Monday, April 23, 2012

Current Negative Coggins Tests

I just got off the phone with a woman in Metamora who was looking for a horse for her husband; I don’t even remember her name actually.  I feel bad about this fact, not only because I can't give proper credit where credit is obviously due, but because she enlightened me on a very important topic that I thought I knew pretty much everything about until my discussion with her.  My eyes have been opened, oh Nameless-Horse-Shopper, and I thank you for your kindness and selfless assistance in my ongoing quest to become a better horseperson.  I will now share my newfound knowledge with my readers, in hopes that they too will become better informed about Coggins tests as I have been.

Coggins tests are the life-and-death, be-all-end-all existence around which all horse people should base their lives.  A Coggins test will determine whether or not the sun rises the next morning, and is a biblical sign of the coming Apocalypse.  Presidential elections are not determined by the people’s votes, (that’s merely a cover-up the government wants you to believe); they are determined by a Coggins test.  Earthquakes, tsunamis, all other natural disasters, wars, famine and all violent crimes are committed because they didn’t have current negative Coggins tests.  If a horse doesn’t have one, you should run screaming from the initial phone call because your talking to a seller whose horse will instantly infect yours just by talking to the owner.  Never mind that that particular horse had one drawn LAST year, if the test is considered “expired”, your horse will contract the dreaded Equine Infectious Anemia from your phone conversation and DIE, plain and simple.  A Current Negative Coggins test is so important in the grand scheme of things that it deserves to become a proper noun all its own: Current Negative Coggins Test.  I wonder if it has its own copyright…

A Coggins test tests for infection of the dreaded Equine Infectious Anemia (Yes, I checked an old test just to make sure I spelled it right).  Developed in the 1970s, by Dr. Leroy Coggins, this test is equivalent in importance only to the discovery of gravity.  It is performed yearly by only the holiest of those among us, those whom we call Veterinarians (their name is capitalized….like Cher and Madonna), at the rate of $20-40 dollars, depending on how risky the situation and how much of an asshole your horse is during the blood draw.  No one else but the Veterinarian can draw nor handle the drawn blood for such a test, as it will instantaneously become infected and every horse on your property will DIE.  Some Veterinarians are holier than others; they and they alone can draw a Coggins test on a horse that has never had one drawn.  They have super powers and immunities that will protect them from this dreaded disease. 

You absolutely, positively CANNOT go look at a horse for sale without it having a Current Negative Coggins Test.  This is truly the kiss of death.  By being in the presence of this obviously-infected being, you are guaranteeing that you will carry home blood-sucking insects that have already bitten the infected horse, and are sure to bite any horses you have at home, thereby causing them to die.  People NEVER pull Coggins tests when they purchase a horse, during the standard pre-purchase veterinary exam.  This is extremely risky because those Vets are not as pure as other Vets and will surely transmit this disease to other horses they see later in that day, month and year.   

I have realized that I was sorely mistaken all these years, and I thank the Powers That Be that my horses have not dropped dead from not having Current Negative Coggins tests drawn every 364 days.  I really need to go to church, or maybe do some sort of animal sacrifice or something.  

Saturday, April 21, 2012


Babysitter horses are legends in their own right.  Most of us have had at least one in our lives; that old, semi-retired veteran horse that allowed us to be complete jackasses with virtually no regard for our own safety, and still kept us in one piece.   Whether they were the 20-something year old mares that still ambled around a barrel pattern and let us think we were Martha Josey, or the ancient Arab geldings that steadily carried our asses around a show pen, listening to the announcer instead of our unspecific, muddled aids, they were gems.  We didn’t know it at the time, but we were sitting on the equine-equivalent of a goldmine.  Looking back now, you wonder “How the HELL did I not kill myself with the stupid shit I did on that thing?!”.  Really, at the end of it all, we silently thank those now long-gone horses for keeping us alive and encouraging our love for all things equine.

As a fairly-frequent seller of these types of horses, I find myself presented with a particular kind of parent more often than I’d like to be.   I guess it comes with the territory, and as annoying as it is, I have to deal with it.  This type of parent, although not quite as lethal as the “I want a young horse so my kid can grow with it”-parent, is still completely unqualified to own anything more than a gerbil and overall frustrating as hell to me.  This breed of parent is the type you are thoroughly disappointed in within five minutes of their arrival and they have an innate ability to make you wish you’d stayed in bed and hit the Fuck You button on your phone when they called.  They are usually quite eloquent, and some even know to ask all the right questions in the phone conversation.  They’re sneaky, its tough as hell anymore to vet out the genuine customers from the real idiots, and I wish I could say I had a fail-proof system for picking them out, but I learned yesterday that my system is flawed.  This type of parent can come in many shapes and forms, from any background or social class, they have not the slightest bit of a clue, are severely deficient in common sense, yet felt that reproduction of their obviously-stellar genes would be okay.  You pity their kids, and genuinely worry for their safety.  Unfortunately, these parents seem to think that the best way to keep the kids amused and out of their hair, is to get them into horses….for a day or two.

Now I didn’t realize this until recently, and I suppose that’s my own fault; Horses, horse farms, and the people that run them, are actually developed to be really neat, inexpensive day-care centers.  You’re SUPPOSED to be charming, inviting, and entertaining as hell to every person that sets foot on the property (I’m still trying to perfect that part).  You’re supposed to be okay when a Suburban full of 8 year olds shows up because Mommy is shopping for a horse “for the kids”.  As a barn owner, you’re supposed to be totally fine with seventeen obnoxious brats with no manners screaming and running all over, chasing your dogs, running through your flower beds (what’s left of them anyway, because, this IS a horse farm, after all), finding and catching Garter snakes and laying them on your Labradoodle because “It wants to ride on the puppy!”, and you’re absolutely not supposed to say a word about all of this, because you MIGHT offend this mother who is apparently completely oblivious to everything except the horsey in front of her….and every text message or Facebook update she gets on her $800 iPhone. 

Now, to everyone out there trying to sell a “Kid Safe” horse: YOU WILL GET BUYERS LIKE THIS.  They will show up (usually late, because they just HAD to stop at McDonalds), they will take up four hours of your life that you’ll NEVER get back, and they WILL piss you off.  Please understand that you are not there to sell them a horse.  Your sole existence in that dingbat mother’s mind is to entertain her kids for a few hours so she doesn’t have to.  You will have to groom and tack up your phenomenal “babysitter” horse, who will tolerate ALL of these stupid kids and dogs screaming and barking and playing tag in and around its legs, then you will have to ride this horse so Mom can watch and decide if its “safe enough” for her precious little darlings.  Mom won’t REALLY watch though, she’ll be buried in her phone the entire time and only glance up after you’ve walked, jogged and loped both directions, performed four flawless flying changes, sidepassed both directions, and done three pivots that would make a world’s trainer jealous, all while riding with both hands behind your back while singing a Greek translation of Ava Maria.  Once all of that nonsense is done, you’ll have to let every one of those brats scattered throughout your property ride your horse too.  For 30 minutes each. 

Not one of these kids has ever had a riding lesson in its LIFE, no one brought a helmet (so get your ass back to the barn and get them one, and make sure you show Mom where to sign on the waiver, because she probably can’t read) and all are wearing shorts and sandals.  Hence the OBVIOUS need for a “babysitter horse” because Mommy “Just wants a good, quiet horse that I can drop them off at the barn to play with and not have to worry”.  You’ll obviously have to make it a lead-line lesson, and spend a few hours hoofing around the arena leading your horse and praying that the gods will strike both you and your horse down right there to save you from this torture.  These kids will holler, they’ll kick the shit out of your horse’s sides and flail like fish out of water, but he’ll keep plodding along next to you because of the hours of showmanship training you’ve worked on together.  Mom will take TONS of pictures to immediately upload to Facebook, and life will be grand for all of her friends, family, and coworkers with nothing else to do except to “like” them.  Your life, and the life of your horse, currently sucks, but who cares?  You’re only there to entertain the kids for free! 

After you’ve acquired four new blisters on your feet, and your horse has CLEARLY run out of gas and patience, its time to call it a day and untack.  Maybe when they see how awesome your guy is to unbridle and hose down, they’ll fall in love and leave a deposit, right??  Don’t worry, Mom and the kids have already lost interest and are on their way back to the Suburban with a wave and a “We’ll be in touch!  Thanks!”. 

Isn’t this FUN?!  And to think: you have three more appointments to show him AGAIN this weekend!! 

Monday, April 16, 2012

Decoding Craigslist

About a year and a half ago, I was fortunate enough to have my first assistant join my program.  I consider this a good thing because quite frankly, no one believed the stupid shit I put up with on a daily basis, and now I was blessed with a witness.  At the time, I'd made a semi-decent living (for a college kid) buying horses off of Craigslist and other non-horse-specific classified sites, mainly benefitting from the ignorance of owners who had decided their horses were "too green" (which really means "too smart"), or "just junk, lame horses" (those were always my favorite).  If the ad said "MUST GO!" we usually went and got it, spent a few months putting a brain back in its skull, teaching it some useful skills (NOT treating humans like scratching posts, vending machines, and crash-test dummies, for starters), and then selling it for a bit of a profit to someone much more qualified to own it than the person we bought it from.

It didn't take long before my assistant and I coined a term I still use today "Stupid-Owner-Syndrome" or S.O.S., as we called it when the owner was standing right there trying to sell us their horse.  S.O.S. really means “This person is too goddamn stupid to own a guinea pig, let alone a horse”.  When you say to your partner "Wow...this horse has REALLY bad SOS, I don't know if we can do anything with it...." the price gets cheaper!  I've also noticed that when we showed up at these houses and it takes me three and a half minutes to turn a jackass, pushy, disrespectful horse into a nice, soft, cooperative partner, that 99% of the time, the owner had already written off the horse we were looking at and was too busy wandering around with their thumb up their ass or working on ruining ANOTHER horse to pay much attention to what I was doing.  Perhaps if some of these owners had spent a minute or two watching what we did, they'd have nicer horses.  But then again....

Because of my increasing frustration with driving all over Michigan and Ohio to pick up SOS horses, and the fact that I have NO desire to wear out another tow vehicle with the mileage I was driving, I’ve since changed direction and prefer to get my project and rescue horses from auctions now.  Quite frankly, it’s a great deal more fun to piss off several different meat buyers in one location, plus the people watching is something you really can’t fully embrace until you’ve sat in the stands at some of these places.  It’s fantastic.  Think “People of Wal-Mart” plus some Amish influence, then add beer, more Lyrca, lots of camouflage and a few cowboy hats.  I never heard a pair of pants cry in pain until I went to Vassar for the first time. 

People lie at auctions, but their horses won’t, and I can deal with 20 stupid people trying to sell me their horse in the course of a few hours if it gives me the opportunity to look at 20 different horses.  “Aw yeah, she’s real kid safe!  That kickin’n’bitin’ thing she does is only cuz she’s nervous here!”.  Yep, okay.  I also understand that people are generally intimidated by auctions, and for good reason.  Drugged up man-eaters, lame and abused horses, stuff you think you can save until you get it home and go “ohmygod, what the hell did I buy?!”, you could end up with any of them by simply raising your hand and bidding, if the one-eyed auctioneer sees you.  I completely understand the aversion to buying from auctions, but let’s be honest, internet shopping and the Stupid Owner Syndrome that sometimes comes with it can often be even worse.  So do me a favor, stay away from auctions (so I can buy cheaper), and buy your horses from the jackasses on Craigslist please (so I don’t have to deal with them).  Thanks.

So in honor of it being springtime, and the fact that Craigslist is ripe with morons selling horses, I’ve decided to tackle some of the most frequently-seen clues that you’re dealing with Stupid Owner Syndrome in Craigslist ads, and what these phrases usually mean.  I’m not going to include the ad link, because I’ll probably end up offending someone (gee, imagine that!).  So I hope this helps! 

“Barely green broke” – The horse has probably seen a saddle on a fence.  Once.

“Too much for me” – They should have bought a dog.  A small dog.

“Sometimes bucks” – Always bucks, and they allow it.  Hire a PBR rider for 30 days to combat this one.

“Can be pushy” – The owners double as punching bags, feed it cookies by the bagful, and don’t have “NO” in their vocabulary.  Odds are, you can push them around too and get the horse pretty darn cheap.

“Will trade for kid-safe horse” – They’re too stupid to have bought a kid-safe horse to begin with, but this one was cheaper!

“Bites sometimes” – Carry one of those hollow, plastic whiffle-ball bats when you go to look, and smack the owner upside the head with it.  Very rarely can a horse NOT be taught proper manners, but something dangerously stupid, like this owner, needs to be stopped NOW.

“Needs some groceries” – When they don’t post a picture, plan on spending $500 in the first week trying to put weight and nutrients back into this horse. 

“Not registered, good breeding stallion potential” – Dear lord, RUN.  Well, grab the horse, then run…..all the way home and cut its nuts off.  Then pray the owner doesn’t have kids and hasn’t passed on their brilliance.

“Only been a broodmare” – she probably doesn’t lead, has god-awful conformation, and no manners, but hell, SOMEONE will want to put a saddle on her after 15 years of baby-making, right?!

“Lame” – I got my one-in-a-million horse this way, a two-time world’s show western pleasure mare by a multiple world-champion sire that the owner bought to “make into a barrel horse”.  He let some idiot with a pair of nippers and a rasp pretend to be a farrier and hacked apart this mare so badly she could barely walk.  Then decided to dump her on Craigslist because she was lame.  He never called a vet, never bothered to spend any time trying to figure out what MIGHT be wrong, just dumped her like yesterday’s trash.  There’s not a damn thing wrong with this horse other than she had a dumbfuck of an owner and needed to grow some hoof back.  To this day, I still jump at the opportunity to save any “lame” horse on Craigslist.  You never know when you’ll find a diamond in someone else’s dumpster, and if you can get to them before the killers do, you’re doing the horse a HUGE favor.

“Foundered” – this usually means fat and crippled.  Usually you can save them, but sometimes its kindest just to get them away from that particular owner who probably still has them on green pasture and put them down.  Of course, sometimes “founder” doesn’t even really MEAN founder, it means the horse/pony is lazy and the owner is stupid.  More often than not, that’s the real story. 

“Needs work with the farrier” – He/She killed the last two farriers, but give the horse enough drugs to put them into a semi-conscious, three-legged stupor and they’re FINE!

I hope this was helpful…

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Feeding Horses

I generally have anywhere between five and eight sale horses on my farm.  Combine that with the four of my own that will die with me, and the six boarded horses here, add in a feed program completely different for each horse and you wind up with a meal time that’s nothing short of mass chaos. 

I have a pretty simple philosophy when it comes to feeding horses: provide what they need with a good foundation grain, compensate for what they’re lacking with the proper supplements, make sure they eat it all and that no one steals anyone else’s, and keep good hay in front of them as often as possible.  Busy horses generally don’t destroy shit, whether its fencing, lean-tos, or each other.  I tried the round bale thing for a few months, and while I LOVED the convenience it afforded, it wasn’t long before my ungrateful heathens realized it was much more comfortable to tear them apart, sleep in them, shit in them, and then stand in a group banging on the gate with the “We’re STAAAARVINGGG” look on their faces. Yes, I tried round bale feeders.  Yes, the horses thought “Oh! Something else to destroy! Thanks, Mom!”.  Have you seen a horse kill a feeder?  It’s impressive.  Every now and then, when they were OBVIOUSLY near starving to death, they’d decide to take it one step further and chase the dumbest one in the herd through the electric fence to destroy its containment abilities, then all stampede across the lawn to a playing of Queen’s “We Are The Champions” that only they could hear before storming the barn like the goddamn Vikings. 

Feeding time at my place has become a rather creative hour of ring-around-the-grain-buckets, and to be honest, I feel like I’ve hit a brick wall when it comes to finding a more creative solution.  I don’t have stalls here to lock up the three obese Dyson Grain Vacuums that can wolf down a full scoop of Patriot in less than a minute and then venture off looking for someone else’s to steal.  I can’t tie everyone separated around the round pen; that leads to an equine-rendition of Riverdance as soon as they’ve finished and licked the color off of their bucket and the horse next to them is still eating.  I’ve tried leaving them in the pasture and pulling the “Special Needs” horses out to eat.  That results in even MORE of a headache.  Have you ever tried to convince two ADHD Thoroughbreds to keep their heads in their buckets and simultaneously keep 5 other Quarter Horses from tearing down a gate? 

I’ve got two Thoroughbred mares here, and for those of you who know me personally, you know I’m NOT a Thoroughbred person.  To be honest, I have as much fondness for this particular breed as I do for my yearly pap smear.  I’m sure there are those of you out there right now thinking “There’s NOTHING wrong with Thoroughbreds!  They’re wonderful animals!  You’re just not patient enough!”.  You’re right, I’m not.  I’m sure they’re phenomenal horses that, in the right hands, are capable of whipping my Paint and Quarter Horse asses in every event asked of them.  But I have a rule of thumb that any horse requiring more time and daily personal attention from me than the fifteen minutes of scratching that my dumbass stock horses require to be satisfied with life is WAY more than I’m set up to deal with.  I just don’t have the time.  I’ll board them, and I’ll sell them, but I’ll NEVER own a Thoroughbred of my own and these two mares have done nothing but affirm my steadfastness in that statement. 

Only one of these mares has ever seen a racetrack.  The other has been a hunter and Dressage horse her entire life, and she’s damn good at it, which is part of why I put up with her.  Both horses have fantastic work ethics, I’ll give them that.  I’ve never seen a buck or a “screw you” moment out of either one of them under saddle, ever.  But when it comes to feeding time, they’ve got to be the dumbest goddamn horses God ever created.  I don’t know if this is His way of paying me back for all of the GOOD horses I’ve been blessed with, but SERIOUSLY!  Both are extremely finicky eaters, if they so much as SUSPECT there’s something new in their feed, forget it.  Furthermore, both require more feed in the course of a day than a goddamn Ringling Brothers elephant.  These horses are NOT hard-working athletes when they’re here.  They work maybe 30 minutes per day, maybe four days a week, flat work mostly, maybe a few crossrails thrown in for shits and giggles.  The rest of the time, they can be found laid out in the sun napping, grazing, or turning my weekly hay purchase into a pile of shit (literally). 

Normally, I don’t mind feeding a lot of grain if its what the horse needs.  I understand high-metabolisms, I wasn’t blessed with one, but I get it.  What pisses me off is when the off-the-tracker is so preoccupied with what every OTHER horse, dog and insect on the property is doing, that she flat-out forgets she has food to eat, and two scoops turns into a four hour performance of “Mmmm, foooood…OH LOOK A BUTTERFLY!”.  Or better yet, the hunter/dressage mare acts like me asking her to eat her grain at all is like force-feeding Calista Flockhart a cheeseburger.  Trying to keep her girlish figure my ass, my paints and quarters will chow down every last pellet of grain and come back looking for more.  Fat is a great color for a horse, but no one told this mare. 

I had the vet out, he said “probably ulcers, their teeth are great”.  Go figure.  Add wholefat yogurt in a syringe to be shot down their throats before every feeding.  That worked….about a half dozen times.  I’m 5’3”, they’re 15.3 and taller with necks like giraffes.  Watching this whole process is quite entertaining, I’m sure.  Nowadays, they get half of the yogurt, twice as often, and I wear the rest.  My dogs love me. 

I truly have all the admiration in the world for true “Thoroughbred people”.  They’ve got to have the patience of Job.  And probably a better-designed feeding system.  Someone should really come buy these mares…

“I vould like to buy dee horse"

Before I offend everyone: In order to fully embrace the hilarity of this situation, I feel the need to attempt to properly depict the dialect of my caller.  I am not trying to mock anyone, nor am I TRYING to be an asshole, so don’t bitch at me for being insensitive or racist.  I’m not.  I’m fully aware that morons come in every race and nationality.

Last Saturday afternoon, as I was minding my own business and going to pick up a tractor, since I’ve come to terms with the fact that my old Ford tractor has a terminal illness and probably won’t be with us much longer, my phone rang.  I’ve got about 7 horses for sale right now, and since I didn’t recognize the number, I assumed it was a prospective buyer.  Little did I know….

“Yes?” (who the hell is this?)
“I need you tell me where you live.”
“Excuse me?”
“I need you tell me where you live.  I at da (street name removed for my own safety) and (another street name removed) in dee White Lake.  Where you house?”

Now, I’ll be honest, I tend to forget shit.  Mainly important things, like horse registration numbers and birthdates, how to do long division, and the finer points of cellular mitosis, but I DO NOT forget when someone is coming out to potentially give me money.  I have no appointments scheduled today, and I have no idea who the hell my newfound Spanish-speaking friend is.

“Why do you need to know where I live?”
“I come look at dee horse for sale.”

(What the HELL?!)  Now I’m thinking I REALLY fucked up. 

“Uhhh, which horse?”
“Dee horse on dee internet.  Dee horse you have for sale!”
“Okay, which horse are you looking at?”
“Dee pa-palo-.  Dee paaaaaloooomeeeeaaannnoooo horse.  Dee horse on dee internet!  Where you house?  I in dee White Lake.”

Now at this point, to the best of my detective work, I’ve figured out that this guy is LITERALLY less than a mile from my house.   How he made it that far, I have no idea, I’m still a little confused by that part.  He doesn’t have an appointment, and is pretty hell-bent on seeing my Sheez Docs Belle mare (because that’s the only palomino I have right now).  I’m nowhere near home, couldn’t get there within 20 minutes if I WANTED to (even with the way I drive), and I know there’s a pretty determined Mexican guy wanting to be at my house, like RIGHT NOW.

“I’m not there, you can’t come see her.”
“But I drive all dee way from by dee Deeetroit!  I drive una hora!” (that’s Spanish for one hour)
“You never called me!  You didn’t have an appointment.”
“Yes, if you want to see a horse from me, you need to have an appointment!”
“Why I need appointment?”
“Because I’m not home.  I didn’t know you were coming, because you didn’t have an appointment, so I’m not home.”
“You no home?”
“No.  I’m not home.”
“When you be home?”
“Four or five hours.”  (More like an hour, but at this point, I’m NOT showing this guy a horse)
“Ooohhhh, four o five hours?”

By now, I’m fairly certain that one of my dickhead friends is screwing with me.  There’s NO WAY someone would drive an HOUR to look at a horse without checking to see if someone’s home to show the horse to them, right?  Wrong.  The guy doesn’t say anything for awhile, and then I hear him talking to someone with him.  They’re rattling back and forth in Spanish.  I took 2 years of Spanish in high school, and another 2 in college, and while I spend the vast majority of that time being completely lost and having NO idea what the hell was going on, I picked up a few things.  This guy was legit, it wasn’t one of my friends, and now they’re talking about coming tomorrow.

“Is der someone dat can show me dee horse right now at you house?”
“No, I’m the only one.”
“You dee only one?  Ooohhhh.”
“Yep, sorry.  You didn’t have an appointment, so I can’t show you the horse.”
“Okay. I come tomorrow.”
“No, you can’t come tomorrow.”
“Why I no come tomorrow?”
“Because tomorrow is Easter Sunday and I’m not working on Easter.” 

At this point, I’m racking my brain trying to remember what I can about Mexican culture, and I’m pretty sure most of the religious population celebrates Easter.  Apparently I got the only Mexican guy that didn’t know what day it was.  Lucky me.

“Oooohhh, and you no show me horse today?”
“No, not today.  Call me on Monday and you can set up an appointment.”
“But I here now.  You no show me horse today?”
“No.  I’m not home.  Call me Monday.”
“Okay, I call you on Monday.”

Oddly enough, I never heard from him again… blown, I guess.