deciding on what to call the poor dear is beyond the limits of their creativity. 

Secretariat at the Preakness
Now I am going to a Harness Racing museum tomorrow, and the Kentucky Derby is on Saturday, so I am sure I will have more to report about those later on. When I went to at least look up the horses in the derby and was treated to such names as "Pants on Fire", "Comma to the Top", and the hopeful "Brilliant Speed", it made me wonder at the whys behind some of these names. 
Pants on Fire is in the Pink and Orange silks
Some names are obvious of course, Brilliant Speed is hoping to use the power of names to produce a winner. My own horse "Maggie" was originally known as "B B B Fast." (Sadly for whoever named her, she wasn't.) Other horses, like the great filly, Rachel Alexandra were named after people significant to the owner or breeder. But a lot of the names, just make you wonder. Barbaro? Where did that name come from? Or why name a horse "Animal Kingdom?"  There are a lot of rules involved with naming a thoroughbred race horse, so I can see how it can be difficult to meet them all. They are as follows:

A Thoroughbred must be named by February of its 2-year-old year or a late fee will be charged. Six names in order of preference are submitted by the owner and the Jockey Club will decide which they can have. Horse names can be changed for a fee unless it has already raced or been bred. Names can be up to 18 characters, including spaces and punctuation. All horse names must be approved by the Jockey Club and there are a lot of rules about what you can't use:
No initials such as C.O.D., F.O.B., etc.
No names ending in "filly," "colt," "stud," "mare," "stallion," or any similar horse-related term
No names consisting entirely of numbers, except numbers above thirty may be used if they are spelled out
No names ending with a numerical designation such as "2nd" or "3rd," whether or not such a designation is spelled out
No names of persons unless written permission to use their name is on file with The Jockey Club
No names of race tracks or graded stakes races
No names clearly having commercial significance, such as trade names
No names that are suggestive or have a vulgar or obscene meaning; names considered in poor taste; or names that may be offensive to religious, political or ethnic groups
No names from the restricted list (Hall of Fame members, Eclipse Awards winners, Kentucky Derby winners, etc. To see all names that meet the restriction requirement check here in rule 6(F)(15).

Now Quarter Horses, both the racing kind and the showing kind also have a long list of rules to subscribe to. Too long to list in this post, so I will just highlight and put a link to the full details here. Basically, you can't reuse a name unless the horse that had it is dead and neither the deceased horse, nor any of its offspring ever competed (not won or placed) in any sanctioned event. It is not required but many quarter horse owners and breeders tend to parade their horse's pedigree in their name. So I have noticed a tendency to a lot of quarter horses having Zip and Zippo in their name. I am sure there are other famous lines that are heavily referenced, but not being involved in the Quarter Horse show circuit myself, those are the ones I have noticed and stuck in my memory. 

Breyer model of famed Quarter Horse stallion Zippo Pine Bar
Now USEF rules are not nearly so stringent. In fact, after perusing their website I could not find any restrictions whatsoever. Names can be duplicated freely, though I am sure it would be considered in poor taste to reuse the names of famous horses. (For the record there are currently 25 horses named "Sapphire" including McClain Ward's Olympic Gold Medal winning mount.) 
McClain Ward and Sapphire
And of course anyone can call their horse anything they want in their own back yard. Our barn has at various times had 2 horses who go by the name of Hank, 2 Mollys, several Codys (including 2 dogs) and a few ponies who came to us named Brownie or left us and were renamed, Brownie. What I really wonder, is what horses call each other? 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Royal Horses

Alright, who else watched the Royal Wedding to see the horses? Prince William married the now Duchess of Cambridge, Catherine the other day. They kissed twice or something. And many people wore funny hats.

OK, so maybe not this hat, but it would have fit right in.
There were two varieties of horses in the procession. Bays and Greys. Both of these groupings of equines were chosen not by their breed but rather for their colour. The bay horses were of a number of breeds, but there was a large showing of an endangered breed that is favored by Queen Elizabeth, the Cleveland Bay. 

The Cleveland Bay is the oldest breed of horse originating in Great Britain, and the only non draught (draft) breed from there. They are named for their color (bay, varying from bright bay to dark nearly black bay.) The name also comes from the Cleveland district of Yorkshire. Queen Elizabeth has been a patron of the Cleveland Bay Horse Society since 1977, but only 2000 registered horses (300 breeding mares) remain. Now it is unclear if the bay horse who made headlines during the wedding with the following antics was a Cleveland Bay, or merely a bay Bay.

The only follow up report I could find indicated that the rider was fine, but was chastised severely by the royal riding master following his mishap. I would love to know more about the horse in question. He should become a celebrity in his own right. Ridiculous people do all the time for far less.

The grey horses that pulled the carriage carrying William and Kate are known as the Windsor Greys. These are not all of the Windsor Greys, merely a team of them selected from the whole group. Again these horses are selected by colour and temperament, not by breed. I am slightly confused, as other than the Wikipedia link which is a very short article, I can't find much information about the Greys. I read this article, about a set of grey police horses who would be in the parade, but they are not mentioned formally as being the Windsor Greys and are not said to be pulling the carriage, merely escorting. If anyone comes across better intelligence, please let me know.

All horses are Princes and Princesses
Fly masks can be purchased here

As a postscript I have discovered that the new Duchess is allergic to horses. Considering the long reign of Queen Elizabeth and her patronage of the equine community, I am saddened by this news.