Friday, June 14, 2013

When your horse passes on

There are few happy endings when it comes to the loss of a horse. You're left with an empty space and little to fill it. Understanding that your feelings are normal and finding ways to cope are important to the grieving process.
Mary Ellen Miller, LPC, Madison Psychotherapy Center, pointed out that an issue with losing a horse is with the people around you.
"There are not a lot of people you can talk to about losing a horse," Miller said.
Finding such connections is important for you to manage your grief. Turn to the Internet for blogs and social grouping of people in a similar situation. Seek out people you may know in the horse community who can understand what you are going through.
"To have your grief recognized by others as a legitimate concern and feeling is important to the healing process," she said. "You need to feel supported by other people in your grief."
Honor the memory of your horse any way you feel is appropriate, she said. Such things as collections of mementos, photo albums, scrapbooks and so forth can go a long way toward making you feel better. People will keep the ashes from cremated pets for years among other things.
There is a list of symptoms you need to be aware of that may signal deeper shock such as continuous uncontrolled crying, excessive disorganization, lack of sleep, disinterest in daily activities and in yourself, and guilt, Miller said, speaking at the 2013 Midwest Horse Fair.
"So you do need to know you are not alone," Miller said. "There are people who will have knowledge about your horse and be able to share experiences and memories with you."
Understand that your pain is normal. You shared a bond with your horse and when the animal dies that special bond is broken. The loss of such a strong bond is shocking and perhaps overwhelming in its early phase.
"Find positive people," Miller urged. "And you may find ways to express your grief in ways that are unique to you."
Grief has a framework of stages that include denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Not everyone has each stage nor is the order of the stages the same for every individual, she said.
"There are people who get mad first," Miller said. "And, likewise, there are people who have perhaps had time to prepare and accept what has happened very quickly. But don't deny your feelings, and avoid judgmental people."
Anger is very common and one of the most visible phases of the grieving process. You'll get mad at everyone and everything and that can include the stable, the veterinarian, or anyone who gets within ear shot of your feelings.
Grief and loss are not limited to death of the horse. People die, too, leaving the horses to not know what is going on. Situations change for people. The loss of a job, for example, can force a horse owner to give up a much-loved animal.
"Horses really are members of the family," she said. "You come to depend on them for companionship, acceptance, emotional support and bonding. The bond is about our inner selves."
That type of relationship isn't easy for your non-horse-owning friends to grasp. Co-workers and other acquaintances are not likely to be very sympathetic unless they know you well or have had similar experiences.
"But you, on the other hand, are probably always wanting to talk about your horse and all the things you do with your horse," Miller said.
The acceptance phase, while merciful to achieve, still has some risks to manage. Miller suggests not immediately trying to find a "replacement" for your horse because it's unrealistic to think another horse will completely match the one you lost.
"Let yourself have some time to understand what a wonderful relationship you had," Miller said.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Plan ahead for horse camping trips

If you like the outdoors and you own horses, sooner rather than later the idea of going camping is going to cross your mind. When that happens, think before you haul off down the road to parts unknown.

“We just decided one day we’d like to take our horses and go camping at Governor Dodge State Park,” Tammy Rodgers said. “Well, you can say we learned about horse camping the hard way.”

On the trip around Madison, the trailer had a flat tire. There, on the Beltline, the happy campers discovered they had no jack. On top of that, they had the wrong lug wrench.

Once things were patched up they drove to the park where the real fun started.

“We’d never used a highline before,” Tammy mentioned of a popular method for securing horses overnight. “So a horse got tangled in the rope.”

They had a horse with a significant rope burn not to mention a sleepless night for the campers. Some Banamine would help, but did they have any along? Call a veterinarian?

Good idea, but they were away from home and didn’t know the local services.

“Be prepared,” Rodgers said. “And you should start by physically conditioning your horse and yourself before you go.”

Conditioning includes making sure your horse gets on and off a trailer well. And make an effort to train the animal for what might happen on a trail. Birds and wind in the trees and wildlife are all a wonderful part of camping, but not if they scare your horse into the next county.

“Practice everything you can before you go,” she said, speaking at the 2013 Midwest Horse Fair. “If you’re going to use a highline to tie your horses, get some practice with that. The practice is good for you and your horse.”

Likewise, practice if you plan to use other methods to restrain horses at the campsite such as temporary corrals or tethers.

Learn about trail etiquette, she said. There are some universal rules about passing and approaching other riders and horses and it’s a matter of safety for everyone to have those rules understood. Working on desensitizing your horse to noise and sudden movements will help make for a safer, more enjoyable trail ride.

There also is the question of where to go camping. Rodgers said there is everything available from rough, wilderness camping to exclusive private resorts with complete services.

Each one has its good and bad points, but the idea is to prepare for the conditions of the campground.

“Wisconsin has a fair number of state trails and you can get a guidebook from the state,” she said. “Illinois and Iowa both have trail magazines with essential information about each site.”

Some locations, both public and private, require reservations. Make sure you check before you take off thinking about one adventure and get handed another. Other trails will close if it rains and the books and guides are useful for such information.

Horse camping probably means travel by trailer. Have a complete safety checklist that includes tire condition, brakes, lights, and all-around trailer soundness. Make sure you have good directions and have a list of emergency contacts such as local veterinarians and other reliable suppliers, she added.

“Think about what you and your horses need when you’re away,” Rodgers said. “Things like rain gear or an extra tarp can help save a trip. Make sure you have all the needed health certificates, especially if you’re crossing state lines.”

Hay, feed and water for the trip also are important. Some animals have trouble adjusting to different water, so you may want to flavor the water at home so the horse is used to a change. Taking enough hay from home is a good practice to keep from unneeded changes in feed while traveling.

“Preparation in advance will really help you enjoy the experience,” Rodgers said. “It really is a lot of fun and that’s what you want it to be.”

For more information:

A chicken flock for every stable?

From a fabled presidential promise for a chicken in every pot to the idea of a flock for every stable is a reach, but Twain Lockhart thinks horse farms can benefit from the addition of fowl. Chickens and horses are made to go together, he said during the recent Midwest Horse Fair.

“They eat everything,” Lockhart said. “They’ll even go after things like mice and rats.”
You needn’t give up on the barn cat just yet for rodent control, but where chickens really shine is insect management. Lockhart said they really relish maggots; the more maggots the chickens eat the less flies you’ll have buzzing around.

“Chickens will follow horses around in the pasture and pick through the droppings,” he said. “They’ll eat the insects that hatch in the manure.”

Likewise, the birds will pick through damp, untidy spots and gobble up insect larva as they go. Lockhart said the menu for bugs is extensive and includes ticks, grubs, spiders and box elder bugs, among others. The world is a smorgasbord for a chicken.

Elvis the rooster was a major hit during Midwest Horse Fair
“And they’ll happily clean up after any spilled grain and horse feed,” Lockhart said.
While Lockhart and his associate Susan Troller, owner of Cluck, The Chicken Store in Paoli, both said chickens are easy to keep and manage, the creatures will take some attention. There are many different breeds to choose from. Leghorns and Bantams are popular but there are breed differences so ask around for a good fit for your stable.

“We do recommend a coop,” Troller said. “There are people who manage chickens without a coop but then again, because chickens are for everyone’s dinner, we think it’s best to have a good coop to put them in at night.”

There are lots of chicken-coop plans available online for the do-it-yourself builder and there are premade models available from various outlets. Size the coop to the number of birds in the flock.
How many chickens should a farm have? “Make sure you get more than one,” Lockhart said. “A single chicken is an unhappy chicken.” Lockhart says six or eight birds in a nice number but to always order extra because you’re bound to lose a few.

Baby chicks are frequently shipped and delivered in boxes. Local feed stores and Troller can answer questions and provide needed advice. Once you have the birds you should focus on feed and water.

A 40-pound bag of chicken feed costs about $15 and depending on size, each bird should get about 1/4 pound of feed each day. A flock of eight, then, will need about 2 pounds of feed a day. Feed quality can vary but most should meet basic nutritional requirements and can also provide needed vitamins and minerals that the chickens might not find in the things they eat around the stable. Chickens also need “grit,” an inexpensive material that aids in digestion.

While Lockhart, a Nutrena poultry consultant, noted the biological benefits of chickens around the barn, he added there are other good reasons to have the birds around. “There’s nothing like some chickens around to help a spooky horse settle down,” he said. “Chickens and horses make great companions.”