The Not So Great Escape

Monarch writes . . .

We lovez our livez at Bits and Bytes Farm — nice big cozy stalls, plenty of grass in the big pasturez, good company from da other hosses — but once in a while you just got to shake things up a bit.

It wuz about seven o’clock in da evening on Memorial Day, and I had just gone out to the pasture wid Fofo Andy and Saint Lawrence, who we still call “The Baby” even though (at the age of two) he’s 16.3 hands.  We wuz all grazing and just hanging out, and all of a sudden The Baby says, “Hey, I bet we could break out of here.”

Just like dat. Out of nowhere. So I sayz, “What fer? We gotz grass here. We gotz trees ta stand under, we gotz water. What would we do if we broke out?”

The Baby wuz already nibbling on da gate latch. “I don’t know,” he said. “We could . . . we could run out back and see the horses out there.”

“Yeah,” Fofo chimed in. “We could have a race to see who could get all the way to the back of the barn first. That would be fun.”

Me, I’m not much for racing. Never was. So dis did not excite me much. “Count me out,” I said between mouthfuls of grass.

“But there are hay bags in every stall,” The Baby said. “You know how you love hay.”

Dis made me lift mah head out da grass so fast I almost got whiplash. Hay? Nice plump, full hay bags in every stall, wid no one guarding dem? Dis might be worth the effort of escaping. “You keep working on dat latch,” I said.

Fofo went over and together, him and The Baby actually managed to work the latch free. I was surprised, but as soon as The Baby pushed dat gate open, I saw dem hay bags in mah imaginationz, and I wuz off like a rocket. Or like a Thoroughbred. I don’t think I ever came out of da starting gate as fast as I came out of dat pasture. Maybe if dey had thought to put hay bags at the finish line, I’d have been another Secretariat.

Anyway, we wuz all giddy wid the excitement of being free. Free! Free! We flew on winged hoofies down the driveway, across the yard, and into the barn. Freedom! Lovely freedom! And all the hay I could eat! We galloped all the way down toward the end of the 300-yard long barn, toward the back end where the big piles of hay bales are. I wuz all ready to just jump into dem and roll around . . . when I wuz brought up short. Dere was a board across da end of da barn, between where da stalls are and where da hay is stored. Dere was no way fer us to get back dere, or to get out to where our buddy hosses were, in da back pastures. But we didn’t care. Fofo just tossed his head, spun around, and said, “C’mon, let’s race the other way!”

So we started galloping back, but unfortunately our freedom run was interrupted by Elizabeth and Barry, who were waiting fer us at the barn door with stern looks on dere faces. We wuz all brought up short, very short. I didn’t even get to have any hay! And we got lectured, and had to put out halters on and go back to our pasture.

And now we iz separated. Fofo has been put in solitary confinement in Pasture 6A, and me and The Baby iz together, but dey haz put a better latch on our pasture.

But the summer is young, and dere iz still lotz of time fer us to plot more escapes. Watch this space fer more newz of Da Next Great Escape.

Monarch’s First Dressage Show

Monarch and his buddy Bubba, and me with Monarch's ribbon

Monarch and his buddy Bubba, and me with Monarch’s ribbon

I am writing for Monarch today, because he’s too tired (so he says) to write anything. He went to his very first schooling show today, and if he wasn’t enough of a DIVA before this, he has certainly become one now!

Although I don’t have any interest in getting competitive with either of my horses, I do want them to keep learning new things, and I want to keep learning, too! So when I heard there was going to be a schooling show over at Revelry Farm in Milton, I just knew I was going to have to take Monarch. He and I have started working on our dressage training, and I wanted to get some feedback so I’d know where we needed to focus our work.

I admit I was pretty nervous . . . last fall I took Fofo Andy to a show at Fox Hall, and unfortunately he pretty much had a meltdown. It was just too much stimulation, too soon, for him. But Monarch acted like he was at his hundredth show, rather than his first. Of course, it helped a lot that this show was much, much smaller than the one I took Andy to, but still I was impressed at how well Monarch behaved and how well he did in the dressage arena.

I showed him in Intro A and B, which are the very lowest levels you can test at. Both are just simple walk-trot tests, but they do require the horse to do 20-meter circles and to go down the centre line nice and straight. We don’t have our own dressage arena set up at the barn, so I was a little behind the curve — pardon the pun — in terms of the particulars of where to start and end circles. Still, we did really well, and Monarch even managed to take third place in Intro A! I was very, very proud of him, as much because of the way he handled himself as because he actually did well enough to win a ribbon.

We got tons of great feedback from our judge, Martha Hense, too. Most of it was aimed at me, not at Monarch, though! I have a lot to work on, primarily my balance and my core. Apparently, I’m off balance, and I am throwing my horse off balance, too. I also learned how important it is to actually be able to practice the test, to get the geometry of the circles correct, and to get those trots down the centre line nice and straight.

So Monarch and I are going to make a training plan together, and start working on it. My goal is to get him to Training Level, but I’m not going to hurry him. Slow and steady wins the ribbons, I say!

 

After the (Virtual) Fox!

Monarch writes . . .

I haz never met a fox. I haz heard of fox hunting, from talkin’ to da oddah hosses in da barn dat haz been fox hunting, and it sure sounded like fun — at least, da runnin’ and jumpin’ part did — but I wasn’t sure about da gettin’ up early in da mornin’ and da pack of houndz barkin’ partz. But Brewster, who fox hunted a lot, tol’ me dat the hosses haz it better den da humanz, cuz dey getz ta sleep in da trailer on da way home, and da humanz haz ta drive.

So I wuz pretty excited to hear dat mah Mom wuz gonna take me to a “Hunter Pace” cuz dat iz like goin’ on a fox hunt, only better cuz dere iz no noizy doggies and no fox and no humanz in red coatz tellin’ you where ya haz to go and how fast or slow ya haz to go to get where you’z goin’.

My Mom went on dis Hunter Pace last fall wid mah broddah Fofo Andy, and he wuz of course braggin’ ta me about it, so that’s another reason why I wuz glad to be the one to go dis time. Now I haz braggin’ rights! And just like him, I gotz me a ribbon — 5th place! — fer how good I did da course.

It wuz fun, but I haz ta say it would not have been as much fun widdout all da oddah hosses and peoplez from Bits n’ Bytes Farm, where me and mah broddah livez. I think dere wuz 10 hosses in all from B & B — some dat still livez dere, and oddahz dat Elizabeth and Barry haz sold to nice folkz like Dr. Laura (who can’t seem ta stop buyin’ dem OTTB’s!)

So, let’z see, dere was me, and Classic Casey (Barry rode him), With Wings (Elizabeth’s mount fer part of da day, but she ended up riding me at da end), and Deny and his mom Liz from B & B. Den we met up wid lotz of friendz, like Dr. Laura and Mary Catherine — who wuz riding her new OTTB, my gray buddy Young Joe, who is a really nice hoss and a good friend of mine from when he was at B & B. And of course Adrienne and Bo wuz dere, too. I might have forgot some, but anyway it wuz a fun day, even though I got a little over-excited at one point and mah Mom had to hand me over to Elizabeth for some straightenin’ out. I think it wuz dem gaited hosses dat really did it — dey freaky! All that weirdness wid dere hoofies, it ain’t natural, I tell ya. At one point, some of dem went past, and I wuz just shakin’ in mah hoss-shoes, I tell ya. I don’t know why, cuz our friend Bob brings his Tennessee walkin’ hosses over to da barn sometimes, and I’m okay wid dem, but somehow on dis hunter pace dey was jus’ freakin’ me out!

But I wuz able to complete da course, wid Elizabeth on board for the very last part, and like I said I even haz a ribbon now ta show fer my efforts. I’m already lookin’ forward to mah next hunter pace, in October, but fer now I’ll jus’ have to content mahself wid playin’ at fox huntin’ when me and mah Mom goez fer trail ridez in da woods.

Tally-ho!

 

 

Mom Is My Co-Pilot

Monarch's Reign aka "Mr. Derby" as in demolition derby!Monarch's Reign is learning to jump!Monarch writes . . .

Remember how I thought I wuz ready fer da ‘lympics? Seemz like only yesterday . . . well, it was almost yesterday, it wuz jus’ las’ week. Today, though, me and my Mom had anodder jumpin’ lesson wid Elizabeth, and I guess I still haz some work ta do.

I wuz doin’ great at first, but it turned out mah Mom wuz helpin’ me more than she should. She wuz lookin’ down when we wuz jumpin’, and dat made me jump, but left her in a bad pozition. So E tol’ her ta STOP LOOKIN’ DOWN, fer cryin’ out loud, and when she did . . . well . . . I kinduv fergot ta jump. I seen da jump, I knowed it wuz dere, but it jus’ seemed so small and delicate, like a bunch of flowers in a meadow (dere wuz flowers in front of da jump, so maybe dat confoozed me). Anyway, I decided I didn’t really need ta jump it, so I jus’ kinduv went THRU it.

Derby Man!

So now I haz a new nickname: “Derby Man.” As you know, mah Daddy Monarchos won da Kentucky Derby. But mah nickname iz not fer winning dat Derby — it’s cuz I went through da jump like I wuz in a Demolition Derby! Crash! It wuz kinda fun, I gotta admit, even though mah Mom did not ‘preciate it much. But if she’d been lookin’ down like she used ta do, she’d prolly have kicked me and I’d have gone OVER da jump instead of THRU it.

Dem little jumps ain’t big enuff fer me! I’m a big OTTB — I needz ta jump big stuff! I think I made mah point by goin’ thru dat jump. Hah! Give me somethin’ worth jumpin’, and I’ll go over it, ‘stead of thru it.

The Celebrated Jumping Horse of Cherokee County

Suellen writes . . .

The look on my face in that first photo says it all — I could not believe Monarch would just go through a jump without even making an attempt to jump it. But I’m still learning to jump, and I now know that even though I’m not looking down, I still need to be guiding my horse and telling him with my legs what to do.

Monarch totally redeemed himself a few minutes later, by making the beautiful jump you see in the second photo. Elizabeth suggested two things to me that I needed to do: (1) keep guiding him, even though I was not looking down, and (2) canter him into the jump. Trotting him into a short crossrail, and giving him no guidance whatsoever, was just asking him to go through the jump, instead of going over it. And that’s what he did! So, as is almost always the case, it wasn’t the Demolition Man who was at fault, it was his driver (me).

A lot of folks have told me that Monarch will make the perfect child’s hunter, because he has such a sweet temperment and he’s so willing to do whatever you ask of him. We are working our way through our training slowly, partly because so much of it is new to me as well as to him! So this was just another learning experience for us. We are very lucky that we have good friends at the barn, and our most excellent trainer, to help us along the way. Look for Monarch at a local schooling show or hunter pace soon!

Momo and Fofo Turn Six!

Happy Birthday cake

Happy Birthday to Momo and Fofo!

Monarch writes . . . 

Me and my broddah Fofo Andy had da bestest birfday party on Saturday! My Mom got us a cake, and carrotz, and there wuz all da other hosses and dere Moms (and Dad, Barry) dere, too.

We know dat all Thoroughbredz officially turn one year older on January 1st of every year, but me and my broddah Andy think dis smacks of Socialism — one birfday for all hosses? Maybe even Communistical. So we likez to show our individualismz by having ourselvez a big party every year on our real birfdays.

My real birfday is February 26, and mah broddah’s birfday is March 6, and cuz we lovez each oddah so much, we haz our birfday party together. Me, as da oldest broddah, would of course get to blow out da candlez on da cake, if we had candlez, which we doesn’t because heck it’s a barn fer cryin’ out loud who wantz candlez in a barn? Cheesh.

Anyway, like I said, we got to watch the humans eat cake and we got fed lotz of treatz. Both of us got nice brushings, too, so we would not look too dirty fer our birfday photoz. I happen to think I looked especially handsome, but den I iz pretty good lookin’ all da time, not jus’ on mah birfday.

Oh, and one more note: I wanted to have some party gamez, but mah Mom said no. Ken you believe it? Like, I thought we could play pin da tail on da donkey. We don’t haz a donkey at da barn, but we duz haz Ms. Audible da Mule, and she’s big and white and I bet it would be pretty easy to pin a tail on her! But Mom nixed dat idea.

Still, even though dere wuz no party gamez, we had a good time. Here’s a picture of all da peeps at da party, wid da cake. Enjoy!

Barry, Suellen, Katelyn, Cindy, and Melanie

Monarch: Goin’ for the Gold!

Monarch's Reign - Ready for the Olympics!

 

Monarch writes . . .

Mom, I think I’m ready fer da ‘lympics! We had dat great jumpin’ lesson wid Elizabeth on Saturday, and did you see how I jumped everything in sight? I did so good, and had so much fun — we are such a great pair, Mom! Let’s do it — let’s go to the ‘lympics!

Suellen responds . . .

I hate to rain on your Opening Ceremonies, Monarch, but we are not going to the Olympics. It’s a pretty big jump — pardon the pun — from going over a few crossrails in the arena to stadium jumping at the Olympics.

Monarch butts in . . .

But we ken do it, Mom! I know we ken! We’z ready!

Suellen puts her hand on Monarch’s lips to shut him up . . .

Monarch, the teams have already been picked. It’s too late. Check with me again in four years.

Monarch says . . .

But you have to admit it was fun. We haven’t dun dat much jumpin’ in a while.

Jumping for Pure Joy

Monarch is turning six this year (this coming Sunday, in fact), and we have been together just a little over two years. When I got him, I was coming back to riding after a lot of years out of the saddle, and he was just about to turn four, and since we both were pretty green, we have moved slowly through our training together.

Like nearly every quality OTTB, Monarch came off the track with excellent basic horse skills. He knew how to respond to seat and leg cues, he was cool and calm, and he was totally ready to learn lots of new stuff. More than ready — he was eager to start his new life as a sport horse.

But, as I said, I wasn’t quite ready for anything too challenging at first. I spent a lot of time just getting myself back in the saddle. However, Monarch and I have managed to do some dressage, jumping, flat work, and trail riding together. Everything we’ve done has been fun, but I’m starting to think jumping is Monarch’s favourite activity . . . after eating, of course!

Monarch jumps a crossrail

Monarch jumps a crossrail

 

 

 

One Part Horse, Three Parts Mud

Muddy Monarch and his CLEAN brother FofoAndy

Monarch writes . . .

Mom, I know you duz not like me ta roll in da mud. But I can’t help mahself. It’s been such a warm winter here in Georgia, and dere has not been any snow ta frolick in, but dere haz been lotz a rain, which haz made lotz of luvely MUDD fer me and da other hosses ta roll in.

The Bits and Bytes Spa

Us  hosses, we feelz like we’z in a swanky spa, wid all dis free mud jus’ lying around waitin’ ta be rolled in. I try my best ta get a good coating at least once a day, and of course ta get both sidez equally muddy. You’ve seen da results . . . I’ve heard ya swearin’ about it when ya brushes me. Why bother brushin’ me when I’m jus’ gonna go get muddy all over again tomorrow!

Elizabeth sayz she’s gonna start chargin’ extra fer da mud treatments. Barry sayz he’s gonna start chargin’ fer the erosion we hosses is makin’ when we bringz all da outside dirt inside! hahaha But I knowz dey is jus’ jokin’. Dey lovez us hosses.

No Nicknames, Please

But I do haz one complaint: Since I’m gray, and now I’ve turned orange from rollin’ in all dat nice clay mud, da other hosses is callin’ me “Pumpkin.” Dis is not respectful. I iz a Thoroughbred, after all, and I have a long pedigree and everything like dat, and I should not be given nicknames like I wuz some Shetland Pony or sumpin like dat.

(Owner’s note: Then don’t roll in the clay and turn ORANGE, Monarch! You brother Andy manages to stay clean, you could, too, if you just put some effort into it!)

Anyway, Mom, even tho I haz gotten dat nickname, I can’t seem ta stop rollin’ in da deep (mud, dat is). It’s one of the perks of bein’ an OTTB, after all — at da track, we never got ta roll in mud.

Love — Momo

P.S. — I know you had planz ta give me a bath dis weekend, but haha it’s gonna rain and you can’t. So I’ll be your little Pumpkin fer at least one more week!

 

Andy's New Trick

Suellen writes . . .

Both of the Slockbower Boyz are pranksters, but FofoAndy is especially troublesome in the wash rack. He is the kind of horse who likes to put everything in his mouth, so he’s likely to pull the brushes out of the racks, chew the snaps on the cross-ties, or nibble on my clothes while I’m grooming him. (He does NOT bite me, he just likes to pull at my clothing.)

He also LOVES to play with the hose, and he always has to have water to drink when he’s in the wash rack. I don’t know if this is a holdover from his racing days, or just a quirk of his personality, but he can’t seem to be in the wash rack without pawing at the floor demanding water. And, of course, he also has to play with the hose when it’s on.

But this weekend, which was the coldest we’ve had this winter, Andy came up with a new trick that showed how smart he is, and how silly he can be. I was cold-hosing his right front fetlock, which he’d injured slightly earlier in the week, and he kept licking the water off his leg, pawing the wash rack, and generally letting me know that he wanted some water to drink. So I got small feed bucket, filled it about a quarter of the way with water, and stuck it under his nose. He put his head in the bucket, but did not drink the water. Instead, he grabbed the rim of the bucket in his teeth and started pulling it away from me. I could almost see what was coming — if he pulled, and I pulled back, and he let go, I’d end up covered in water. So, thinking I was smarter than him, I relaxed my grip on the bucket a little . . . and Andy proceeded to pull his head up sharply, which caused the bucket to flip upside down, and dumped ALL of the water out all over me, the wash rack and the aisle.

He was VERY pleased with himself. I swear he was smiling.

Thoroughbreds are WAY too smart!

The Hoover and the Hay Net

Suellen writes . . .

I have heard the phrase “eats like a horse” plenty of times in my life, but I’m not sure I really grasped the significance of the phrase until I met Monarch’s Reign. This is a horse who can really, really eat. He may never have conquered racing, but he has definitely conquered the feed bucket.

I would put it down to the fact that he’s still young and growing — you know, like a teenage boy — but there are other horses his age in the barn, and none of them even come close to Monarch in the eating department. And talk about loving his food! The horses get fed at 4 pm, and if Monarch is in his stall he will stand with his butt facing the door, and his head poised over his feed bucket, for close to an hour before feeding time. And he gets fed THREE TIMES A DAY! So it’s not like he’s underfed. He’s just food-obsessed.

Cleanup in Aisle Three!

The worst part of this has been how he eats his hay. All of the horses can get hay at the same time, and I can go check 30 minutes later, and every other horse in the barn will still have hay . . . but Monarch’s stall looks like it was vacuumed. There will not be a scrap of hay left. And if you go anywhere near the hay area, Monarch will be at his stall door, pawing and making little snorting noises to ask for more hay. In fact, shortly after Monarch came to B&B, we nicknamed him “The Hoover” because of the way he could completely clean up his hay in a matter of minutes.

This, I decided a while back, cannot be good for him. As he gets older, those calories are going to start adding up, and I don’t want to end up having to either starve him or deal with a seriously overweight horse! I happened to be talking to a friend one day who also has a food-obsessed Thoroughbred, and she suggested a hay net, the kind with small holes in it. Usually, the horses get their hay thrown on the floor of their stalls, partly because they LOVE to push it out into the hallway and eat together in a sort of horse picnic. But I thought, “Why not try a hay net?” They are cheap — around $10 — and I figured the worst thing that could happen would be that he’d either hate it, or eat it. So I went down to Dover and bought one.

Well, let me tell you . . . the difference has been amazing! Monarch LOVES his hay net, and he’s much happier now because he nearly always has hay in his stall. He doesn’t even eat all of it, but it seems to just give him a nice secure feeling to know that it’s there whenever he wants a snack. No more pawing, snorting, begging . . . okay, well, he still does that for meals and treats, but at least not for hay!

In fact, the whole hay net experience has been so successful that E and B bought hay nets for nearly all of the other horses. They still get some hay thrown into their stalls, on the floor, so they can still have their horse picnics in the hall (we couldn’t take that away from them, they enjoy it so much), but the hay nets have, for the most part, been a big hit.

The Finer Points of Hay Netting

One thing we have learned through experience is that it’s very important how high the bag is hung, and how it hangs against the wall. For example, one time we got some of them too low, and the horses would not touch them until we moved them up higher. (Of course, it’s VERY important to make sure the hay net is high enough to keep the horse from getting his feet tangled up in it! These were not that low, but they were in some kind of “horse no-go zone” where the horses just would not eat from them.)

If you have a hungry hippo horse in your barn, like I do, try the small-mesh hay net! Not only will your horse stress less over his hay, but he’ll get more exercise pulling the hay out of the net. Monarch goes at his like a Rottweiler at a stuffed tiger!