Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Horse of a Different Color: Annie's Past & Backyard Breeders

I did promise to return to the topic of Annie's past, her neglect issues and injury, and since I'm not ready to reveal any master endurance racing fitness plan yet, this seems like a good time to do that.

I call Annie a "rescue horse," but I didn't get her from a horse rescue. I was almost done with college when I saw an ad on Craigslist (who can resist browsing horses on Craigslist?). It said something like, "Yearling paint filly. Has an injury in her hip, but really sweet. Halter broke. Don't have enough time or money. First $100 cash takes her, or she goes to auction next week."

Well, I thought I'd just "go look."

Riiiiight. If you're a horse person, you know there's no such thing.

When I got there, I found a ribby, wormy, shaggy filly in a dirt paddock. She had a strange patch on her left hip; when I asked what it was, the owner informed me that so many flies were attracted to the pus draining from the filly's wound, she (the owner) had decided to superglue a gauze patch over the top.

Do you know how fast I took that filly home?

Pretty fast.

Annie's condition was the result of bad breeding, bad management and just plain bad people.

The lady I bought her from said she gotten the filly from a breeder-- a "backyard breeder." This guy had bred a whole bunch of horses, and left a bunch of them together in a rusty, broken roundpen surrounded by junk. While being bullied by other horses, Annie got herself impaled on one of these rusted pieces of junk. The lady brought her home, glued gauze over the top of the wound and left her.

While I feel a healthy amount of hate towards Annie's second owner, the breeder who brought her into the world deserves most of my (and your) anger. Backyard breeders usually seem to think that any "colored" horse, regardless of its breeding, conformation or temperament, can be sold for a good profit. As a result, these people are breeding countless spotted/palomino/buckskin/cremello foals, many of whom meet a fate worse than Annie's. You merely have to visit any local horse auction to see a dozen of these "colored" foals, now mostly unhandled yearlings and two-year-olds, sell to the local slaughter buyer for $100 or less.

Color alone means nothing. Conformation, temperament, training and registration mean more. Breeding for color alone is irresponsible, and dooms thousands of horses to slaughter every year. We have enough unwanted horses in the United States-- let's not make more of them, even if they are PINK.

Anyway, back on topic:

After a lot of food and TLC Annie looked a lot better. Wormer and Equishine supplements made her look and feel a lot better, and the Equishine reduced the neglect-related swelling of growth plates in her legs. However, no matter how many times I cleaned out the wound in her hip, it wouldn't heal. The half-dollar-sized hole closed up to the size of a dime, but it continued to leak thick yellow-white pus. The vet came out and prescribed antibiotics for a month. The wound was less pussy-- but refused to heal. Meanwhile, Annie's personality blossomed. She became interested in people, curious about her surroundings and extremely affectionate.

After another cleaning by the vet, an ultrasound to try to figure out what was going on with the wound and another round of antibiotics, Annie went in for surgery. Despite being on a trailer ride just once before in her whole life, and NEVER having been in a stall before, she was extremely well behaved for her trip to the vet's. She came home two days later with a wound the size of a golf ball in her hip. The vets had removed a bone chip, chunks of necrotic bone and other infected material.

It took a long time for Annie to heal-- and in the meantime, her wound had to be cleaned daily, and she was on several medications. She hated her Bute (an oral pain medication), but was otherwise a very good girl.

I spent the next two years taking her for walks, working on her ground manners, teaching her to lunge (or "longe" if you prefer) and getting her used to a saddle.

At two years old, she had matured into a gorgeous young lady:

At three years old, I sent her to a trainer for 30 days of saddle training:

Adam Hoon at Pine Dance Ranch, near Lodi, WI. A great trainer!

...and now, at age 3.5, I ride her regularly around my farm. We're taking things slowly, in part because I'm lazy, but also because she's not done growing yet, and I don't believe in pushing her too hard, too fast. She sometimes still "drags" her left leg a little but seems to be in no pain and was pronounced sound by my vet. Only time will tell if the old injury will impact her performance in a serious way.

This May, Annie will turn 4 years old, and be eligible to participate in under-30-miles Competitive and Limited Distance rides. I hope to ride her regularly over this winter, working up to ten mile rides, then move to fifteen miles in early spring. From there we'll do a little trailering to area trails, and maybe even some overnight camping. Then we'll try a "real" event, probably a 15 mile Novice Division ride in Palmyra, WI, in May or June. Fifteen miles is the shortest ride offered at official events-- it's for newbies like us. By the end of the riding season (Sept/Oct), we should have worked up to 25 and 30 mile rides. 2013 will be the first year we'll be eligible to ride over-30-milers, but we probably won't do more than a couple of 50 milers. In 2014, I'll push Annie to do more 50s, and at least one 100 mile race. 2015 is our goal Tevis year. I'll be 29 and Annie will be 7-- about the same age, comparatively. That year will be scary. It may be necessary for us to travel out west a few months in advance of the Tevis in order to acclimatize to the higher altitudes, which can seriously affect the performance of horses and riders who aren't adjusted to the lack of oxygen.

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