Through the Finish Flags
2019... Journals


- ...And On We Go (Jan2020)

- Before the Pandemic (Mar2020)
- Navigating the Pandemic (May2020)
- A Different Kind Of Summer (July2020)
- Onward! (Dec2020)
- Change and Adaptation (July2021)
- Up..Down..Up..Down (Sept2021)
- End of an Era (Dec2021)

...And On We Go

Well - I had thought that 2019 was to be my last season, but maybe not...

It was not exactly the year I had planned, but there were certainly plenty of highs and lows to keep things interesting!

It was extremely disappointing to have to retire Ralph due to issues with his neck that seemed to be causing some discomfort and slight neurological difficulties. On the bright side, he seems really happy living outside and hanging out with his buddies. He has also become a tank after re-discoving food once his ulcers were finally cleared up - he'll eat his own food and then look for leftovers from Lou!

On the bright side was the acquisition of Sparky - a half brother of Ralph's I also got from Don Pennycook. He is proving to be a bundle of fun - despite growing up entirely in the polo world, he is eager try new things and has a sensible nature. There is still a long way to go to 're-purpose' his muscles (particularly his topline), but he's willing to try what we are asking. I am lucky enough to share him with Kathy as we're on the same page regarding his training and keeping two horses is beyond my budget!

It was sad losing Superman at the age of 41, but he didn't owe us anything and once he stopped eating we knew it was time.

We made a few small improvements that are very exciting to us horse people - a fancy heated outdoor waterer (unscheduled, but when the old one died after 30 years we figured it was time to spring for a new one), a new base for the manure container (you definitely need to be a horse person for THAT one!), and an extension to one of the turnout shelters so the horses don't have to do the sardine thing to stay out of the weather.

We have a stable full of great people - Andy, Rebecca, Kathy and Jenna, Eby, Sue, Janice and Lindsay all make 'barn-time' a fun time and everyone pitches in to make things work. A prime example is Andy and Rebecca's recent attack on the icy conditions. Not only did they spread manure around the stable yard to make navigation safer, but our arena is quite a hike away from the barn so they created a lovely 'Path 'o Poo' all the way there!

I am hopeful that I will get a chance to Event Sparky, but am enjoying the training process in the meantime and look forward to seeing what he can do - whether it's Kathy, Claudia, or myself in the tack. And while running a barn can be a frustrating and expensive project, as long as the joy horses give me remains I'm not quite ready to throw in the towel.

With that, I wish everyone a happy, safe and prosperous New Year. Remember how lucky we are to have these wonderful animals in our lives - even while staggering out to the field with hay during a blizzard!

Before the Pandemic

Daylight is lasting longer every day, we're feeling a bit more warmth in the sun and the horses are starting to shed... I try not to get too carried away, but all encouraging signs that Spring WILL make an appearance. There is still a ways to go, of course, but this has been one of the most manageable winters in many years - temperatures have been quite bearable (even Kathy has been able to ride pretty regularly!), enough snow to keep the footing passable, and only one instance of the dreaded rain-and-freeze nightmare.
March is notorious for putting a stop to any foolish ideas that Spring is right around the corner, and can be downright cruel in throwing depressing amounts of snow and cold our way, but nonetheless, every passing day jolts us into realizing we only have a matter of weeks to get our acts together.
I'm not forgetting that we also have to deal with the excitement of the 'March Ya-Yas', where even the sanest of horses decide that they've had enough of the arena and will use any excuse (can we say, 'I hear snow falling off the roof?') to throw a little extra-curricular acrobatics into our rides.

The end of February into March is my idea of Friday afternoon/Christmas Eve/day before vacation - the anticipation and excitement of a new competition season approaching where ANYTHING is possible and visions of fabulous dressage tests and exhilarating cross-country courses run amok. And this, mind you, coming from a 60-year-old who will be thrilled to complete a few competitions at a VERY low level!

Sparky continues to be a pleasure to deal with and fun to ride. His flatwork is coming along, albeit slowly as his muscles adapt to a different set of requirements, but he is willing to try what we are asking.
I've been trying to find a dressage saddle that suits him; he has a high, short wither and still not enough topline, so it's been a little frustrating - but, hey, first-world problems, eh? Fortunately we have a jumping saddle that works and he really seems to be happy jumping!

We ventured out with Janice and Chase a couple of weeks ago to enjoy a 'little trail ride' in the snow. Bear in mind that Janice and Chase regularly hack in the winter and Chase is well-acquainted with deep snow on the trails; Sparky - not so much! He started off with, literally, bounding enthusiasm, but quickly discovered that bouncing through the deep snow was pretty tiring and was forced to settle into a more civilized pace.

One of the springtime events we look forward to is bringing in Jessica Phoenix for some prep before the season starts. When I contacted her about this year I was delighted to hear that she has bought Eddie back. A young woman had fallen in love with him and they really seemed to click, but it has turned out she really didn't have enough time for him and everyone realized he needs more consistent work to be at his best.

Finally, Ralphie continues to be happy with his life as a retiree. I think he sometimes wonders why he's not being brought in and ridden as he shoves his way past the others to claim some attention, but he seems comfortable and has his buddies, especially Lou, to keep him occupied.

Navigating the Pandemic

As the Covid-19 pandemic relaxed its grip ever-so-slightly upon the equestrian community, I was able to look back over the last 10 weeks with a great deal of gratitude that I was able to continue to enjoy my horses. I have such empathy for the many horse-owners who were unable to even visit their stable over this period of time; I can imagine how incredibly sad and frustrating it was. The tack shop stayed open during this time for 'porch pick-ups' and delivery orders, and I spoke to many of them who were at their wit's end. I was very apprehensive about the future of many horses and stables - and the many horsemen whose livlihoods depend on a healthy equine sector. We could only hope we could continue to make steady progress and there would not be too many more casualties.

At Sandridge Farm, the horses were oblivious as long as they went out, came in, and were fed at appropriate times! We had a couple of Covid-panics: early on, I ordered a load of hay, only to be told by my supplier that he had to stop delivering as of THE NEXT DAY! Hearing the panic in my voice, he managed to get organized and bring me some the day I called him. Sometimes you get very lucky with the people you deal with...
We were also due for a load of shavings, only to learn the plant had to shut down. In that case, we decided to give 'EquineStraw' a chance. I had heard good things about it, and Claudia's husband, Will, generously offered to pick up a pallet for us and bring it to the farm. It's a nice product - bright and dust-free - but we found it drains a little too well for our rubber mats and the urine was not getting absorbed enough, leaving the stable a bit smelly! It is also about 1/3 more expensive than what we pay for our shavings, so it was an interesting experiment but not the best product for us in the long run. Where I loved it was in the run-in shelter which is on sand (which eliminated the drainage issue). Ralph and Lou seemed to appreciate it too - often having a nice lie-in once their bed was tidied and their pillows fluffed!

In mid-March we welcomed Brooke and Scarlet to the Sandridge family. They had been in the States for training and competition, but were forced home early with a closing border on the horizon. It was a bit nerve-wracking to be putting Covid safety protocols in place and bringing in a new horse - from the U.S. no less! - but in the end we discussed it with our vet, followed the guidelines, and figured it out. It's been great fun having Brooke around - she comes up with weird and wonderful training exercises nearly every day!

With the additional horse, we realized another paddock would be really helpful in maintaining the grass and reducing the risks to our collection of very opinionated mares! My friend, John of StableRight, has come to the rescue with a way for us to add a fenceline and one of his nifty 'kit' shelters. He has replaced and repaired a couple of sections of fence that were a bit too vulnerable to a stiff breeze blowing them over, and has started on the new paddock.

With little riding going on and some extra time, we worked hard on cleaning up the paddocks, cutting up and removing dead branches, and generally getting the farm looking respectable. It seems horse farms are a never-ending 'to do' list! All this is possible due to great effort from the whole team - Janice and Donny in particular have done a fantastic job on the brush-clearing and Brooke and Kathy removed a ton of winter manure and hay from the paddocks. I could see a fence-painting 'party' in our future...
Ralph's feet were a bit of a casualty of the pandemic and timimg. Claude, like most farriers, was unable to travel and work for a while, so the horses ended up going almost 9 weeks without attention. Fortunately, they were all barefoot, but Ralph's heels crept forward and his hooves grew very long. Ultimately, they weren't as bad as they looked and a good trim has pretty much straightened him out, but it was yet another example of the time-sensitive nature of so many of the things horses need. Ralph also gave us a scare when he got his head stuck in the gate. We've had horses on the farm, with the same gate, for almost 40 years and never had one do something so goofy. Fortunately, Andy saw him pretty quickly and and was able to extricate him, but for a horse with neck issues, it wasn't his smartest move.

Sparky continues to be a pleasure to deal with. Still a work-in-progress for sure, but he's willing and enthusiastic to try just about anything. He's developed into a pretty self-confidant leader out in the field, with enough energy to be a bit of a s$#t disturber at times!

All in all, our first winter with horses living outside went pretty well, especially since it was not particularly cold for long stretches, or too icy. Having said that, the horses all took advantage of dryer ground and soaking up the warm Spring sunshine.
Eventually the weather improved and there was enough relaxation of Covid protocols that at least some form of riding was available. We continued to keep our safety standards up so we didn't regress, and took this competition-free time to solidify skills or learn new ones.

A Different Kind of Summer

So here we are in August - where has the time gone?!

This summer has flown by, and despite less riding, training and competing, I feel like I am busier than ever. The Coronavirus has certainly had an impact on my day-to-day activities to a certain extent, but I am thankful my frustrations and irritants are minor in the grand scheme of things. While I feel the clock is ticking on my competitive future, I try to take care of business and not stress about it too much.

In the spring, we made a couple of significant (to us!) upgrades at the farm - a new paddock and shelter were erected which gives us a bit ore flexibility in trying to maintain grass (and sanity!) for all the horses. Not that we saw the fruits of that labour - the dryness until recently left all our fields crispy and brown. The paddocks have recovered pretty well with the rain lately, but I haven't seen conditions like that in the (almost) 40 years we've had the farm. Obtaining hay has been a challenge for most stable owners, and one of my hay suppliers brought me 250 of 300 bales recently (at $ 9.50/bale) and sadly informed me he wouldn't have any more for me this year. Another grower has stepped up and we should have what we need for the year, but it is very difficult for many people. We can only hope a second cut helps make up for the shortfall.

The 'Sandridge Gang' got the wooden fences painted and our reward is a fridge and freezer for the tackroom! While it hasn't arrived yet despite being ordered a month ago (thank you, Covid delivery delays), we look forward to having a place for ice boots, medications and wine. At least I hope there's room for medications and ice boots...

We had an 'almost-disaster' with our big tractor. Andy generously offered to try to cut the stuff growing in the ditches in our larger pasture, but the banks proved to be softer than anticipated and the tractor wound up on it's side in the ditch. It took awhile to organize its removal, so for a couple of weeks Andy had to do the 'drive of shame' past it ever day. Janice's husband Donny and our neighbor Rick got it out in the end. Prep time took about an hour, but once they were ready, the thing practically drove itself out. It was an excellent illustration of how brute strength is not necessarily what you need - the operation was a thing of beauty!

On the horses and riding front, we've kept chugging along. Kathy has a friend who is Animal Communicator, and while she was not familiar with horses and riding, when she visited the stable she had a chat with each of the horses. Apparently Sparky is quite unsure about what we expect of him - he would like more constant instructions from us as to what we want him to do. Kathy and I have since been trying to be more helpful!

Claudia had Jessica Phoenix to her farm to give a clinic, and Sparky was sent to get her input. Friday Kathy rode in the gymnastics/stadium portion, and he was a good boy, travelling well and staying pretty focused. Saturday was cross-country day, and as Sparky has had very little practice over solid fences, we had Jess ride him first. As usual, it was jaw-dropping to watch what she can accomplish so 'easily'. Sparky started out unsure and a little hesitant, but within 10 minutes he was happily galloping on a longer stride and jumping with confidence. Kathy then hopped on and was able to get a good feeling of what we are after.
More recently, I took Sparkles to a little dressage schooling show. He reminded me so much of Ralph in the warm-up I couldn't help but smile as he gawked at everything, was nearly impossible to turn, and felt about as straight as a snake! Once we entered the ring, he was much more focused and although his head-carriage was quite unsteady, I was satisfied with his effort. We went back in the ring and repeated the same test with much improvement - I would not have been embarrassed to do that test in an Event.

We plan to give him whatever schooling/competition opportunities we can this summer, but he is still green and the priority is about teaching him the skills and giving him (and us!) the confidence he needs rather than finding competitive opportunities for him.


I think everyone deserves a pat on the back for not only surviving, but making the most of a year no one saw coming. For the most part the horse community proved to be very resilient and, despite extremely challenging circumstances, managed to keep their horses in oats. The horses, as always, gave us so much in return - for many of us providing an escape from our isolation and an opportunity for exercise and little bit of social interaction.

I have escaped the year relatively unscathed. Having a small private farm allowed me to look after Ralph as usual and develop a better connection with Sparky, and I continued to go to work every day. All was not 'normal' of course - there were only a couple of outside training/showing opportunities and life at Sandridge Saddlery was more complicated, time-consuming and stressful as supply-chain interruptions and Covid protocols impacted how we were able to operate. Alison and I took on all of the hours and more of the accounting and bookkeeping duties - which we both LOVE ;). I'm very fortunate to have such a capable and generous friend to work with every day.

If you really wanted to compete, there were certainly shows and events you could attend. Ontario seemed to get it's act together quickly, and there were both hunter/jumper shows and Events in Eastern Ontario that respected safety protocols and offered competitive outings. My perception of those offered in Quebec was that they were not really respecting the Covid guidelines. I personally think that most events are not particularly risky other than in a few areas - the secretary's booth, how the stabling might be set up, food tents, etc., yet I am completely in agreement that we need to make sure we prevent any possibility that equestrian events contribute to the spread of Covid-19. To that end, I won't attend any event that does not respect the intentions laid out by our health authorities.

Sparky ended up doing one little dressage 'show' and a clinic. Both were big steps for him and big steps for me! I may be rationalising, but I think that if there had been 'easier' avenues to compete this year, we probably would have taken them - and I don't think we were really ready for them. Sparky is very willing, but he needs to 'learn' what he has to do. Although he is athletic, I think that his 10-years+ as a polo horse has impacted on some of the instincts we look for in a jumping horse - once he understands an exercise he is great - but he doesn't jump into a gymnastic line the first time and skip through it with confidence. He has sometimes stopped at a jump if he wasn't sure but he never says 'no' if we ride him like we know what we are doing. This has been a challenge for Kathy and I, who are used to horses that would 'go' anyway and covered up for our occasional tentativeness (is that a word?).

Sparky is eager and brave 99% of the time, so we are confident that he enjoys jumping and just needs a little more seasoning. We participated in a little clinic with Jessica Phoenix in the fall and had a very encouraging cross-country session where he happily jumped around a little course that included up and down a bank and a ditch. His flatwork is coming around. An older polo pony has spent a lot of time working in a frame that is decidely NOT what we are looking in a dressage horse and there is no getting around the time it takes to re-train those neck, shoulder, back and hindquarter muscles. Now, after about a year and a half, we seem to be in good shape to progress more easily.

My 'family' at Sandridge Farm have been terrific through the uncertainty this year. Everyone pitches in with their expertise and elbow grease, a tin of cookies or a bottle of Prosecco (oh, yes - the fridge has come in VERY handy!). Running a horse farm is no one-woman show, and I couldn't do it without this great bunch. I wish all the best to them and to you for a Happy and Healthy 2021, and for better days to come!

Change and Adaptation

As we rode another wave of Covid into the spring, I was able to find support and enjoy a kind of normalcy at the farm with my buddies. In January, Brooke headed to Florida with Scarlet for a few months to continue training, leaving us without key stable help, our motivator-in-chief and impromptu party-planner. We decided not to fill the stall and everyone agreed to pitch in with the work while she was away, ready for training updates and vivid descriptions of how unbearably hot it was. Have I ever mentioned that things with horses don't always go according to plan? Shortly after arrival, Scarlet was not sound and it was decided she should have a few months off. So much for that...HOWEVER, in a long roundabout way, Brooke managed to get to the Olympics, grooming for her good friend Colleen Loach, so we were able to experience that vicariously!

January, February, March - we kept riding and enjoyed the relatively benign winter weather. Andy's back was finally looked at and he was put on stall rest until his surgery date in May, when he underwent a 9 1/2 hour operation, mostly on his neck. His rehab is not progressing as quickly or well as he would like, but we are hopeful it's just a matter of time before Ralph and Lou have their good pal back. Rebecca wins 'daughter-of-the-year' award for stepping in for her Dad while he's out of commission.

When Spring arrived and we were able to get outside, we built several little cross-country jumps with odds and ends and removed a couple of sections of fence between our jumping field and the 'cross-country' field and put a few jumps there. The fence rails are attached with screw eyes and snaps so we can put them back in place easily when we're not jumping. We've improved our dressage ring footing and our trails - all thanks to the trusty 1940-era Ford tractor and an old chain harrow we unearthed.
Kathy and I continue to share Sparky, who made some real progress. The journey from polo pony to event horse is not a quick one, especially as he was 11 when we got him and all his life was in polo. The demands on the body are very different, the mental challenges are also a big change - but two years in Sparky has more confidence in both himself and us, and his muscles are adapting. Recently I spoke to his polo trainer; I was curious as to why he didn't 'make it' as a polo pony, thinking perhaps he got too stressed. It was nice to learn he was more a victim of numbers; he was apparently a very good pony for a pro, but as he was smaller and the demand was for less 'sharp' rides, he was expendable.

After a clinic with Jessica Phoenix, Sparky was ready for his first event. Kathy took him to Équilibre where he competed at 'Grasshopper' level (VERY small jumps!). We know that when presented with something new, Sparky can be anxious, and when he's anxious under saddle he gets very crooked. The idea was that the jumps were not to be the issue - relaxation, confidence and straightness were the goals.

Sparky travelled with Cleo on the Friday and arrived in good shape, only to scrape a zig-zag into his forehead 5 minutes after getting into his stall. Kathy wasn't sure if the Harry Potter resemblance was a good omen or not, but he settled in, munching hay and keeping an eye on activity around him. He was definitely wound up when taken out for a walk, more interested in prancing about than grazing.

Saturday's dressage was not until after noon, so a couple of excited walkabouts and being braided for the first time took up most of the morning. Warm-up for the dressage was a bit tense but progressed well, but the trek to the competition ring and the new and impressive environment increased the tension. Once Sparky was in the ring, he got more relaxed as he understood what was wanted. This has been a recurring theme - in new situations his go-to seems to be a little anxiety, but as soon as he knows what we want he starts to relax. The test was quite acceptable - a couple of mistakes earning 4.5s, a couple of nice movements earning 7s. He was 5/6 and within 5 penalties of 1st place.
Cross-country was late in the afternoon. Sparky was excited and croooked at times, but jumped what was in front of him to go clear and faster than was probably necessary! He was very full of himself afterward...then very tired!

On Sunday Sparky was calmer when out for a walk and warmed up well for stadium jumping. Again, the actual ring was away from the warm-up and quite impressive, bringing the nerves to the surface. Once more though, once he got going he steadied and produced a clear round, finishing first. He thoroughly enjoyed the victory gallop - surely a good sign!
Next up is the Oakhurst Event at Pre-Entry for Kathy (Woohoo! the big time!). I'll do a couple of Training tests at the dressage show at Equestran at the end of the month and we'll see where we stand. I'm aiming to enter the Équilibre event in late August at the Grasshopper level and see if my nerves can handle it. It's been almost 4 years since I've done an event and the time off has not helped my confidence over fences...time to see whether competing is where I still want to get my thrills!


We headed off to Ottawa in July for the event at Oakhurst full of confidence that Sparky was ready and able to handle the pre-entry requirements. For the first time he was arriving the day of the competition, but again was travelling with Cleo, who was experienced and calm.

Cleo was competing first, so Sparky had lots of time to get used to the surroundings. He was a bit wired when he arrived, but we let him graze and wander until he was more settled. When Cleo headed off for dressage, we went along and checked out the warm-up area. There was quite a bit of time before Cleo's showjumping and cross, so we started Sparky's braids and stopped when he started to get restless. We accompanied Cleo to the stadium area and had a look around there, then back to the trailer to finish braiding. Sparky was a little anxious when Cleo left for her cross-country, but nothing irrational or unexpected. Cleo returned from her exploits - she was fabulous! - and we finished braiding and hung out at the trailer. Sparky had some lunch, some hay, had a pee, and generally seemed unflustered. As we quickly discovered, looks can be deceiving...

Kathy hopped on and we walked over to the dressage warm-up; Cleo went with us and proceeded to get serious about grazing. As soon as we got there, Sparky completely lost his cool - head in the air, refusing to go straight, and sometimes forward. Although he looked like he was going to, he didn't rear, but almost went rigid on the right rein and made it difficult for Kathy to do anything but go left. Kathy was very calm and tactful, just trying to encourage him to walk - and breathe! - but it quickly became apparent the chances of doing a dressage test were next to nil. Kathy was able to get over to the dressage ring and crab-walk around it, but she wisely withdrew before trying to force the issue. The judge kindly suggested they go in the ring and see how he reacted, which they did. Sparky did settle enough to do a few big circles in trot and when they came out and back into the warm-up area, his attention to what Kathy was asking was a little better. He was still resisting going all the way around the area, so after a few minutes we returned to the trailer to regroup.

We're not sure if the horses galloping on the cross-country in the adjoining field set him off (reminders of polo, perhaps?) or if a lack of confidence set of some sort or anxiety attack, but we decided to go to the stadium jumping at the scheduled time and try to continue as if there was nothing amiss and see what happened. If he was very anxious, we would pack it in for the day.
Nothing happened. Sparky had a bit of an excited trot at first, but as soon as Kathy jumped a fence or two he was back to his usual self - yes, a little fired up, but obviously thinking and listening to his rider. Once in the ring, a little inattention to begin had the first fence down, but he continued around with a lovely, steady clear after that.
Cross-country should have followed right away, so we headed over to the warm-up with the same mindset - act as if everything was fine and see how he was. Sparky had a super warm-up, jumping really confidently - then there was a hold on course so we had a delay of probably 20 minutes or so. It was very hot, so we found some shade and hung out. When it was time to get going again it was apparent the adrenaline had worn off and Sparky wasn't quite as sharp as before. He had a very indecisive stop at the first fence, but then jumped the rest cleanly and a bit straighter than in his first effort at Equilibre. While very puzzled at his dressage melt-down, we were all delighted with how he recovered his wits and finished.

I had entered a local dressage show for the following weekend. We felt it would be good to go right back at it, treating it as a training opportunity. If Sparky repeated his anxious behaviour we would be more prepared to deal with it, and would perhaps have to accept that he wasn't emotionally ready to compete.
Sparky was certainly 'green horse' excited when we arrived, but all I tried to do in the warm-up was encourage calmness and make sure he was communicating with me. It took a little while, but by the time we went for our first test he was still a bit tense, but listening to me. I was very satisfied with his effort - there were a few mistakes (including a stupid rider error), but he got better as we went along and by the time we finished he was pretty much going as he does at home, scoring 68%. The second test was an improvement as I was confident to ask for a little more, and he finished second with 70%. All in all, very encouraging.
Plans for his next outing came to a grinding halt when one morning he was off at the trot. In the following days he got worse, but not 'abcess worse', so we called in the vet. We were able to figure out where the issue was, but neither X-rays or hoof testers produced a diagnosis. It was only when the farrier went to work that he found a pretty significant heel bruise that was obviously the source of the problem. While Sparky has good hard feet, he hasn't the most correct conformation - a little crookedness in one front leg loads his foot unevenly - so we decided to leave his shoes off and let him load his hoof the way he wants. Doing that in the middle of a show season put a pause on training as he adapted to different pressure. We had hoof boots available for hacking and waited until he showed us he was sound enough to work, which only took a couple of weeks - just long enough for him to forget everything he learned and get stiff in his neck and shoulder!

We hoped we'd make one or two of the last events of the season - but 'real life' conspired a bit against us and it just didn't work out. Neither Kathy nor I were too disappointed; Sparky is a fun horse to ride whether we're competing or not and we had already missed the Olympics this time around anyway...

End of an Era

When my father died, I knew my time at Sandridge Farm would not last forever. I was able to stay on with my 'barn family' - Kathy and Eby, Janice and Brooke, Sue, Rebecca and Andy - but the farm would be put up for sale by February of 2023.

In the meantime, we found a way to keep ourselves afloat by everyone pitching in - anything to do with the stable and horses was our responsibility, so it took a totally cooperative effort to manage the horses, fix the fences, mow the fields, fill in potholes, harrow rings, and tend to the 1001 small details that go into operating a farm and keeping horses. I absolutely could not have done it without this gang and the help of an assortment of husbands, neighbors, and friends. I am truly grateful.

We spent a fair bit of time dreaming what we would do when we won the big lottery and bought the farm - everything from an equine spa to a human one was planned out in detail over paper cups of Prosecco and gluten-free muffins. There was lots of time and many more Mega-Million prizes to be won...

Suddenly, circumstances changed and we had several people seriously interested in buying Sandridge Farm. While continuing to buy lottery tickets at a furious rate, we turned our thoughts to 'the perfect buyers'. Obviously it would have to be someone with enough money to both buy the place and finance our imaginings. Ideally a man with extensive plumbing, electrical, mechanical and construction experience. And a brother who owns a hardware store, lumber yard, or trailer dealership. Perhaps with one (we could only squeeze in one more horse) Eventing-mad daughter or wife eager to soak up our 200+ years of hard-earned experience; they would want us to stay and show them the ropes, maybe join our imaginary 'Olympic-horse-for-Brooke syndicate', and possibly provide a picnic table for our 'V.I.P.' area...

It has been a wild ride, but Sandridge Farm has new owners. While not all of our fanciful desires have been met, more than we could have hoped for have been. For now at least, my 'Sandridge family' not only remains intact, but welcomes with open arms and open hearts Jeff, Monica, and Madison - and of course, Stella! There are enough similarities between this family buying the farm and my own 40 years ago, it's eerie - but it feels very right.

We will do all we can to help make the transition to being farm owners less-difficult (sorry, there is no 'easy' option), and appreciate with all our hearts your generosity in including us in your new adventure. We will squeeze another 3 stools/buckets/shavings bags into the V.I.P. area to accommodate you and we'll rustle up a few more wine cups.

There have been so many people over the years who have helped my family. Many have worked for us, taught us, supported us and have become true friends, and while I hope to remain on the farm for some time, I think it is appropriate to mention some of them at this time on behalf of myself, Betty, and my Dad. The late Gerard Bedard was Dad's mentor when it came to the 'farming stuff' - he managed our hay fields and pastures, fixed all the crap that always breaks, and he and his wife cheerfully explained in very loud 'franglais' what he was doing, and why. He was the guy we could call when the manure conveyor broke at -25 degrees and he would just come and fix it without making us feel guilty.

Dr. Gilbert Hallé has been with us through thick and thin. When I was in my early thirties with two small childeren, a favourite horse of mine died of a hemmorhage in her stall while my folks were away on a holiday. Needless to say, it was a messy and upsetting event. The girl feeding in the morning found her and called Gilbert. Gilbert not only 'suggested' I not go to the barn, but went and got our tractor, removed her from the stall and arranged for her burial. Writing this does not do justice to the magnitude of the event, and the 'above and beyond' from Gilbert that we have received many times over the years.

Similarly, Ray Matthews, our longtime farrier, not only kept our horses on their feet, but was a source on wisdom on anything 'horse' - and many other subjects. I know both myself and Dad really enjoyed his visits and our conversations.

Dryden has been a part of the landscape from early on. He's fixed things, added things, advised on things, and generally knows how the place works.

Andy, of course. Andy looked after the horses, usually 7 days a week, for almost two decades until back issues forced him to slow down. A good horseman who was absolutely reliable, Andy has shared most of the happiest - and saddest - days on the farm, and continues to visit 'his children' regularly.

There are many others who have contributed over the years - as I will undoubtedly leave someone important out if I try to name them all, suffice to say you know who you are and you all contributed into making the farm the place it is today.

I will also smile as I remember the many clinics and competitions we have hosted over the years. There was a time when we hosted 'schooling jumper shows' with over 100 entries! When Dad and Betty were into carriage driving, the farm ran several Combined Driving Events - a tremendous effort and a whole lot of fun. I am hopeful the tradition of opening the farm for others to enjoy will continue.

I think that's a wrap. I wish the very best for Jeff and his family going forward and hope to remain a part of Sandridge Farm for many years to come.


- Intro to a Last Season

- State of the Nation (Jan 6)
- Ralph's Saddle Saga (Jan 13)
- No Traction in January (Jan 20)
- Best Laid Plans (Jan 30)
- Ralph Tells All! (Feb 9)
- A Year on With Eddie (Feb 27)
- Slow Progress (Mar 10)
- Ralph Has a Physical (Mar 29)
-Eddie Gets De-Spooked (Apr 8)
-Ralph Retires (May 12)
-A Week of Change (May 28)
-Sparky Joins the Family (Jul 9)
-Sandridge Settles Down (Jul 29)
-Goodbye to Superman (Aug 9)
-Sparky's First Outing (Aug 15)
-2019 Wrap-Up (Dec 31)

Intro to a Last Season

2018 was not the year I had hoped for. I was excited about taking on another OTTB, Eddie, in February, but literally days later lost my Dad - and my biggest supporter. Understandably, riding took a back seat to real life and the adjustments and arrangements that followed his death.

Eventually I was back training Ralph for the upcoming season with the back-of-the-mind idea that we might move up to Training if all went well. Eddie at only 5 years old was adapting to a less stressful life and we wanted to give his tense body and less-than-perfect feet time to improve, so he was hanging out and taking it easy.

Ralph and I began the season in May at a stadium/cross-country competition that started wonderfully - he jumped super and I felt I rode well with the feeling that I had figured something important out. He placed 2nd in his first class and the second one, at a higher level, began equally well. In the last line something went wrong and Ralph missed his distance at an oxer, resulting in him putting one front leg on either side of the back rail, causing him to fall and sending us both to the ground - hard.

While he seemed unhurt, my confidence was seriously shaken and when I had another fall (this time hurting my back badly) from Eddie a short time later the competition season I was so looking forward to was suddenly on the back burner.

Eddie was sent off for training and he returned with some of the basics in place and a more cooperative attitude. He is now being half-leased and enjoying his work; we look forward to next year with him.

While I continued to ride Ralph, his competition efforts were with Claudia and Kathy while I worked on regaining confidence. A lot of thinking was also going on - I didn't want to finish a 40-year 'career' walking out of the ring bleeding after Ralph's fall, but I would be 59 in 2019 and I knew my ability to train and compete successfully would require significant time and effort. I think the older you get, the more important it is to ride regularly (5-6 times a week), be physically fit and mentally focused. The aches and pains are real and the desire to do the work despite them must be strong. I spoke to my husband, and Alison at work, telling them I wanted one more season of Eventing and I would need their support. Paul's concern was that I could be hurt (which, of course could happen, but my most serious injury to date has been a concussion incurred slipping on the walkway outside my house!); Alison, as always, said she would do whatever needed to be done.

I was happy with that and continued riding with renewed energy. At the same time, I decided I would write a blog to follow the progress of my last 'season' as my competitive career winds down - an older adult amateur trying to rebuild confidence has a certain (limited) audience, but I would be doing it with Ralph (who has a much larger one!), a truly special and funny horse with many mental and physical quirks to go along with his honest and genuine nature. I also wanted to document and remember these days; my memory aint what it used to be!

Before the year could begin, a spanner was thrown in the works - in December Ralph had a couple of 'episodes' where he exhibited stiffness and some incoordination. I've decided the blog will go on; this is horses after all, and anyone in the game for any length of time knows it's not all sunshine and red ribbons (or even the "well, at least I finished" mauve one for 10th place).

State of the Nation

The Christmas and New Year's celebrations are over and we finished counting our inventory at Sandridge Saddlery. I'm relieved to be done with a year which began with the loss of my Dad, continued on with me having two significant falls (one each from Ralph and Eddie) which ultimately put a kibosh on my entire competition season, and finished with Ralph running into a health issue which was quite worrying.

The rest of the gang at Sandridge Farm did not fare much better - Eby had a couple of bad falls and wound up with Alice on stall rest for a few months, and with Peekay being prematurely retired due to developing epilepsy, Kathy was also left without a regular ride. There were several bright spots, of course, and I have learned that it doesn't pay to get too high or too low over the successes and failures that come with horses. Having said all that, here's where we stand at the beginning of a shiny new year...

Eddie is being half-leased by Laurie, who seems to click with him and stays calm and cool when he has an attack of 'young-horse-itis'. Despite our rough start, I'm still committed to getting him well-started and finding him the home and the job that suits him best. Laurie rides him three times a week, including a couple of lessons with Claudia; Claudia schools him once, and I will start working him myself at a pace that I'm comfortable with. I am still a bit anxious about falling and getting hurt, but my more rational side believes that Eddie isn't beyond my skill level and I just need to get on with it! This week's rides (only my second and third on him since my fall in July) consisted of about 15 minutes of walking and trotting and several more of 'hanging out'. I was delighted to ride through one uneventful spook and feel like I'm getting a bit of a handle on steering...

Ralph is tentatively back to work. Kathy and I have each given him a spin and he felt quite perky and relaxed - a welcome change from early December when he didn't seem his usual happy self; acting a bit grumpy and even less interested in his feed than usual. He also had two weird episodes - in the first he seemed very stiff and uncoordinated and was very sore - grunting when he moved. A few days later he was lying down at dinner time and didn't want to get up. Again, he seemed very stiff and didn't want to move. We have treated him with Banamine and Previcox, gave him a few sessions of physical therapy and a few weeks off and he seems back to his normal self...we'll take it slowly and if he exhibits any further strange behaviour I'll get him up to Ste-Hyacinthe for further evaluation.

I need to get fitter and find a way to manage my lower back pain. X-rays and CT scans show where the damage is, but there's no magic bullet to make it better. Not surprisingly, it doesn't bother me while I'm riding, but I will often pay for it later. I plan to find a physiotherapist who can help keep me comfortable, and will add some cardio (probably running in the evening with Toasty) to the exercises I do every morning to keep me (somewhat) flexible and strong. On the psychological side I am lucky to have Claudia as a coach as I tend to dwell on my failings rather than celebrating the successes; she is as positive and supportive as they come.

The basics are in place and I'm ready to see what we can do; let's go 2019 - bring it on!


Ralph's Saddle Saga

When Ralph first came into my life I still had Remy. His saddles were both Amerigos (yes, I know - there are definitely perks to having a tack shop!). Ralph was very fit and on the thin side and really didn't have any sort of topline. I verified the basic fit of the saddles to ensure they weren't going to hurt Ralph, and in fact had to change the model of the jump saddle right away as it wasn't an acceptable fit. I then 'padded up' and got to work.

Ralph has changed a lot over the years, and for a couple of years the dressage saddle fit him really well. Then I noticed it fit him well in the winter, when Ralph was fatter, but I had to use a wither pad during the competition season once he was really fit. The saddle would tip a little with less fat around his withers, and though he never complained and we never found any associated soreness, I could feel a change in the balance.
This worked well for a year or so, but then the wither pad wasn't quite stable enough so Vicky and I decided it was time to modify the tree from a medium-wide to a medium. This again worked really well for another year or so, but once his shape matured and stabilized we determined it was time to find something that would fit Ralph a more consistantly.
He has a high wither and we felt he would likely benefit from the traditional 'thoroughbred'type' panel that provides more support below and beside the withers. Vicky came out and verified that the best tree for him would be the 'Fusion' from Jeremy Rudge, then I got to choose the flap design ('petite, with thigh blocks on velcro), and leather (soft, grippy 'Mellow' in two-tone black and brown).
Shortly after Christmas it arrived, but Ralph was still recovering from his body stiffness/soreness. Vicky again came out to check the fit and made a small adjustment to the wool flocking and we were ready to go. I have had a couple of rides on the saddle at this point and certainly feel it is balanced and comfortable for Ralph. It is still a new saddle though, and requires a couple of conditioning sessions (I use Oakwood Conditioner) and a few more hours of riding time before it feels like home.

Something to keep in mind - just because "it's always been fine" doesn't mean it continues to be. Take an objective look at your saddle fit every 6 months at least!

No Traction in January

After all these years I should know that despite my best intentions it is almost impossible to 'hit the ground running' in January. We are now the third week into a shiny new year and I doubt I've managed to ride two days in a row! If it's not the weather, it's appointments or personal obligations that mess up my schedule.
I have learned that my best time to ride is first thing - soon after I have done my own stretching exercises and before the day gets away from me and I look up to discover I have run out of time.
Riding in the morning also sets me up for the rest of the day; I think I'm a little more patient and less irritable when I have had some exercise and 'equine therapy' first thing.

So, between my mornings not behaving as they should and the icy/cold conditions we've had, I haven't developed a routine yet. Fortunately (or unfortunately!) I've gone through this before and am not panicking just yet - I will wait until the end of February and then begin stressing over how little time there is before a new season starts! The other fly in the ointment has been Ralph's continuing health mystery. After a couple of weeks off after the two episodes he had in December, I started riding him again and all was well - until Andy sensed he wasn't right at lunchtime one day and checked on him later in the afternoon to find him again lying down and in considerable discomfort. Dr. Halle was again called out and treated him with Banamine; followed up with x-rays of his neck the following day. There has been some back and forth about what has been seen on them, so currently I am waiting to hear what a second radiologist thinks. In the meantime, Ralph was put on Previcox for a week and the idea was to see how he felt on that. I managed to get on him twice and Claudia once, and he seemed very comfortable and happy each time. Now the medication will have worn off, we will see if that changes things. It can be so frustrating getting a diagnosis when the patient can't tell us what he's feeling!

Eddie, on the other hand, has been ticking along pretty well. Though he is still somewhat tense physically and worries a bit about the consequences of making a mistake, his flatwork is improving and his jumping is super - he seems to really enjoy it and it comes easily to him. He is starting to experiment with the concept of relaxation, softening his neck and topline for a few strides here and there and discovering nothing bad happens to him. He had his first therapy session with Mychelle this past week and seemed to respond very well - Claudia reported he felt like he was a hand taller when she started his trot work! I am looking forward to doing some more structured groundwork with him to help with his trust and confidence issues, but I think it can wait until the temperature goes above -15!

Best Laid Plans

I was quite determined to get on track with a riding schedule this week, but life continues to get in the way of the best-laid plans...

The week started with an unplanned trip to the hospital with my step-mother, Betty, on Monday, continued into the horrible weather conditions on Tuesday and Wednesday, and hit its low-point with a flood in our basement Thursday. I did manage to ride Ralph on Wednesday and he didn't feel too bad. It is tough to discern whether he is being lazy, is stiff due to irregular activity, or is not feeling good due to whatever has been bothering him!

Although the horses are out almost every day for 4-6 hours, they are not moving around very much because of the icy conditions and we need to be careful to warm up slowly and be patient with what we ask in the 'work' phase. Ralph is so honest and willing that he doesn't resist on a bad day - he just feels stiff and not very motivated. I am still waiting on some results from the vet and in the meantime I'm investigating everything from Lyme disease to selenium deficiency.

I did have my best ride yet on Eddie. Granted, we were only walking and trotting - but he felt more relaxed and straighter, and when he had a little shy or start, my heart wasn't in my mouth! He too needed a change of saddles as we noticed there was a little heat in his back and evidence of pressure points. The last thing we need to do is antagonize him with an ill-fitting saddle. When I lunged him on Sunday and the stirrups slipped down and were flapping around a bit, Eddie displayed his athletic bucking ability - I think any back issues are slight at this stage! Laurie had one particularly good session with him; jumping a little 5-jump grid with no problems at all, and Claudia bundled up as usual and made sure she also gave him a school despite the frigid temperatures.

Ralph Tells All!

I once read a book called, "A Year at the Races", by Jane Smiley. Jane is a small Throughbred racehorse breeder in California and the book chronicled her trials and tribulations, including those dealing with a young horse called "Hornblower" who was performing below expectations. In an effort to figure out why, Jane enlists an animal communicator and I found the resulting conversations with 'Wowie' (what the horse preferred to be called) both interesting and hilarious.

Like any horse owner, I find Ralph to be endlessly facinating and would LOVE to know what he is thinking. His recent mysterious body-soreness-episodes have been particularly frustrating - if only he could tell me what's wrong! - and I thought I'd take the leap of faith and shell out $ 90 on a communicator to 'speak' to Ralph.

The communicator had me on the phone while she had her session with him. She had asked me previously if I wanted to know anything in particular and I said I'd like to know about his physical well-being, and what he liked and didn't like. I figured that was sufficiently vague to avoid leading anywhere, and I really wanted to see what 'he' would come up with. I was totally fine with throwing the money away in the interest of entertainment, and if I learned anything remotely helpful in figuring out what was wrong with him - bonus. I was extremely sceptical about this process, but I was also sceptical about acupuncture until I saw with my own eyes and experienced what a difference it can make. Never say never - right??

Well, I got my money's worth of amusement. Not sure whether there is anything of value in diagnosing his mysterious ailment, but here goes...

The first thing Ralph wanted to tell me was that he loved me. (Excellent start!) Then he wanted us to know that he knows a LOT of swear words. (I'm not making this up) The communicator then coughed and said he was making her cough and I wondered if he might be cribbing? (sceptical/gullible). She said he doesn't want to be a cribber but his stomach felt better when he cribbed. He told her he had been on Omeprazole but that he doesn't have ulcers, but he has a burning like heartburn. He loves his hay, but doesn't eat his grain because he sometimes 'swallows it down his wrong throat'. She then told me she can tell he's an absolute sweetheart and a gentleman and is very chatty. (Surprise!)

He apparently wanted to know what photos she had of him and told her he had three blankets. He likes the therapeutic one and says it helps him. He likes to be cosy. He asked her if he is going to be out 24/7 (yes - I've been thinking about this!) and she asked him if he would like that. He said he would, that he could breath better, but he wouldn't like it if it was icy. He doesn't want to fall on the ice and 'walks carefully, carefully, carefully' so he doesn't. He mentioned that he has a problem coming into the barn because he has to watch his feet so he doesn't slip.

He then went on to say he wanted to talk about his high withers. (Umm, okay) He wanted to know if he still has a topline. He said he was happy about his saddle fitting better because it went for repair (well, no, Ralphie - I spent $ 3,000 on a NEW one!) and he likes the girth I'm using now. (Yes, I did change it). Communicator then interrupted and said,"He's so smart, and a bit of a rascal. He's very brave and he behaves himself. He's also a bit of a ham". She also said I should be careful what I tell him. (In hindsight, I guess I should have asked what she meant...)

She then told me he wanted me to know he likes girls (not sure if equine or human or both), he likes Eventing and he 'knows how to do his stuff". He wanted her to know he's not a 'schoolie'. He continued that he would never try to hurt me. Then he said he knows everything (is this a male thing???). He then said he missed me (I wasn't at the barn today - wish my husband missed me that much!) and he likes all the treats I give him - now THAT'S shocking. He thinks I haven't been riding him because of the cold, and wants me to know he doesn't want to be retired. He said he doesn't know how to open his door, and that the horse two doors down poops in his feed and/or water bucket. (That's being a tattletale, Ralph. Peekay used to do that until we moved her bucket a couple of years ago. I guess time might be different for horses)

When I asked about his physical issues, he said his left hind leg sometimes feels like it is cramping and he doesn't want to move when it does that. Then he mentioned a sharp tooth he has that bothers him. (He just had his teeth done a couple of months ago - I'll have to check). She told me he breaths shallowly and may have an oxygen problem. He said he's not lazy but he hasn't got a lot of energy 'because of the moon" (Wow, thanks Ralph - that helps). His right front foot is a little sore (he does have some bruising at the toe of that foot). There wasn't any mention of his neck issues or why he trips - I've got to say I was so amused by what I was hearing, I forgot to ask some of my more important questions.

I asked if he likes Eddie, and he said he does, but he doesn't know why Eddie makes ugly faces at him. He also said Eddie is famous(!).

Then he told her that he's 'not afraid of dangerous animals'. Apparently they have been in the field with him and "they looked at me, and I looked at them, and I wasn't afraid and I didn't run away". (Deer? Turkeys? Coyotes? You 'da man, Ralph!)

So, yes, Ralph apparently has a lot to say, and I'd better start listening more carefully. And, of course, being more mindful about what I tell him!

A Year on With Eddie

Eddie is proving to be both more and less complicated than he first appeared.

I think our first impression that he was very defensive was correct - we think he was probably not given much chance to make any errors without paying for them. He is mostly very willing and brave about new things, but he seems to worry about making mistakes - for example, simple trot rails seem to stress him out a bit as he works out exactly where his feet should go, and yet he doesn't have the same problem when approaching a jump. A good example of his over-reacting to mistakes is when he has over-jumped a new fence. He is quite powerful and careful and on occasion will put in a much bigger effort than needed (qualities that may make him better suited for the jumper ring than eventing!).
When this happens and his rider has any significant loss of balance he scares himself and then worries about jumping it again. He does get over it though, and doesn't seem to hold on to the stress - he'll go straight into something else and be fine.

Figuring out what bit suits him has been quite interesting as he can be quite strong at times, yet feels softer and more relaxed in a very mild snaffle. As long as we are working within the four walls of the arena we can safely ride him in a mullenmouth Duo bit (a bendy rubber/plastic mouthpiece) or one of the new Acavallo bits, but we'll have to see how much control we might have with these once we are outside. I was concerned his significant parrot mouth might present a challenge in fitting him with bits but it doesn't seem to be a problem.
I've also started longeing him in a Chambon. He tends to hold his neck too high and resists going forward into the bridle in side reins, so the Chambon - which only asks the horse to lower the neck - has proven to be much more useful. Ideally he will relax down and start to use his back, building up the muscles that are needed to carry his riders correctly and comfortably.

Eddie is good to handle and gets along in the field with Ralph and Lou. I've recently added a supplement with magnesium and B-vitamins to his feed to see if that might help with his sometimes-over-active nervous system, but he loves his meals and doesn't seem to have noticed anything amiss.

Eddie has become much more people-friendly in the stable; he was a bit aloof and shy at first. His level of trust is also much better - recently I decided to have him shod to give him more confidence on the ice. When he first arrived he was quite difficult for the farrier, and when hot-shod a couple of times was very anxious about the process and it was a challenge to even hang on to him. This time he calmly stood, and while he rolled an eyeball or two at the smoke rising from his feet, it was apparent he was far less worried we were trying to kill him!

We are realizing that we are likely going to take quite a bit longer with him on the basics as he learns to trust both us and himself, and we'll be giving him the chance to do it in the simplest and most low-key environments possible. He is still a young horse (only turning 6 this June), and it is unfortunately apparent that we have some 'RE-training' as well as training to do.

Eddie isn't a 'hot' or nervous horse to handle and is quite brave about all sorts of things that many horses would be apprehensive about - but he is wary of what our response to any missteps will be and it is critical to his future as a safe and happy riding horse that he realizes he can make a mistake and live to tell the tale.

Knowing what I know now, Eddie probably wasn't the best choice for me, but the idea was to take on a horse who wouldn't necessarily have a good future after his racing days - and he definitely fits that profile. While I firmly believe he has a lot of potential, producing it is proving to be a little more interesting than anticipated!


Slow Progress

I finally got some feedback on Ralph's neck x-rays. Apparently there are 'lesions' between C4/C5 and C5/C6. This is likely arthritis, and common enough in sport horses. This may help explain his recurring neck stiffness, but certainly not the three episodes where he could hardly move. I have started him on Previcox and he seems more comfortable when being ridden, but I am still concerned there is something further amiss. The plan is to take him to Ste-Hyacinthe toward the end of the month to give him a 'once over' - lameness and neurological exams, perhaps some further x-rays if indicated, and probably a scope to better determine whether there are ulcer issues at play. In the meantime, I'll keep him ticking over and work on getting both of us a bit fitter and more prepared to get going in earnest once we (hopefully) get the all-clear. The past week or so has been encouraging. I rode four or five times and while he sometimes is stiff to begin with, he has felt more like his old self with gusts up to, "hey, this feels GOOD!".

Our arena is not attached to the stable, and in fact is a bit of a hike - particularly when the footing is icy. Eddie was a bit traumatized when it was really slippery, so he had winter shoes put on to ensure he doesn't lose training time because it's icy on the walk to the arena. Ralph walks very slooowwwllly and usually in no danger of skidding, although he insists on gazing around his domain and is rather oblivious as to where his feet are going. Between that somewhat careless attitude and the very slick conditions, I decided to 'McGyyver' some hoof traction for him to ensure we both stay upright on the trek.

Eby actually made a pair of prototypes last winter, using rubber creepers from the drugstore and a couple of dollar-store snaps and o-rings. They worked well, but were a little tricky to get on when standing in the sand in the arena and I wanted four that were dead simple to put on and take off. The first efforts used velcro fasteners, and we marched confidently over to the arena. Unfortunately, just as I was finishing putting them back on to return to the barn, something startled Ralph (I wasn't holding him of course, as I was busy fiddling around with a hind foot) and he took off across the arena in an exaggerated Hackney trot with rubber grippers flying through the air in all directions! I gathered up the remains (and Ralph) and headed back to the drawing board...
The next try involved mini-bungee cords, but I mistakenly cut one of the creepers in the wrong place (there's $29.95 down the tubes...) and the o-rings (split key rings) were a little too big so everything was a little TOO easy to put on and not quite snug enough. Back to the hardware and drugs stores, but finally had success! It takes just a minute to put all four boots on and even less to get them off. We no longer have the ice as an excuse not to get to work, though I wouldn't recommend them for anything more than a limited quiet walk!
Eddie has been trucking along. I have lunged him several times in the Chambon and he is getting the hang of dropping his neck and relaxing his back. This arrangement also allows him to display his very athletic 'airs above the ground' when he's feeling particularly fresh! He developed some rubs on his back in the previous saddle we were using so we have changed to a Jeremy Rudge that suits him better. At this stage of his development he needs to wear a non-slip pad, which works very well but proved to be a little too rough for the rubbed patches. As they were not improving, he hasn't been ridden for a week while we wait for a gel underpad which should provide a good cushion and prevent any friction...should be interesting when he gets back to work!

Speaking of rubs, this is the time of year when we start seeing balding patches on the horses backs under the saddle, shoulders where blankets lie, and sides where the rider's leg rests. This is a result of some friction while the horse is changing his coat - the hair comes out REALLY easily and it is usually no cause for concern. Make sure saddle pads and blankets are clean, of course, but just alternating between saddles, pads and blankets if possible - all with slightly different points of pressure - is often enough to keep you going while the new coat grows in. If there is heat and/or the horse is sensitive on the spots it is a different story and you should eliminate any pressure while you determine the cause and rectify the situation.

Ralph Has a Physical

Finally some answers - sort of!
Between his weird episodes in December and January, his ever-diminishing appetite and concerns about his neck stiffness, we agreed the most efficient way to thoroughly check him out would be to schedule a day at Ste-Hyacinthe. Fortunately I was able to get the trailer out of the snowbound garage and have it and the truck given a little TLC from Daren at DH TechPro, so I didn't have to arrange for transport. A knowledgable friend, Linda, was enlisted for company and a second set of eyes and ears, and early Thursday morning we headed out.

First on the schedule was a lameness exam. We were interested to know if any of Ralph's stiffness and occasional lack of effort was due to pain or issues in his hocks or elsewhere. As he aced test after test, the vet looked at me and said, "If this were a pre-purchase he would pass with no question." Some atrophy of the muscles on the left side of his back was noted and I was given suggestions for how his feet should be trimmed, but all in all there were no issues with Phase I of our day.
The second item on the agenda was a neurological examination. The lesions seen on the X-rays Dr. Halle took combined with the incoordination he showed during his episodes led to concern there could be some spinal cord compression at work. The only thing the vet noted was Ralph had a split-second hesitation just before his front feet hit the ground. I was told without the lesions on his X-rays this slight irregularity would likely not be noted, but in this case it could be an indication of a slight communication interruption in the nervous system.

Further spinal X-rays were going to be taken later, but for now we were on to Ralph scope for evidence of gastric ulcers. He had fasted for 12 (actually closer to 16) hours prior to the test, and was sedated and led into the stock. He was very good during the fairly lengthy procedure, though he did need a second dose of the sedative and had a nosebleed partway through. Turned out he did have significant ulceration of the stomach (Grade 4/4), and when we continued on to examine the pyloris, where the stomach joins the small intestine), there was more to be found there, too. No wonder he wasn't too interested in his feed! He will have a course of Gastogard and another medication, sucralfate to help heal those up. It's possible that a flare-up of the ulcers could have caused the three episodes he had, and would help explain why his demeaner mimicked a colic-y horse to a great extent.
The next (and last, we thought) stop was for further X-rays of Ralph's neck. While the ones Dr. Halle had taken were helpful indetermining there were some changes, the machines and displays possible at Ste-Hy are apparently superior in clarity. Again Ralph was sedated and we waited while the pics were taken. Ralph returned to his stall and I bandaged him and got him ready to leave while he munched on some hay for the first time in about 20 hours.

We were eventually called in to go over results and have a look at the X-rays. Ralph has remodeling happening on four vetebrae, more significant on some than others. The question remains whether there is any impingement on the spinal cord, which you can't tell from X-rays. One option is to do a myelography, which involves injecting a contrast medium around the spinal cord under general anesthesia and taking further images. The other option, which I chose, was to inject corticosteroids at the affected joints and see what effect that will have. If Ralph gets better, it indicates there was inflammation that the steroids effectively treated; if he does not improve the prognosis is not as positive as it may indicate that any inflammation was not a significant part of what is going on; if he gets worse it can be because when he feels better he moves his neck more and causes some spinal compression.

I went back and took Ralph's travelling clothes off as it was decided he would stay over night and have the injections done after sedation in the morning.
I returned to pick up a very grumpy horse the following day, but was told he was very good and the treatments went well.

Ralph will have a very quiet three weeks, then gradually be asked to move more. At six weeks, unless something significant has appeared, he will go back to Ste-Hy where he will be re-examined, comparing how he goes to videos that were taken now. Best case scenario is the steroids take care of the inflammation and Ralph is comfortable and goes back into training with some maintenance to keep him that way. If things don't go as hoped, Ralph will have to be retired. We are keeping our fingers (toes, eyes...) crossed, but recognize that we may not get the result we are hoping for. One of the tougher parts of horse ownership is looking at the prospect of paying board on a horse you can't ride for the next 15 or 20 years!

Eddie Gets De-Spooked

While Ralph lazed around in the field with Superman, it was a good chance to give Eddie and Laurie an outing and to see how he would respond. A local stable was holding a 'de-spooking' clinic with an ex-police horse trainer Cindy Fuerth. It involved a trailer ride, 2 days of the clinic and two nights stay away from home - a good chance to see how Eddie would cope with some changes to his routine and a little stress.

We knew that Eddie was not straightforward to load, so we practiced a day or two before we were to leave. It took an hour to get him to walk quietly on to the trailer; we asked him to walk forward and if he stopped we applied steady pressure on the lead until he made an indication to come forward, when it was immediately released and he was told how brilliant he was. If he pulled back he was made to reinback more than he would like and we would have him move his feet, going to the left and right around us, then allowed to go forward. It required a lot of patience, but we were making it clear to him that the 'right answer' was to go forward when asked and we were not getting him upset. When he did go in, he stood quietly and was then asked to back out and then he went in and out a few times without any problem.
We went through the same thing the day he left, though it took a little less time. Although the drive was only a few minutes, he was sweating when he arrived; indicating he was somewhat stressed. He was unloaded and taken to his stall where he settled quite quickly and was happy to eat his hay and look around.Eddie was relaxed enough to eat and drink well and lay down during the night - all good signs.

Eddie was tacked up and ready to go for the first session of the clinic Thursday morning. While he was starting the training while being led, the idea was for Laurie to mount up whenever she felt he was ready. Eleven horses and ponies of various ages and levels of 'bomb-proof' entered the arena - and then the games began! A tempo- type structure had been erected to the end of the arena to provide some shelter for spectators, but with the gale-force winds gusting in the morning it became a snapping and creaking apparition that none of the horses wanted any part of as they spun and leaped and generally did whatever they could to avoid going near the end of the arena. It was hard to imagine the progress that would be made over the next few hours...

As the horses continued to walk around the arena in both directions, most of them gradually settled enough for their riders to get on, though Laurie continued to lead Eddie. While many continued to be very wary of the end of the arena, some semblance of control was being regained and it was time to lay down a 4' x 8' sheet of plywood to walk over. Most horses took two or three tries to walk on it; Eddie took more like 10 - BUT, once he walked on it and realized it wasn't going to hurt him he was much quicker to accept all the other obstacles and tests that were presented to him. Next up was another piece of plywood, then a tarp, then a mattress, a bridge, a mattress with a tarp ON it - all of which were walked over calmly in both directions without any fuss. Before too long Laurie mounted and they contined the same way.
After lunch were some 'sensory delights' - smoke, gunshots, a bubble machine (THAT spooked a few horses, but Eddie was very good), a waving air-filled giant man, a giant snowman, various balloons and so forth, and Eddie was a real trooper through it all.

After a good night's sleep for Eddie, they were back at it - the last session beginning with a basic drill ride which ultimately included riding in formations and 'threading the needle' across the diagonal in trot. This was also encouraging as Eddie didn't seem fazed by the close-quarters or horses approaching head-on - good practice for the warm-up ring at horse shows, and something that many OTTBs have issue with. They finished up with some dogs, an ATV, sirens, and a three-barrel contraption that rattled as it rolled. The idea was for the horse to push it along, though none of them were very enthusiastic about that one, though Eddie was one of the bravest who was quite relaxed about putting his nose on it and following it along.

We were thrilled with Eddie's performance over the two days, and although it again took an hour to load on the trailer to go home, when he did go in it was with calm thoughtfulness. The clinic was very encouraging - Eddie didn't lose his mind when he went somewhere on his own, he didn't stay stressed out in the new and challenging environment, and coped very well with being asked to get out of his comfort zone. Laurie did a fantastic job with him, staying cool and focused despite a bit of an exciting start and giving him confidence with her calmness. We'll look forward to getting out and about with him more in the future!
Meanwhile, Ralph is extremely put out that he's not allowed out with Eddie and Lou in the morning - their 'reindeer games' can get a little boistrous and he is supposed to be taking it easy. His appetite seems to be a bit better - between the Gastrogard and two syringes a day of sucralfate, he'd better be! I am becoming quite expert at hammering the pills into powder and mixing his doses, but I feel for Kathy who has to do it everyday with Peekay's epilepsy medication - and not just for a few weeks. Ralph is also starting stretching exercises for his neck and seems to be more flexible and comfortable than he was - all encouraging developments.

Ralph's Adventures Come to an End

I was cautiously optimistic that Ralph's return to Ste-Hy would bring good news and allow me and Kathy to get back in his saddle. Watching him move out in the field I felt he was moving better - actually lifting his feet more than the bare minimum, and he was obviously more supple and comfortable in his neck. My worry was more that his ulcers weren't healing as well they should have and that they were going to present an on-going problem.

We loaded him up and headed in to our 10:00 am appointment: first to re-do the neurological exam, then to scope him again. Watching him walk, I thought he looked fine - until it was explained exactly what the vets were seeing. How I understand it is that when a horse walks or trots (particularly on a level surface in a straight line), you can essentially predict where the hooves will land on the ground. Each stride is very similar - the flight of the hoof and the direction it travels. In Ralph's case, his steps are not consistant. The hooves may land inside or outside of the previous step and may land more quickly or more slowly than previous ones. This indicated to the vets that there is a neurological deficit (albeit minor) affecting his front limbs. Given the two vertebrae that are offset, plus the fairly extensive arthritis in his neck, they feel that there is probably a little bit of impingement of nerves running from the spine and/or some compression of the spinal cord. The danger lies in that we do not know when or how this deficit will change or how long the inflammation in his neck will be controlled with the steroids that were injected. After consulting with Dr. Halle, it was suggested we freeze both Ralph's front feet - just in case there was something going on in his hooves that was causing him to protect them by moving the way he did. Unfortunately, there was no improvement (in fact he stumbled more), and in the interest of keeping everyone safe and protecting Ralph himself, it was agreed that he should no longer be ridden.

We did do the scope to check the condition of his stomach and were relieved to see that the small fortune spent on 42 days of GastroGard did the trick - Ralph's tummy looks fabulous!
It was a bit surreal loading him up and driving home - at only 12 years old my adventures with Ralph are at an end. While I am happy that I wasn't returning home with an empty trailer, and, at least for now I have a way to retire him, the future for him appears to be a very long and (to me, anyway) boring prospect. I am transitioning him to living outside 24/7 as it will give him the most opportunity to move as he wishes and eat at any time, and I do plan to keep the attention and treats coming. Not exactly the life I had anticipated for him (at least not yet!) but - and I just MIGHT have mentioned this before - horses are not the most predictable creatures on the planet and the best laid plans...

Having said all that, I'm so grateful to have enjoyed such a lovely horse for the last 6 years. We had fun, we learned a few things, and he always made me smile. We should all be so lucky.

Thank you, Ralpharoni.

A Lot Can Happen in a Week!

With barely a moment to register Ralph's retirement, it was on to preparation for the Eventing clinic with Jessica Phoenix we were hosting at Sandridge Farm. I was excited about seeing Jess ride Eddie, and for Laurie to have some fun with him. We had 17 horse and rider teams set to go, and despite the weather forecast not looking too promising, everyone was eager to get started Saturday morning.

Jessica hopped on Eddie and in 15 or 20 minutes had my 'wild child' confidently jumping a course and looking like butter wouldn't melt in his mouth - it is awe-inspiring to see what an experienced and talented professional like Jess can do with a horse who is not an easy ride for us mere mortals!
The rain stayed away and the rest of the weekend was both enlightening and fun, with a variety of exercises to suit the strengths and weaknesses of each pairing. There were a couple of super ponies, a few 'green beans', and Claudia of course - with 5 different horses at different levels! Laurie had a flat and a jumping session with Eddie on Sunday, and it was wonderful to see him go so well after all the hard work she has put into him. As I was driving Jessica to the airport at the end of the weekend we were discussing Eddie and what the best course of action was to continue his training and maximize his potential. You can imagine my excitement when she described him as 'a pure athlete' and is probably best suited to a professional - and then offered to buy him! He will stay with us for the time being and when she has room at her farm he will go on to the next phase of his life; I can't wait to see what the future brings for this talented and lively little horse.

On Monday morning I had arranged to go see a couple of horses at Don Pennycook's Polo Park Farm. This is a fantastic operation involved in breeding, training, leasing and selling polo horses. It was where I found Ralph, and when I told Don I had to retire Ralph and was looking for something to ride he immediately offered to show me what he thought might be interesting.

The first horse was a Ralph-clone from the early days, but I don't think I have the time and energy to go through that whole process again. The second horse was a small gelding (also a half-brother to Ralph), who felt like he could be fun. Although he found my aids a bit confusing, he was willing enough to try what I was asking. We arranged for him to be delivered on Tuesday and I met the trailer at the end of the driveway and walked him home. I've ridden him a few times and he's more settled each time. He's quite friendly, a little head-shy, and although he's a little spooky at new things, he doesn't go anywhere with it - at least not yet! He's happy to walk and trot over poles and we've gone on a couple of little hacks with no problems. We'll see what he thinks about jumping and go from there, but so far he's seems like a nice project horse. His Spanish name is 'Chispa' (or 'Spark').
A good friend of mine, Linda, has brought her big Thoroughbred 'Tim' over to see if he would like to live with us. Linda and Tim have had a series of health-and-accident issues over the last few months and we're hoping a change of environment may help. So far he seems quite happy with his new living arrangements and it's fun to have another active rider around.

Ralph and Lou have settled in to living outside 24/7. It is the nicest time of year for them before it gets too buggy and hot, but they won't exactly be 'roughing it' - they're being fed twice a day and have a nice big shelter where they can avoid the boogey man at night. I brought Ralph in to groom him and he had quite a few mosquito bites, so the fly sheet has been put on and we'll keep him comfortable with that for now. I'm hoping to install a solar-powered light for the shelter and have also been investigating fans - nothing is too much for Ralphie!

All in all, a busy and exciting week and I'm looking forward to what happens next...

Sparky Joins the Family

We said good-bye to Eddie when Jessica picked him up on her way home from competing at the Bromont Three Day Event in early June. He apparently settled in well and has bonded with Bentley's Best - one of Jess' top horses who I'm sure can teach Eddie a thing or two...
A few days after picking him up, I received a video of Eddie showing what he's up to. It was very exciting to see him looking calm and confident as he jumped all sorts if strange obstacles!

Linda and Tim didn't end up staying at Sandridge. She had always wanted to be on the Forestier trails, and the stable where her friend rides managed to find her a stall and a pasture buddy. Very happy they wound up in a good spot. I must say, her 'trial' time at Sandridge was a bit crazy - we had to rearrange who-goes-where as a result of Lou and Ralph taking over the bigger pasture, and having some mares and geldings in closer proximity to each other had created some excitement! First Peekay came into season, and she was already stimulated by the arrival of Tim and the change in paddocks, so there was a lot of shenanigans out in the schoolyard. Poor Tim didn't know what hit him!

We have a new arrival with Janice Clinton's 'Chase'. He is a lovely Connemara/TB Eventer who Claudia competes and Janice keeps fit by doing all the conditioning work. Until last fall Chase lived just down the road at Janice's farm, but it was sold and he went to Claudia's new farm. Janice is happy to be back in the neighborhood, with the familiar trails and less travelling involved. Chase has made friends with 'Sparky' (originally "Puff") and they are happy turned out together. Chase just did his first event of the season, finishing 11th in a strong Preliminary division.

Speaking of Sparky - Don and I came to an agreement and Sparky is now part of the family! While he had been with us for almost a month, I wasn't sure he would be a permanent fixture until the deal was done. He seems to be the right fit for me, both in size and temperament - very willing and but no real silliness (yet?!) and seems to be quite smart and picks up what I am asking quickly. He's also quite sensitive and a little bit nervous around his head - when we took off his fly mask for the first time (and he likely had never worn one), he nearly had a heart attack when the velcro was opened! The arena is also a VERY scary place. He is very tentative about entering it and you can feel he is on edge once inside. I usually try to wander through it ('wander' isn't exactly what happens, though - it's more of a 'tip-toe through the land mines'!) when I take him for a hack, and I did have a session inside with Cleo where Sparky was asked to walk and trot around and do a little work. His heart did stop racing and he managed a breath or two after a few minutes, but it is something we will have to get him more accustomed to...In the meantime, I am excited to be riding again and looking forward to working with Sparky and hope to back competing at some point - it's so hard watching everyone heading off to the events without us!

Ralph and Lou seem very happy with their living arrangements. Ralph came in one day with two hard lumps on his cheekbones, but no pain, heat or swelling, no temperature, and he seemed oblivious. Checked in with the vet and he said to monitor any changes. After about a week they started to get a little softer and smaller, and now they are almost gone. No idea what they were, but am happy they didn't seem to cause any trouble. Ralph also had some osteo/physio and although he is definitely stiffer in the neck and shoulders, he doesn't exhibit any pain and is moving around pretty well. Ralph and Lou escaped from the field one evening while I was trying to get in with their hay. They had a jolly trot around the yard and were just about to settle in munching on Betty's garden flowers when I nabbed them. They were quite happy to be returned to their field...

Sandridge Settles Down

After all the changes and new faces at the farm, things have gradually settled down and we are developing a new routine.

We now have 4 geldings (Ralph, Lou, Sparky and Chase) spending their nights outside. Sparky and Chase come into the stable in the morning for breakfast which ensures all four of them manage to eat in relative peace. It is quite something seeing Ralph (who was never interested in his feed), gobbling down his own and then trying to push Lou away from his bucket!
Depending on their work schedules, Sparky and Chase go back outside after breakfast and then come back inside for the afternoon. After supper they go back outside with Ralph and Lou overnight. It's sounds a bit fiddly, but is working so far and everyone is happy.

Sparky has been a complete pleasure to work with so far. He is no longer anxious about us handling his head and is very friendly and sensible. We did have a 'discussion' on the trail when we came upon a puddle about 4 feet wide that covered the with of the trail. Sparky didn't think it was a good idea to get his feet wet and I did. He would back away or try to turn sideways when I asked him to go through it and then would stand quietly. We spent quite a few minutes simply standing in front of it until he finally lowered his head and examined the problem; shortly after that he calmly walked through it and then we crossed back and forth a few times without a fuss. I doubt that is the end of it, but judging by how he has accepted other scary things (can you say, "velcro on a fly mask"?), I doubt it will be an ongoing issue. He is now trotting and cantering over various rail configurations and is becomng much more confident jumping low jumps. He is very good with various vehicles on the road (I think we can thank his training at Polo Parc Farms with the traffic on the 201 running alongside for that!). We have also cantered around the hay fields with company and he was very civilized. While he is a little more lively and alert than Ralphie, being a half-brother he seems to share some 'Ralph-isms' - he loves to wander and gawk at the scenery, he paws when he is impatient or anxious, and he finds ALL kinds of treats are delicious - not just mints!

The plan is to take him to Harmony Horse Trials as a spectator - maybe do a dressage test, but mostly to see how he reacts to a show atmosphere and possibly try him over a few cross-country obstacles while we're there. I can't wait!

Eby found us some 'SparklePuff' Beer - who knew???

Goodbye to Superman

Sadly, we had to euthanise our Shetland pony, Superman, on August 8.

Superman has been a fixture at Sandridge Farm since we moved there in 1981. A three-year-old unbroken small pony seemed like just what we needed at our new place - he was totally adorable and totally wild! He arrived in Freddy Townsend's big yellow van - loose, of course, as he wasn't even halter-broken. Freddy parked so the ramp led directly into a paddock and we opened the doors, let down the ramp, and waited. Before long, his cheeky face appeared in the doorway of the van and he came galloping down the ramp and into the field. He was pretty skittish and really too small for anyone but a kid to ride, but he didn't take up much room and was endlessly entertaining.

Early days with his buddy, Amos
He was eventually broken to drive, and Dad and Betty spent many fun hours in a little cart going up and down Montee Harwood.

Training with Dad in the arena
Unfortunately, Superman foundered fairly early on and was never really sound enough to do any work, so his main 'job' has been acting as a babysitter for horses who have had to stay inside for any reason, and meandering around his paddock most days.

Superman has led all of us on merry chases over the years - if he happened to escape from his stall or the paddock, he would wander just far enough that you couldn't quite grab him, then bolt away at top speed as soon as you got a hand on him. Food was an enticement, but more often than not the wild freedom he enjoyed for a few minutes was worth more than any treats you could offer.
Superman turned 40 in 2018 and has a bit of a tough time over the last year. He didn't have many workable teeth, so he couldn't really graze or eat hay; instead, 3 or 4 times a day he was given a mash of hay pellets and bits of apples and carrots. Until the last few days he always looked forward to his food, but when he was no longer interested in it and stopped drinking as well, we knew it was time.

At least we THOUGHT it was time - true to form when the vet arrived to do the deed, Superman refused to be caught. We were eventually able to corral him in a corner, but not before he had knocked 2 of us over and made a final statement about going out on his own terms - zipping 'round the paddock a few times despite his rickety legs and failing heart.

Superman at 40
At well over 100 in human years, it was time for Superman to head for lusher pastures.

Thanks for the memories, Supe.

Sparky's First Outing

Sparky rode over to Beaulieu Farm, site of the Harmony Horse Trials, in Kathy's trailer with Cleo. His first surprise was with the wraps on his legs - obviously someting he wasn't accustomed to as he seemed to think his legs were fastened to the floor. He was eventually convinced it was safe to move one leg and then another, and was able to make his way out to the trailer. He loaded right on which wasn't too surprising as most polo horses are pretty familiar with that, and Kathy's van is very open and inviting. Cleo wasn't too enthused about her travelling partner; as I followed behind, Sparky stood very carefully on the far left side of his stall studiously looking out the window while Cleo periodically made a show of keeping him in his place with teeth or hooves.

On our way
We got the stalls set up and the horses settled, then tacked up for a little hack around. Sparky was certainly interested in everything going on, but didn't feel wound up or nervous. Like his brother Ralph, he liked to stand and stare at whatever caught his eye. It wasn't until we rode around to the back of the grandstand that he overreacted to anything - ROCKS!! There is a grouping of about 4 very big rocks at the cross-country finish and Sparky's eyes nearly popped out of his head. But, with Cleo leading the way, he was fairly easily persuaded to walk around them and soon settled. We got back to the stables just as a very short but intense rainstorm hit. The noise in the barn with the metal roof was quite something, but the horses for the most part were not bothered at all.

Saturday featured our first attempt at a dressage test. Fortunately Sparky was not bothered by the horses coming and going in the warm-up. Many OTTBs are quite worried about horses passing close by, but again his background in polo seemed to stand him in good stead. Sparky tends to start his session with a lot of energy, but quickly realizes twice around the ring at a strong trot is probably overdoing it. He was just the same at the event which made him easy to deal with. While I had practiced the test a couple of times at home, the ring at a horseshow can be a bit intimidating for a green horse - they have to leave their friends and deal with the fancy letters, flowers and judges' booth. Sparkles left the safety of the warm-up, had a glance at the flowers waving in the wind, and got right down to business. Despite one of the pots of flowers (in the corner where we had our more iffy canter departure, of course) blowing right over, he was as good or better than he had been at home and scored what I felt was a respectable 55% for a first effort.

In the afternoon I had a wedding to go to, so Kathy was aboard to see what he thought of the cross-country fences. As it turned out, he was a little too unfocused to introduce him to something completely new, but between Kathy and Claudia he had a very productive jump school in the warm up ring and everyone felt satisfied with his effort.

On Sunday Kathy took him to the stadium warm-up, and despite all the activity he was much calmer and more focused and she was able to give him a good training session. The only difficulty he seemed to have was with standing still when he was out of the stall. Whether we were taking him out for grass or riding him, he seemed to think he had to be on the move. I think this may have to do with his polo background, as I doubt he spent much time lollygagging around when he was being handled or ridden. I expect as he becomes more familiar with the routine he will settle down - so far he has been very smart about new things and is not a nervous or uptight horse.

Sparky's jumping has taken a big 'leap' forward over the last couple of weeks. He is much more forward and positive, and though we are still only playing over courses of about 2', he is giving me a much more confident feeling. Looking forward to taking him somwhere new to test the progress!

He also had his teeth looked at and I was told he has a 'tight' mouth - not much space between the cheeks and the teeth, which increases the likelihood of ulcers inside the cheeks from any sharp edges. It also makes necessary to be careful with both bitting and noseband fitting as the cheeks are more vulnerable to being pinched.

Ralph might be getting a new nickname soon - something like 'Roly-poly Ralpharoni' as a reflection of the pounds he has put on with his new-found appetite. It is very gratifying to see how eagerly he greets his meals - and makes me sad that he was obviously in significant discomfort for a long time. I'll let him stuff his face for a little while longer while there is grass around; I'm sure the winter months will be less fattening...

Moonlit buddies

2019 Wrap-Up

Well - not exactly the year I had planned, and there were certainly plenty of highs and lows to keep things interesting. It was extremely disappointing to have to retire Ralph due to issues with his neck that seemed to be causing some discomfort and slight neurological difficulties. On the bright side, he seems really happy living outside and hanging out with his buddies. He has also become a tank after re-discoving food once his ulcers were finally cleared up - he'll eat his own food and then look for leftovers from Lou!

On the bright side was the acquisition of Sparky - a half brother of Ralph's I also got from Don Pennycook. He is proving to be a bundle of fun - despite growing up entirely in the polo world, he is eager try new things and has a sensible nature. There is still a long way to go to 're-purpose' his muscles (particularly his topline), but he's willing to try what we are asking. I am lucky enough to share him with Kathy as we're on the same page regarding his training and keeping two horses is beyond my budget!

It was sad losing Superman at the age of 41, but he didn't owe us anything and once he stopped eating we knew it was time.

We made a few small improvements that are very exciting to us horse people - a fancy heated outdoor waterer (unscheduled, but when the old one died after 30 years we figured it was time to spring for a new one), a new base for the manure container (you definitely need to be a horse person for THAT one!), and an extension to one of the turnout shelters so the horses don't have to do the sardine thing to stay out of the weather.

We have a stable full of great people - Andy, Rebecca, Kathy and Jenna, Eby, Sue, Janice and Lindsay all make 'barn-time' a fun time and everyone pitches in to make things work. A prime example is Andy and Rebecca's recent attack on the icy conditions. Not only did they spread manure around the stable yard to make navigation safer, but our arena is quite a hike away from the barn so they created a lovely 'Path 'o Poo' all the way there!

I am hopeful that I will get a chance to Event Sparky, but am enjoying the training process in the meantime and look forward to seeing what he can do - whether it's Kathy, Claudia, or myself in the tack. And while running a barn can be a frustrating and expensive project, as long as the joy horses give me remains I'm not quite ready to throw in the towel.

With that, I wish everyone a happy, safe and prosperous New Year. Remember how lucky we are to have these wonderful animals in our lives - even while staggering out to the field with hay during a blizzard!

Hay delivery!