Merry Thankmas (name borrowed from a good friend)

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I wanted to share, something so special, presented to me this morning. My boyfriend never got to meet Buddy, but has a complete understanding of just how important Buddy still is to me. It’s a shame, they would have gotten along so well, I think. He is such a gifted artist, he made this tribute display for me, so I can still “visit Buddy in his stall, whenever I want.”

To my readers, I want to thank you all for taking time out of your busy lives, to read my blog. I’ll be the first to admit, apart from English, sarcasm, and swearing, I only remember a few words of French from high school, and I don’t think I could string them together to form a sentence if my life depended on it, but thanks to Google translator, I offer my appreciation in a few more languages…

Thank you, gracias, merci, danke, grazie, gratias ago tibi, ありがとう, спасибо, obrigado, তোমাকে ধন্যবাদ, 谢谢, and شكرا.

With your help, my words have reached into nearly 40 countries, and four additional websites now offer a link to my blog; http://www.blogtopsites.com, http://www.horsebloggers.com, http://www.hay-net.co.uk, and http://www.alove4horses.com. Thanks to interviews and support with the marketing and PR departments of Budweiser and the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, I’ve had a few record-setting days of readership. Considering I only started this in June, I feel I’ve enjoyed a very successful first go.

For the upcoming year, I’ve already started reaching out to more people and horses, whose stories I hope will continue to interest and entertain you. I’ve begun the outline and first draft of a book, and keep a constantly updated and edited list of entry ideas. I try to keep my subjects general, in an effort to appeal to as many of you as I can, but if there’s ever a topic you’d like me to share, make sure you tell me!

Today, and every day, take time to notice things, and be present in every moment, they’re all so fleeting. Make a point to tell everyone who matters to you, how you feel about them, even if you think you already do, you can never hear “I love you” enough (unless it’s from a stalker, or a clingy ex…). Enjoy the fun that the season brings, while keeping to focus on what’s really important. Be forgiving, especially of yourself, we’re only human. Give yourself permission to feel every feeling, as long as you don’t allow the bad ones to consume you. Everything in moderation.

Merry Christmas to you and yours, and a happy any other holiday you celebrate (or choose not to). May you enjoy good health, wealth, and wisdom. Wishing you more happiness than all my words can tell, not just for the holidays, but for all the year as well.

Karen

ALL THEY WANT FOR CHRISTMAS…

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To many of us, our horses are our children (guilty). Every year, just like our two-legged kids, we want to treat them to something special during the holiday season, but lacking opposable thumbs, they can’t exactly write out a Christmas list, can they? I’ve given many gifts to Buddy over the years, but I can honestly say I’ve not given a lot of thought to what HE would want, usually what I think he needs. I remember one year in particular, giving Buddy a beautiful leather halter and lead, with brass, engraved name plates. I wrapped it in a box, took it to the barn, and presenting Buddy’s gift to him. I shook the box, he sniffed and toyed with the loosely-wrapped paper, finding a corner to tear loose (I was so proud my boy knew how to unwrap!). I helped him with the rest of the wrapping, opened the box, and (excited face, quickly turned to disappointed face… it wasn’t food!). Not only did I not give him what he wanted, I actually gave him something I would later use to drag him around with. #horsemommyfail

Horses, despite their complicated humans, are simple critters. It isn’t that difficult to give them a gift they’ll truly enjoy…

One of the fastest ways to their hearts, is through their stomachs. Apart from their daily rations, no horse will turn down a treat, and there are so many available. Stop in any tack store, feed mill, or Tractor Supply Store, you’ll find a great variety of brands, flavors, textures and applications, to say nothing of the recipes available online to make your own. My Buddy got a scoop of alfafa cubes every evening when I left. He got good grass/timothy hay twice daily, but made a mess if I left him some to snack on, so rather than wasting it, I gave him the condensed version as a snack. Buddy was also a fan of the fruit plate from Bob Evans, we’d stop on the way home from shows, and he always got a to go order, sans yogurt (that was yucky!), and gummy bears. He LOVED gummy bears. In addition to the great “off the rack” snacks, there are recipes and even pre-packaged, flavored bran mashes. We all celebrate the holiday with a hot family meal, why shouldn’t they get the same? Especially in a cold climate, a warm meal in their belly makes them feel warm and snuggly all over.

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No matter what the weather, horses always love to stretch their legs. In Ohio, we have all four seasons, so an all-weather turn-out blanket is a must have. We know how gross it feels to be stuck in cold, damp clothes for any length of time, horses don’t like it either. Treat them to a water-proof rug of some kind, to block the wind and keep them dry. There are plenty of options on weight and price too, you don’t have to spend a fortune. Every kid needs a good “snowsuit” to go outside in and blow off steam!

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Even if the weather isn’t suitable for outdoor time, they can still enjoy a romp in an indoor arena, or just a walk around the barn, and remember, horses are social animals. They would much rather play with a friend, then hangout on the playground alone. Whenever safe and permissible, help them find a friend to share their turn-out time with. You’ll have happier horses with less “barn fever.”

If you feel you must indulge in some practical items, consider new buckets for their stalls. Even the neatest horses still act like they were raised in a barn, and you can only scrub so much yuck out of them before they could stand to be replaced. Or, what about some new brushes? That tends to be an item we overlook when it comes to replacing, unless they get lost or “permanently borrowed.” Treat your horse to at least one, natural bristled brush of the softest texture you can find, to gently sweep dust off their faces and legs. Think of it as a sweet extension of your own touch, they’ll love it!

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Most importantly though, all our horses really want for Christmas, is US. I talked about this briefly in my last entry, but it’s relevant here as well. Whether you board, of have your horse tucked in safely in your own backyard, it’s important to remember that like human children, they don’t offer sick days, or holidays off. They still eat and poop every day, regardless of whether the banks are open. I know we’re all crazy busy this time of year, but they deserve our attention just as much now, as they do on the other 364 days a year. Even if your hectic schedule doesn’t allow for a ride, try to pencil in some snuggle time with your ponies! Take your brushes when you feed, and give them a good curry while they eat (as long as they’re comfortable with it). Sing them a Christmas Carol, or just take five extra minutes to pet them and tell them how important they are to you. All our lives are precious and fleeting, make sure they know they’re loved, and they’ll show you right back, every day.

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TAXI!

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I’ve only ever been to New York City once, and it was just in October of this year. Because it was an unplanned visit, we didn’t have time for all the “traditional” touristy treats, it was more of a drive-thru visit (fantastic, nonetheless!). One of the things I’d have done if we’d had time, was a Hansom Cab ride in Central Park. NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio would disagree with me.

Earlier in 2014, the Mayor declared his intention to try to shut down the horse-drawn carriage rides in Central Park, calling the age-old tours “inhumane.” Bill de Blasio clearly, isn’t a “horse person.” That’s not to say that non-horse people are bad, but often, anyone who’s so openly opposed to something that so many people enjoy, and have enjoyed for so long, are simply students of ignorance. I’d even venture to guess, that somewhere in his past, lurks a childhood story about “that one time” he rode a horse, who was a mile high, and black as night, with red eyes, fangs, and breathing fire. Let’s be honest, haven’t we all met that person, who evidently was tossed aside like a dirty sock, but this infamous horse? Maybe I’m wrong, maybe the guy grew up on a beautiful horse farm in Virginia, and still keeps a stable-full for his own pleasure. I’m okay with being wrong. I’m even okay with being called out on it, and I’m a big enough person to be able to agree to disagree when I feel the opposing party has a valid argument. Please take note, Mr. Mayor, different isn’t synonymous with wrong.

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Here are my arguments, in no particular order. First, I love horses (seriously, if you haven’t put that together by now, I can’t help you!). I’ve enjoyed many carriage rides in many places. Some ran by professional stables, other simply friends with horses on a beautiful fall day (miss you, Jeff) So of course, the iconic hansom cabs of NYC are near the top of my feed bucket list. The Mayor, and a list of animal activists may claim that the service is “inhumane,” but one step inside the stables, hidden away from the noise and congestion of downtown New York, would show the horses are fed, vetted, shod, and cared for properly. They are driven in areas designated for slow traffic, they were special shoes designed to give extra traction on pavement, and despite there not being paddocks in the downtown area for them, they still receive regular turn-out time, to permit them to just be horses. They aren’t called “beasts of burden” for no reason, you know. Horses need jobs, even simple jobs, like meeting the kids who happen to get off the bus near their paddock gate. They need to feel useful, even horses in the wild. They all have jobs within the herd.

I don’t think anyone would argue, that our world is growing and developing at an alarming rate. The moment a computer or phone is produced, it’s being eclipsed by a newer, better, faster, model. Professional athletes are turning to any method of physical-enhancement they can lay their hands on, regardless of it’s legality. Why aren’t we threatening to close down professional sports? That’s inhumane, if you want my opinion. Is it really a bad thing, to hang on to the few symbols of continuity, and a slower, more relaxed time? Must we wipe out every nod to a time when people actually sat and talked to each other, face to face, for the enjoyment of spending time in someone else’s company?

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If the Mayor was truly concerned for the welfare of the horses and drivers, why not create additional laws for their safety? Instead, he wants to replace them with old-fashioned cars. Newsflash, that was so 1920’s. Isn’t New York City already overrun with cars? How is this a solution?

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I’m not ignoring the accidents that have happened, I’m fully aware of the impact of watching a horse skidding to his demise, or an out of control car, careening into the side of the carriage. Of course it happens, and it’s heartbreaking, but 9/11 was heartbreaking too, and we didn’t shut the whole city down. There’s hardly a comparison, yes I know, but my point is this. If we shut down everything that meant something to the people of america, because of a couple bad examples, what would we be left with? People have had strokes, climbing the steps inside Lady Liberty too. Do we ship her coppery carcass back to France?

All I’m saying is this, if six out of 10 of your own people are telling you they want something to stay, why won’t you hear them? I can’t help but think, there are bigger, far more important points to argue.

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TIS THE SEASON, OF (THOUGHTLESS) GIVING

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It’s the season of giving. Christmas wish lists have been drafted and edited for weeks, of not months by now. The time of year when anything seems possible, whether you are willing to place your faith in the white-gloved hands of an overweight, bearded, man in a red suit, or not. I’m not going to lie (and risk being put back on the naughty list, we have a love hate relationship), a new horse has been at the top of every wish list I’ve had for a few years now. I don’t even need a holiday or occasion, call it Happy Tuesday if you need a reason, just gimmee.

The reason that wish goes ungranted, at least for me, is financial. I know not only what it costs to buy a horse, but more importantly, what it costs to keep one (and coincidentally, that I don’t have that kind of bankroll these days). Kids on the other hand, may not have that kind of reasoning. I certainly never did. They may have a general understanding of there being an exchange of money for said horse, or dog, or whatever the desired furry, four-legged object of desire may be, but outside of that, it is well over their tiny heads, and it should be, ‘cause they’re kids, and they have the rest of their lives to figure out how much their happiness will depend, at least in part, on money.

If you ever want to hear countless horror stories about people with good intentions, and bad thinking-things-through skills, work in a tack or pet store. You will essentially hear the same story, over and over, with different details, and they all end badly. Child declares they want a horse/dog/cat/whatever, parent, in desire to please child, rushes out to acquire said animal, brings it home, and calamity ensues.

Stage one, the Honeymoon Period-

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Child and new animal are in love. Perhaps you lucked out as a parent, and located an animal with a more generous heart than expected, who is tolerant, and simply appreciative of the attention. Child spends every available moment with animal, revels in taking care of it, shows it off to everyone. Animal basks in the glow of being put on a pedestal.

Stage two, Settling-

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Child and animal have spent enough time together now to actually know a little about the other. Oddly, every quirk is no longer as adorable as it once was. Habits are developing, some good, some bad. Care is still being taken, though with notably less enthusiasm than before. The conversations flatten to “oh yeah, I got a ______ for Christmas. No, I don’t feel like it, it’s too cold, let’s watch a movie instead” and “(child’s name), your ________ needs to go out, open the door for them (child sighs heavily, annoyed by being distracted from their iPad, grumbles under their breath, and shuffles to the door.”

Stage three, Accusations-

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The child, by now, has realized how much work is involved in animal care, and has likely abandoned it, leaving parents to pick up the slack. This is especially tricky in shared custody situations, if the child is only with the animal for a portion of the week, the parent has, in effect, already taken over shared custody of it. Animals don’t take sick days, or holidays off. Whether you’re sick from too much holiday cheer, or out of town, they still eat and poop, every day. Who knew? The animal, now lacking the attention it was once paid, may even develop undesirable habits. It’s labeled a nuisance. It’s no longer wanted. Somehow, this has become the animal’s fault?

Stage four, Separation-

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Parents are left with an animal that the child no longer has interest in, which they’ve probably spent a tidy sum of money on, and they themselves have no time or desire in taking on for themselves. In addition to the disappointment of the child having lost interest in what was once highly coveted.

Stage five, Divorce-

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The poor animal, now blamed for not having been the perfect gift, is put up for sale, or even being offered for free. Instead of being marketed with all the lovely traits it was acquired for, it’s now advertised as a problem animal. The parents are unhappy because of the money lost, the child has already moved on to their next target, and the circle of life continues.

In the movie, The Horse Whisperer, Robert Redford’s character explains to a distraught mother who calls, siting “horse problems” and needs his help, that he doesn’t help people with horse problems, he helps horses with people problems. Therein lies your answer folks. Don’t set your animals up to fail by walking straight into ownership, blind. Do your homework!

When my boyfriend’s daughter came to us saying she wanted a horse, I’m sure she thought, that we would start the search immediately, especially considering I’d had them for so long. History had already trained me, but she had no experience, or a clue as to how much hard work was involved. To date, the most she’d ever done was lift fingers to text, or change a tv channel. The same child later on diagnosed herself as “having asthma” when she tried out for Cross Country, because it was hard to breathe. We explained, “no, it’s because you’ve lived on a couch for 12 years, and skipped several weeks of conditioning, keep working, it gets easier.” Also, we had shared custody, meaning the horse would be mine to care for in her absence, because I knew her mother wouldn’t take her to the barn. I’ve never minded taking care of horses, but they require a level of responsibility that needed to be learned by her, not me. I already know how to muck a stall, and help a Vet administer treatments.

I dug through my contact list, and came up with a friend who instructed, that I knew would teach her everything she really needed to know, like grooming, stall-cleaning, care, and riding, and signed her up for weekly lessons. I had the benefit of 4-H, and project books, so I tracked down books and tools for her to work on at home (I believe one is still in the bottom drawer of a nightstand). The lessons lasted for a few months, until the new interest in Cross Country came up, and she did learn a lot. Mostly though, that horses are a lot of work, and it wasn’t all just go to the barn, ride a pretty pony, have fun, go home.

This is something that’s always been a sore subject for me. People who seem so intelligent, will tell me all about the new pet they just got, when they haven’t done any research or training, then end up asking if I know anyone who would be willing to take it off their hands. The kids’ mom bought the daughter a Pit Bull cross from the shelter, because that’s her love language, gifts. I have no problem with Pit Bulls, I have a problem with people who know nothing about them, and try to keep them, or people who train them to be aggressive. It’s like blaming guns for a shooting, when there was a person pulling the trigger. They didn’t bother with any training for themselves or the dog, and in no time, it was eating all the human food it could reach, destroying things in their home, and being returned to the shelter.

So here’s my holiday wish. For every inexperienced pet owner, who has a child asking for one for Christmas/Hanukkah, DO YOUR HOMEWORK. You aren’t picking out a new frozen dinner to try, that you can just toss and order a pizza if it doesn’t work out, you’re messing with an animal’s heart, as well as the heart of your child. If your child wants a horse or pony, start with lessons, graduate to a lease, and buy eventually, after you’ve seen if they’re truly dedicated and willing to put in the work. Remember, the horse is the cheapest part of the deal! If your child wants a dog or cat, talk to people, find a vet and ask questions, Google things, and most importantly, sign them up immediately for training classes (for your dog, do them have them for cats?). Every indoor dog should have at least a basic understanding of what you want from them, like sitting, getting off things, staying still. Taking obedience classes ensures you’re both speaking the same language, and take the entire family to them! Everyone living in the house, should be on the same page with instructions and communication. A little work in the beginning, will save you a lot of work and heartache in the end.

Horses, and pets in general, are remarkable teachers for children, when the right opportunity is presented. They teach trust, respect, selflessness, and responsibility. Don’t let your first experience with ownership, be the one that ruins all other experiences. If you fail to plan, then plan to fail.