Archive for Leta's Desert Diary

Hello, Blog Followers!

FollowTheLeaderThank you so much for following this blog about animals and animal communication! I wanted to let you know, however, that I have moved the entire blog to my main website and that is where new posts appear. I hope you will hop on over there to catch up and sign up to follow me at that location. And if you have a blog too, please put that in the comments there so I can check it out. Thanks so much! LetaSignature

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Blotched, Botched, or Blessed? One Indian Pony’s Amazing Journey

“Lucky,” with his slaughter number attached to his left shoulder.

Lucky was named Lucky because he was dumped in the desert on the Mexican border seven months ago with about 40 other half-dead horses. How this could possibly be “lucky” sounds like a mystery, I know, but had his trailer-load of horses bound for slaughter in Mexico crossed that border, what little meat there was left on Lucky’s emaciated body would now most likely be digesting in the gut of some person in France… or flowing along the rivers of waste below the city of Paris. A noble equine life wasted.

The horses were dumped because several had a disease known as strangles, which can be a death sentence for horses, is highly contagious, and is certainly not acceptable for animals intended for human consumption. It was no doubt far cheaper for the hauler to release them into the desert than to try to sell them or park them somewhere.

We don’t know the whole story, and surely many of these horses perished, but Lucky was picked out of the herd in a holding pen by a teenage girl as a “gift” from a benefactor who often rescued some of these poor critters.

This girl herself had a rare gift with horses, and she must have seen some spark in the eye of this little horse the day she chose him, even though that “eye” reflected such poor health and resignation.
Supposedly Lucky was only six, so that was in his favor. And he didn’t have strangles, so that was a double-plus. So off he went for rescue and rehab at the girl’s family’s stables, where they regularly took in as many of his kind as possible, brought them back to life, and placed them in good homes.

Fast forward to July of 2012 when Lucky arrived in Nambe, New Mexico, just north of Santa Fe, and was picked up by his new owner, my dear friend Cindy. Cindy had been looking for an appropriate companion for her only-horse, Nova, and, once again, there was just something about Lucky’s pictures that made her staunchly committed to giving him a permanent, forever home. He had been through months of rehab with his rescuers, Cindy’s friends, and had even recently survived a life-threatening round of severe colic. But Cindy never waivered. She was absolutely, positively sure that he was the one for her and her four-year-old mare, Nova.

Cindy began researching the little guy, posted pictures of the strange markings on his left side, and thereby learned much about his probable heritage. She found out that these marks are known as “blotch brands” and are Navajo in origin. (Cindy says they should be called botched brands because they are so messed up–no doubt due to improperly restraining the horse during branding.) The hip brand traditionally has three overlaid images which reflect the tribe, the land, and the family of the horse, so it’s easy to see how that brand alone could easily be “smeared” and hard to read. There are also often many other smaller markings/blotch-brands on a Navajo pony, of which Lucky has at least two, one of which looks like a face.

One Navajo horse trainer offered further description:  “If you can ride him bareback with a halter, and he can’t back up, then he’s off the Navajo Reservation.” Later, responding to Cindy’s horrified message that this horse had been sold for slaughter, probably for $100 or less, he said, “You haven’t seen poor until you’ve been on the rez.”

Due to the drought, hay prices, and the economy, horses are being given away, sold for slaughter, or just turned loose these days by folks who are far more prosperous than those on the rez, so no, it is no wonder that Lucky ended up on that truck bound for Mexico. Still, I like to imagine little children on him, riding bareback with just a halter, and that his family was bereft to give him up. But that $100 sale price to them probably meant at least a few months of staples for their larder. It’s hard for any of us reading this to relate to that, but it certainly is a fact of life for many, and definitely for many of those among the Native American population of our country.

So Lucky lucked out and finally made it “home,” just one week ago. He was shaking all over as we started to unload him, but when he stepped out of the trailer, all of that went away and one could feel a total sea change in his being:  he KNEW. We humans have epiphanous moments, why shouldn’t the animals? We could feel Lucky registering that this was his home, forever. It felt familiar being back in the high desert of New Mexico, and he immediately went into a place of total trust, relaxation and appreciation for the patient woman who stood murmuring quietly by his side.

In the last seven days, Lucky has flourished. He is on ten acres with one to two hours of at-liberty time each day to move freely, test the legs he hasn’t had a chance to use in a long, long time, and to graze on familiar stubbly, native desert grasses. But he also has his own pen with plenty of hay and feed. He is so thankful for this bounty that he went back into his pen, unprompted, all by himself, the first day he was turned out, after only an hour and a half. And he glues himself to Cindy whenever she is with him, following her from chore to chore, muck to muck. He knows. He had an epiphany. He understands and is grateful.

Other things Cindy has learned: Many of the rez horses date back to the original Arabian breed of ancient lore—the type that slept in tents with the Bedouins. A rare type these days because they are so calm and devoted, not as “hot” as many of their modern-day counterparts. Considering Lucky’s head, conformation, size and disposition, he certainly fits this mold. According to her vet, he is 11 years old, not six, which is just fine with her and will only help stabilize her four-year-old filly’s adolescent ways. And he has a spirit that can survive things most of us don’t even want to think about.

Lucky has been renamed “Sharif” (pronounced “Shar-EEF”) honoring all the traits he bears from his long-distant ancestry: nobility, honor, gentleness. He still needs to gain more weight and rebuild muscle, but no doubt one day soon Cindy will be able to find out if he can be ridden “bareback, with just a halter” (though by then she will have taught him to back up!).

Sharif is one of the lucky ones. So many horses, dogs and cats are being discarded these days due to lack of resources to take care of them. I hope Sharif’s story will inspire others like Cindy to step up and rescue or sponsor just one animal who would otherwise be lost. In this case, I don’t know who lucked out the most: Sharif or Cindy. She agrees.

Sharif, on his 6th day at “home,” clearly at peace after his long and difficult journey.

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SKUNKED!! Holy Moly, Where’s the Skunk Deodorizer?!

Charlie, humiliated. How would YOU feel if you had just taken a big inhalation of skunk spray?!

If you’ve ever had one of your animals sprayed by a skunk, then you know first hand how literally panic-stricken all become when that animal comes rushing into the house for your help!

It happened to us last week . . . at midnight, I might add. I have five dogs who have 24/7 access to a huge, safely fenced yard via their dog door, and they frequently use it in the middle of the night if they hear coyotes or other interlopers out and about on the property.

I was dead to the world when Charlie came flying in a panic through the dog door and into my bedroom, bringing the all-too-familiar and toxic, burning-rubber fumes of having been “skunked” with him. He was drooling and licking his nose and rubbing his head on everything, and every other living being in the house was immediately in alarm mode, the stench was so strong. One of my teenage kittens was so shocked she was up on the counter in the bathroom with her hair literally standing “on end” all over.

I won’t bore you by describing all the immediate maneuvers that were taken that night, but instead am here to share my homemade de-skunking recipe. I mean, who keeps a couple of those humongous cans of tomato juice in the house at all times? And tomato juice doesn’t work anyway . . . plus it’s super messy.

I got this recipe from the retired veterinarian, Dr. Price (God rest his soul), who owned the ranch next to mine in the Texas Hill Country. We had lots and lots of skunks there, so de-skunking was a somewhat regular necessity, though dealing with it fairly often never diminished this phenomenon’s uniquely stunning effect. If you’ve ever experienced skunk spray up close and personal, you know it smells nothing like the fleeting odor that wafts through your car when you are on a road trip at night. It is instead so strong and foreign it makes one panic, it is toxic, and it burns your nasal passages like heck!

Poor Charlie! I think it went right up his nose!

So here’s the recipe, and these things are fairly common to have on hand:

SKUNK DEODORIZER

  • 1 Quart 3% Hydrogen Peroxide
  • 1 Cup Baking Soda
  • 1 Teaspoon Liquid Soap

Rub into the victim’s hair and let sit a few minutes then rinse. Do not mix ahead of time as this mixture creates an oxygen reaction, which is why it works.

Just to be on the safe side, I keep a bottle of Nature’s Miracle Skunk Formula on hand in the barn at all times too. And that is what I used to initially wipe down Charlie’s head with. This is a product that works enzymatically, and it does help, so I highly recommend it as well. And it’s a quick fix for a small animal or area of the body. Fortunately for me, only Charlie’s head received the blast — not so fortunate for him, as I think a lot of it probably did go down his throat!

Ugh.

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Riding With a Bad Back

 

My riding boots. Can you guess which leg I ride with? Can you imagine how much attention and care it must take for a horse to adapt to a one-sided rider? Poor Bella!

I was cleaning house today and as I was moving these riding boots (pictured left) in order to sweep under them, I was shocked to notice the difference in “dirt pattern” on them. Notice the right boot has dirt and horse sweat  ground into the calf whereas the left boot shows none in this area.

I just stood there staring, This really brought home for me what I have been living with for at least the last 5 or 6 years, probably longer, and got me to wondering how it must have affected Bella, my main steady mount for all those years. As recently as 3-1/2 years ago I realized something must be wrong, because the back of my saddle always slipped to the right plus I had a lot of body pain while riding. Then I had a bad slip and fall not quite 3 years ago (not horse related) that took things over the edge.

What I learned from x-rays, due to complications from that fall, was that I not only had damaged nerves and discs, but a very marked curvature of the spine (scoliosis) which was no doubt at the seat of the earlier problems I had been noticing way before the fall. Other x-rays showed my right leg is anatomically shorter than my left. Not much, but a bit . . . and every little bit counts in body balance.

Me and my steady mount, Bella, during one of our 10-minute rides after my fall.

It took me quite a while to get back in the saddle after my fall. Oh I would get on, but after 5 or 10 minutes I was hurting so bad I had to get off. But I really, really wanted to be able to ride again, both in the ring and out on the trail.

So a year ago, when I heard about a certain therapeutic riding instructor in my area, Christina Savitsky, I had one of those magical ‘aha’ moments where you just “know” something is right — that she was the person who could help me ride again.

I called Christina, and the story gets better from that point on. She arrived on that first day with a big smile on her face, a huge cowboy hat on her head to shade her lovely face from our intense New Mexico sun, and an adorable 15-month-old hanging onto her back like a baby monkey. Before mounting up we started talking, and I told her what had happened: the fall, the scoliosis, etc., and before I could even get half of it out she said, “I can see it.” I said, “What?” She said, “I already saw it, when you had your back to me.” I was impressed.

Christina, schooling me in the ring in one our first sessions together, with little Mesa Ray hanging off her back.

Christina already had years under her belt of helping people like me, many with much worse conditions, so as far as she was concerned I was “not a problem.” We got me up on the horse and she began instructing me, gently and positively, in how to reposition my pelvis and back so as to sit in a more comfortable position. She also raised my stirrups so far up that I felt like I was sitting in a rocking chair (and kinda silly . . . but that takes pressure off the lower back, my problem area). 

I can ride an hour and a half now (haven’t tested longer), and I give all the credit to Christina. And I hope to do much more in the coming year or two.

I guess the message here — if anyone else with body problems is reading this blog — is to seek help. Don’t be shy or self-conscious. There are millions of people like us who have such problems! Find a kind someone who has experience and understands your problems and can help you “adjust” your body in such a way as to be successful in the saddle once again. Though I still am not a heavy rider as compared with most, and I ride only for pleasure, I am so very thankful I found the one angel disguised as a therapeutic-riding-instructor-cowgirl who could help me, Leta, get back to what I love so much!

So to all of you with pain and body problems:    Find your own riding angel!  He or she is out there!

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If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more about Christina and what makes a good riding instructor, go HERE!

 

 

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Hot, Dry, Windy and Smoky (HDWS!!) – How to Help Your Horse Under These Conditions

Some might call it coddling, but I am pulling out all the stops to help my horses get through some of the nastiest summer weather conditions they have ever been exposed to.

In spite of normally idyllic conditions, here in New Mexico (as in many Southwest U.S. areas this summer), we haven’t had a drop of rain in I don’t know how long, and wildfires are literally gobbling up the countryside all around us.

The nearest wildfire, just 30 miles away in the Sangre de Christo Mountains. It broke out yesterday.

We have had several days with zero percent humidity, and the winds are raging with gusts up to 50 mph. So smoke fills the air, and has for a few weeks now, causing sneezing, coughing, runny eyes and bad tempers. At least we can get ourselves and our small animals out of it by coming indoors. But our horses are out in it, for better or worse. 

Unlike the 500 acres they had in Texas — with lots of cover, windbreaks, and a steady creek, my horses are restricted to about eight acres here in NM. Acres made up of juniper and sage … and red dirt and sand that the wind flings mercilessly in their eyes when it’s blowing like it is now. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t go back because I can no longer take the extreme heat and humidity of Texas. And I don’t think the horses would either. But everything’s a trade-off, so helping them through such harsh conditions as we are experiencing now in N.M.  is at the top of my priority list these days.

Our New Mexico "pasture." Pretty, but very arid, and obviously this picture was not taken during the current conditions!

Here’s what I do for HDWS (hot, dry, windy & smoky).  And it’s paying off. My horses are happy and in great condition. So if you’re distressed about summer conditions where you live (even if you don’t have all four of HDWS), you might want to try some of these tips yourself.

1. Feed the horses behind shelter from the wind. Mine have a run-in barn — smaller than the one in Texas but it’s a great wind block. Normally I like to spread my horses’ hay out and about in their eight acres, so that they have to move a lot to find it. But when conditions are as they are now, the more protection I can provide, the better.

2. Keep fly masks on 24/7 whenever it’s windy, so that dirt and sand can’t blow in your horses’ eyes and irritate, or worse, cause infection or scar a cornea.

3. Amp up nutrition. I use electrolytes (to keep them drinking plenty of water), anti-oxidants, bran (if I feel the dry conditions are starting to plug them up), free-choice minerals from Advanced Biological Concepts, and probiotics, to name just a few. My personal choice for super foods for my horses are the algae-based products sold through Simplexity Health Products, but whatever products you like and have had good luck with, be sure you plug them in NOW. And I recommend a good, wet, sloppy mash at least once a day (whatever the ingredients).

4. Make sure you provide a salt block and a mineral block. Always. That’s just basic!

5. If flies and mosquitos are a problem (which they usually are NOT when the wind is blowing gale force), definitely find a good fly spray, masks and/or sheets to help your horses out. The last thing they need is huge itchy, scratchy welts on top of HDWS!

6. RINSE OR SOAK YOUR HORSES’ HAY! I think this is one of the most important things you can do, as wet hay gives your horses a cool, damp breath every time they inhale while chewing. When things are at their worst, as they are right now, I spread about half my horses’ hay rations out in a long, shallow trough (with drainage) and distribute the rest among small-holed hay nets, which I can hang under shelter or behind wind blocks. I hose everything down liberally, until it’s dripping wet. And, not surprisingly, lots of the water I see draining out from the hay is quite dirty — no doubt dust from dirt or smoke particles that have lodged in my hay stores. Whatever it is, I’m glad it’s out. And my horses seem to love the wet hay too.

Small-holed hay net (you can find these online). Picture this dripping wet.

7. Hose down your horses whenever it’s too hot, their fly spray has gunked up on them, or the dust has made them into a dirt ball. Heck, hose yourself down at the same time! Spray the hose up in the air so it falls on them like rain — they love that!! (Well, some do….)

8. Oh, and don’t work your horse too much under these conditions. Some of the smoke particulates are microscopic and can lodge in the lungs, causing damage. And some horses have weaker lungs than others — like one of my mares — so do them a favor and take every precaution. This point I got from an equine veterinarian.

All I can say, as we get through this trying time, is:  God bless the firefighters! And, please God, bring us rain!

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I know I have a few followers in the UK, so as I write this post I am thinking:  “Egads! What must my buddies in England be thinking about the horrible conditions over here!!!???” I know this post isn’t helpful for you UK horse lovers, what with your gorgeous green and lush countryside, but, even though we are experiencing just AWFUL conditions here right now, I KNOW you would love New Mexico. In fact I have family from Bath arriving any day now, and this is their favorite place to be, ever. They would all move here in a heartbeat if they could. So don’t give up on us! And thanks for reading my posts! Happy summer to you!

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Ever Fascinating — Horse Personality Types!

I realize a study of horse personality types is not “ever fascinating” to everyone. But, being a horse nut, it is to me. And if you share my passion, then read on.

I have two mares, both coming 10:

Bella, a Mustang from a wild herd with lots of Percheron genes threaded in. I’ve had Bella almost 6 years.

Bella (left) & Corazon

Corazon, a Quarter Horse with a ranch horse heritage as long as your arm. I’ve had Corazon for 6 months.

Both girls are gentle, mellow spirits. I chose each largely for this reason, as I am past the days of wild-west riding and roping and need sound, steady mounts now instead. They are similar in many other ways too: body type (large and chunky), tastes (both are foodies), and manageability (easy-peasey to be around on the ground). They are also both made of of the same two elements when I type them using Dr. Madalyn Ward’s Five-Element Personality Typing System (based on ancient Traditional Chinese Medicine).

Madalyn Ward, DVM, has spent years developing her system, and is one of the major horse  proponents in our country who stresses that horses have different personalities and constitutional types, just like we do, and that they therefore respond differently to food, training, and environment. So “a rose is a rose” does not apply in the horse world (nor the dog, cat, people, or other world).

My Bella is what’s called a Tai Yin (an Earth/Metal combination). Corazon is what’s called a Yang Ming (a Metal/Earth combination). Being so similar in disposition and body type, and sharing the same two elements, one would think they would be very close in personality. But they are not. (You can read a brief description of each of these types HERE.)

I know Bella like the back of my hand, but I am still getting to know Corazon and realized quite some time ago that she is totally different from Bella in many ways.

Bella considers herself my equal. We are very bonded, so she works well with me because she loves our relationship and everything we do together. But she is basically in charge and has very strong opinions. Her strength of will is common among Mustangs, and can often invite abuse, but Bella had the good fortune to be adopted as a yearling by someone who understood her and worked with her in keeping with her personality.

Corazon on the other hand is unsure of herself, lacks confidence, and “stuffs” her feelings. You often don’t know what she’s thinking or feeling, and her way of dealing with fear or confusion is to freeze up. Turns out she was not so lucky in her life and got passed around a lot, probably because people didn’t understand her. She has some old body problems too, so being asked to work through pain would definitely have contributed to her tendency to shut down occasionally. With consistent praise, constant reassurance, body work and good nutrition, her personality is emerging more and more. Her body is loosening up, and she will now express an opinion or two if you ask her to do something she’s not wild about doing.

Pondering these differences, I wrote Dr. Ward asking her for an opinion on how horses who share the same elements can be so different. Here is her response:

The combination Five Element temperaments are more complicated than the pure types. Each combination temperament has its own characteristics in addition to those contributed from each element. Breed and past experiences will also contribute to a horse’s behavior which can make typing more challenging. Taking the time to figure out your horse’s type allows you to understand why he acts the way he does and anticipate problems before they occur. The horse can’t change who he is but we can change how we interact with him so that being with us feels good.

I love this. It affirms my intuition and supports the different way in which I handle each of my girls. Corazon will continue to get all the encouragement and support she needs to fully realize herself; Bella will continue to be my best friend and to own my heart.

The bonus here is that they are a perfect match as “roommates” because Bella leads and Corazon needs a leader! They bonded instantly when I brought Corazon home last August so, whereas not all horses get along, these two compliment each other and make a perfect team. I adore them both and feel I really lucked out!

Corazon (left) & Bella bonding on their first day.

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How Training Works – Just Use a Weiner … or not …

Bear

It’s after lunch and I’m trudging out to the barn where my car is parked, Bear and Charlie at my side, the cold wind blowing through our hair, the pocket of my parka stuffed with a package of out-of-date, slimy weiners. My intent is to start training Bear to get in the car, and Charlie is along to play the role of  “I will get that bite of weiner if you don’t hurry!”

The object, again, is to teach Bear to get in the car, something she has not done except under extreme pressure — and then only once — since I brought her home from the animal shelter last July. At that time two friends accompanied me to the car to help me load up Bear, because as a yearling Great Pyrenees she already weighed around 80 lbs. She shocked us all by literally vaulting into the back of the car before I could even get the tailgate all the way down. She threw up on the way home, but she came willingly. I guess she really, really wanted to leave that life behind — forever.

But once home — and she made it hers very quickly — she obviously decided never to leave again. The one time I took her somewhere, only to be evaluated for grooming, it took three of us to lever her up into the back seat of the truck, and she then refused to budge, much less get out, when the groomer came out to inspect her.

Having won a lesson at a highly acclaimed local dog-training school 4 months ago, I am now dealing with how to get Bear there for said lesson. She’s a very big dog and a very protective dog. She needs the work, and I need to trust that she will answer to me. I am assured that weiners are the key to successful training so out we go for our first lesson on “getting in the car.” We did pretty good. After 3 weiner’s worth of “Up!” — with said weinie bits carefully poised on the tailgate just out of reach — Bear finally succeeded in placing the top half of her body into the car in order to reach the prize. I figured that was enough for one day, especially given our numbing temperaturess right now, so we will pursue this again tomorrow. Charlie got his bites too and did his job very well.

I’ll admit. I was impressed. The weiner thing works really well!

But here’s another example of how training works:

Frida, my 5-lb. long-haired Chihuahua, has recently succeeded in RE-training me as to how she gets into my bed every night. She has slept with me, under the covers, since childhood and has her own footstool-leading-to-trunk-leading-to-bed staircase to get up and down with. She can scale this structure in less than the blink of an eye and usually just goes sailing off in a flying leap when she is motivated to get down for whatever reason.

“But no, Mom. I really like it best when you pick me up and PUT me on the bed.”

I feel as dim as a burned-out lightbulb, but I finally got it as I lay there in the dark last night listening to Frida’s pathetic whimperings and wooflings to be picked up and put in bed: “Damn! I’ve been trained!” I thought, as I threw back the covers, reached down, and lifted her tiny body up into our cozy nest.

And she didn’t even have to use weiners. Go figure.

Frida ... guess where?

I’m just a bit embarrassed here ……..

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