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  • The Horse Lady

Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink. (Coleridge, the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner)

Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink. (Coleridge, the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner)

Earlier in the year, I wrote about the muck accumulating at the Red Gate. It started to rain in April and didn't stop until halfway through July. And although the ensuing six weeks seemed arid by comparison, nothing ever really dried out. The water table is just below the surface: that means that if you dig a shovel in behind our house or in our woods, you'll get water.

I downloaded a bunch of precipitation data from Environment Canada in order to be able to offer an educated opinion here, and I have this to say : Environment Canada, you suck. The download produced a csv file (read: Excel) about a twenty columns wide. THey had labels at the top that were as informative as HDD, CDD and BS%. I selected the column marked P which I assumed to be precipitation, and when I graphed the data it showed that in 2017 we had twice the rain in each month than had occurred in 2016. But I could have graphed the total coffee drunk by Environment Canada employees in that time for all I know.

So for now, lets be satisfied that a quick survey of ten Ontario farmers will have them all nodding their heads and agreeing that, yep, sure is a wet year.

Ok, lets change tack slightly and talk about paddock and barn management. In an average year, our horses have it pretty good. In every book I have ever read, there has been agreement that a dirt floor in your barn is darned hard work. Its also good for your horses if you do it successfully. You have to clean it more often, water it down sometimes , and it's hell if you can't dry it out. However it can ease strain on shoulders and feet, can be warmer in winter and allows for comfortable space for your horses to lie down. So, in case I haven't made it clear enough, we have a dirt floor barn. There have been a few times when I have seriously considered pouring concrete in there, but never so much as this past summer. It's still the driest place the horses have access to, but that isn't saying much. And you can't wet it down because the dampness is so close to the surface that it will become a morass if you try. So we work hard to remove dirt hopelessly contaminated, we use straw if we are desperate to dry a stall out, and we pet them and say "I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry"

When we first fenced off the paddock four years ago, it was sand with some small areas of turf. In an area 60ft x 200ft, This was a comfortable place for the horses to spend their nights. In the morning, with a joyful flick of the tail and a toss of the head, they trot into the front field to enjoy the round bale or nibble at the grass. We have over time, allowed some rotted manure to accumulate, again because of the enhancement it adds to the footing - easier on shoulders, knees, hips and feet.

In four years I never once had a lame horse.

And then it rained. Do you know what happens to rotted horse manure when you mix it with water? Well, it's very porous, tremendously rich in your garden, and unbelievably slippery slimy mud when it is saturated. I should qualify: The paddock in spring usually looks like those devastating photos of the Battle of Passchendaele held by the National Archives of Canada. But it lasts for two weeks, and its over. The horses trot across it twice a day and dry out on other side. But this year it has been a slime filled, treacherous, stinking slough since the 15th of April. I have been trying since then to get a front end loader in to move out as much of the muck as possible, but they are all frantically busy cleaning out other people's mucky places. In addition, those big machines can get stuck in mud this bad, and the damage it would do to the paddock would make the the muck look like a little mud puddle.

So the horses make the best of it. For two months from April to June, even though the fields were healthy and green, when you looked close enough the grass itself was under water. The horses grazed on the front lawn more than once during that time.

IN August, one morning I was putting the horses out for the day and I noticed that Duke was favoring his right foreleg just ever so slightly. By the time I got home six hours later he was broken leg lame. I called the farrier immediately and a process of poulticing and cleaning and bandaging began. When the farrier arrived 36 hours later, he opened up not one but two huge abscesses in the foot, side by side. I apologize to my horses a lot, but I was crying over Duke's pain, and the fact that he stunk of green apple Palmolive.

Not a week later, Suzy started up just a bit lame. Knowing what was required, before we even called our farrier, we slathered Palmolive all over Suzy's legs and down her back. Our farrier uses this both to coax an abscess to a head and to do a diagnostic of sorts. I don't know how it works, and it stinks to high heaven, but it really does work. Our farrier is Alain Gibault and he comes from Quebec to see us, but he has a gentle touch with the horses, and he has a wealth of traditional horse remedies that he uses to give them comfort. IN this case he found abscesses in three feet, but not the lame leg. We talked about it and hoped that she had made the fourth foot lame by compensating for the others.

Those of you that read this blog with any frequency know that Suzy is a horse with a great deal of character. A gorgeous and large Clydesdale mare, she has a ton of heart and determination. She would pull our sleigh through a brick wall., and have energy left the pull the bricks to another location. Suzy is also our dominant horse, and would not show pain unless she was dying from it.

I guess she was dying from it. The next morning Suzy couldn't walk. Her head hung and her haunches and her shoulders sagged. She was in a very bad way indeed. On advice from a family member, we called the vet, who came almost immediately.

Our vet, who is terrific, actually examined Suzy out in the field. We had stupidly let her out, hoping that getting her to move would help. Stupid, stupid. Regardless, Melissa (the vet) said she could smell an abscess in the hoof but couldn't find it. She left us a poulticing agent (epsom salts and menthol). She wanted the hoof bathed in epsom salts and water as frequently as Suzy would allow. We were to bathe, dry poultice, bandage with a diaper (YOU find a bandage big enough for that foot), wrap the whole thing in plastic and duct tape in place to keep in on until the next bath.

Okay, my first problem with this prescription is that Suzy had never, not once consented to putting any foot in any bucket ever. We were going to have to teach her. And beg.

The first time we tried, the bucket flew across the box stall, soaking us both. We came back the next morning more determined. Brett lifted the foot into the bucket, then wrapped himself around it (220lbs) while I held her head on either side of the halter with all my strength to keep her from backing up. And after about ten seconds, the most remarkable thing happened. She relaxed.

Melissa came back two days later with an xray machine, and confirmed two nasty abscesses in the soft tissue above the hoof. Inoperable, but at least not broken bones or tumors.

It took a full two weeks for Suzy's lameness to heal. We bandaged for ten days, bathed for a few after that, and then let her be for the hoof to harden up. And then she was Suzy again.

THe cold weather has finally set in, and for six months we have reprieve. Hopefully I can get the paddock cleared while it's solid. And I hope I never have to see any of my horses in such horrible pain again. And hopefully Environment Canada can actually learn to communicate.

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