Tag Archives: caring for horses

A Horse’s Best Friend

I thought I’d continue my little rant on friendship and Mexico with this touching story of equine friendship…

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Red has been quite the handful these past three months since he’s joined the Flores homestead. He isn’t contrary like Spirit or Joey were but he isn’t as friendly as Shadow was. He does what he wants and really doesn’t have a care in the world.

He and Lady have become bosom buddies. Yeah, he likes mom to be in his sights, but when Lady goes for a ride with my husband, he carries on until she returns. This past Sunday, my husband had the idea to take Lady on the yearly cabalgata (horse ride) to El Ojo de Agua en Medio a nearby town. Red was having none of that. It took nearly 20 minutes for my husband to sneak off. 

The friendship between the two is reciprocated by Lady as well. She is only just over two years old, so a relatively young mare. She doesn’t seem to mind when Red bugs her to have his back scratched or races around while she’s eating. 

The other night Lady was fussing in her stall so much that I got up to see what the issue was. I shined the lamp down onto the animal area from the front porch and saw her circling her stall in agitation. The goats believed that the sudden glow of the lamp was the circus spotlight and immediately began running in circles, jumping off the walls doing mid-air twists and generally making quite a show. 

Lady continued her anxiety until Red popped his head over the wall in the stall he shares with his mom Cookie to see what all the fuss was about. As soon as Lady saw Red, she calmed right down. 

My husband has been talking about selling one of our mares. Really, three horses are too many for the space constraints we have. He hasn’t decided whether Cookie or Lady will go. I think Red just might be more devastated at losing Lady then his mom after he’s been weaned. So perhaps he’s made the decision for us.

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Joey goes bananas

As the supports for roof needed to be in place for 21 days and the roof was for Joey’s stall, Joey couldn’t occupy it. (See Joey’s room remodel) So, Joey had to be moved. Shadow was tethered in the car parking/food storage area, and Joey was given her stall. It hardly seemed fair to Shadow, but I have mentioned that Joey is my husband’s consentido (favorite) right?

Anyway, Shadow’s stall is not as solidly constructed, nor as finished as Joey’s stall even though she is a full year older. And Joey, well, is Joey, a bit nervy. He’s not into change at all. So this new arrangement had him up in arms.

My husband said it’s because his testicles have dropped early. Not having any experience with male horses before Joey, I had to look this phenomenon up. Apparently, a male horse’s testicles will descend, one at a time at anywhere from 18 to 24 months of age. As Joey will be 2 in July, he seemed to fall in the normal range of development. However, all the men in La Yacata have made comments about Joey’s balls and offer their congratulations to my husband, as if he is responsible for the miraculous feat or something. I’m surprised my husband hasn’t been handing out cigars. Whatever!

No one made a big fuss when Shadow had her first estrus cycle a few months ago. In fact, my husband was annoyed that now he’d have to keep a better eye on her or any stray donkey or stallion would get her pregnant. Machoism!

Whatever the reason for Joey’s nervousness, he wasn’t happy in his new stall. He’s always been flighty like Spirit had been. My husband sold Spirit for that very reason, but won’t think of being parted from his precious Joey.

So here’s what happened.

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The laminas (corrugated metal sheets) didn’t quite reach the end of the roof

Since the roof and the remaining laminas did not quite reach, my husband wanted to extend the laminas just a bit so that they would overlap, keeping the rain from coming in the gap. He and my son were up on the roof doing just that. Joey, in Shadow’s stall, must have thought the sky was falling. He went berserk and tried to leap out of the stall. The gate was too high for escape, so he ended up impaling himself on a rebar.

My husband and son rushed down to administer first aid. The wound was deep, and my husband was sure he’d have to put Joey down. He went for Azul (the vet named Blue) to see if anything could be done. Azul stitched up the wound, saying that neither the heart nor blood vessels were damaged, but it was a bad injury.

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Joey’s wound

Before stitching over the cuero (skin), he mashed a banana up and inserted it into the whole. He said that the banana will help the skin scar faster. I couldn’t find much information on the use of banana in wounds, but he’s had more than 20 years experience working with horses, so I suppose he knows what he’s doing.

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It’s only water, Joey!

Joey had to be tethered so that he couldn’t lay down and rip out the stitches. He wasn’t happy about that. He was given penicillin and tetanus shots. My husband tried to wash the wound with mata de toro, but Joey wasn’t having any of that. He wouldn’t let anyone bandage his wound or apply aloe as we did with Shadow. In fact, he managed to bite open his wound on several occasions even being tied.

He had to be untied to eat, but one of us had to be out with him while he ate to make sure he wasn’t biting his chest wound again. He took HOURS to eat–stopping every few minutes to glare at the watcher.

He couldn’t be tied outside as walking caused his wound to open again. He wouldn’t tolerate Shadow being outside either, so she was sentenced to prison as well, just so he would be calm.

We couldn’t go anywhere for weeks as Joey needed constant supervision. As soon as he thought no one was watching, he’d start in on the ropes. He managed to bite completely through one, tear his halter to pieces another time and pull hard enough to break a second rope. Each time he escaped, he bit his wound open again and bugged Shadow until we could herd him back in the stall. My husband had taken the offending door off the corral after it dared injure Joey. Really, it was exasperating.

At times, my husband despaired and said that if he didn’t heal up, he’d be sold to feed the lions at Los Areas Verdes. Then he said, if Joey did recover, he was selling both horses. Couldn’t he see that Joey was the problem here?

Joey did get better, despite it all and after about a month, he and Shadow were allowed out to graze again.

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Animal Doctoring

Having as many animals as we do guarantees that some will fall sick on occasion, no matter how attentive we try to be.

For instance, there was that horrible week when the hens would get the hiccups then fall over dead, and we had no idea what to do.  It did eventually run its course, but we lost 5 chickens.

Then there was the sad event when our new puppy somehow managed to get on the other side of the wall and was accidentally stepped on by Beauty.  Sometimes the only thing to do is to sit by an animal’s side.

But in other instances, the illness or injury is completely treatable, if you know how.  My husband often calls me to “traer el libro” (bring the book) for me to do some on the spot research on a new symptom of one or more of our animals.

Our library is small and consists of Barnyard in your Backyard and Keeping Livestock Healthy, but for the most part, that’s enough.

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When our rabbits kept getting sore hocks, we changed the entire way we kept rabbits, from caged to free range, well, within our yard range anyway based on a section of the Barnyard book.  When the chickens looked droopy, my husband cut a hole in the wall so that they could forage in the goat and horse poop while those animals were grazing, and sure enough, the extra vitamins did a world of good, all based on the Healthy Livestock book.  When one of our nanny goats developed mastitis, we checked the books to see what we could do and did what we could to ease her agony until the infection cleared up.

In addition to our resource books, there are local folklore methods concerning the care of animals. Fortunately, my husband is not one of those men afraid to ask for directions, when it comes to the welfare of his animals that is.  Some of the information he gets seems to be a bit hokey at times, so we cross reference with our books.  If the treatment appears to have some sort of valid basis and not entirely dependent on the warts of a frog during the lunar eclipse, he often gives it a try.

My husband has treated swollen eyes with a spit of salt water.  The first patient was Duchess, the goat, who was accidentally hit by a slingshot stone. (Apparently, there was a passing squirrel my son was aiming at.)  A spit of water and the swelling was completely gone within the hour.  The second patient, Shadow the yeguita (female colt) also was struck by a misdirected stone thrown to scare her back from jumping a fence that was much too high for her young legs.  Again, the spit of salt water, my husband actually spits into the eye, and the swelling went down.

The most recent examples of this folklore animal medicine can be illustrated with the unfortunate injuries sustained by our horses, Beauty and Shadow.

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Beauty came up lame one day and what appeared to be a superficial cut above her front hoof became a gaping hole overnight.  My husband thinks that she opened it with her own hoof while dancing. Yes, she actually dances continuously in her stall at night.  As it was on the bend of her foot, it could not be sewn up. He was, at first, dismayed and unsure how to help in the healing since she opened it anew every time she went out to graze.  He asked around.  One person told him to echar aqua de la mata de toro (bull’s weed water).  Another told him to cover the wound with hoja de sábila (aloe leaves).

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mata de toro

Now, I had never heard of mata de toro (bull’s weed), so I couldn’t be too sure of its effectiveness. However, aloe is a herb that I know to have soothing qualities for burns and endorsed its use.  Beauty’s treatment ended up being a periodic dash of Azul (Blue) for infection, a daily wash with boiled mata de toro (bull’s weed) and an overnight bandage of sábila (aloe).  The Azul we purchased at a local vet place, but the other two herbs grew wild in La Yacata, and it was just a matter of harvesting. Her wound is slowly healing, and we hope she will be back up to her regular dance routine soon.

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Little Shadow

Shadow also recently sustained an injury.  One day, she wandered a bit from where her mother was grazing and tried to leap a barbed wire fence.  She’s only 6 months old, so she really didn’t know any better.  A good section of her skin on her underbelly was ripped open, the fur hanging off in one big sheet.  Poor thing.  My husband called in a more experienced horse keeper for advice.  He brought a needle and thread to sew her up.  Of course, she wasn’t too keen on this procedure, so she had to be lightly sedated.  Even under anesthesia, she kicked out several times and had to be held down to get the stitches in.   This was quite a group project.  In attendance in the operating theater, a.k.a. Shadow’s stall, was the tailor, my husband and his father for front and back leg holding, my son, for head holding and nerve soothing, and my sister-in-law, the light holder.  I stood outside the stall and ran for things like clean water to wash with, alcohol to sterilize the needle, rags for blotting, etc.  Beauty, the anxious mother, was behind me looking on and expressed her emotions noisily every few minutes. It was over in about 30 minutes and took another 30 minutes or so for Shadow to recover from the sedative.

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Warming aloe vera to make a poultice

In the morning, my husband made a dressing from hoja de sábila and fashioned a bandage out of a costal (feed bag).  He heated the aloe leaves on the comal (tortilla pan) so that the juices would run well.  Then he cut the sharp edges off the leaves and sliced them down the middle.  The inner sides he placed up so as to be the part that touches the wound and tied on the bandage.  We also have been using periodic treatment with the Azul, which is an animal antiseptic, although it is more purple than blue and a round of penicillin and tetanus shots just to be on the safe side.  We are all hoping for a quick recovery for our little lady.

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Attaching the bandage with the aloe vera poultice

I won’t say that we know everything about healing animals and we may yet discover that what we do on these occasions is not the best way to treat injuries, but we do what we can with what we have and have found that the natural remedies offered in our area often outdistance any man-made chemical when it comes to effectiveness.

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A horse is a horse is a horse–or not

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My husband got it into his head awhile ago that he must have a horse. After all, as a youth in Cerano, he was never without his horse. Not long into his search, he found one that the owner was willing to barter for 5 goats and 3000 pesos. Deal done lickety split. Red was a quiet gelding, not much trouble at all at the beginning. He altered his pace to accommodate his rider. For my husband, he did handsprings and danced. For my son, slow and steady up and down the road. And for me, little a pony trot around the block. Everybody was pleased.

However, owning a horse was not without problems. First, there were mounting expenses. A horse needed a bridle, reins, a saddle and new shoes.

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My husband on Red.

Then having acquired a horse, my husband went in search of his lost youth. This caused some problems because he was now a married man with responsibilities, not a charro prancing about for the young ladies to admire. These solitary rides irked my son and I since he left us to do the other chores around the house and we never got a chance to ride.

My husband’s solution to this second problem was to get a second horse. Without ready cash, the problem was how. He heard about herds of wild horses in Los Amoles, and he and my son spent more than a week on daily treks looking for them. They did stumble across a small herd one day, after crossing a lagoon on the motorcycle, water up to their waists, but couldn’t get near enough to catch one, although they felt that the glimpse was well worth the adventure and the dip in the water.

A neighbor heard about my husband’s quest and took him to see an acquaintance who was selling his horse in Salvatierra. My husband was twitterpated with his first sight of Black Beauty. We didn’t have any money, but my husband scrounged and saved and sold his tools and the toolbox to come up with a deposit. That just goes to prove that anything can be bought on layaway. Two weeks later, Beauty was home and in season.

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Our own Black Beauty.

And it couldn’t just be any stallion for Beauty. My husband went hither and yon and found one to his liking that also fit the budget. Stud fees vary on the quality of the stallion and the owner’s whim. But having obtained one, all the men in La Yacata came to watch the maquila (breeding). Then there were the endless discussions on whether the stallion ejaculated and whether Beauty was pregnant afterward. Honestly, not something I spend my afternoons discussing, but hey, whatever floats your boat I suppose.

So then there was the stud service fee, new shoes and, of course, a second saddle and bridle even though we hadn’t finished paying for the set for Red yet. At first, expenses did not include food as it was the rainy season and there was free grass aplenty for fodder. However, it’s a horse of another color during the dry season. Horses eat like, well, horses and now we had two.

But, to our delight, now with two horses, we could go riding as a family. My husband on Beauty, me on Red and my son changing out between us.

Riding about was not without perils. There are the low hanging branches of the thorny mesquite trees to look out for and hidden craters that may have been dug out ages ago for someone’s ajibe (dry well) that may cause a horse to stumble and throw the rider. Then the horse may decide that he or she is a racehorse and that turbo speed is called for to win this imaginary race and the rider (namely me) finds it hard to decelerate while ducking branches and hanging on for dear life.

My husband and son have a natural seat on horseback that I seem to lack. They slouch a bit and sit low in the saddle and actually look like they had been born to it. And I so wanted to look like an elegant English miss, complete with a blue velvet riding habit on the back of the horse. However, the horrible truth was that I looked as elegant as a frog on a log floating downstream. Oh well, I suppose someone had to eat the flies, and it might as well be me.

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Red and the summer class. He had such a friendly disposition in the beginning.

The word caballero, which is translated as gentleman in English, literally means one who owns a horse. Horses were a status symbol, as only the wealthy could afford their upkeep. Regular folks made do with donkeys or mules. As we hardly qualify as wealthy, Red had to work to earn his keep. My husband worked with my father-in-law and son to till about an acre of land near our house to plant corn, both for our own larder and then later to feed the horses during the winter months when grass is hard to come by.

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Red the plow horse.

For a time, this worked out well. Then Red became persnickety. He didn’t want to plow. He reared up when I was on his back. He nearly kicked my son. We couldn’t figure out what got into him. My husband thought that he might have been improperly castrated and a neighboring mare in season was causing his bad behavior. So he had a neighbor sedate Red and check. Nope. That wasn’t the cause.

Then, the second theory was that he was too well fed and, therefore, didn’t want to work. It’s true that he filled out while living with us. His coat was not as shaggy but glowed. So what’s the solution for overfeeding? My husband tried tying Red to a tree in the afternoons so he couldn’t graze, but his ornery disposition didn’t improve.

So he was sold to B, my husband’s brother. B would ride hell bent for leather, up and down the ravined roads in La Yacata, late at night. I was sure he would be thrown and break his neck, but he didn’t. That lasted about 3 months, then Red disappeared. We have many theories, but no trace has been found.

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