Tuesday, February 23, 2010


I know it's been two months since we've seen a photo of Ace. One reason is that it has been miserably cold. Another reason is that while I've taken pictures of Ace, they either show him in a blurred cloud of dust, over exposed in snow or you get a close up of the inside of his nostrils. He loves the Flashbox. It's sooooo interesting.

So we snapped a couple pics today in the cross ties just to document his development and because he was standing still. Now, for all the times I've made him out to be the Devil Child, he does have his well behaved moments. For instance, I've been spending a lot of time on his tail getting him to stop rubbing. I am no longer concerned that he is wormy. His tailbone itches. So, I flip it up over his back and scrub with a hot wet towel until it's literally squeaky clean. He likes this. Then I spray the hair side with my concoction.

He has never once offered to kick during tail time. However, touch his flanks or hamstring...ka-pow. If the camera had clicked one thousandth of a second later you would have seen the range of motion he has with his hind leg. It's more of a reflex than anything, and you just have to be aware of it. I don't feel any more wary of walking behind him than my other horses. However, I don't reach under him.

Friday, February 19, 2010

A Family History of Bay Colts

In a recent post I mentioned Ace's great grand sire Georgetown and that my first Saddlebred training project was a horse we bred by that stallion. I'll go into a little family Saddlebred history for you, since the winter is long and not much else is happening.

Long before I got the bright idea to raise a foal, my mother and her mother before her had been trying their hand at breeding Saddlebreds.

Gramma with Saddlebred Broodmare

To their credit they have 7 purebred Saddlebreds, and 5 half Saddlebred (half Arabian). It all started before I was old enough to walk with a mare named Anacacho Megan. Mom and Dad (and little me) were living in Shelbyville, KY next to my father's parent's house. Mom needed a horse. Who wouldn't? And in that area, Saddlebreds were plentiful. She went to a dispersal sale at Gwinn Island Stock Farm where George Gwinn had bred and owned more champion Saddlebreds than I've probably ever laid eyes on. Among the horses being dispersed was a three year old gaited mare who Mom thought was the most beautiful horse she'd ever seen.

Anacacho Megan at 3 yrs old in front of the tobacco barn

George Gwinn in his office with photos of a small percentage of the champions he owned.

So, Mom bid on and bought this mare. She was very green and had been rushed a little to get her ready for the sale. Still, she was a beautiful horse and very suitable to live in my PaPaw's tobacco barn and be ridden up and down the lane by a housewife. She did send her to Don Harris Stables for a little work, but mostly she was a personal horse. Before Mom and Dad moved back to New York, Megan was bred to Starheart Victory.

SV was standing at stud at a farm nearby and just beginning to make a name for himself. He went on to the top end of Saddle and Bridle's stallion ratings for the rest of his life.

The filly born from the breeding to Starheart Victory was named Starheart's Hot Slippers. As a two year old, Gramma sent her to nearby Terrace Farms to be trained in preparation to sell. She was shown a little. I remember traveling to Syracuse to watch her shown at the International. I was four years old that time.

Gramma and "Foxy" (Starheart's Hot Slippers) as a two yr old

Foxy as a four year old

Foxy continued in training, and in the mean time, Megan was bred to the stallion Terrace Farms was standing named Spanish Moss. "Moss" was a lovely bay stallion by the great Beau Fortune and out of a daughter of Leatherwood Genius. He was owned by Dave Scanlon. I suppose it's no coincidence that Dave now owns Ace's sire "Clint". Megan was bred to Moss three times and produced three identical bay foals.

Spanish Masterpiece a.k.a Flash as a yearling

After a year or two Gramma wasn't satisfied with the efforts to sell Foxy so she was sent to Kentucky to the trainer who had been the colt man at Don Harris's and had worked her dam Megan. In Kentucky, he could hopefully sell her quicker. He did find a buyer, but I remember her being there for a couple of summers when I was around 8 years old, and one of the highlights of our family vacations to Kentucky was for me to go to the fairgrounds where she was stabled and jog around pretending to be a fancy show rider.

When Foxy was sold, one of the terms of the sale was that Gramma would get her first foal. Gramma told the trainer she trusted him to choose the stallion. His choice was Georgetown who he said would be great some day. Unfortunately, Georgetown never had that chance. He was lost in a fire only a couple of years later.

The resulting foal was a little bay colt. Foxy was being boarded at a farm where she was the lowest mare on the totem pole. Within two months, the foal and the sparse grass in the field had dragged Foxy down to where her owner was suddenly concerned that she could die. The foal was abruptly weaned, and Foxy was nursed back to health. When we went down for vacation later that summer, we picked up the forlorn little five month colt who had been shut in a stall until then. When Mom went in the stall to catch him, the farm owner said "Watch out, he'll kick ya." He was one scared little guy. It took two men to turn him around and shove him backwards up the trailer ramp. Dad screwed a piece of plywood over the open trailer back, and we headed for NY.

Gramma named him The Yorker. Actually, we put down three other name choices, but all of them were taken. I remember that because his grand sire was Yorktown, they all had to do with our home town Jamestown New York. Back then there was no way to log into the registry data base and check whether a name was available or not. The registry picked The Yorker. Gramma soon had "Yorkie" straightened out, but he was still rather nervous and reactive and remained so for the entire time we owned him.

When he was three years old, Gramma sent him to a local dressage trainer where she knew he would be treated gently and slowly. He was there a couple of months. When he was ready to go home, I went and took a couple of lessons on him. He was just green broke to walk and trot but he was willing. I was, at that time, 15 years old.

We took him home, and I lunged him about weekly, and rode him now and then, but we really didn't do much with him. When he was four, I was 16 and had a "real" Saddlebred show horse, and decided that it was time I had a second one. So I began working with him. Before long I had him in a double bridle and was able to ride him outside of the paddock (we had no actual "arena") and up and down the road. The following year I took him to the local county fair which had a nice Saddlebred show. There were 9 horses in the Show Pleasure class. I don't remember what ribbon I got in the first class, but when I brought him back for the Championship class, we won. His apprehension was gone, and I remember weaving in and out of the heavy traffic at a smooth strong trot.

I showed him for a couple more years, on and off. He turned out to be a nice horse. Here he is at age 8 just before we sold him.

Mostly I rode him around home. He made a very nice road hack. Once we even had a match race with an Amish buggy. I remember turning off to our road home, and seeing the Amish man hanging out the side of the buggy to look back at my horse. I tried showing him western, but he thought a show ring was good for only one thing, and that was trotting.

He did look pretty fancy under western tack though. Now I have an even prettier bay colt to develop. York was by the same sire as Ace's sire Clint's dam was by. It will be interesting to see what he turns into.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A Very Good Day

This has been a very stressful week. It all started last Saturday morning when I opened an email from our vet and read the insulin results for my Grey Horse and Mom's gelding. Grey had a high reading (last year's was normal) and Face-Off was off the charts at a whopping 157 (the top reading on the normal scale is 40). This proved what we knew to be true. Face-Off was in the middle of a medical emergency, teetering on the edge of full blown founder. He needed a crash diet to bring his insulin level down.

To drive the point home, his half brother Hairy, who had foundered several weeks earlier, was failing fast. Hairy, never more than pasture sound for most of his adult life, had battled his sore feet cheerfully for several weeks. As he worsened, Mom made the tough decision to euthanize him in the coming week. We were both sort of wondering if we were making the right decision. Hairy made it for us on Sunday when he opted not to get up for breakfast. The arrangements were moved up to that afternoon, and Hairy lay in his stall all day on heavy pain killers, eating every forbidden treat Mom could find him. He never got up until Mom asked him to make the effort and walk to his grave where he was peacefully laid to rest in the sunshine while eating his fill of sweet feed. Here is my favorite of Hairy's baby pictures. He was the last baby we raised and lived to be 10 years old. He never left the farm, and was pampered his whole life. As you can see, even as a baby he was a little chub.

The fear that Face-Off was soon to suffer the same fate sent us both into a whirlwind of soaking hay, and researching diet options. Face-Off's energy level was very low and the foot soreness, typical of an Insulin Resistant horse, was worsening. Our sole focus all week was Face-Off and Grey and finding them a healthier diet. One afternoon I returned to my office and realised I hadn't even said "Hello" to Copy. Ace, whose hormones have been on red alert, was an added handful. Mom declared him officially "not a project for a beginner".

But today was a good day. Mom has worked out a system for soaking the hay. We have learned a lot and made some other diet changes. We have the supplies to test our hay for Carbohydrate and Sugar levels, and everyone is feeling better. Face-Off even trotted to the gate today. He hasn't felt good enough to trot in well over a month.

I had a nice ride in our little indoor. Grey proved again that he has matured into a well trained and perfectly behaved mount. I even took my stirrups up and did five minutes of trotting without them. I haven't done that in ages, and it proves that these past weeks at the gym are paying off.

Ace was acting starved for positive human interaction. A result of five rounds with the whapper stick the other day? Probably not. I was out in the arena sifting through the footing for the upteenth time searching for my expensive Blocker Tie Ring that Ace had removed from the eyebolt on the wall, and he was shadowing me, giving me no peace. He obviously wanted to play Wild Stallion, and I appeared to be the most likely partner. I did find my Ring, which is great because the darn things are expensive, and that put me in an even better mood. I decided to teach Ace something constructive.

I went and got the longe whip and introduced the idea of free longing. Ace wanted to stop at the gate each time and switch directions at will. I kept him to a more structured program. With the help of some bits of carrots I also tried the concept of "Whoa", which was not as well received. But he did stop a few times and let me come up and stand beside him. I had left the back door open and he finally decided he had had enough of my "rules" and exited.

With his excess energy run off, I thought it would be a good time to groom him. I brought him in and put him on crossties, which I haven't done since just after Thanksgiving. He stood like a rock, chewing happily on the snap the whole time. He let me wash under his tail and pick out all four feet. He did fling his hind feet around a bit, but not too bad, and all he got was a verbal correction.

While most people are lamenting the disappearance of their cute, fuzzy weanlings and the arrival of shaggy, pot bellied, pencil necked yearlings, I am admiring my perfect miniature replica of a beautiful horse. Ace is nicely proportioned and fit. His coat is thick but short like plush velvet. Just a little brushing brought out a healthy gleam that made him look as if he had been blanketed all winter. After his grooming, we went for a little walk around the arena. All the naughty antics of last week were noticeably absent. Ace is acting like a normal, reasonable youngster instead of the Devil incarnate. It was a very pleasant change.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Too big for his halter, AND his britches

Ace is on the verge of outgrowing his halter. The weanling one rubs in spots, but still basically fits. The yearling one is a touch too big, especially around the throat. As I was trying them on today, something I've done periodically, Ace suddenly also outgrew his britches.

He was good for quite a while. I sprayed Listerine on his tail and even though it stung a bit, all he did was clamp it. I brushed his mane, and touched his ears. He's a good boy now and then, believe it or not. Then I wanted to try the yearling halter on. I took the smaller one off, put the bigger one on. Took that off, made an adjustment. Put it back on. Decided it was too big in the throat to leave on. Took it off, and when I went to put the small one back on, we had our altercation.

Since he is very mouthy, one of his favorite games is to grab the chin strap as you are putting the halter on, and refuse to let go. I was having little luck prying it out of the iron grip of his jaws (he gets better and more determined at this all the time). We were in his stall, and he was standing against the wall and he kept getting taller and taller and was looking down sideways at me with a glint in his eye. The "Hairy Eyeball". As I struggled and fussed at him, he began to get a little shovey, and his body language said loud and clear "I'm winning this little battle, perhaps I should knock you over, tap dance on your backside and finish you off". He wasn't rearing, but he was hovering above me, and he wasn't striking, but he had a front leg poised in mid-air. He started to push me with his shoulder....

Mom (who has always got my back) said from the doorway, do you need the whapper stick? "Yup", while continuing to pry, I quietly reached behind me and grabbed the stick as she handed it to me. You see, I'm quiet around horses. Mom likes to beller her disapproval. I speak softly and carry a big stick. Well, actually it is quite short, but it's loud. Ace (still clamped on the halter) whipped his neck at me and I reached my limit. "I've had it with you, you little snot!" WHAP on the side. In shock, Ace dropped the halter and spun into the corner. Then his body language said "would you like both barrels or would one be enough?"

I take a dim view of horses turning their butt to me in the stall. It's one thing if they are afraid and defensive, then I am reassuring. But when they're mad and consider retaliation, it's time to learn the "face me" rule. WHAPWHAPWHAP on his butt. The hollow, lightweight Whapper stick makes a lovely sound. Oh, you should hear it! Ace's eyes got real big and he spun to face me. "Good boy", I reached out my hand in an offer of friendship, and he stepped forward, ears up ready to make peace. His expression clearly said "what's gotten into you?"

I tried to move him over to the wall again and get to his left side. Nuthin doin. Especially without a halter on. WHAPWHAPWHAP on his butt. Again he faced me with the shocked and innocent look. "Sorry Ace, I know you don't "get" it, but you'll figure it out pretty quick Mr. Smarty Pants." Again with the butt. It took 4 or 5 tries before he would move over to the wall again. I quickly moved to his side, put my arm over him and patted him so he knew he had finally done the right thing.

I positioned the halter and swiftly and deftly slipped it over his muzzle, as he frantically grabbed for it, and buckled it behind his ear. So... has Ace learned to behave or have I learned to put the halter on quicker ?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Temperment Scale

You know that temperment scale that they put on horse ads where you're supposed to rate your horse's temperment on a scale from 1 to 10 with 1 being "very calm" and 10 being "very high-spirited" ? I often ponder that scale because what you get used to every day might be a whole lot hotter than you actually realise. Saddlebreds are notoriously "hot". My grey gelding is probably a consistent 8. My mother's gelding is about a 3, and Ace's dam Copy is a pretty steady 2. Ace's sire, from what I've seen, I would rate around a 4. Ace has turned out to be a 10...+...+........+. Yep, I think three pluses ought to just about cover it.

Today I went through the normal routine. I led him around for five minutes then made it through the gate and up the aisle in a very orderly manner. Well, the leading in the arena wasn't very orderly, but we'll get to that. I put him in his stall, made him wait a few minutes, then gave him his lunch. It took about 15 minutes for him to clean up, then I brought him back out. You see, he wasn't particularly well behaved the first time, and I thought I'd do some more work after he had his routine and hunger satisfied.

You see, he is quite nice to work around in the stall, but he is soooooo high energy any time he is outside of it. When I got there, he was standing at the arena gate literally jumping up and down. I had a heck of a time getting a chain on him. As soon as you reach for him he tries hard to bite and I'm getting sick of it. So I gave him an uppercut to the chin with my left hand. He backed off and did the "na-na-na-na-na" routine just out of my reach. No problem. There is a tie rope hanging right there. I got the rope snapped pretty easily, and then went in and with him securely tied, put the chain over his nose. "Pttthhhh, so there".

He knows that as soon as he walks nicely we can go in and eat. But, it ain't easy. He spends plenty of time dancing around. He finds it absolutely impossible to walk past the open back door quietly. Heck, no horse goes past an open arena door quietly. Their eyes don't adjust well to the darkLIGHTdark so they always spook. I get it. Actually, it's sort of comforting as a rider to realise you can't even lead a horse past a door, much less ride one past without a reaction. So, what I do is lead him to the door frame, stop, let him look, then we start past. This helps, but half the time he ends up dancing around in a circle. OR he bulls into me with a shoulder. THAT's not allowed. Bulling gets you poked in the shoulder with the whip. He hates that. Hates it. Sometimes he balks. Balking gets you a swish in the butt with the whip. You know how he reacts the third or fourth time he gets reprimanded for balking? This:

He flat out refuses at first to move forward, and he does a perfect Levade in hand. It looks very much like that photo, only in our version, I'm facing forward and swishing behind me with my outside hand. The swishing turns to tapping, tapping becomes snapping....Levade.

Besides being willful, he is in constant motion. I swear, every time I look at him, he has his tail up over his back, his head thrown up, and he is headed somewhere. Today it made me think of this illustration from Will James's Smoky.

I hope this Smoky the Cow Horse thing is not going to be a common theme throughout his life.....

So, I decided to do more work after lunch. We headed down the aisle with his head down, on a loose lead, and I thought "oh good, he's going to be calm and steady now". WRONG.

We went through all the same antics. The shying, the shoulder bulling, the balking, the Levade. I try to get a few moments of orderly behavior and call it quits. Today we have lost our "Whoa". It is impossible to discipline him at this point. I ask for "whoa", he bulls into me with his shoulder, dances in a circle... I tug on the shank, stick the butt of the whip in his shoulder and shove him against the wall.."WHOA". Ace gets all upset rearing a bit and trying to flee. Why? Because #1 he hasn't been paying attention so he has no idea why he's in trouble, therefore #2 I must be "mean" and "attacking" him.... gee this is going well. I manage to get the chain off him between being bitten and shoved at. I'm done. Go do what ever it is you feel is so important.

Ace takes off in a cloud of dust making several laps around the arena. When I leave, he is at the gate again, bucking and kicking in place, whinnying and generally throwing a fit. Just like he was when I got here. Nice to see you too. Will this EVER stop?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

I actually spent a quiet moment with Ace...

.... and he didn't try to "wrastle" me. He's due for a dose of dewormer, and the last time I gave him some, it was a bit of a struggle. He'd always been good about it up 'til then. So I decided he needs some good stuff in a tube before I dose him with the icky stuff this month. I held him while Mom squished a syringe full of applesauce in his mouth. As he stood there mouthing the applesauce in fascination I was able to stroke his neck and head and talk with him and he STOOD STILL. What a rare moment!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Hotter than a $2 Pistol

I wish there was a way to put background music on blogger. That's the song I would put on today. When I got to the barn today, Ace was hoppin' mad. It was lunch time, and he was still out. OMG! I ignored him a bit, making preparations for the vet who was there to do some dental work. Every time I went past Ace he hopped up and down and whinied. He was having an absolute hissy over the perceived injustice. Namely that his schedule had been disrupted, a fact we humans seemed oblivious to.

In my own time, I ran a chain over his nose and went in with him. He would love, at this point, to barge through the gate, and drag me to his stall where hopefully, lunch would already be served. So, that has to be the exact opposite of what happens. First I led him around the arena a little. He did marvelous. He must be catching on? He takes the lead strap in him teeth, and marches me around a couple of laps each way.

Then, once he has proven to be a well behaved young man, we proceed to the gate. The first time he rushes right through it, visions of lunch dancing in his head. SoooOoooo, we do it again. That is the only "punishment". If he can't be polite, we will do it again until the activity looses it's excitement quotient, and he can do it right. It only took two tries. That is much better than our walk from his stall to the arena on Saturday morning. We had to try that one five times before he gave up and realised he had to contain his exuberance for a whole 30 seconds. You rush, we turn around and go the other way. Simple as that.

Once he is in his stall, lunch does not arrive immediately. See, there was no need to rush back afterall. This baby raising thing takes a lot of self control. You have to keep in mind that what might be easy today... grab the little sucker and throw him in the stall so he will Shut.Up. will make your life that much more difficult when you realise you have a thousand pound brat who constantly acts on impulse. That must not happen.