Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Prairie Horses

Bill C-322 has been reintroduced recently in Canada. If passed, it will stop the importation of horses for slaughter and exportation of horse meat for human consumption.

I find it timely that while this Bill is being presented to Parliament, a new permanent work of art featuring running horses has been installed just down the road from Canada's Parliament Buildings, on Sussex Drive outside the National Gallery of Canada. Our Prime Minister and our Governor General will have to pass this sculpture each time they leave their residences. I hope these beautiful images will have a positive impact on Bill C-322. :-)

Joe Fafard has fonder childhood memories of horses, which is why you can drive up Sussex Drive and see the Saskatchewan artist's running herd installed outside the National Gallery of Canada's main entrance. There are 11 horses, and they are beautiful and graceful, just like the ones Fafard remembers from so many years ago.

"When I was a kid, I went to a country school," Fafard said this week, sitting on a bench just inside the gallery, where he had come for one day to check on the installation. "In the wintertime a lot of farmers just turned out their horses on the prairie, and the school was on the prairie, so a herd of horses formed that lived on the snow, and ate the prairie grass through the snow. We could even, during class, observe a herd of horses of all types, of all colours. In the spring, the farmers would come and collect their horses."

That quote will not surprise anyone familiar with Fafard's work. Since he finished university in the 1960s, his art has been a testament to animals, nature, the environment and those farmers and country folk who are most closely in tune with the land around them.

Over the decades he has worked in clay and bronze and on paper - a recent sale of prints at Jean-Claude Bergeron Gallery in Ottawa was reportedly a great success - and, in later years, in steel.

His images of cows have become a sort of trademark, though the rest of the barnyard also gets its due. None are more spectacular, more purely invigorating to see, than his running horses.

The herd is laser-cut from sheets of steel and painted in earthy tones that, especially at this time of year, bring to mind the autumn leaves.

Each horse has its own pedestal outside the National Gallery, on an island of gravel (there'll be greenery come spring) next to the entrance ramp to the parking garage. Tens of thousands of people will pass daily, by foot or pedal or car, and perhaps take a moment to consider, as Fafard puts it, "a magnificent creature that has few needs, not like a human that has all kinds of needs."

The sculptures were purchased in 2007, with funding provided by patrons of the National Gallery Foundation. The horses' new home outdoors expands the gallery's sculpture park - the "precinct of beauty," as gallery director Marc Mayer recently labelled it.

Jim Hart's totem pole The Three Watchmen was erected two weeks ago where Sussex meets St. Patrick Street; Roxy Paine's bare, steel One Hundred Foot Line, stands nearer the Ottawa River; Louise Bourgeois' extraordinarily popular spider Maman is only metres away. It and Fafard's horses now flank both sides of the gallery's main en-trance.

"I feel really good," Fafard said, in that soft, unassuming voice, as he looked through the gallery's glass walls to the horses outside. "I hope that having people see something that gives them some awe for a fellow creature can translate into some care for the environment."

Monday, November 28, 2011


Thoughts are with Cjay over at Artemis Areia. She has made the decision to say good-bye to her horse Cas. It's always heartbreaking to make this kind of decision. If you have a chance, please show her your support during this difficult time.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The nerve!.....

Apologies! I have been MIA due my father's ongoing health issues, mixed in with the usual family drama plus year end activities at work. I am slowly working towards getting caught up with what's going on with my blogger friends!


Over the last 6 months, three horses where I board have been "nerved", the most recent was done last Thursday. I have read a little about it and attitudes seem to be that it is an alternative to provide a pain-free life for some horses. I am all for pain-free. But for some reason, making a body part permanently numb sort of makes me nervous.

Nerving is a surgical procedure where the nerves at the back of the foot are severed, so the horse looses sensation thus eliminating pain and making the horse "sound" again. This procedure is a sort of last resort to give your horse a pain-free life. However, there can be complications like the nerves regrowing and the pain returning or infection or the horse sustaining an injury but being unaware of it. Once this procedure is done, the horse's feet have to be check daily to make sure that there are no punctures. The horse can't really feel the terrain under his feet while on a trail ride or galloping across a field, so injury from tripping is very real. Obviously, it is a controversial procedure.

The three horses that have been nerved where I board are all competitive horses; one in reining and other two in barrels and games. These disciplines require a lot of sharp turns, circles and speed. These horses are between 8-11 years of age.

The owner of Horse #1 was new to riding 3 years ago and decided he wanted to take up reining. He bought #1, a trained and proven reining horse, but stopped regular lessons. He decided that he would take a few clinics to hone his riding skills. Early fall last year, #1 came up lame. My understanding is that it was thought that it was because his shoes had just been pulled, but as the heels started to decompress, severe thrush was discovered and treated. The thrush started to clear up, but lameness continued. X-rays were done. Nothing was found to be wrong. Lameness continued. Then there was a weird bout of colic. #1 was given a nerve block, which helped but he came up lame again. At this point, #1 had been on rest for about 7 months. More X-rays, nothing conclusive. Soon after, the decision was made to have him "nerved".

The owner of Horse #2 had participated in riding camps as a young teenager and her parents bought her #2. She took lessons in barrel racing and competed locally at fairs. #2 did come up lame a few times over the last 5 years and was eventually diagnosed with Navicular Syndrome. I know he has had nerve blocking in the past, but his owner decided to have him "nerved" a few months ago.

The 13-year old owner of Horse #3 has had him for 3 years. She competes in barrels and games at most of the local shows. #3 came up lame after a couple of early season shows and was on and off all summer. I am not sure of the different treatments #3 has undergone, but I was a bit surprised to find out that he was being "nerved".

These horses are so young! How did it get to the point where "nerving" was the only option? Wouldn't it make more sense to figure out what caused the lameness and stop doing it before it gets to the stage that nerving is required?

I don't know that much about lameness, but the reading that I have done points to riding an immature horse/bones, repetitive stress from aggressive training, not being balanced when riding circle patterns (one of my personal issues!!), and fatigue. So I wonder.....could it be that the riders didn't know how to "ride" their horses properly and have caused undue physical stress to the horse? Did the riders push their horses too hard? Is it the discipline? Poor foot maintenance, particularly the bad case of thrush in Horse #1? An unbalanced rider? Was a re-hab plan lacking when these horses first went lame?

In the book "Feet First" by Nic Barker and Sarah Braithwaite have this to say about navicular syndrome/caudal pain/deep digital flexor tendinitis: "Although 'navicular syndrome' is a widely used term, studies have shown that horses presenting with the pattern of lameness typical of 'navicular syndrome' only occasionally have damage to the navicular bone itself."....."The most recent studies confirm earlier research which proposed that damage to the navicular bone is the last stage of the degenerative process, only occurring after the deep digital flexor tendon and navicular bursa have become damaged and inflamed as a consequence of poor biomechanics and under-development of the fibro-cartilage in the back of the hoof." My theory is that the riders at my barn were not riding correctly and perhaps pushing their horses in repetitive patterns, causing strain and damage to soft tissue. They did not change the way they were riding, so lameness became chronic.

All of these horses are still sort of recovering. #1 has been ridden out on the trails and seems content to do so, but he must wear boots from now on. I am not sure if he will be competing next year. #2 was sent back out to the regular herd and problems arose when he kept kicking and nicking his now numb front feet with his back hooves. He has had one infection as a result of cuts and an abscess since his surgery in the summer. Although she is wrapping his front legs now, the owner is concerned how she is going to manage this in the winter. The surgery is still fresh for #3, but he is doing well. I will say that in the case on #1 and #3 they seem happier because they are pain-free.

I know the owners of #1, #2 and #3 and they absolutely love their horses. They did what they thought was best to improve the quality of their horse's life. I do find it sad that there is the possibility that their horse's lameness may have been preventable through better riding skills and foot maintenance. Now that I know a bit more about 'nerving' and lameness, it validates my plan to keep taking lessons and makes me even more determined to learn how to ride Gem correctly. I don't think Gem has to worry about me over-working him, but I am sure glad that my balance is improving. :-)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


About a month ago while visiting ltd's blog, I noticed that his beautiful Canadian Horse, L, had on a lovely "necklace". ltd explained that L wears the necklace when they go out on the trails; the bells lets critters know that ltd and his gorgeous girl are coming through. Of course, I had to have one for my boy. :-) I asked ltd where he got it from and he pointed me to Zephyr Equine Gifts.

I immediately went to Zephyr's site. These "necklaces" are actually Rhythm Beads. As a training aid, it helps to remove distracting noises that might potentially spook a horse. In addition, the rhythm provides a focus on gaits and assists the coordination of rider movements. The soft jingle can also help calm a nervous horse or rider. As a safety aid, it lets hunters and wildlife know where you are. It appears that the Rhythm Beads may have started out as part of Native American culture, worn to protect both rider and horse from evil spirits and to provide courage. In a way, they continue to do that. :-)

My communication with Zephyr Equine Gifts couldn't have been more pleasant and helpful. Not only did I order one for my beautiful boy, I also ordered two extra Rhythm Beads as gifts. They arrived last week. The bells have a nice sound and the beads used are lovely and bright in colour.

There are tassels on back order that will complete the look. :-)

Of course, when I saw the pewter wolf pendant, I had to have it. :-)

Here's one of the gift Rhythm Beads....the bells are slightly larger on these.

I like the detail on the accent beads.

Gem had his on when we went for a trail ride on Sunday. There were chuckles and snorts when I led Gem out of the barn and into the front paddock. While Rhythm Beads are gaining in popularity in other riding disciplines, it appears that the reining community (at least here) hasn't really been exposed to them. What they feel is appropriate on a horse is very traditional and I guess putting "jewelry" on a horse is just not "cowboy". I explained to my two riding buddies the safety benefits and the calming aspects of the bells. They have experienced deer or wild turkeys spooking their horses out on the trails and they agreed that the bells made sense as a warning.

So out we went with the soft jingle adding to the ambiance of the trail ride. No one complained about them and I think they did have a calming effect for me. Gem wasn't bothered by the bells and didn't mind having something around his neck. So, beauty, music, calmness and safety...seems like a good combo to me. Of course, I will be a trendsetter at my barn.....once again ..... :-)