We are Herd

I don’t often acknowledge what a strong connection there is between me and my horses, but the more time I spend with them, the more I feel it.  They are mine and I am theirs… we all know it.

Flurry is particularly cute.  He knows the sound of both our cars, and every time I drive past, whether it’s a time of day I’m ‘due’ or not, he lifts his head and watches me pass, ears sharply pricked.  “Hey mom! Are you stopping by?”

While waiting for the osteopath the other day, I arrived early and brought a curry comb, hoof pick and fly spray down to the field.  Currying, picking out hooves, picking off mouches plates and spraying on the fly spray took about ten minutes.  I still had twenty minutes to wait, so I stretched out on the grass at the side of the field to enjoy the intermittent sunshine and the birdsong.

Within minutes, my two horses were standing beside me, while their two field companions remained at a distance.  They know that they are not mine and I am not theirs…

Aero literally stood over me, as a mare will stand over her sleeping foal, occasionally whiffling my hair with his muzzle, or gently nuzzling my legs.

Flurry was not allowed to come any closer than two metres for more than a minute or two at a time.

The merest flick of an ear from Aero, and he would back off respectfully, to stand and rest as close to us as he could.  And so we stayed, for twenty minutes, until Chloé arrived.

We are a little troupeau of three.

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Worried

From some angles, Aero looks almost normal.  He has a good shine on his coat and his skin is good, apart from multiple fly bites.

From other angles, he looks like crap.  You can clearly see all the ribs and I fear he is getting thinner.   He’s been on more or less ad-lib hay up to now, and he and his buddies were put out onto good grass last Monday, but I swear to god his hip bones seemed to be even more prominent the following day.

Aero’s not the only thin horse at the farm, there are at least four others.  So what’s going on?  A low grade virus? A worm infestation?  Teeth and worming are up to date, 100% correctly.  I am mystified.

Blood and poop samples have been sent off.  So far, everything has come back normal, apart from an elevated B12 level.  Faecal worm count is normal, but it’s possible to have a false negative there, so if his final test results come back clear, a random FWC will be done of the entire herd.

For the first time since its inception four years ago, I did not take part in the Equifeel competition at the Gaec de Pimayon this year.  I feel that if there’s any question that the Handsome Boy is not 100% right physically, it would be wrong to push him in any way.  I considered doing it with Flurry, but it’s less fun with him.  Too much hassle dodging his teeth… I ruined him the first year I started doing Equifeel competitions by giving him too many food rewards.  Now all he thinks about is the reward when I ask him to do something – his little brain cannot analyse “Carrots” and “Move sideways” at the same time.  No fun.  And the more I think about my horses, the more I wonder just who and what I’m competing for.  I’m not sure horses derive the same satisfaction from competition as a human does, no matter what the discipline…

The ostéopath came to check both horses on Friday.

Aero and Chloé

Funny story about Chloé the osteopath.  It turns out that her cousin was our very first equine osteopath back in Cork, Steve.  We were also his very first equine clients – he was been my osteopath at the time, and was training to become a horse osteopath.  Steve went on to work for many high-flying equestrian clients in Ireland, including some equine Olympians, and then ended up moving to Canada where he continues to shine.  He treated Aero “back in the day”, and now his little cousin is looking after the same horse, more than a decade later.  What are the odds of that happening, especially given that a change of country was involved?

“Back in the day”

Chloé found Aero to be completely blocked along his lumbar vertebrae and a little bit blocked at his withers.  So that gives us two other possibilities :

a horse in constant pain will not thrive, no matter what he’s fed.  If he’s been having a lot of pain in his back – possibly even with associated nerve pain through his hindquarters, I know all about that! – maybe that’s why he’s not gaining weight.

back pain can affect digestive function – the intestines are not just floating around in the abdominal cavity, they are connected to the spine at various points.  Inflammation in one could cause inflammation in the other.

I’m still waiting for the final test results from the vet, but I’m not expecting anything significant to show up.  I suspect she will advise some sort of tonic and a probiotic, and go on to test some of the other horses on the farm for worms.  I am thankful that nothing serious has shown up, but I’d have been happier if something nice and easy like a worm infestation was causing Aero’s problems.

We’ll see what happens.

Meanwhile, he’s enjoying the good grass.

 

 

A Happy Ending

Meet Jason.

Jason is a twenty year old Merens.  He spent the first eighteen years of his life high in the Jura mountains, working with a shepherd.  He transported everything on and off the mountain for his human, including people!  Two years ago, his owner decided that the mountain life was becoming too difficult for Jason, and sought a new home for him.  He ended up with one of our local friends, who had always dreamed of owning a horse.

The happy ending? Horseless man meets manless horse?  Not quite.

Life intervened, as it does, and Jason’s new owner realised that he wasn’t able to look after his horse as he should.  He asked me if I could think of anyone who could give him a good home.  I asked around, and was pointed in the direction of another friend who lives nearby.  I know her reasonably well, but I didn’t quite understand how her mind works at the time, so I wasn’t sure what her answer would be when I asked her if she could take a retired horse, or if she knew anyone else who might take him.

“Why not?” was her answer.  “But in the Spring, when the grass comes through.”

Three months later, and the time came for Jason to move to his new house.  I offered the services of my jeep and trailer.  Long story short, that didn’t work out so I borrowed MC’s truck and used that instead.  (Never, ever leave your trailer parked with the handbrake on.  I know this.  The person who borrowed my trailer last unfortunately did not.  I should have checked.  Mea Culpa.)

Jason arrived safely at his new home and was led into a field adjoining his future herd.

There was a lot of mutual interest and gazing at each other over the fence.

The little donkey, Willy, had lost his best buddy last year.  He was distraught.  He spent nine days waiting at the paddock gate to see if his friend would return.  Finally, he gave up and returned to the herd, but has remained slightly apart ever since.  The hope was that Willy and Jason would connect and form a pair bond.  Things looked very promising, they seemed particularly interested in each other, so Willy was put into Jason’s paddock later that day.

They were joined at the hip.  A week later, the two were re-integrated back into the herd.  After some initial discussion about polite distances, all five settled down to graze peacefully.  Willy and Jason may or may not retain their bond, but no matter what happens, this is Jason’s home for the rest of his life.

You see, my friend wants to give back to the world of equines.  She learned to ride as a child and progressed through the levels of equitation the ‘normal’ way, enjoying her sport and competing regularly with various horses throughout her life.  Then she achieved HER lifelong dream of moving from the big city to rural Provence and started to look into Equitation Ethologique.  Like me, she started to question everything she had ever accepted as ‘normal.’  Bits.  Spurs.  Hitting with a whip to encourage a better jump, or a bigger stride.  Keeping horses in solitary confinement in small boxes.  The way in which many riding schools will keep a horse for as long as he’s useful and then pass the duty of care onto someone else, just when he needs extra time and attention.

Her little herd consists entirely of rescued and retired horses, with the exception of Swing, the appaloosa, who is her riding horse.  In terms of riding, she roams around her little valley on Swing, with the rest of the herd following along as they wish.  It’s quite safe, there are no roads to cross, and no-one can get lost.  She practices her equitation ethologique techniques to better communicate with and understand her herd members.

Jason has found horsey paradise for the rest of his days.

That’s the happy ending.

If only every horse could have an end like this.