Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Musings on Why

Horses have been a part of my life for a long time--forever, really. They are what shaped my childhood and my adulthood, what led me to vet school and what keeps me going through the long nights of studying and grueling exam schedule. They are what keep me at home while attending school, forcing me to commute 55 miles to class every day. They are what led me to my husband--quite an awesome twist of fate, seeing as he is the only person from a family of horse people who chose not to follow in the path of hooved devotion.

Since I started vet school, however, my luck with my 3 horses has been dwindling. My oldest horse Gabby nearly died from an impaction colic during midterm exams last year. At 24, she's now doing pretty well, but hock arthritis is getting the better of her. Her close friend Luna, the Arab pony who could do it all, developed degenerative suspensory ligament disease in her hind legs and now struggles with her daily life. Brandy, the young Quarter Horse mare that I bought a few years ago as my young riding horse has been lame for most of that time, fighting poor genetics and unfortunate injuries to be a pasture sound pet at the age of 8.

If I weren't in vet school, the logical step would be to look for a new young horse to ride. But with commuting to school, sinking under the weight of financial aid, taking care of the horses we already have, and still having time to be president of our chapter of the American Association of Equine Practitioners, being a married girl, and completing my senior project on the unwanted horse...well, this seemed somewhat impractical. Still, I really wanted to start training horses and riding again.

In the end, I guess it all started with my senior project. I've been working on trying to determine the demographic of the "unwanted" horse in the state of Oregon. As a part of this, I've been to several auctions this summer and will attend several more over the next year. So far I've seen hundreds of horses go through, and so far I've been able to pick a few at each auction that I would take home. The itch kind of started there, but it really came full circle for me when I started incorporating research about Oregon's mustangs into the equation.

As a girl, I loved working with mustangs at a horse rescue where I volunteered for many years. I've always been tempted to adopt from the BLM, but there have always been so many other horses needing homes, too. After many wonderful experiences with mustangs as a veterinary assistant, I knew that someday I would have one.

Now, the mustang issue is really coming to a head. With several thousand excess horses in many western states, and the new Salazaar Initiative designed to combat this problem along with many horse advocate groups running the gamut of wild ideas, mustangs are (in my opinion) one of the more important aspects of the unwanted horse problem in the United States.

For those of you who are not familiar with mustangs, the population steadily increases each year. Mustangs have very few natural predators and are very good at reproducing. The range, which is mostly public lands, breeds hardy, well-built horses, and in order to keep the populations in check, the BLM carefully manages the numbers of horses in each Herd Management Area (HMA) in a number of western states. They do this by rounding up thousands of horses each year and holding them at government facilities until they can be adopted out, moved to holding pastures, or (in some cases) sold to the highest bidder without limitation. Thousands are still left out on the range each year to reproduce as nature intended. The issue is more complex than I can explain in a few paragraphs, but suffice to say there is often contention between the horses and others who use public lands--including cattle ranchers, who pay to graze their cattle on the same forage the mustangs eat. Therefore, population control and moderation on ALL sides--remember, public lands are managed for the use of EVERYONE--is necessary to maintain balance.

This of course means there are thousands of mustangs available to good homes each year in the US. The BLM has tried hard to promote mustangs with things like the Extreme Mustang Makeover, which has been successful despite the fact that the horse industry as a whole is suffering right now because of the economy.

So I figured the only way to experience the problem, the issues, and the solution was to follow my childhood dream and head down to the BLM wild horse corrals in Burns, Oregon to pick out a filly who will become my next riding horse. This blog is going to be an attempt to follow the training process, vet school, and life.

Crazy, you say. Well, yes.

Third year is supposed to be the hardest year of vet school. I will be busier than I've ever been in my life, but this horse is going to be real, and doing something real is important for sanity. Practically, too, this is a good point in time to introduce a new horse. Luna is having trouble keeping up with the other two horses, so I'll need to separate them for the winter to make sure she gets her fair share of the hay. She's had three foals and will be a great influence on a young horse. I hope that being a mother again will give her a chance to feel like she has a "job" again and keep her feeling happier for longer. I know it's likely she won't be around for much longer, and she is such a calming, wonderful horse that I think she'll be a good mentor.

So follow along, if you will. I think it will be an interesting ride!!

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