Reflections on Smitty

It’s been 2 weeks since Smitty returned to Florida and started a new chapter in his life. Since then, I’ve lost no time in returning to the search for the perfect horse, and sat on 7 different prospects of all different descriptions. Each one I have compared and contrasted to my experiences with the horses of my recent past- Smitty, Riley, Darcy, and of course, Foster. ❤

When I purchased Smitty, I knew I was taking a risk. The obvious being that I didn’t know actually how he would ride, though I a few things I was quite certain about. The spur marks on his sides indicated that he was a kick ride (though we quickly got that sorted out!) and that he had been ramped up into work pretty quickly- in other words, the horse in the video wasn’t the product of a year’s worth of regular training, but more like some months. Because of the draw reins in the sales video, I knew that there may be some re-training to contact and reaching for the bit (also something we fixed). But overall, I saw a great prospect, at a great price, and knew that despite the risks, he was worth snapping up.

I don’t regret buying Smitty, though it wasn’t a good fit in the long term. He tested my abilities in ways that other horses hadn’t, and allowed me to prove to myself that some of my doubts, at least, were unfounded. For instance, when he first came to North Carolina, Smitty did not cross-tie well. Standing is hard for babies, and especially tall lanky babies who can reach everything and are enormously smart. I had someone comment to me that I should just tack him up in a stall, and not press the issue. But I believe that cross-tying is a basic skill that could and should be expected of any sport horse, and so I let him dance, and told him off when I needed him to stand still for tack and getting his feet picked up. Eventually he learned to stand, and for the most part, learned to be patient and [mostly] quiet while I went about my business in the barn.

Smitty taught me that there is still an ounce of bravery in me, even though it needs a good pep-talk to come out these days. The day we went cross country schooling will always be a favorite memory with him, as well as the undoubtedly hilarious attempt at the Green as Grass showjumping course at CHP. Those are thoughts that will always make me smile to remember.

But Smitty also taught me what I’m not willing to live with, or rather, where I need to draw the line. I need to draw the line where goals just aren’t financially responsible, or even possible. I need to draw the line at a point where I acknowledge that I need professional help, and understand that help may be getting saddle time instead of me, despite my wants and wishes. And he taught me to draw the line at a point where it made more sense to find him a better fit, someone who can provide the guidance and assertiveness that I, as a non-professional, could not dedicate to him just now.

There are plenty of silver linings in the mix, however. Thanks to Smitty I found a wonderful barn with a community of ladies that I appreciate more with every visit. I learned things through watching the training rides that I wouldn’t have otherwise learned from the saddle. I now understand the expectations of how to start a young horse in dressage with the aims of competing at the upper levels. I enjoyed seeing him progress and learn how to be a better equine citizen during his time with me. And I’m proud of where he ended up, even if it isn’t with me.

The End of the Smitty Journey

I have been keeping a secret from you, and I apologize. And that secret is that despite all my best intentions, Smitty and I were not working out.

I moved him to a quieter barn just a couple days after Christmas, hoping that the change would be what we needed to further our partnership. And on the ground, things were better. But I had learned a bit of a distrust in him after he developed a spookiness that I now realize are a symptom of his ulcerated stomach. I involved professional help, teaching me how to best work with him from a groundwork perspective as well as training him under saddle. But about a month ago, I suspected that I might not be truly confident enough to get in the saddle myself. Full training was of course an option, and one that probably would be a great solution, but not one I am financially capable of pursuing at this time.

So I made the decision to send his information to respected professionals both local and up and down the east coast. And not even two weeks later, I had someone interested to buy him. A well respected professional eventer with an outstanding young horse program. We chatted at length, and she was fully empathetic to my situation as an amateur finding myself between a rock and a hard place. A PPE was done, and this morning, just like that, Smitty loaded on a trailer bound for a new home.

My reasons for keeping the situation quiet are manifold, but mostly, because I wanted some privacy while I determined the best scenario for both Smitty and myself, without the pain of answering questions or having to explain myself. Not even my father, or the other boarders at our barn were aware that I decided to sell Smitty, though now of course the news is out and his stall is empty.

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I am definitely sad about it, and for sure self-medicated with much vino to dry my tears last night. But I feel confident that Smitty will benefit from the tutelage he will receive, and become the amateur-friendly mount that I know is in there. And for myself, I hope to find the horse that is right for me, to go have fun on and get back in the saddle. Here’s hoping he finds me sooner rather than later.

Smitty Accomplishments

I have now owned Smitty for over 6 months, and considering how baby he is, we still have a few accomplishments we can tack on a list.

We stand in the cross ties quietly (a very recent addition to the list)

trying to get a conformation photo, and failing

trying to get a conformation photo, and failing

He can pick up all 4 feet for you, and be a solid citizen for the farrier

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Smitty learned to walk across a bridge

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And go through water

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And lunge (mostly) off of voice commands

though sometimes going forward takes encouragement

though sometimes going forward takes encouragement

And we went to our first show and didn’t die

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What a roller coaster of a 6 months it has been!!

 

 

Freejumping Smitty

Free jumping a horse is a great way to not only assess their ability, but also to allow him to work on technique or footwork without the effort of balancing a rider at the same time.

Despite Smitty being jumper-bred on his dam side, I had yet to see him over anything of size. Below 2’6″, he really doesn’t have to put much effort into clearing the fence, and 18″ fences? Well:

Smitty not trying

Smitty not trying over the baby fence

So we set up a small grid to see what would happen. Our set up was thus: a ground pole to a cross rail, then 18′ to an ascending oxer.

Smitty was surprisingly relaxed through the whole thing, and it was clear that the final height of roughly 3’7″ (or 3’9″? we didn’t measure) was no big deal. To encourage him to fold his lower legs next time I would like to add a landing pole, and begin to increase the width of the oxer. But overall, I felt like it was an exciting way to see the baby’s potential!

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The Relationship Phases of New Horse Ownership

With horses, just like humans, it seems the first year of a relationship is critical to determining whether it will endure in the long term.

You go through this exciting honeymoon phase and often, discovering quirks and idiosyncrasies is charming and helps to create a sense of connection. Maybe it’s playing with the crossties (which I’m a sucker for), or finding out that your new pony just loves his ears to be rubbed. It’s all sweet, and endearing, and you just can’t help but get googly eyes when you set eyes on them. For Smitty and I, the highlight of our honeymoon period was our cross country school, in which I basically decided he was the best baby, ever.

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And then you hit that phase where you know each other a little better, and have a tiny foundation on which you can build trust and start to grow. Sometimes this is an extension of the initial honeymoon phase, and all continues to be bright and beautiful as you take on new challenges and add shared accomplishments to your relationship history. Or maybe this is where you start to test each other’s boundaries, introducing your first fight into the mix. For us, this was the show in October. Success in so many ways, and yet, a few moments where the rose colored glasses became just a tish foggy.

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Shortly after that, I sent him off the bootcamp, which in hindsight I wish I hadn’t done because I believe it lead, in part, to his unhappy stomach shortly thereafter. Here we enter another phase in our relationship, which is the general ups and downs of trying to figure out each other’s limits, make progress, and see if we will be a team in the long run.

Ulcers. UGH.

Ulcers. UGH.

I’ve always heard it takes a full year to really form a partnership with a new horse, and is history is any indication, I believe that’s true. Smitty and I are next yet halfway to that marker yet, and we have so much to work through if we are going to be a permanent fixture. Yet I think in a lot of ways that just how horse, and human, relationships are. It’s a non-linear progression towards a forever shifting end goal.

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Let’s Discuss: What’s your range?

Last week we discussed ponies versus horses, and both the cultural and sometimes ruling limitations that stop ponies from being more popular in the english disciplines. So today I’d like to ask the more personal question- what is your perfect size, and why?

Ivan and Foster were both 16.2h and uphill, and Smitty is fitting right into that category and will likely get much bigger. While it’s a lot easier to market a larger horse, I’m finding his constant growth (.5″ from September to December) a little disconcerting.

Already more like wrangling a giraffe at 16.2h | PC: Studio in the Stable

Already more like wrangling a giraffe at 16.2h | PC: Studio in the Stable

When I was horse shopping, I was looking at anything from 15.2h to 16.2h, though there were exceptions of course. I really quite like riding the shorter guys, in fact, and if I didn’t want to jump I’m probably stick to something 15.2 or 15.3h tall.

A 17h horse I tried in KY...

A 17h horse I tried in KY…

.... and a 15.2h pony from the same day

…. and a 15.2h pony from the same day

For me, I prefer to jump something a little bit taller than 15.1-15.2 hands simply because the fences look smaller from a bigger horse, and my balls went MIA a long, long time ago. Otherwise, I feel like my leg is ok on a variety of horses and would be open to a more vertically challenged prospect.

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XC schooling baby Smitty

What about you? What is your acceptable range in a mount? How does your chosen discipline affect your preferences? 

Smitty has an Ulcer Update

After fasting Smitty for 12 hours before his scoping appointment this morning, I found Kujo in his stall instead of a baby warmblood. Mr. Crankypants was hangry in the extreme, and taking it out on his poor jolly ball with much angst.

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A little juice soon helped him forget how hungry he was, and we quickly got to running the scope down his nose and into his stomach. My vet joked that I could probably scope him myself at this rate, and honestly, she could be right.

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Right away it was obvious that his stomach was a happier place, as the red blotchiness of before was replaced with a shiny pink lining with only minimal discoloration. The pyloric ulceration we had found before was gone, and we were well on our way to a completely healthy stomach.

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Smitty’s treatment so far has been thus:

  • 3 weeks of Ulcergard (gastrogard) @ 1 tube/day
  • 3.5 weeks of Abgard @ 1 tube/day
  • Introduction of Alfalfa mash 2x/day
  • Succeed GI Conditioning program, starting with 1 week loading dose

At that rate, it’s obvious that the Abgard has worked as a good substitute for the Merial products, which is amazing since it’s 1/3 of the price, and well worth the wait for international shipping.

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The plan is to keep him on 1/2 tube of the Abgard until I run out, so approximately 2 weeks worth. At that rate we should be in the clear, and I will continue with the Succeed supplement indefinitely for its hind gut benefits. Whether we keep him on alfalfa will be a later decision, as I’m also hoping it helps him gain some weight through the winter.

All in all, the scope was a success and ideally we’re on the path to a happier, less hangry Smitty.

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Self Destructing Animals

Christmas time is traditionally an expensive time of year. Besides buying presents for the family, the in-laws, friends, etc, and attempting to avoid all the amazing sales with things you just really really want need, money goes faster than it comes.

And you know what else is expensive? Vet bills.

I’m already busy treating Smitty’s ulcer (shout out to Hillary for the excellent tips for gastrogard savings!) which, you, know, generally cost around $30 a day (until I get my international alternative- more on that later), for a 30 days… Cha ching.

So of course the dog chooses this particular time to start getting nose bleeds. And I don’t mean a sprinkling of blood occasionally. I mean human-like, dripping nose bleeds on almost a daily basis. After realizing this wasn’t just him repeatedly bumping his dry nose on the glass (trying to, and successfully convincing anyone and everyone to stay away from his castle), but that it was something else entirely, we took him to the vet.

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The verdict? Likely Pemphigus Erythematosus (which sounds more like a dino than a disease to me). It’s an autoimmune disease common to GSD’s and causes lesions and ulcers on the face- and is probably responsible for Drake’s tender, dry, cracked nose that we’ve never been able to solve. We ran bloodwork just in case it was a clotting disorder (it’s not), promised them our first born child, and left with our little packet of antibiotics and steroids.

Luckily the steroids seem to be doing their job, since beside having to now pee every 4 hours, Drake’s nose is on the mend and we’re down to only 2 nosebleeds in 11 days. Thank goodness- because our freshly steamcleaned carpet is starting to look like a murder scene.

On its way to healing

On its way to healing

But let’s not forget the other creatures of the house- they too must add to the melee. Jackson, the cat, has decided nothing looks more appetizing than pine needles, and to hell with it if they’re plastic. So running after the gagging cat has been another holiday treat.

And then Smitty decided to spice things up by attempting to impale himself.

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That’s right- just what we wanted to deal with.

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Awesome sauce.

Lucky for me I am blessed with a stellar barn manager and a great friend who cleaned him up for me when I couldn’t get to the barn due to work commitments. They also were inventive enough to jimmy-rig his blanket so that it didn’t rub the wound and yet still kept him warm and covered. A text the next morning confirmed that the cut was already looking better and that it really was just a flesh wound.

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After finally seeing him Friday I could also see that it really wasn’t much to worry about, except for the vanity of an unsightly scratch at the moment.

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So thankfully (other than the barfing cat, which I guess will end once the trees are put up) the animals seem to be on the mend. But shit you guys, could we stop the self-destructing nonsense? Please and thank you.

Smitty goes to Bootcamp

Smitty’s cold is basically gone, and with a calendar full of work conferences and dare I say, vacation, on the horizon, I decided he could handle a job while I’m away.

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Enter bootcamp.

I’ve never had the luxury of being able to have a horse trained by someone else, but after finding a somewhat local rider with a reasonably priced training program, I’m excited to give it a whirl.

While there, Smitty will be ridden 5x a week, these rides being broken down into a hack day, 2 jumping days, and 2 flatwork days. Hopefully seeing a new place and getting over colored sticks more often than what I have been able to accomplish will be good for him, and for me in the long run.

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This evening I’ll be packing up his saddle and bridle and taking ponykins to his home away from home for the next two weeks. I’m excited to see what he learns while I’m away!