Category Archives: Bon Appeal

Difficult Decisions

There is nothing that I want to do in this world other than work with sporthorses. Eventers, dressage horses, jumpers. That’s where my passion lies. I’m in school to be a biology teacher. To be honest, I have no desire to do that. It’s just a piece of paper that could potentially get me a job. A job that’s indoors, in a classroom. Without horses. I can search my soul all day and all night and find NOTHING that will make me happy outside of working with horses. Except maybe being an astronaut, but the odds of that are slim to none (and there are no horses in space).

But herein lies the problem: in order to stop getting dead-end horse jobs in which I am subjected to poor management and not enough money to feed myself, I have to make some big changes in my own life. I have to “start over.” I have to improve my riding, and eventually hope to work my way up to becoming an assistant trainer. I have to stop marketing myself as a groom. I can be a manager — I’ve been a manager for a Pan AM alternate and that’s kind of a big deal. I’m already great at that stuff, and from there I can potentially move up to more of a riding position, or, at least get good training from a professional and advance my riding skills.

The only way to accomplish this is to take a job away from here. I have to leave central Florida. Maybe there’s something in Ocala, but most likely, I’d have to leave the state to find that job. And then we come to the real reason for this post. I have the resume. I can run a barn. I have too many horses. Barn managers and working students often get a free stall as a “perk” with employment…but never two stalls.

I cannot get rid of Nacho. She would not do well with anyone else, and I believe that she would get passed around and her brain would be completely fried. I can’t do that to her. Plus, her history and mine have been intertwined for 14 years. She’s more than just a rescue horse.

Bonnie, my sweet red beautiful love is the one that I’m going to have to part with. I don’t know how to do that. I’m so desperately in love with both of my mares and it breaks my heart to think about it. My brain just keeps going over all of the awful things that happen to thoroughbreds that are placed and lost…so I know I have to find her the right home. How do I even do that? How can anyone possibly love her as much as I do?

It’s hard to breathe while I’m thinking about this, but I have to ask: can you help me find the right home for Bonnie? One where she’ll be happy and someone will love her as much as I do? She is 13 years old and has some decent dressage training, though she needs a tune-up because she hasn’t been worked consistently. She is solid at first level and can do most of second level though not prettily all the time. She can also do flying changes when asked properly and her canter is SO rhythmic and fun. She’s an enjoyable horse to ride and easy to keep round with a light, soft, sensitive mouth. She is never mean or mareish, but she is a mild cribber and can get ulcers when very stressed, but she has been easy to manage. Her feet are not great; she needs a skilled farrier. She is just tenderfooted, not crippled. Her personality is absolutely delightful. She makes me laugh every day. She’s personable, happy, and likes cookies. She’ll do anything for cookies. She likes her butt scratched. She bows. She loves Nacho. She loves me.

The Red Mare.

The Red Mare.

I will lose my job in May, so I have until then to find a home for her. If I can’t find a home for her, I’ll have to put these plans aside indefinitely and take a job at a restaurant or something. The time is right, and I’m going to have to, for once, take control of my own life rather than just ride the waves hoping to make enough money to by hay at the end of the week. I will miss my sweet red mare so much, and my heart is broken, but this is the only way I can progress.

Thanks to Natalie for kindly understanding my predicament and offering suggestions. This is a challenging time for me.

I am now officially looking for a job and sending out my resume. Suggestions are welcome.



Filed under Bon Appeal, horsepeople, Selling Horses, Sport Horses

How I Found What I Thought I’d Lost

Back in October, Bonnie bucked me off in a particularly energetic bout of playfulness.  It was not a minor incident.  I broke my right elbow and did some nasty damage to my left knee, which resulted in a crippling bursitis and, later,  cellulitis.  I couldn’t walk for three days and to this day I still can’t straighten out my right arm.  I owe various doctors a total of around $11,000 for my three emergency room visits and three visits to an orthopedic specialist.

I never thought that I would be afraid after a fall, but I was.  I couldn’t overcome it, and that infuriated me.  I was unable to ride until mid-December because of my injuries, but even when I could, I was timid and overcautious.  I wouldn’t canter.  When either of my horses got worked up or showed any inclination to buck, I’d go back to a walk, get a good walk, then quit.  I know better than to just hop off immediately, but I couldn’t make myself work through the problems.

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A Red Gelding Diary, Just For Today

All is well with Bonnie, but today I want to tell you a story about another red racehorse.  A 5-year-old gelding with lots of chrome.  His name is Lion.

Lion leading the pack in a 2009 race. Image is from Flickr, copyright EVENT OF THE YEAR PHOTOS (Kathleen Toler)

I work at an equine hospital in central Florida.  We are a surgical center and often get referral cases from other vets.  On Monday, Lion arrived in the hospital.  He still wore racing plates on all four feet and he was oh-so fit, but quiet and sweet in spite of it.   A subpalpebral lavage had been put into his right eye to treat a very bad eye ulcer.  Complications from the eye ulcer and infection had resulted in a temporary paralysis of the whole right side of his face. I work the grueling overnight shift, and every two hours I medicated his eye through the catheter.  On Tuesday, though, the vets discovered that his eye had actually ruptured.  He no longer had sight and the eye would need to be removed.  His owners were not on board for such a procedure and opted for euthanasia.

We had 24 hours to find him a home.  For a 5 year old absolutely fit thoroughbred, fresh from the track and recently raced, Lion was sweet, calm, and seemed to be an ideal candidate for retraining.  Without a full lameness workup, he seemed sound.  It would have been a shame to put him down.  I contacted everyone I knew who might be able to help.  I had no luck.  Other technicians did the same.   At the end of the day, I was sad that my efforts had not produced an adopter, and I went to work expecting the gelding’s stall to be empty.

It wasn’t.  There he was, munching hay.  Very much alive.

As it turns out, one of my fellow technicians adopted him.  She worked it out with her family and arranged for an ophthalmology resident to do the enucleation procedure.   It is expected that his facial paralysis will resolve when the infection is cleared up and the eye is out.  We all believe that he will be easy to retrain and will make an excellent riding horse.  His new family has dreams of turning him into a barrel horse.  Whatever he ends up doing, though, he will have a happy home.

I feel all warm and fuzzy.



Filed under Bon Appeal, Racing, Retirement Options, Success Stories

The Red Mare Diaries: A Happy Horse

On October 23rd, Bonnie was a catalyst to some extremely positive change in my life and in her own.  How was she the catalyst?  Well, she dumped me.  More like bucked me off.  Dramatically.  She was playful and “up”  that day.  We were doing lengthenings and she got excited. It was really very quick and I truly think that she was confused as to how I ended up on the ground in the dressage ring, about 8 feet away from V. She bucked twice more after we parted ways, then she turned around and stared at me, tongue dangling.  Unfortunately, I was damaged.  So damaged, in fact, that I went to the ER three separate times.  I had a nasty bursitis in my left knee which later became a fiery cellulitis.  My right radius was broken, and there was plenty of soft tissue damage in that area, too.  I still can’t straighten my arm all the way.

These things happen with horses, though, and I held no grudge.

Bonnie's so happy, her hooves don't touch the ground!

Since I was no longer able to work at the dressage farm,  I brought Bonnie home, which I had kind of been planning to do anyway.  I hated working at the dressage farm and I was really looking for an out!  I live on eight acres with Nacho, two Tennessee Walkers, and a Shetland pony.  My landlord asked me where I planned to put Bonnie, since all of the stalls were filled.  The answer was simple: outside.  Duh.  Bonnie hates stalls and small paddocks and confinement in general.  I had no idea what a positive change that pasture life would have on Bonnie.

At the dressage farm, Bonnie lived in a paddock with a run-in stall at one end.  The entire area was covered with crushed concrete/shell for ease of cleaning and drainage.  When Bonnie would lie down, she would get bedsores on the fronts of her pasterns, so I kept her in flipped-up bell boots.  The mare only got one hour of turn out on most days, because that was what was allowed.   She was grass-starved all the time, and would crib as much as possible.  It made me sad, but what choice did I have?  In order to make up for her miserable time spent in that small, boring paddock, I rode her daily, took her for happy hacks, and gave her long grooming sessions.  I gave her extra turn-out whenever I could, too, oh, and extra hay.  But really, horses like Bonnie are happiest when they are OUT.

When Bonnie came home, the change was INSTANT.  She stopped cribbing, she looked brighter and more interested, she ate better.  She even gained weight (not that she was skinny).  She no longer gets her ulcer preventative stuff, either, because she honestly doesn’t seem to need it.  Within about a month of coming home, the improvement in her feet was obvious, too: no more thrush, better growth, and tougher soles (she does still get a hoof supplement).

Bonnie and Nacho are turned out together overnight, and during the day, Nacho is stalled while Bonnie wanders around the 5 acre barn pasture.  She is obviously happier with the 24/7 turn-out arrangement, and I truly enjoy having her back at home.

I was unable to ride her at all until December because of my injuries, but I’ll tell you more about that in my next edition.  🙂 Needless to say, she’s lost a bit of fitness!

To follow both of my horses: check out Backyard Sporthorse.

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The Red Mare Diaries: The Chestnut Mare Stigma

The Red Mare Diaries are written by Katherine Abel

Lots of people I know are into geldings. Geldings of any color, even chestnut! Mares seem to be a little bit less desirable. Hormones? Whatever. Dressage people also aren’t too keen on Thoroughbreds in general, for some reason. Wasn’t dressage popularized by French Thoroughbreds? I have a chestnut Thoroughbred mare, and when I talk about it, people scrunch up their faces: “Eww, a chestnut mare? A chestnut Thoroughbred mare?”

I’m not exaggerating. I used to have a roommate (a horrible roommate, I might add) whose dad had worked on the racetrack. Evidently, he had been killed by a chestnut TB mare, and thus the girl had written off TB mares forever and ever amen. A groom I know claims that a scar on her face was bestowed upon her by an unruly chestnut TB mare. I asked someone to hold Bonnie for TWO SECONDS for me once, while I retrieved my whip, and she said “Really? You want me to hold your chestnut mare?”

Beware the chestnut mare?

But wait, horses hurt people ALL THE TIME. They are big animals; they have a strong startle instinct because they are prey animals. Those instincts exist in all horses. What’s so memorable about getting injured by a chestnut Thoroughbred mare? Mares in general might be a little more hormonal, and Thoroughbreds have a tendency to be hot. Who cares about the color? Ugh.

Horses are dangerous. All of them. The peaceful warmblood gelding, the uppity Thoroughbred mare, the vengeful pony.

Bonnie is a delightful mare. She never pins her ears at humans or horses. She is subordinate to the cob gelding that she spends her nights with! Yes, the Red Mare is hot to the leg, sensitive about everything, and very forward, but she is not crazed, mean, or even moody. She is interested in people, comes when she is called, and stands quietly while kids play with her dangling tongue.

She gives every bit of herself when I work her; she’s always listening and trying to please. Is she perfect? Of course not. No horse is. She spooks, she will occasionally bolt, and she’ll scurry if the whip surprises her. Even when she’s having a bad moment, though, she’s not mean and she’s never a bully. She is, however, extremely smart and a fast learner.

Today, I had an awesome ride. While working on leg yields at canter, Bonnie got a little bit too into leg yielding and started to do it on her own when I asked her to go down the quarterline without a yield. When I corrected her, she was confused (“but wait, I thought we were leg yielding darn it!”) and she became strong and charged forward in her frustration. She was never bad, though: ears were up and there was no bucking or unruly behavior. Horses ARE allowed to communicate that they are confused or frustrated!

Later, when Bonnie was really on the aids, working nicely, and warmed up, the neighbors drove a broken, clattering stock trailer right next to our fence. Bonnie stayed focused on me and didn’t glance at the clanging abomination, which was a mere 30 feet away. Color me impressed.



Filed under Bon Appeal, Dressage, Stereotypes

How Bonnie Got Her Groove Back – The Red Mare Diaries

The Red Mare Diaries are by Katherine Abel

I feel like I have written a lot about everything that has gone wrong with Bonnie since I’ve had her.  That’s a huge disservice to the poor Red Mare, because much of all of that was not her fault, and she’s a really wonderful horse.  She just went through some rough times.  Worst of all, though, is that the most recent issues went on much longer than they should have because I failed to recognize what was going on.

A few months ago, Bonnie returned to work after her splint injury healed.  She was sound and remaining so, and I pushed hard to get her training back on track.  She started out fabulously – on the aids, willing, and basically quiet.  As time went on, though, things got worse and worse.

The groovy Red Mare and her (giant) cob pasture mate

After the other horses in the barn had shed out every last remnant of winter coat and stood gleaming in the Spring sun, Bonnie looked ratty and too lean.  Alarmed by her weight loss, I dewormed her and had the vet take a quick look.  The vet also suspected worms, and suggested that I feed her more and do a fecal.  The fecal was negative.

Bonnie was spooking at everything.  It was so severe that I could barely ride her.  Or walk her out to the pasture.  Or hand graze her.  She would freak out and run in a panic when I turned her out.  She would even kick out frantically in the cross ties and would not stand safely for the farrier!  Stubbornly, I kept riding her 5 days a week, thinking that she just needed more work.

I was really worried, but still didn’t put it all together.  I know, you’re all thinking that I am a horrible horse owner now, aren’t you?

Well, it all came together when a friend’s horse colicked.  He, a thin-skinned and sensitive Trakehner, was diagnosed with severe ulcers.  Many of his symptoms were similar to Bonnie’s, and the two horses have a lot in common in general.  Both are cribbers with relatively hot and sensitive temperaments.   Finally, I put it all together.

I don’t really have the financial resources to give a horse omeprazole, the primo treatment for equine ulcers, so I did a ton of research and started Bonnie on a few supplements: U-gard in a SmarkPak, plus Slippery Elm and Aloe Vera.  Later, I added Magnesium 3000 and SmartHoof (which includes a pro-biotic) into her SmartPak.  I cut her grain in half and nearly doubled her roughage.  I increased her alfalfa intake.

The results were remarkable: within a week, the Red Mare’s haircoat was shedding.  She stood quietly for the farrier.  She stopped bolting pell-mell around the pasture when she was turned out.

After two weeks of rest, I started riding Bonnie again.  She stood quietly to be tacked up, didn’t flip out when I mounted, and only spooked a couple of times.  She was still hot and sensitive, but she was more attentive and able to accept the aids.

In a month, her weight was perfect.  Her coat had fully shed out and regained the copper-penny shine. The spooking had been reduced to pre-existing levels.  She was more relaxed to ride and her cribbing seemed to actually decrease.  I started turning her out overnight with a well-behaved cob gelding, which I though would further reduce her stress levels.

Today, a little over a month and a half after I changed Bonnie’s routine and put her on supplements, I had my best ride ever.  My trainer says that by the end of Summer, the mare will be a “solid first level horse.”  She does all of the first level movements now with beautiful contact on both reins.  Her trot is developing suspension and “schwung” and she is starting to really use her back and hind end.  Her canter transitions need a little more work, as do her leg yields, but she is progressing SO WELL.  Now, every ride is a good ride and Bonnie even seems to look forward to work.

I may have been slow, but at least I finally got this figured out.


Filed under Bon Appeal

The Invisible Monster in the Gazebo – The Red Mare Diaries

Bonnie has a spook.

Not a terrible spook, at least not for me.  I used to have to cope with a spook-panic-buck and a ruined ride from my other mare, Nacho.  Bonnie scoots and maybe bolts a few strides.  Sometimes sideways, always unexpectedly.

Bonnie doesn’t cruise around the ring looking for Horse-Eating Zombies; she will be working hard, on the aids, and a fire-breathing horse-devouring beast will leap out of the arena sand and snap at her legs, so she’ll fling her head up, spaz for a second, then go back to work, realizing that it was just a harmless shadow.  The whole process takes only a couple of seconds, and usually occurs only once or twice per ride, if at all.

Generally, I can hack out Bonnie on a totally loose rein, even bareback, and not worry about getting dumped.  In fact, the mare has never spooked bad enough to dump me, but if I do ANYTHING well, it’s sticking out a spook .  Anyway, I digress…

So, I have been riding the Red Mare a lot lately.  Since she recovered from the splint thing, the cold, and the diarrhea, I have been extremely consistent with our rides.  She is ridden at least four days a week, often five or six.  Overall, her progress has been spectacular.  We are now doing decent leg yields, both along the wall and from the quarter lines.  Her canter departs have dramatically improved, and she is really getting consistent with the contact…until she spooks.

On Monday, I was riding in the dressage ring after Bonnie had the whole weekend off.  We have a gazebo at C, which is meant to imitate a judge’s booth, but also serves as a place for people to watch lessons in the shade.  I was cantering Bonnie in a 20-meter circle at C, and we’d gone around several times.  Then, the Horse-Eating Invisible Werewolf appeared in the gazebo, fangs and claws bared.  Bonnie swung to face the gazebo and bolted sideways and backwards at the same time.  I have been taught not to pull or overreact when a horse spooks, so I sat calmly, steadily in the tack, simply trying to direct her back to the track.

We did make it back to the track… and right past it – into the bushes that border our dressage ring.  In the bushes, some acid-spitting snakes snapped at Bonnie’s fetlocks.  She whirled around, her nostrils flared, eyes rolling, and bolted across the arena.  Three of four strides later, she put her head back down, remembered what a half-halt is, and forgot about the hell-beasts.  We carried on with the circle.

Ten minutes later, when people were actually watching, we had our best canter depart EVER, balanced, supple, relaxed and not rushed…and people were watching.  “Wow, looks like you are having a great ride!” someone said.

I just smiled.

The Red Mare Diaries are written by Katherine Abel. Visit her blog, The Perpetual Working Student, for more about Bonnie, Nacho, and all the other horses in her life!


Filed under Bon Appeal, Dressage, Sport Horses, Training Diary