Stella’s Legacy

Saying good-bye to a loved one, whether human or furry, is never easy. And with Stella, it was an event I didn’t want to face, but knew it was inevitable, since she was now 28 years old.

The early years

We purchased Stella in November – Thanksgiving weekend to be exact – in 2003. We had just completed the pilot for our therapeutic riding program, and although our young, energetic horses were willing, I knew we needed what I lovingly called a “grandma” horse. Tom started by calling members of the Haflinger Association that we belonged to and stumbled across Stella. He checked her out, said she would be a good fit, and we purchased her.

tyler-scratching-stellas-ears-christmascamp2003She was about three inches shorter than the rest of the herd, and a little more drafty. To be honest, a lot draftier and about 250 pounds overweight. But, she was gentle, accepting of our riders, and eager to please.

A therapeutic horse has a big responsibility. The horse has to be able to accept riders with anxieties, or no balance, or sudden outbursts without reacting. It really goes against what we know about the fight or flight instinct that every horse possesses.

One of Stella’s first riders was a young boy who was terrified of moving on the horse. He would mount up, but his anxiety was so high, that it took almost the whole class to get him to walk two or three steps. Stella stood, and stood, and stood, barely moving her muscles so he wouldn’t panic. And when she did move, it was a small step.

Another rider came for her first “try” at riding and did not want to get on. So we brushed, Samantha demonstrates riding bareback on Stellaand brushed, and then brushed some more. Finally, the very young girl got on and took a stroll around the arena. Decided she liked it and rode for the next six years – strengthening her core, balance, and muscles. This same young girl could not ride a bicycle. After a few years of riding, she not only could ride, but eventually was able to do 25 mile rides to raise money to cure Juvenile Diabetes. Thanks Stella!

My husband swore Stella tiptoed around the arena whenever we had a more fragile child on her back. She was so totally aware of the passengers she was carrying.

The diagnosis

One of the things that I noticed early on with Stella was her lack of energy. Yes, she was calm and easy-going with the riders, but, it seemed that she was run out of energy and drag around the arena before the day’s lessons were completed. I wasn’t sure if it was her weight, diet, or something else. But, she appeared healthy and the vet didn’t seem over concerned.

Quinn uses the surcingle in his riding class.About four years later we lost a young horse and discovered she had Equine Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy (EPSM). We did our due diligence and had our entire herd tested for this disease. Stella came back positive. The horse we lost was 8 years old, Stella was 18! We worked with our vet and put Stella on a diet that would, at best, keep this disease in check.

Within a week Stella’s energy level changed. She did not drag herself around the arena and was eager to trot with the riders who were capable. I was concerned that her new energy level would change the way she handled our therapeutic riders – but it did not. She was definitely a steady-Eddie for our youngest and more fragile riders.

The last few years

I always felt that if a horse reached 25 years, every day after that is a blessing. A few years ago we had a winter of non-stop below zero weather. We do not stall our horses and I was concerned that we would lose Stella in the brutal winter. But her thick golden coat kept her warm enough.

Stella's last lesson.Then, two years ago she started losing weight. Our vet suggested feeding her separately and offer second cutting hay instead of first. She regained her weight and muscle in a very short period of time. Sometimes we think she enjoyed her special treatment. Nickering to us when we came into the barn as if to say, “I’m ready for breakfast, let me in!” We could open the door and she would go to “her” eating stall automatically – no lead line required.

But last fall, probably November, I noticed that although she still enjoyed coming to the arena for lessons, she was not willing to trot her young, light riders. She was definitely slowing down – not dragging – but a little slower than normal.

And so, as we said good-bye this past weekend, we ended the legacy of a horse that captured the heart of every rider she had as well as the parents of those riders. But her spirit will live on forever in our hearts and memories.

Linda Watson-Call is the owner and head riding instructor at Pretty Pony Pastures. Visit the website for details on all the lessons and activities at this facility.

One of the fun things to do with horses is to teach them tricks. So at our March Golden Pony Club we did that.

There are some tricks that we would never teach our horses for safety reasons – like rearing or kissing on the lips. But there are so many others that are fun and very teachable. All tricks are actions that a horse will normally do. So the only thing that is tricky is getting the horse to do the action on command.

To really teach a trick, you need to repeat the action over and over a period of days. Since our club only meets for two hours, each member did the action with the horse three times. Rewards are also important. We give a small carrot as a reward if the horse at least “tries” to do the action.
We started with the one trick that everyone loves to see – Smiling! This is a relatively simple trick. The horse will naturally raise its upper lip to get a better smell of its surroundings. It will also lift the lip when it’s in pain. Lifting the lip is called flehmen (flay’-mon).

Smile Leslie_2 r25r50We teach it one of two ways: either by tickling the nose with a string – baling twine works just fine, or dipping the baling twine in a liquid that has a strong scent to it – like a perfume. We tried it both ways during our session and got some results.

 

 

Hug Buttercup_1 r25r50

The second trick was teaching the horse to give a hug. This one was a little more difficult for the girls. You need to hold the treat – in this case a carrot on a Frisbee – behind your back so the horse looks over your shoulder to get it. The girls arms a much shorter than an adults, so they had the treat closer to their waist and the horse simply went behind them to get the reward. We’ll have to work on this one a little more.

The last trick was shaking hands/hooves. This is on my questionable trick list, but it is a fun one, too. I place it on the questionable list because we don’t want to teach the horse to paw or strike forward with a hoof, but the horses that I taught it too, never picked up either habit, so I will teach it.

 

Shake Leslie_1 r25r50The cue word is “shake” and we start by putting a lead line around the fetlock and on the cue “shake” put some pressure on the rope to encourage the horse to pick up the hoof. If the horse shift weight to the other hoof and just moves the hoof that we want lifted, we reward to the horse. This trick takes longer to teach than the other tricks, but, like any trick, everyone enjoys seeing the horse “shake” hands/hooves.

To see more pictures of teaching the horses tricks go to our Facebook page.

 

Linda Watson is the owner and head riding instructor at Pretty Pony Pastures. Visit the website for details on all of the lessons and activities at this facility.

 


You have to wonder which is worse, the deep snow or the gusting winds that are bringing the temperature below 00 and the wind chill into the -30s. We can bundle up, but what about our fur kids – the horses.

With over ten years’ experience, you would think I wouldn’t worry any more. But I do. Even though I know that our horses have enough to eat and warm water to drink and shelter. I still can’t help being concerned even though I know how the metabolism of the horse works.

Eating_Hay_1re

Good feed

Hay is the best feed for horses, especially during the cold winter months. When the hay is digested in the hindgut, it ferments and keeps the horse warm. Increase hay as the temperature drops below freezing. Consult your vet to determine the optimal amount of hay for your horse. Older horses and working horses may require more hay than easy keepers or pasture ornaments. If you can keep hay in front of your horse at all times, that would be perfect. But some horses would gorge themselves, so this is not a wise choice.

Plenty of water

Even in the winter the horse needs a good source of palatable water to prevent colic. Water heaters work good in large tanks and heated buckets work in stalls. If the water is too warm, your horse may not drink it. Also make sure the heater is grounded. Your horse will refuse to drink if it gets a shock from the water bucket.

Nature’s insulation

Most horses put on a thick coat for the winter. But did you ever wonder if it is thick enough? Do you ever shiver and get goose bumps? So do horses. Shivering – not excessively – can help boost the metabolism and help warm the horse up. More effective is piloerection. When you get goose bumps, your skin contracts and little bumps appear causing your hair to stand on end. The same thing happens with the horse, but, this fluffs their coat. They can actually control how “fluffy” their coat gets and the air space between the hair helps to insulate them against the cold. A healthy horse will have a “blanket of snow” on their backs and not be wet at all.

Moving the blood

But what about their hooves, ears, muzzle? The horse has a capillary system that can direct the blood to and from different parts of the body. So, in the summer, the thermoregulatory system directs the blood away from the organs and toward the skin to relieve the body of heat. It also directs the blood in a way to cool the hooves, ears, and muzzle. In the winter, the opposite happens and the blood warms these areas.

Knowing all of this, I will still check on the horses regularly, making sure they have a good supply of hay and a filled, warm water trough. Then go back to the house for a cup of hot chocolate, since my body could learn something from the horse’s metabolism.


It might be because I come from a military family –  Dad_1944my father was in the MerchantKaren_uniform Marines and all his brothers also served during World War II, my husband was in the service, my daughter retired from the Air Force, a grandson just came back from Afghanistan, and my granddaughter’s husband is still serving.

It might be because when I taught I could see how hard it was for the kids whose parents were police officers, fire fighters, first responders, not knowing if they would be safe in the job that they do.

When we read about Horses4Heroes and Operation Freedom, we knew that this was an organization that we wanted to be associated with. So, on May 18th from 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm, we will be hosting Hero Appreciation Day at our horseback riding facility.

This is a day where our active and veteran service families and community service families (police officers, fire fighters, EMS, etc.) can come out and enjoy a day at the farm. There is no charge to participate in the activities that will be available – horseback riding, horse grooming, making horse treats, and other horse themed games.

We are looking forward to a fun-time with the heroes and their families in our community.

For more information and our location, please visit our Website.


As we begin Volunteer Appreciation Week, I think about all the different ways we can serve each other and have an effect on a life. Sometimes it’s a person we know; sometimes a person we don’t; but always the person within.

At our farm, we appreciate the time our volunteers take to work with our riders. We all have seen different ways the horses have made improvements in the lives of our riders – increasing muscle tone and coordination, gaining confidence by controlling a 1,000 pound animal, and just having fun.

There have also been positive improvements in our volunteers as well. Blood pressure lowered, weight loss, increased confidence and finding a new joy in living.

As Tom Brokaw once said, “It’s easy to make a buck. It’s a lot tougher to make a difference.”

So to all the volunteers, men and women, young and old, who take the time to make a difference in the life of someone else, we, at Pretty Pony Pastures, salute you.


That’s funny, the red truck pulled in, but it’s winter. That’s the man that cuts down the good grass during the summer. What’s he doing here today? He asked mom if the horses would be afraid of a “quad.” I don’t know what a quad is, but she said we’re not afraid of anything, and she’s right!

He took a big blue thing out of his truck, hitched up a trailer to the back, then got on the blue thing and rode it into our paddock. The man’s friends came in, too, and started scooping our poo into the trailer. Oh, now I know why the man is here, we going to have a clean place to live! I said “Hello” to the man and his human friends, but I wanted to meet his blue friend.

I thought, the man got on it, just like the riders get on me, so it must be a horse like me, even if it does make the strangest whinny when the man rides him. When the man got off, I lost no time going over to say hello and check it out. It didn’t move! I nuzzled its big blue head, I tried to push it, but it just stood there. But when the man got on it, it made the funniest whinny I ever heard and moved out pulling the trailer.

I kept trying all day to get this new horse to do something. All the other horses kick at me, or bite me, or at least move, but not him. Then I stood right in front of him when the man was on him to stop him from going away, but he just kept making those strange whinnies and knickers. Finally mom came over and told me to move, so I did. My blue friend left. I think he was nice. I heard one of the man’s friends tell mom that I covered the blue horse with kisses and slobber. Yup, I did. I sure hope my new best friend comes back again!


Trust is such a big issue when it come to horses and riders. You will hear one person say, “I trust my horse’s judgement better than my own on the trails.” Another may say, “I could never trust my horse in a new situation.”

When there is a strong bond between the horse and rider, it seems all is well; when there isn’t – the picture isn’t pretty.
I just read an article that was published in two different magazines showing how the horse and rider or leader are intertwined. According to the article, there was an experiment with 10 horses and 20 people. The first group of 10 people were to ride the horse. Both the horse and rider were wired to pick up the heartbeat. The riders were told to ride the horse past a group of people four times, but on the fourth pass, several of the bystanders would open an umbrella. Watching the monitors, the persons who were conducting the experiment say BOTH the riders and horses heart rates increase on the fourth pass. Some of the horses were getting fidgety. Why? Only the riders knew about the umbrellas, which, by the way, we never opened! But, the riders anticipated and the horses responded to the feeling they were receiving from the rider.

Next group only led the horse with a halter and lead line. They were told the same thing. Walk by the group of spectators four times, on the fourth time some on the people will open an umbrella. The results were identical! The horse not only feels our energy when we are on their backs but when they are being led as well!Copper Boy kisses ghost cropped

At our arena, we tell the parents and riders that we will dismount if there are severe storms or thunder storms.  The parents always question whether the horses are afraid of thunder.  Our answer has always been, “No, but if the rider gets scared, the horses wil  get scared as well.  No matter how much we try to desensitize the horses, they will still respond to the rider or leader.

We witnessed this just the other day.  We had three adult riders in the arena.  Two were on lead line, one was riding independent.   It was not a particularly windy day, but, in the middle of the class, a tree in the woods behind the arena decided to fall.  One of the riders on lead line head the rustle, tensed up, then decided it was nothing.  Her horse did a little jig for one or two steps and immediately quieted down.  The second rider on lead line was in deep conversation with the leader.  Neither of them were aware of the noise; their horse did nothing.  The third rider saw the tree as it started to fall and began to react to the anticipated noise.  Her horse reacted to her anticipation and trotted out about 30 feet.  The rider was able to regain composure and bring the horse to a walk.  The horse that did nothing is our newest horse and has had the least amount of desensitizing.

Which makes me wonder – how important is it for the rider to trust the horse and the horse to trust the rider?