Oh, how my heart hurts! Last month, our sweet Baby Bell fell while playing in the round pen. It didn’t seem like a tragic fall as she immediately jumped up and went back to being her silly self. But, oh, how life can change in such a small instant! 

A few days after her fall, Jonathan noticed Baby Bell was having trouble with her stifle joint. At first glance, it seemed she must have pulled a muscle or injured a tendon—nothing to cause extreme concern. We agreed to make an appointment with Dr. Fisch at AVS Equine Hosptial in Tallahassee just to be on the safe side. 

I took a Tuesday off of work and headed to the barn to pick up my precious Bell. As always, she was excited to see me and waltzed right up to the trailer. That’s when the reality of her injury began to set in. She could not seem to find her balance to step up into the trailer. She finally made a small leap, scrapping the fronts of her rear legs. She settled for a moment as I closed her in for the hour and a half ride. 

At the vet’s office, Bell was her usual inquisitive self. She said hello to the horses in pastures around the facility as we walked into the examination barn. She looked around for a moment at the stocks and stalls, but stood quietly while we waited for Dr. Fisch. 

Dr. Fisch greeted Bell with a kind word and asked me a few general questions as I handed her to his assistant. He proceeded to conduct a normal lameness exam asking the assistant to trot off with Bell so he could watch her move. But, he quickly changed his tactic and took Bell himself. He spun her is small circles this way and the other. Finally, he took off his medical coat and put it over her eyes. He handed her back to his assistant and asked her to trot Bell off again. Bell couldn’t go forward without her sight.

Dr. Fisch had made up his mind at that point—he needed to speak with the insurance company. He explained to me her injury was not in fact an injury at all, but one of two explanations, both of which had to do with her nervous system. The first, and most likely explanation was EMP. The second, nerve damage in her spine. Both took me by surprise. 

After speaking with the insurance company, Dr. Fisch came back in to take a blood sample and test for EMP. Ugh. I’d been through EMP before and it is a nasty disease. Suddenly, all of Bell’s symptoms made sense for me. She was off balance. She kept falling. She wanted to stand quietly while most yearlings would be besides themselves in a new place.

Equine protozoal myeloencephalitis, shortened EMP, is a neurological disease caused by the protozoal parasite called Sarcocystis neurona. This parasite is spread through the feces of South Georgia’s most notorious scavenger, the opossum. Just one opossum can infect an entire barn, hay lot or pasture for months on end. 

While some horses are able to develop an immunity to the disease, Baby Bell’s young age and introduction to training (stress) made her a prime candidate for the protozoal parasite to pass through her intestinal tract into her blood stream and cross the blood/brain barrier. To be sure, Dr. Fisch took a small blood sample to be analyzed. 

Dr. Fisch explained that the blood sample is not 100% accurate and only tells a probability of exposure. But, he didn’t feel a more accurate spinal tap would be advantageous given that the baby was already off balance. He sent off the blood work, and I prepared to wait for the results. 

Dr. Fisch called me the following Tuesday with less than good news. In his career, he has seen many cases of EMP. The worst of which had blood results of 640 or approximately 95% probability of EMP. Bell’s results were 2,500! He’d never seen one so high. Lucky me. The following day, I drove back to Tallahassee to pick up her medications and instructions. 

“We are going to hit her hard and for much longer than a normal case,” Dr. Fisch explained to me. My heart sank. But, he assured me he has seen horses with much worse symptoms come around after treatment. I took the injections, the oral medication, the feed thrus and all of his instructions as my brain sort of spun around at the idea of just how sick my sweet Bell is. 

I paid the $1,400 for her first 6 weeks of treatment. Then, did a little simple math in my head to calculate a total bill of more than $5,000 once we near the end of treatment. Thank goodness for insurance!

It has been exactly a week since she started her treatments, and Bell is still a bit on the wonky side of things. I’ve brushed her and loved her. She doesn’t seem to know she’s sick. She knickers at me and asks me to play with her. But, I know she is not well and my heart hurts. We had plans for her to attend the Big A in Conyers this summer followed by the possibility of going to the NSBA World for the lounge line classes. I was looking at her yesterday and thought to myself how much I’d like to put her in the yearling halter classes. But, that wouldn’t be fair to her right now. Right now, I have to do what’s best for my sweet baby, and that’s to get her well. 

Calling for Spots

It had been more than fourteen years since a baby horse was born on my dad’s hobby farm in Leesburg, Georgia. So, when I heard him delightfully sing over the phone, “She is here and she is perfect,” the morning of February 23rd, he nor I could have been more thrilled. Her golden coat and precisely even hind socks were the back drop to a rump-covering, white blanket— appaloosa perfection!  As I carried on through the longest workday ever, I thought about how much of my life is attached to an appaloosa.

Continue reading “Calling for Spots”

Giving Everything

GA APHA Amateur Equitation

I love to write. It helps me organize my inner-thoughts, which has a calming affect and keeps me from worrying about all the things stuck in my head. Unfortunately, there are also times when my writing inadvertently brings to the surface emotions and thoughts that are not exactly my topic of choice. One such instance occurred as I attempted to write a piece about why I prefer having a halter horse instead of a western pleasure or hunter under saddle horse. 

My article began with solid justifications such as the cost of a halter horse versus a rider. 

It’s ridiculous to me how much money it takes to own and show a riding horse. First, there is the cost of the horse (I prefer a roof over my head). Then, assuming you are into western pleasure, there is the $20,000 saddle, $1,000 plus bridle, and $2,000 outfit you only wear once because who would be caught dead in a $2,000 top twice (please note my sarcasm). That doesn’t even include training and show fees! And, you know you can’t show up to an event without a popular trainer.

Now, I admit, that last statement isn’t just for pleasure horses. There are definitely politics in the halter pen as well. From my experience, politics are in everything. Even when I showed dogs, there was a lot of “who knew whom”. But, I think halter horses are closer to the side of objectivity.  

Of course, there is the argument that it is silly to have a horse you can’t ride. Honestly, I agree. I also think all horse people are blessed with an inherent level of stupid because who in their right mind would get on a 1,200 pound animal and think, “I’m going to tell you what to do.” 

Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on perspective), I too possess a high level of stupid associated with horse ownership. After writing the first few paragraphs of this article, I thought to myself, “Why do I have a horse I don’t ride??? I haul for hours to attend shows where I only go in one or two classes. By golly, I’m going to ride my horse!” So, I did. For about 4 minutes.  Continue reading “Giving Everything”

Hauling Nights

Doug Schembri Memorial Show

Summer break is over. I’ve been back in school for a week and a half, and had students all last week. The new batch of 9th graders were so excited to be in high school, and my 10th graders were as glad to see me as I was to see them. The week was great, but I was quickly reminded of the adulthood struggle between real world and weekend fun. 

The annual Doug Schembri Memorial Show was held at the Ocala Horse Park with a sharp 7:30 am start time on Saturday. From my house to Ocala, one can expect four and a half hours on the road. Not a bad drive, but we definitely had to make a Friday afternoon haul. With school in session, there is no way I can leave work before 4 o’clock. So, my dad and I planned to leave the house by 5 for a 9:30 p.m. arrival. That meant I had to have the trailer packed and loaded Thursday night. Got it. Been doing the trailer pack routine since I was 12. 

However, I wasn’t the one driving when I was 12. Now that I’m the responsible adult, I get to load the trailer, haul the trailer, set up the trailer while my dad prepares a stall. We then bathe the horse, band the horse and try to get it all done in time for a decent amount of sleep because I just don’t bounce out of bed in the mornings like I used to. Adulting sucks. 

Fortunately, the Ocala Horse Park is a nice facility with decent stalls and wash racks. The trailer hook ups could use some help, but we got it done. We even made some friends while we were getting Vixie bathed. And, we still made it to bed before 1 a.m. 

There was a very good turn out despite the Florida summer heat. Even though there wasn’t a sweat-free shirt on the grounds, everyone was in good spirits and happy to be at the appy show. That’s what I love about appaloosa shows— everyone is down with having fun. Even the judges did an excellent job of balancing a light-hearted approach with the seriousness of their job. This is how a horse show should be— as an exhibitor, I want to have fun, but I also want a return on the money it takes to attend such an event. 

Since I only show in the halter classes right now, we were done by 11 Saturday morning. Normally, we would stay for a while and enjoy the company of other exhibitors, but my dad needed to get home for an unrelated engagement. So, we packed it all up and headed back north. On, the way out of the park, I was encouraged to see all so many exhibitors working horses, hanging out, and enjoying the weekend. Most of them will be there all weekend, so the club hosted a potluck dinner Saturday evening (I was sort of disappointed we couldn’t stay to attend, but that’s life.) 

It’s probably good I have Sunday to spend as a teacher work day anyway. Even with school just starting, I already have papers to grade and assignments to build. Hopefully, I can get ahead on my lesson plans because we will do it all over again in two weeks when we haul four and a half hours the other direction to Conyers for the Southeastern Classic. 

Show Experience

Waiting To Be Called

As a marketer, I am often asked to wear the hat of an event planner and can confirm from experience that event planning is tedious. From an overview perspective, events are fairly simple; pick an objective and a theme, then begin funneling down to the details. Flip to the detail perspective and events can quickly become overwhelming as they require a great deal of logistical and organizational prowess. For this reason, I am truly empathetic to the great folks who organize and conduct horse shows like the Appaloosa Nationals that I had the fortune of attending last week.

For participants, horse shows are stressful and can turn the sanest person into a crazy horse show mom, exhibitor, trainer, etc. Even the smallest unfortunate detail of the world’s greatest horse show can become the catalyst for an all-out meltdown. So, I gave myself a couple of days to really unwind and compile my thoughts regarding the overall experience I had at the National App show.

Unfortunately, as I balanced the good moments with the not-so-good moments my feelings scale fell slightly to the side of disappointment. That is not to say I would take back my experience— I am thankful for the opportunity and proud of myself for attending. I am also very pleased with my horse’s performance. She stood her ground in a sea of beautiful show horses and proved she had every right to compete at a National event.

Overall, the event was well organized. The ApHC staff were helpful and accommodating. The facility was safe and clean, though we did have a bit of a hiccup setting up the trailer. The camper hook-up boxes were backwards for every other trailer, so it took some creative parking to make our power cable as well as our septic hose reach their opposing destinations— normal stuff and not a big deal.

Like other appaloosa events, most of the exhibitors were very friendly. This trait is the foremost reason I’ve chosen to participate in the Appaloosa Horse Club instead of other organizations such as the American Quarter Horse Association. I like talking with people! It’s my favorite part of a horse show.

At one point, a very nice lady began a conversation with my dad. They talked for a little while before I joined in. She was so nice and made such a great impression for the appaloosa breed. We would later find out that our new friend was Sherri Mell, an honoree in the Cowgirl Hall of Fame!

Then, there was the trainer (I’ll leave names out this time) who was obviously more interested in his personal objectives than speaking with me. His stalls were painstakingly decorated with advertisements, monogrammed curtains and furniture— too bad all of that went to waste as he didn’t have the time of day for someone he didn’t know. It is so unfortunate how this negative experience can shadow such a positive moment like meeting Ms. Mell.

The show itself is the highest weighted portion of my disenchantment. I knew going to Nationals the class numbers would be minimal, particularly for my classes. But, it is ridiculous to have classes with only one or two entries. Even the 3 year old hunter under saddle class only had like 9 participants. And, the number of spectators was dismal. This sort of participation sends my poor marketing brain into an absolute tizzy. As an event planner, you should know your cost for each activity. If the participation in the activity is not enough to cover your expenses, do something about it! Add a prize. Drop the fees. Do something to encourage participation!

Not only should the event be worth the time and energy of the hosting organization, it must also be worth the expenses incurred by each exhibitor. For my dad and I to attend and compete in two classes, our total expenses were $2,651. That included 191 gallons of diesel at a total cost of $568, our show fees, camper hook-up, food, and a few souvenirs. For us, it was our summer vacation. We got to see my brother and his family, and we enjoyed the attractions in Fort Worth. From that angle, it was a great deal. However, divided by the total number of ApHC points we received, we should get a refund. Seriously. Where’d that $50 charge for drug testing go?

It was an 18 hour drive back home to which we arrived at 1 am Saturday morning. Texas was hot. I was exhausted. I threw my horse in the pasture, which is where she will stay for the next few days. She deserves a break for her fabulous performances.

In all, I could not be more proud of my horse, my dad or myself. We brought home some pretty trophies, so we can mark this off our bucket list and look forward to the next app show (one closer to home). The next “big” show is the Appaloosa World, which is also held in Fort Worth in the fall. It is my understanding this will be a larger event with respect to exhibitor numbers. Unfortunately, teachers (even marketing teachers) don’t get to take vacation in October, so I’ll settle to watch the live stream and hope everyone in attendance has a fantastic experience.

Opportunity Costs

Appaloosa Nationals with Illegal Vixen

It has been a great summer! For the first time since high school, I have had the freedom to do what I want to do when I want to do it. I’ve been able to play with my horse and I took an entire week (7 days) to attend the 71st National Appaloosa show in Fort Worth, Texas. Life is good, but I think it is important to recognize what we have to give up in order to take advantage of these opportunities. 

As a youth, I knew I wanted to have a corporate job that would allow me to afford horses. I earned a bachelors degree in business marketing and found my niche in the financial industry. To continue my climb up the corporate ladder, I went back to school for my MBA and was rewarded with a corporate title and officer perks. Unfortunately, my role also came with an expansive territory that required me to be in Birmingham, Atlanta, Tupelo and Ocala regularly. Suddenly, I found myself able to afford the monetary cost of my horse, but there wasn’t enough time in my week to actually see my horse (or my husband). It was also impossible for me to take a vacation without spending several hours each day on the phone or answering emails because the bottom line never stops calculating. For my mental and physical well being, something had to give.

At my breaking point, a new opportunity presented itself; one that I would have never sought on my own. A friend asked if I’d be interested in teaching high school. The county I live in was building a college and career academy, which is a program within the public school system designed to teach high school students vocational skills while giving them the opportunity to earn college credits. In addition to drafting, nursing, engineering, and a host of other career path instructors, the school needed a marketing instructor— someone from the corporate sector who could teach from real-world scenarios. Someone like me! 

It was a scary decision. You hear so much negative about what teachers go through and the challenges they face. I also knew I’d be giving up my corporate credit card, stock options and a marketing budget most marketers only dream of having. Oh, and I’d be gaining the public education system pay scale. But, I also knew I would benefit from Christmas and summer vacations, and I would no longer have to travel away from home. I decided to jump in! 

I was literally thrown into a classroom and expected to keep a herd of 14 year olds in line. (Fortunately, teenagers like treats and will do pretty much whatever you ask in exchange for a Jolly Rancher.) I quickly found the classroom to be a perfect environment for someone like me. Much like our equine friends, teenagers desire leadership and understanding. They enjoy positive reinforcement and rarely act out for no reason. And, if you earn their trust, they will work hard for you. 

One of the first lessons I developed for my marketing class revolves around the concept of opportunity costs. Opportunity costs are the loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen. For example, when I left my corporate position, I lost the potential for continuing up the corporate ladder, therefore also losing added incentives such as raises that may have come with future promotions. In my classroom scenario we compare growing grapes versus oranges, but I really think this concept can be applied to all aspects of life, especially when life includes horses. 

For me, choosing horses means that I get an entire summer off. It also means that I have lost the opportunity to attend the Appaloosa World show because teachers don’t get to take vacation in October. This give and take is minimal in comparison to some of my horsey friends who have to consider much greater opportunity costs such the gain of having children versus horses (I’ll touch on this in more detail in future posts). 

Ultimately, everyone who attended the Appaloosa Nationals had to give up something in order to be there. I am going to write a follow up on this with the exact costs of my trip to the Nationals. In the meantime, what have you given up to accommodate your horsey life? What were the alternatives? Are you happy with your decision? 

Too Hot

We made it! We made it to the 71stannual Appaloosa National Championship show in Fort Worth, Texas. Hooray! I can strike an item from my bucket list, assuming I don’t melt before I show on Thursday. It’s hot here in Fort Worth. Not like the hot we feel in South Georgia with 100% humidity. No, this is the kind of hot that sucks every drop of moisture from your skin even if you’re sitting in the shade.

To help make the trip a little less stressful for Vixie, we tried to make a few extra accommodations.

Trailer fan– My 3-horse Lakota is well insulated, but it still gets hot with a 1,200 pound halter horse radiating heat inside of it. So, I had my husband install a 12-volt truck fan above her back. I was pleasantly surprised at how much air that little thing can put out and it keeps going even when the truck is stopped. It was less than $30 on Amazon and took my husband about an hour to install.

Early mornings– We left South Georgia at 5 am Friday morning, which put us in Vicksburg, Mississippi right at 1 o’clock our time (noon central). We stopped at the cutest horse hotel, Bridgeport Farm and Horse Hotel, which was perfect. The owner, Ms. Jo, was so nice. She had a stall ready for Vixie along with access to a grassy round pen. Her trailer hook-up was right next to the barn, so I was able to check on Vixie whenever my anxiety called. Ms. Jo also kept a watch on Vixie for us while we went into Vicksburg for lunch. We left there at 5 am again and made it to the show grounds around lunch time. Because we’d left so early, the traffic wasn’t too bad, but Vixie was definitely worn out from the trip.

Ice– A friend of mine suggested I take ice for the trailer floor. She recommended using pelleted shavings with ice scattered across the top to pull the temperature of the trailer down quickly. Fortunately, the trailer never got to the point we needed ice, but we had a cooler full just in case.

Liniment wraps– Wraps are one of those toss up items—you’re danged if you do and danged if you don’t. I personally opt to leave them off for long trips because they can get loose and fall. I did, however, take a set of wraps and liniment just in case I needed to pull Vixie’s internal temperature down. I placed the quilts in the ice cooler with the plan of pouring liniment on them if I needed to use them.

Water- This one is tough for me because Vixie won’t drink on the trailer. I carry water on the trailer and always have a bucket handy. I’ve walked into plenty of McDonalds’ bathrooms, bucket in tow, to get fresh water for my horse. Of course, I always end of dumping it when my mare doesn’t drink, which makes me worry about her getting dehydrated. This was part of the reason we decided to stay a night at the horsey hotel.

Now that we are here and settled, my horsey-gage is working overtime. Fortunately, Vixie does know this routine and has settled without much trouble. She drinks water like she should—I know because I check her two buckets every couple of hours. And, I’ve dropped her normal work routine down to less than twenty minutes. The two fans in her stall don’t seem to do much more than blow the hot air from one side to the other while covering her in dust and dirt, so she’s also gotten several baths since getting here, too.

While I have enjoyed the horse show and tourist venues (it’s been 15 years since I was here in Fort Worth), I am looking forward to the trip home. I never thought I’d miss 90 degrees with 100% humidity, but here it is. I’ll take the same precautions on the way back east and maybe figure out a few more.

Do you have tips and tricks for getting through the summer swell? How do you get through the summer show season without stressing yourself or your horse?


Amateur Decisions

Illegal Vixen showing in Venice, Florida

The Appaloosa National show is just under a week away, which means I’ve spent the past few weeks hustling with my halter mare, Illegal Vixen. Fortunately, I am a teacher and have the whole summer to spend with my horse. But, there are still plenty of days when I wonder if I’m giving Vixie my best by keeping her at home instead of sending her to the trainer. 

Please don’t get me wrong; I love my trainers at JH Performance Horses. The owners, Jonathan and Joanna Himes, have been fantastic since the first day I met them ten years ago. They have helped me navigate some really rough patches and given me the confidence to overcome anxieties I developed showing as a youth. I am forever indebted to them and will always seek their advice and assistance. My internal quandary is not with them, but rather the desire to care for my horse during my off-time while competing in an industry where winning is a full-time career. 

If I were a trail rider, I don’t believe there would even be a question. I’d keep my horses at home in my 10 acre pasture and be okay with only riding a few days a week. However, that’s not the reality with a show horse, especially a halter horse. When I have her at my place, each day begins with a 6 am feeding followed by a drive home at lunch to check and make sure she has hay, water, etc. I’ve ruined many high heels in this lunchtime routine. After work, it’s a rush home to clean stalls, work Vixie, get dinner made, shower and prepare for bed. Then, there’s the late night barn check that every horse owner has to do. I’ve ruined more than a few house slippers during the nightly check, too. 

It was 11 o’clock the other night and I was still at the barn. I probably should have been more concerned, but when I stopped for a second to think about it, I realized I could not have possibly been happier. I was brushing my horse and getting her ready for bed. What could be better?!? 

There inlays the quandry. 

Despite all my efforts— grooming, feeding, working— my beautiful halter mare simply does not have that finished glow she has when she is at the trainer’s. It’s the ‘it’ factor that she’s missing and I can’t seem to grab it on my own. I use the same feed, quality hay, daily work routine— there shouldn’t be a difference. But, there is. There is something about the go, go, go, push, push, push environment of a training barn that keeps the horses in ‘show mode’, if you will. It’s an environment I simply cannot replicate at my quiet farm where Vixie is my sole focus. The difference is the small things, like taking an extra second to walk onto the wash rack, that are intolerable at the trainer’s. As such, the horses there are more in tune and responsive as a show horse should be. 

Or, should they? We ask so much of our show animals. Competition is fierce and I think we sometimes get so caught up in the win that we forget the why. Yes, I want more than anything to win, but I also want to hear my horse nicker at me when I feed her in the morning. The choice is frustrating and disheartening. For the time being, Vixie will reside in my care, and I will continue to prepare for this year’s National show. We’ll see how it goes and I will let you know. 

Let me know your thoughts on this topic. Do you care for your horses, or do you have a trainer who helps you balance life and horses? What’s worked for you?


Showing with family

Welcome to Paper Horse Pastures! My story isn’t anything super unique or unusual. Rather, my story is the same as so many other women who share my passion for horses. As I write about my experiences, thoughts and memories, I hope my work resonates with you and reminds you that you are not alone in the real-world sitcom of life versus horse.

Just like most of my “horsey friends”, I have been infatuated with the equine species since before I can remember. I grew up showing horses and invested every possible moment of my life into my horses. My friends were the other kids at the barn. My Friday nights were spent getting ready for horse shows. And, my days in school dragged on as I dreamed of ways I could spend more time at the stables. Even after college, I continued to invest everything I could into my horses. I would race away from work to catch a quick ride before dark, and I still spent my Saturdays chasing blue ribbons. 

If any of that sounds familiar, this next statement will probably ring true for you as well.

As I moved through my twenties, I also moved up the corporate ladder. My job became more demanding and my husband and family needed any extra time I could find. That left my horses on the back burner and me in a very unfamiliar state of mind. I distinctly remember the first time my frustrated husband told me, “I don’t know what your problem is! You just need to go ride your horse or something!” Little did he realize how correct he was. He has since learned (maybe ‘accepted’ is a better term here) that I need my horse time just like the trash needs to be taken out. You can ignore it for a day or two, but it’s going to get smelly.

Now, I am in my mid-thirties and I have learned to better balance my real life with my horse life. Unfortunately, I still find myself frustrated when I have to choose between the two. It’s almost like asking me which arm I prefer; I need them both! What’s a woman to do?!?  

Thus is the foundation of my blog and the heart of my story. I hope you will share with me as I continue to share with you.