One writes a blog at the risk of sounding preachy. In my blog, I try to share my opinions, my experience, as well as links to scientific research. I realize that in this world there are lots of opinions. When it comes to opinions, as with armpits, everyone has them. So, when I opine on something, I’m often asked, “What would you do if it were your horse?” It’s an interesting question. I’ve owned horses throughout my life, Piper, my current horse, is the first one that I’ve raised from a weanling. Just so as to help you understand my philosophy on horse raising, I thought I might tell you about what I do with my horse (well, our horse – Piper’s the apple of my wife’s eye).
I want to believe that Piper picked me. I’m not saying that she did pick me, but believing that she did makes me feel good. I was standing in the middle of a 40 acre pasture full of mares and foals, and some assorted other horses, when I became aware of my back pocket being nibbled. I turned around and there was a black filly foal. She was adorable. I turned and shooed her away: “Back to your Mom!.” I had things to do. I walked on.
After strolling a few hundred feet, I paused. I observed. Nibbling began anew.
I turned around and looked more closely at this four month old filly. Jet black with a star and a little snip. White on three legs. Really cute. She’d never been handled. When I went at her, arms stretched wide, I fully expected her to turn and run. That’s what all unbroke babies do. Not Piper (she wasn’t Piper then). She just stood there and soaked in the affection. I was hooked. I couldn’t resist. She’s well-bred – Hannoverian lineage. But genetics really had nothing to do with anything. She picked me.
A couple of months later, Piper got weaned. She was hauled down to the home of some good friends in Northern California. She lived for the next year and a half on about 10 acres, with three adult horses as her buddies. A big Quarterhorse gelding took her under his wing and showed her how to be a horse. He didn’t let her get away with much, but he looked after her if the other horses got a bit aggressive. Horses are like that. It’s good to let them be horses.
Piper learned to have her feet picked up and to be lead in a halter and to have her feet trimmed, but other than that, she pretty much spent 18 months being adorable. That sweetness that she showed at 4 months just kept on developing. We’d go see her and there was never really a need for anything like a halter. She’s just stand there and let you pet her. I wish I had more pictures of her but she was really hard to get in a photo. The minute she saw you she’d move towards you to get more attention. I have plenty of shots of half of her muzzle.
BASIC CARE: In the first couple of years of Piper’s life, I think she may have been dewormed once or twice. I’m pretty sure she got vaccinations at least once. Honestly, I don’t know because I trusted my friends to take care of it (they’re veterinarians). She got some alfalfa hay and some grass hay and a little bit of fortified grain because she was growing and needed the calories, but that was about it.
Once Piper was 2 we hauled her down to southern California. She’d only been in a trailer once but we didn’t make a big deal about it and neither did she. She moved to a 48 x 60 dirt corral that had a tree in it. Piper loved the tree. In fact, she pretty much lived in it in the summer. I can’t really remember why we started giving her some flax seed meal but we did. Now she gets it every day because my wife thinks it makes her coat shiny. These are not battles for a husband to fight.
At about 2 1/2 years we took Piper to a well-respected western horse trainer and rider and left her with him. I was with him the first day he got on her – he carefully slid onto her back and she just turned around and looked quizzically at him as if to say, “What are you doing up there?” She was with him for a couple of months and was, according to him, “The easiest horse to break I have ever been on.”
Back to her 48 x 60. Now having been introduced to the saddle, Piper was ready to go out an do some things. So, variously, she got ponied on trail rides, she got taken out on the trail, she had guns shot off her back, she watched carefully while horses ran around barrels, and she got ridden in the arena a bit. She had several experienced riders riding her in various capacities. She didn’t really do anything in particular – she did a little bit of everything.
My wife hoped that Piper was going to be a good dressage horse, although the hunter trainer who rode her some swore that she’d mop up as an A-circuit show hunter. So, she learned to jump over a few poles and now she can even handle the occasional X or small vertical fence.
BASIC CARE: When she came down from northern California, there were a few parasites in her manure, so I dewormed her. That was the only time that she’s been dewormed in the past three years but I do check twice a year. She’s had vaccinations twice a year because I think it’s a good idea and it’s required for her to show. In southern California, rabies isn’t a problem, and neither are things like Potomac Horse Fever or botulism, so I don’t vaccinate against those diseases. I won’t give her a strangles vaccine; it doesn’t work. She eats mostly alfalfa hay with a little bit of grass hay for lunch. She got a little fat for a while – when you don’t feed your horses yourself, controlling the amount of hay can be a problem, so we put her on a diet. She’s not fat anymore.
She went to her first show last year and won a blue ribbon in her first dressage class: western dressage, as a matter of fact. I hauled her down in our trailer, unloaded her, and helped groom her. She warmed up a little bit, went into the ring, and did great. We loaded up and went back home.
BASIC HOOF CARE: Piper didn’t wear shoes until she was four. Her front feet were chipping pretty badly due to the hard, dry ground on which she has to run around. Her back feet seemed to be OK – horses carry a lot less weight on their back feet, so there’s less force on the hoof wall. So, she got front shoes put on. Her back feet have never been shod. She’s got white feet and they are well-shaped and strong (there’s an old myth about white hooves being “weaker” that’s been thoroughly disproved, and Piper is a living testimonial to the fact that white hooves are just as good as dark hooves).
This summer, we said good-bye to the ranch where Piper had been for two years and moved to a new ranch, closer to home. I insisted on paying more for a 30 x 60 corral with a cover. If I have anything to say about it, Piper will never have to live in a stall. Piper’s in dressage training now but while the training is great, it’s also pretty low key. Piper only does dressage three or four days a week. She goes out on trail rides at least once a week and trots up hills to keep her hind end strong. She jumps fences once a week or so and also just goes on strolls around the property. She’s not a big fan of garbage dumpsters but she’s getting used to them. It’s funny that, even as a 5-year-old, she’s happy to go on trails and rarely spooks because she’s calm and confident.
BASIC CARE: Piper gets alfalfa hay in the morning and night, and grass hay in the middle of the day. In the morning, pretty much every other horse gets a “bucket” containing any one or a number of attractively packages and heavily promoted supplements. My wife doesn’t want Piper to feel left out, so Piper gets a bit of chopped alfalfa sweetened with molasses and her flax seed, often mixed with a lot of water so that Piper can make a mess of her face. As I said earlier, these are not battles for a husband to fight, no matter what his qualifications. Besides, Piper likes being messy.
Oh, yes. I leveled and smoothed her teeth for the first time a few weeks ago because there were some sharp spots and she was tossing her head a bit. It may have helped – I’m not sure. I’m sure I’ll do it again sometime in the future, just not sure when. I’ll check every once in a while.
I’m not saying that the way that Piper has been raised is the way that all horses have to be raised. It’s just the way that I’ve chosen to do things based on my education and experience. I like to make things as easy as possible. I like to try to keep costs down. I don’t like things that are complicated and expensive. It makes me not want to do them. I don’t think horse owning has to be like that.
Piper’s now qualified for the California Dressage Society Championships later in the month. Of course, Piper doesn’t care. She just likes people. They’ve been good to her and she’s returned the favor. No matter how well she does in shows, we mostly just want her to keep having good experiences. After all, she picked me.