The Swish of a Tail

It’s  summer and on horse farms all around the country that means one thing – Bugs.  And it feels like horses attract them all.  Or a good majority of them anyway.

That’s why horses are so proud of their tails.  Or at least they’re glad they have one.  The longer the better.  Manes and forelocks help too.   So, it’s tail swishing season. Take a look at this video I took the other day.

This is princess and Belle swishing tails.

princess and belles tail

Belle is very good at the tail movement thing.She does it any time she can.  Including when I’m back there trying to groom her.  Boom- tail swat in the face or arm.  I try not to take it personally, but you know??





Look at that – tail and mane synchronized.

major and mini backsideThis is Major (long tail) and Mini (docked tail).  Mini apparently was supposed to be a carriage horse at one time or another so they docked her tail which is done many times to carriage horses.  It’s too bad cause now Mini can’t protect herself as well from the attack of bugs.  And she never has pulled a carriage.


flash tail

Flash fanning his white tail.

majors braided tailThis braided tail on Major looks cool – to humans anyway.  Not so sure horses like it, especially if it makes it hard for them to swatch flys with.  Cause in bug season – that’s what tails do best.

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Princess in the Spring

princess 2In past posts, I’ve written about our horse Princess who is a Morgan/Saddlebred and is Laminitic.  She is laminitic because she is Insulin Resistant.  Every vet we have ever talked to has told us to keep her off grass.  We have struggled with that though because,

First – we believe that horses should be free and grazing all the time.

And second  –  the farm where we board only has grass pastures.  So, it’s very hard to find a place without grass in the Spring, Summer and Fall.  Winter’s easy because we live in northern Illinois and the grass is dead.

Last year, we muzzled her during the day and brought her into a small, dirt paddock at night.  It really didn’t work out so well.  She was sore for most of the year.

This year, we decided to muzzle her 24 hours a day and keep her out on the grass pasture with the herd.  So, far, she is doing amazing.  She isn’t sore.  She runs around and is her old, feisty self.

princess muzzleWe also have her on Chinese Herbs for laminitic horses, Dr. Dan’s Just Add Oats nutritional supplement, A Magnesium Cookie and lately I’ve been adding two Tbsp of Braggs apple cider vinegar which is supposed to help the body metabolize sugar slower.

Our farrior also talked us into trying rubber shoes.  We are usually against shoes, but these

princess shoe bottom

are rubber, so they flex more than steel ones to allow her hoofs to still have air flow.  They are screwed in from the top also.  When I saw him do this, I cringed, but Princess had her eyes half closed and was napping the whole time, so it didn’t hurt her at all.

princess hoof screws

The lamina is the substance inside the hoof wall that connects the protective outer layering of the hoof – the hoof wall – to the internal structures of the hoof.  When a horse has laminitis the lamina gets inflamed and the hoof wall is compromised, so the shoe is helping keep her hoof wall connected to the laminae as she heals.

We really don’t know what is helping her – all of it?  But I think that movement is key in the success we’ve had this year.  And getting limited grass because of the muzzle.  We do let her freely graze for an hour or two also, when we come each day.  But movement.  It is so important for a horse’s health, both mentally and physically.

princess 3

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Fence Fixing

chute from other sideLast summer we created a chute that went through a section of woods from one pasture to another.  Come Spring, however, the horses decided they wanted to be on the other side of the fence.  Grass is always greener, yah know.  So, they unhooked the electric, and broke down the rope.  When we jerry-rigged that, some of them jumped the fence.  Or otherwise, magically appeared on the other side of the fence – no evidence of how they got there?  This last weekend we mended the fence or actually tore the whole thing down and started over.

We bought wooden posts – 8 feet long by 5.


And cable wire. (bought a roll of it from Horse Fence Direct)

We rented an auger for the day at Home Depot.

We bought a very long drill bit.

We dug the holes, put in the posts, drilled five holes in each post (measured a foot apart), strung the cable and created a beautiful, new fence.

fence side

Lessons Learned:

  • Bring a battery back-up for your drill and a way to recharge it in your truck.
  • Use a separate post to pound down the dirt around the posts you have just inserted in hole.
  • If you drive your vehicle into the pasture, your horses will want to help you.
  • horses and van (2)horses and truck


  • Horses like to play with windshield wipers. (who knew?)

Right now there is no electric, but we plan to add that as time allows.  So far the horses have left the fence alone, but come Fall as the grass starts to die in the pasture, I’m pretty sure what’s on the other side of this new, much taller, much more sturdy fence will look too good to ignore and the horses will find a way to get around it.  They are magic that way.

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Princess and her Laminitis

So, Princess is a laminitic horse.  She is a Morgan/Saddlebred.  She’s more Morgan than Saddlebred (I’d say anyway).  Last fall she started to become Insulin Resistant and Laminitic.  That’s a big problem, especially since our horses live 24/7 on grass pasture.  And it broke my heart because I truly believe horses should have lives free and grazing all the time.  But we had no choice but to take her off grass for awhile anyway.  We got her body stable by bringing her into a stall at night for a few weeks and then muzzled out with the herd during the day. princess headThe grass doesn’t grow in Illinois in the winter, so she got to be out again 24/7 once November came and the grass died.  We tried various herbs and supplements through the winter.  princessThen, as it always does, Spring came.  We were very nervous because with Spring comes sweet, new grass.  We decided to muzzle her in the day and putting her into a dirt paddock/shelter area at night with one or two of the other pasture horses.  There is an older Arabian named Nysa in the picture below who is arthritic and likes coming in with Princess for a rest from the herd at night.  Sometimes we put Belle in there too (behind the pole) as she gets a little fat in summer, so a break from the grass works and she loves being with Princess.

prnicess and nyssa

At the start of spring, we gave her two containers of Dr. Dan’s Critical Care supplement which seemed to work well, but it’s very expensive and is not meant to be given more than a few times.  We also tried Chinese herbs from For Love of the Horse also a bit expensive for us.  As spring ended and summer arrived, we took off the muzzle during the day. Sometimes she took it off herself.  The pasture she’s in is about 30 acres or so, so finding it was never easy.  So we decided to go without it.   We found a local woman named Margaret Reiland who works with Chinese Herbs and does acupressure.  She came out and looked at Princess and did accupressure and has mixed a formula of herbs for her.  Margaret also has a laminitic horse who is on grass pasture 24/7 and is using her formula.

We watched Princess like a hawk and she seemed to be doing well.  Then one weekend Rachael and her boyfriend took Princess on a camping trip.  It turned out the terrain where they went was extremely rocky and hard.  Princess came back with very chewed up and sore feet.  She also got an abscess from the experience.  We continued our routine though – out of grass during the day, in dirt paddock at night.

princess and majorSo, far so good.  We even had her x-rayed again the other day and there is no more movement of the coffin bone, so we feel we are on the right track.


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Belle is an Arabian – about five years old.  She was a rescue.  She and her father were brought to a barn where we used to board.  In fact, it was their second time being rescued from neglect.  We’ve had her now for about two years.

This is Belle.  Isn’t she cute?


belle resting_close

belle at night

Since Belle was malnourished at least twice in her life we waited to ride her.  And frankly for any horse we believe it’s best to wait till they are five or six to start riding seriously.  It does take that long for a horse to be fully grown.  Recently, my daughter Rachael got on her.  Before she actually got on though, we spent months, walking and trotting her with only the saddle on.  We would hang on the saddle or put one foot in then out.  We got her used to the mounting block too.  Then Rachael got on, while I lead them around with a lead rope attached.



rachael on belle

She doesn’t seem to have too much trouble with a rider.  She tends to go very slow as if she’s afraid you might fall off if she goes faster.  The problem, we learned the hard way, is that she gets scared when other horses get too close to her.  She is a horse that is at the bottom of the herd hierarchy and runs away from other horses, or skips, or bucks.

Since she is a very small Arabian, and we really didn’t have any riding plans for her, but just wanted to give her a loving home, we’ve decided to try driving with her.  It’s something we’ve never done before and will require a lot of training from the ground, but we are going to give it a try.  We’ll keep you posted as we move forward.


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Building a New Chute

So the thing about horse farms in Illinois is that there is always mud.  Some places there is a little mud.  Most places there is a lot of mud, especially in spring and fall when it rains frequently.  At the place where we board, there is a pathway from one pasture to another that is one big muddy mess.  It’s also filled with huge ruts from horses going back and forth through it every day, so not only is it unsafe for horses as they sink practically to their

2015-04-25 15.17.08

2015-04-25 15.18.47

knees in mud or slip all over the place, but a few of them have scratches on their legs from it, which are little scabs all over their skin.

2015-04-25 15.24.55

So, we asked the owners if we could open up another passageway at the top of a hill, through some woods and then close off the muddy one for awhile.  So, my daughter and her boyfriend and I cleared a path.

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Kevin used a chain saw to remove some of the smaller trees.2015-04-05 13.14.062015-04-05 13.17.372015-04-05 13.36.202015-04-05 13.40.45

We cleared away all the branches and roots on the ground.clearing path before

We used white rope to measure off the path.

2015-04-05 13.14.002015-04-05 13.36.082015-04-05 14.42.402015-04-05 14.42.482015-04-05 14.52.562015-04-05 14.53.02IMG-20150426-00315IMG-20150426-00317


We pounded in all these medal posts and ran electrical rope for the fencing on both sides.IMG-20150426-00320 IMG-20150426-00319

Kevin installed the solar panel to get the electric fence working.  My daughter Rachael and another border, Lisa are helping.


chute from other side

Chute from the other side.

horses in chute

horses in chute2

It took us about three or four days of working on it, but the horses were finally allowed in and enjoyed eating the grass they found in there.  No more mud.

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Rocky 1982-2014

me and rocky at trish's

Me and Rocky at Trish’s


When I first met him, his name was Rocky.  He was being boarded at the same barn where my oldest daughter rode her two horses.  I had never been involved with horses much, except to watch my daughter ride.  When it came time for her to go off to college, I decided it was time to get involved, so that I could keep an eye on her horses and exercise them some.  That’s when I met Rocky.  He was spending a good majority of his time alone and in his stall.  He had gone completely blind about five or more years ago.  They had tried to put him out with older horses, but one day, one of them kicked him and he ran through a wooden fence.  So, from then on, he was only allowed in the indoor arena for a few hours a day by himself and then back to his stall.

rocky at refuge farm

I had a very hard time seeing that and asked if I could exercise him on the nights I was there with my daughter’s horses as his owner never seemed to come out.  At the beginning it was hard to get him out of his stall some nights.  It was his security and he had accepted it as his life, but I persisted and before long, I was going every night and on weekends to walk him.  I became more and more interested in horses and how they lived and thought.  I began reading everything I could about horses and learned about herd behavior and their needs.

I then asked if I could take Rocky out to graze.  He was scared to go outside at first and I soon realized he hadn’t even been out of the barn for years.  Never had the sun on his back – for years.  It didn’t take long before he realized there was grass out there though.  So every night we’d go out and walk for a little while around the gravel parking lot.  He’s get so he knew when I was going to turn.  I’d speed up or slow down and he was right there with me.  Then we’d get to the part he really wanted, the grass.  We’d spend hours every night in the field together.  No agenda, no training, just hanging out – and eating.  Winter, summer, rain, snow, heat.  I couldn’t let him down.

Then came the day, we learned the farm was being foreclosed on and closing.  I immediately went out and found another barn that had a blind horse already, that could work for Rocky.  I contacted his owner, but she had decided it would be too inhumane to move a blind horse to a new home.  She had even talked to a vet and he had confirmed that, so she had scheduled to euthanize him.

I am not typically a fighting person.  I pretty much except things or try to quietly change them.  Not this time.  I begged, and pleaded for Rocky.  And, as luck would have it, found the website for Refuge Farm.  I contacted Sandy and asked her if it was inhumane to move this horse I loved?  She confirmed it was not, and she had rehomed blind horses many times.  And then said she would take him if the owner would give him up.  I ran to Rocky’s owner and told her all this, armed with copies of articles from this blog, from things Sandy had said and begged her to reconsider.  I begged the barn manager, and the vet.  I fought.

During this time, at night, out grazing, I would run my hands over Rocky’s back, and neck, and face.  I memorized every part of him and how it felt.  Whatever happened to him, I wanted to be able to close my eyes and see him.  In the two years, we had been together, he had showed me so much, without me even realizing it.  About horses, about acceptance, about patience and most of all about trust.  I had learned that it is not natural for horses to trust humans.  We are predators to them and unless given a reason, we are not to be trusted.    But in our time together, Rocky gave me, maybe the most special thing a horse can give a human – his trust.  And when a horse gives you his complete trust, he somehow becomes a part of you.

rockman and gracie in Madison 2014

Rockman and his love Gracie


In the end, Rocky won and came to Refuge Farms and became RockMan.  It wasn’t an easy transition for him.  He had lived so long in a stall without other horses.  He was nervous about the freedom and about the other horses, but yet craved both.  Sandy and any volunteer that worked with him, helped him transition, cared about him, nurtured him and he slowly learned and he got a life that he so truly deserved.    He was always easy to love with his easy going ways and his -just put some food in front of me and I’ll do what you want personality.  He may have been a little stubborn or pushy from time to time, but in the end would accept your way and be fine with it.  Fences, however, were something he never quite understood.  Maybe no horse really does, and one day he went through one and cut up his leg.  But instead of being shoved in a stall and forgotten like last time, he was moved into the shelter area with Gracie and Shorty and that’s when he truly bonded with Gracie.  That is when RockMan got everything he could ever ask for.  He got the freedom to graze all night, love and attention from volunteers and visitors, and a beautiful, kind mare to love.

Rocky, his girlfriend Gracie and Shorty

Shorty, Gracie and Rockman


In his time at Refuge Farm and with Trish, I visited him on four separate occasions, and each time, saying good bye to him was very hard for me.  It sometimes would take me three times of trying to leave, but going back for just one more hug or to give him one more flake of hay.  One more glance before going.  And when I learned of his death, I had to say one last good bye.  And in doing that, I wrote this to RockMan:

There are some horses that just talk to your soul and you don’t even realize they are doing it. They come into your life and without visible effort, they teach you, they mold you, and one day you find that you’re a different person; and if you’re being honest with yourself, you realize it is because of this horse. It doesn’t happen with every horse you meet, but if you’re lucky, you someday will meet that one horse that sings to you, that opens you up, that forces you to look at the world in a different way.

If you meet that horse that quietly wraps itself around you and becomes a piece of who you are, then you can consider yourself truly blessed. Thank you RockMan. Thank you for everything.

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