The Donkey Whisperer

My first pet, at the age of six, was a gerbil.  I named her Sugar.  I carried her around in my pocket, fed her bits of carrots and apples, and put fresh shavings in her cage every week.

This is Fajita Margarita.  She believes she is a gerbil.  She is so sure, as a matter of fact, that she occasionally attempts to crawl into my pocket.  She’s pushy, jealous, moody, and as hard-headed as any equine ever was.  She gets away with things the other members of the herd don’t.  Pushing, for instance.  Yes, her ground manners are atrocious, but not malicious.

"Yes, I can fit in your pocket."

My eldest daughter, at the age of nine, decided she would train Fajita, who was at that time 3 years old.  She started in the round pen, teaching her to go round in a circles.  Five minutes later, my daughter declared, “Okay, done with ground work.  Time to get her going under saddle!”  I reminded her we didn’t have a saddle that would fit a miniature donkey.  “No matter,” she announced, “we’ll do this bareback.”  Her father and I insisted she put a helmet on, “because she’ll buck, you know.”

After a few minutes of back and forth, “she won’t buck” ‘yes she will’  “no, she won’t,”  she led her over to the mounting block, leaned on her for a moment or two, then swung a leg up.  Fajita took three or four steps forward.   Georgia was ecstatic!  “I told you she wouldn’t…”

The timing was impeccable.  She hadn’t even gotten the word buck out, when a blur of gray and black spun around three times.  Somehow, Georgia sat the spins, but came off after the third buck.  As she lay on her back in the middle of the round pen, she sighed.  “Well, I guess we needed more ground work.”

Nobody ever tried to ride Fajita again.   She proudly reigns as Barnyard Queen, knowing her status is safe: Fajita, Giant Pocket Pet.

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It’s just conjunctivitis, right?

Late this summer, my nine year old quarter horse gelding developed conjunctivitis in his right eye.  I’d dealt with this before, so I called the vet and said that I’d like to drop by for some antibiotic ointment.  I started it that evening, and used it faithfully twice a day for eight days.  His eye never cleared up.  I called back and told them it wasn’t responding to the treatment, so they offered me another ointment, this one with steroids.  After the prescribed treatment time, there was still no change.

I had the vet come out to see one of my other horses, so I asked him to take a look at Jake’s eye.  He looked and said he saw no ulcerated areas, so it must be allergies.  This went on for three more weeks.  Jake’s eye never improved, and I could tell it was making him crazy.  It weeped constantly, and he had rubbed it raw scratching it on his right leg.  I called again to inform the vet there was still no improvement.  Once again, I was told it was allergies.  They had no intelligent response to my question why would he only have allergy symptoms in one eye.

I wasn’t happy with this response, so I took him for a second opinion.  The new vet immediately spotted the culprit:  a small, fleshy growth on the bottom of his third eyelid, or nicitating membrane.  He was honest, “it doesn’t look good, but I want to biopsy it.”  Ten days later, the biopsy results were in: it was squamous cell carcinoma.  He asked me to bring him in that next day to have his entire third eyelid removed.  I dropped him off at 8:00 am.   By 8:15, as I was on my way home, he called my cell phone.  “I’m sorry, it’s spread to the eyeball.  I really need to take this out.”

I wasn’t prepared for this, but I saw no other option.  If he didn’t remove it, it would surely spread.  And the next place it would go would be his lymph nodes.  The vet said I could pick him up by 4:00 that afternoon, barring any complications.  There were none, thankfully.  What I saw when I arrived that afternoon broke my heart.  Jake was standing in one of the facility’s outside stalls, head down, still drowsy from the anesthesia.  His right eye socket was stitched closed and terribly swollen.  He still whinnied to me as soon as he saw my truck and trailer pull up.  He was ready to go home.

He stayed in a paddock by himself for a few days.  I was worried about one of the other horses startling him by coming up on his blind side before he was used to it.  When his incision started to itch three days later, I put his buddy Durango in with him.  This was, he could scratch his eye on Durango instead of a wooden fence post.  The stitches came out a week later, and the swelling had gone down dramatically.

He’s had a few minor personality changes after losing his eye.  He was used to being the alpha, and the other geldings started challenging this status after they realized his disability.  He’s not letting go quietly, and he may not ever concede his status.  He spooks easily now, and he’s not as affectionate as he used to be.  I haven’t ridden him since the surgery – I plan to give him plenty of time to adapt to his loss of sight.  I’m hoping with time he will still be my favorite trail horse, and save me from perilous trails as he has done in the past.  He will really need to learn to trust me even more than he had.

My lesson out of this ordeal is a big one:  when it comes to eyes, don’t take the wait and see approach.  Would his eye have been saved if I had insisted on a second opinion after the first round of antibiotics?  I will never know.  But, I will never second guess my instincts again.  If I’m not happy with one diagnosis, I’ll get another.  Pronto.

Jake, before cancer

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Still looking for a gift for your horse lover?

I was browsing online this morning looking for potential Christmas gifts for my twelve year old daughter.  She’s too old for horse purses, horse barrettes, horse pillows, and she already has all the grooming tools she needs.  She does, however, like to wear jewelry.  I came across this site, and ordered her a silver horse charm.  The horse charm will join a silver soccer ball, book, bike, and riding helmet.  A perfect bracelet showcasing all her favorite hobbies.

I’m not a big jewelry wearer, but I love this type of everyday jewelry. Not so expensive that I’m afraid to wear it, yet nice enough to wear for an evening out.

Here’s hoping someone I know will read this blog.  😉


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Mustangs in the Rose Parade January 1st

Madeleine Pickens,, wild mustang advocate and founder of Saving America’s Mustangs, is asking horse lovers to cast their vote for the mustangs who will be appearing in the Rose Parade.  It’s easy to vote:  just text the word FLOAT 83 to 50649.   And be sure to watch the parade.  The mustangs are entry number 83, so they’ll probably be toward the end.

After the bath.

My favorite mustang, Durango (whose name should probably be Ely, since that’s where he came from) and I will be watching.  🙂  Who knows, maybe we’ll see one of his siblings!


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Weathering Winter

If your area is being plagued by frigid temperatures, pay close attention to your horses.  The combination of frozen water sources, lack of exercise when kept up in a stall, and reduced moisture in forage can cause havoc on a horse’s digestive system.

Equus Magazine originally published this informative article in January 1997.   Many horse owners are tempted to increase the grain rations they feed their horses.  Not a good idea, as this article states.   Better to feed plenty of good, quality hay, make sure they have access to fresh (unfrozen) water, and provide regular opportunities for exercise.

And don’t forget to get those hands on your horses!  A brisk massage will stimulate blood flow to the muscles, increasing warmth.  Not to mention, it will keep you warm, as well.

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If there really was a Santa,

this is what would have been under the tree when I was nine years old.  Now that I’m “older than nine,” I’m happy to get any horse-related gifts.  One of the many great things about being a horse-person is that you’re one of the easiest people to buy gifts for!  New body brush?  Awesome!  Fancy new grooming tote?  Love it!  T-shirt with some graphic and pithy saying about horse manure?  I’ll cherish it forever!

The last few Christmases, my daughters and I baked horse treats along with the Christmas cookies.  And yes, we have stockings for the horses.  The mares share one, and the geldings share the other.  And they’re large, so we can fit a lot of horse treats into them.   On Christmas morning, after the girls have opened their presents, we take the treats out to the pastures.  Everyone gets to snack on treats and a little alfalfa.  And if anyone got new grooming tools as gifts, this is the time we try them out.  It’s like opening a toy, and playing with it to the exclusion of all the other unopened gifts.

My perfect Christmas morning?  Sitting on the fence watching the horses munch, while I sip on a mug of mulled cider.  It’s pretty much the equivalent of how I would have felt had I awakened to a horse under my tree when I was nine.  Bliss.

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Top 6 Horse Myths

I sometimes have conversations with non-horse people, believe it or not.  Even though 90% of my social circle involves people with horses, I don’t discriminate.  I have to remind myself, at times, that people aren’t involved with horses, probably don’t know much about them.  I’ve explained the “ponies are not baby horses” thing more times that I can remember.

Katherine Blocksdorf, Horses guide, came up with a few myths that horse people take for granted, but our non-horsey friends just don’t know.  One that is not on here but I hear a lot: “you should get a young horse for your child so they can grow up together.”  Ugh.  I can see all the cringes from the horse people!  Young horses are NOT an appropriate horse for a child.  Your child needs an older, experienced, been-there-done-that horse who has had years of riding.

Here are the others Katherine came up with.

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