Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Road to Vegas

I took some time off to celebrate Thanksgiving last week but couldn't completely get away from the job. Well, actually, I couldn't get away from it at all. I had to bring two injured horses home with me so I could keep an eye on them (some people take their work home with them in a briefcase--I take mine home in a horse trailer). Of course, one of them kicked the other in the head. The head belonged to Charlie, of course. Everything happens to that horse.

Meanwhile, I was getting constant phone calls and e-mail messages about upcoming events. One of the events is a trip to Las Vegas this weekend for the National Finals Rodeo. We are to carry the national colors during opening ceremonies on Sunday night. We travel up Friday, rehearse on Saturday, do the ceremony on Sunday, and return Monday. It's a big deal--the Super Bowl of rodeos so I'm trying to make sure I have everything in order. I have planned in as much redundancy as I can with backup horses, equipment, and people. I'm also bringing our veterinarian team, just in case.

Selecting the right horses for the job is the most important task. Unfortunately, several of our best candidates are down with injuries. The horses need to be able to stand still in a darkened arena with a spotlight on them while the national anthem is played. I've selected four of our calmest horses with two backups and have also selected our most experienced riders. With horses you can never be completely sure things will go well, but you can at least reduce your risks with practice and good planning. We will see.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Training Duke

After the National Cavalry Competition was over I resolved to spend more time training horses. Of the several projects I have, none is more important than gun training Duke. Last June we conducted a cavalry riding demonstration at Wren Arena which involves a fair amount of gun fire and, indeed, some cannon fire. I was planning to ride Apache in the show but he got sick and I decided to ride Duke instead. Duke's training wasn't complete but sometimes you can get a horse through the demonstration okay anyway. Big mistake. Duke didn't like the gunfire at all and it was a real ordeal to get him though the demo. Since then I've been keeping him away from gunfire until I could get him retrained.

Duke had regressed pretty badly. I have had to go back to the beginning with gunfire. I start out with a cap pistol using the usual technique of having someone fire the pistol while I ride the horse at varying distances until he gets accustomed to the sound, then I begin firing from the back of the horse. Duke, however, wasn't even able to handle this so I've been holding him on a lead line while firing the cap gun a few feet away from me and rewarding him when he doesn't move his feet.

Because of our schedule and other considerations, I haven't been able to conduct this training with any consistancy. However, I've decided that other matters can wait and horse training will be a higher priority. As such, I've been able to get three good sessions in with Duke this past week.

The training has been frustrating. Duke just didn't seem to be getting any better. Everytime I'd fire the cap gun he'd jump and start rolling his eyes and snorting or try to run in a circle around me. Just when I was beginning to think the whole thing was hopeless, I finally had a small breakthrough. I was finally able to get him to stand without jumping while firing the cap gun today. I could even hold it over my head and fire it without him moving his feet. He doesn't like it much, but he is no longer panicky about it. Hopefully, I can keep up with the training and we will see some more progress. Getting through that first barrier always seems to be the toughest when it comes to horse training. Duke's a good horse and has potential to be a good cavalry horse, so here's hoping things will get easier.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Veteran's Day Parade

Photo by Ty Holland

I rode the wonder horse in the Vet's Day parade yesterday and, for a change, he was good. I didn't think things were going to go well when I arrived at the stables because Apache was running around in his pen. It was cold and dark and he knew something was up so he reacted to this situation in his normal scary fashion. But, when you've ridden a horse at his worse, nothing much intimidates you anymore. For whatever reason, by the time I had him groomed up, he was nice and calm.

We arrived in our normal staging area in good time and tacked up the horses. Next we drove the trailers over to the city park where the parade would end and then shuttled the drivers back. We were the last entry in a parade of about 52 participants. Most of the other parade entries were marching bands and military personnel on foot. Since we were last in line, we could watch the entire parade before it even began.

The crowd was fairly substantial and even though there were only seven of us riding, we often could not hear the commands of the XO as we marched down the street. Sierra Vista is a military town and the crowd was pretty patriotic--and loud. We performed out handful of parade maneuvers with our carbines resting on our right thighs. You learn over the years how to carry the rifle without all the blood draining from your hand as you ride.

When we finally got to the park, we held a short ceremony in which the city leaders, most of whom are retired military, reflect on the sacrifices of our veterans. The speeches were followed by a 21-gun salute from a howitzer battery which our horses stood pretty well for. We did have a problem with Cochise who somehow wound up on the end of our line. He doesn't like being on the end and constantly tried to fade back behind the line of horses. I finally asked Monte's rider to fallout and take the end. Once Cochise was safely bracketed by two other horses, he calmed down and stood still. Other than that everything went well and the Wonder Horse got a cookie for being so good.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Horse Exams

We finally had time to take some of our boys up to the Arizona Equine Clinic to have them checked out. Both Charlie and Cochise were checked for stomach ulcers and Bob had an MRI done on his front feet.

Charlie was recommended for a stomach scope by the veterinarian who performed his colic surgery at the end of August. The surgeon had a concern that the colic may have been caused by stomach ulcers. However, since he had lost so much weight during the surgery and recovery that we didn't want to put him through a fasting cycle until his weight was up and he was healthy.

Cochise, who had gone off his feed during the trip to San Angelo, Texas in October, was also suspected of having a stomach ulcer by our military veterinarian. However, we decided to hold off on having his stomach scoped until Charlie was ready to go.

Bob has had mild lameness for several months now. We removed his shoes which has improved his condition but he is still slightly lame when turning on his front legs. Previous x-rays did not reveal any clear signs of navicular so we decided to get an MRI done to see if we could determine the cause of his condition.

The veterinarian accomplished the stomach scopes by inserting a tiny camera into the horse's nostril and threading it down the throat into the stomach. We could watch the live image on a TV monitor as the camera made it's way to the stomach. In Charlie's case there was still a little food in his stomach despite his having fasted for 20 hours. The vet pumped water into his stomach via another tube inserted into his stomach and then drained the material out. The camera was reinserted and the vet thoroughly explored the inside of Charlie's stomach. Fortunately, no sign of ulcers were detected. The same procedure was performed on Cochise with the same results. Neither horse had stomach ulcers which was a huge relief. I remarked to the doctor that this experience in combination with Charlie's colic surgery has given me too much familiarity with Charlie's insides. I have to admit, though, that the gastroscope process was fascinating.

Bob had his MRI done over a period of several hours. The images were sent off to a specialist for analysis but we will not have the results until next week. We are hoping he has a hoof cyst or some other easily corrected problem. However, we can't help but notice how much better his feet are and how much less lame he is since we removed his shoes. He has small hooves for being a 1,300 pound horse and he may just be destined to be shoeless. Hopefully the MRI analysis will give us a better idea of how to correct his lameness.