I love these little mini (3×3) portraits I had done by the super talent artist, Alex Birchmore! I now have all of my horses and donkeys painted and framed in my home. Alex captures the soul of the animals she paints and her prices are amazingly inexpensive (~ $33.00/ per). She is also great at combining photos to paint the absolute perfect depiction of your pet.
You can find her Etsy store at https://www.etsy.com/shop/AlexBirchmoreArt
I take naming seriously. Maybe too seriously. I feel like a name should mean something, stand for something, and ultimately, it should “fit” the person or animal or farm.
My new 17 year old Belgian Draft mare was rescued from slaughter after being an Amish workhorse for her entire life. She came off the trailer after traveling from Texas to Virginia, skin and bones. She had a dull coat, hip bones high, cracked hooves, a very runny nose, but her eyes were warm. This sweet girl had never had a moment of TLC and was noticeably sick. I walked her to her new temporary quarantine home. She was alert but considerably calm but weary none the less. The vet came out and gave her a physical. Her legs were in good shape as were her feet despite the cracking. She did not have a fever but did have congestion in her chest and her teeth were all sharp points. She had a worn down mark across her nose from what looked to be a harness and her tail had been lopped off, bone and all.
We began an round of Exceed and Banamine and let her rest. She drank gallons of water and as she ate her “draft safe” diet (low sugar, low starch and high fat) I could hear her teeth grinding and knocking against each other; it was painful to watch (and hear). I left for the evening to allow her to settle in. The following day I brought her a fly sheet (bright pink :)). I groomed her and she began to fall asleep. I put ointment on her raw nose, and sprayed her with fly spray. As I went to put on her flysheet, her skepticism was evident. I could tell she had never worn a blanket, or maybe she was skeptical of the color… but she allowed me to put the sheet over her skinny body. As I finished for the evening and said goodbye, she looked at me, straight in my eyes, and I could see that she knew the rest of her days would be carefree.
I took about a week to get to know her and think long and hard about what to call her. I thought about the small details I knew about her past… 17 years as an Amish workhorse. They shipped her off to a slaughter auction after her years of service. She was worn and ragged but still strong and relatively healthy.
I decided on the name Ottilie meaning strength in battle. Numerological, the Soul urge number is 11 which states that people with this number have a deep inner desire to inspire others in a higher cause. The name’s Expressive number is 9 and states that those with this name tend to be compassionate, intuitive and highly sensitive, but also have magnetic personalities and serve humanity. How fitting, her strength during her battle (workhorse to slaughter auction) lead her to me…still strong and able but worn and haggard. The other reason I chose the name Ottilie was due to my late aunt, MaryJane. Maryjane passed in the late 1990’s tragically. She loved animals and was the reason I began my journey with horses as a child. She had a dog named, Tilly, which is the perfect nickname from Ottilie.
So, I introduce, Ottilie “Tillie”, the 17 year old Belgian draft mare who has found her forever home.
My friend called me late last night, “Lets save these two miniature ponies from slaughter!” Intrigued, I clicked on the videos and saw these adorable little guys prancing around. Shaggy, needing a bit of weight, and a ton of love. Price was $460.00. Basically, the price for their meat. I reached out to another one of my girlfriends to convinced her to buy one of the three we were looking at- she agreed!
The next morning, I went to the website and one of the three had already been rescued but the other two were still available. I clicked “add to cart” and checked out via PayPal. We were actually buying ponies the same way I purchased paper towels off Amazon. We later contacted the livestock auction to arrange shipping from Texas to Virginia and I have to say, the woman we spoke to was beyond helpful and you could tell she truly cared about these horses. So for now, we are anxiously awaiting their arrival to their forever homes. These horses are priced to sell. Some are put up for sale by individuals who plan to take them back if they are not sold- basically like consignment. Whereas other horses are put up for sale and if they are not sold they are slaughtered. Our two were going to be sent for slaughter if they were not sold. 😦
For more information and to see available horses, donkeys, ponies and mules visit Bowie Auction Horses.
Passion For Horses Is Not A Learned Behavior – We Are Born With It! –
— Read on horses-world.com/2018/09/01/passion-for-horses-is-not-a-learned-behavior-we-are-born-with-it/
Tonight I lost my best friend, Chance. The one who whinnied the moment my car pulled up, would run away and wait for me to catch him only to turn around and run away again. He made me laugh, knew all my secrets and nuzzled me when I was sad. He taught me about unconditional love and having a positive attitude despite circumstances. He nodded when I asked if he loved me and gave kisses to get treats. He’s the 17.1 hand horse who would stand behind me and fall asleep as I did my school work and would get upset if any horse got near me but would never hurt a fly. He let children hug him and dogs run into his stall and let me dress him up with flowers. He loved rolling in the snow, laying in the sunshine, and would light up the moment he saw me. I’ll miss playing in the barn on cold nights and curling up reading in his stall when he wasn’t feeling well. I’m thankful that he waited for me to get there tonight to say goodbye so I could hold his head in my lap and talk to him while he passed. There will never be a sweeter horse with a more gentle and pure soul. Thank you, Bubba, for being with me through it all- high school, college, the break ups, the losses, the good and bad days. You gave one hell of a fight for 30+ years. Lucky and I will miss you- there will never be another you❤️ #myfavoriteredhead #chancewetake #20yearstogether #thebesthorseintheworld #myheart
The cuddliest donkey, water and a good book makes for a perfect Sunday.
When I teach horse riding to friends and family, I use like and as like trailer hitches: they pull my students into different concepts while they are in the saddle.
“Hold the reins like a baby bird.”
“Imagine the horse as a river, and your legs as the banks guiding the river along.”
“I want you to push down through your heels like you could break the stirrups.”
Unlike riding, the metaphors I use for depression never describe it with much accuracy. Depression is at once an absence of things and a too much of things, a void, a slowing down, a speeding up, it’s too much and too little.
Instead, my depressive episodes are blotted, memories. They are moments half-vacant. The first time I remember having symptoms, all I could pull up from the database of my memory was the hum of my parents’ air conditioner at eleven in the morning. It was gurgling. Droning thuds right outside the door where I slept. It was the summer of 2008, the gas prices rose, the economy crumbled, and the coda of my existence was staying in bed because there was no point in getting out of it.
It went away when I went back to school the following autumn. Or, at least, I thought it did. I can still hear the echoes of school friends, telling me that maybe there was more to my melancholy than just sadness and being a chronic overachiever.
I ignored them.
After college, I lived on a horse farm in rural Colorado. It had a million-dollar view of slotted canyons and farm fields stretching for miles. Most days I rolled out of bed by 7:00am, fed 20 horses, cleaned out their runs for the day, did chores, and then wrote website copy for a marketing agency in a little office that faced east.
I remember the raccoons squabbling over the dumpster at night, the echo of coyotes after a kill, and the thrill of a shooting star streaking the sky with luminous urgency. I loved riding just before sunset, watching the red dust cast clouds behind the horses hooves. I can also remember waves of nauseating numb and a strange sense of dread that never really lifted. Some days didn’t pass, they army-crawled.
The rhythm of farm life masked my symptoms. I have what doctors call “high functioning” clinical depression: it never mattered how crappy I felt or how existential I got or how much of a mess my relationships became, horses still needed to be fed, water troughs cleaned, and manure cleared away. Cowgirls don’t cry.
I DIDN’T UNDERSTAND THAT I WAS SICK.
Now almost five years since I first lived on that farm, I know that I can do most basic things when I am depressed. I can go to the grocery store, pay bills and answer the phone. I am one of the lucky ones.
What I can’t do is notice details. I can’t write, stay organized, or meet deadlines. I stop being able to pick up after myself or see anything as worthwhile. I eat too much or too little; sleep becomes a curse and a blessing. Before I knew I had depression, I would just blame my lack of self-discipline. I thought it was my dyslexia, a character flaw, or maybe I just wasn’t getting enough sleep. I told myself I needed to get up earlier, eat better, or drink more coffee. I didn’t understand that I was sick.
It is very unlikely I could have known I had depression. I had no idea what depression was.
My understanding of mental illness came from one high school production of David and Lisa and two 100 level psychology courses that still presented mental illness as uncommon. I thought anxiety was a normal state of being and depression was just bouncing, egg-shaped heads that smiled and talked about sexual side effects in Zoloft commercials.
Besides, I got to spend a lot of time with horses; my beliefs told me that if I had everything I wanted there was just no way I could be depressed. But that was exactly what was happening.
Depression or major depressive disorder as defined by the American Psychiatric Association is “a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act.” Common symptoms include lack of energy, becoming withdrawn and numb to your environment, a sense of dread, despair, guilt, or worthlessness. It is also common for depressives to isolate themselves and stop doing the things they care about. It can impact sleeping and eating patterns and can show a drastic shift in behavior and personality. While these are the most common symptoms, each case varies from person to person, episode to episode.
For us farm folk of the world, this may seem flowery and self-involved. Me, a few years ago would have said, “Oh how sad for you, now get up and get stuff done.”
No matter my shame and judgment, the dollar signs in front of depression are staggering and very, very real. A 2015 study showed depression cost the United States $210 billion every year, this accounts for everything from lost wages, to treatment and other direct and indirect costs and losses. If it was a fake disease like I once believed it was, shouldn’t it be cheaper?
If the cost in dollars and cents weren’t enough to leave us blushing over the manure pile, the number of people with the disease should do the trick. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that more that 43.8 million Americans suffered from some form of mental illness in 2015. This is just under one in five Americans.
Depression, which is the most common mood disorder, is also recognized by the Center for Disease Control as “a serious medical illness and an important public health issue.” Thus while we would all love to say, that depression and other mental illness never enters into the barn, the facts are stacked against us.
There is a t-shirt in many horse catalogs that says “My horse is my therapist.” I once would have purchased it in a couple of different colors. Now, as the resident Captain Killjoy of the barn, I want to say, “Cool, maybe they’ll make ‘My horse is my Chemotherapy,’ or how about this potential best-seller ‘My horse is my fast-acting inhaler.’”
If you just found the second two offensive, then yes, the first one is too. The reason it is problematic is not because our time with horses isn’t therapeutic. But rather because it diminishes mental illness as a lesser, illegitimate disease.
I, too, fell for the ethos of the horse as a cure-all for mental illness. I once thought therapy and psychiatric medication was for bored, wealthy people and the occasional hypochondriac. I also thought it was only effective for those with really low functioning diagnoses and meth addicts.
I WAS A FARM GIRL, STRANGERS TOLD ME I SEEMED TOUGH. WHO WAS I IF I LOST THAT?
On the other hand, I was also terrified. My imagination told me that if I went to a therapist, I’d be institutionalized like I had seen in the movies or I’d be the one thing I had convinced myself I was not: weak.
I was a horse person; I was a farm girl, strangers told me I seemed tough. Who was I if I lost that?
I would never think I was weak if I went to the emergency room because I got chucked off a horse and landed badly. I also wouldn’t think I was weak if I went to a doctor because I caught pneumonia after breaking the ice out of water buckets. The same logic should have applied to seeking treatment for depression.
Yet, when I talked myself into making an appointment with the mental health department I spent the entire phone call to the doctor in a cold sweat. I also considered running out of the waiting room in a panic before my first consultation had even started. Old stigmas against mental illness are a hard thing to silence, even if that mental illness is slowly trying to kill you.
Treatment turned out to be nothing like I imagined. There was minimal mood lighting, pedantic banter or forced breathing exercises. Therapy and treatment turned out to be very much like taking riding lessons. I paid a therapist for the same reason I paid a riding instructor: to notice things. They used their training and expertise and made me better. Just like a riding instructor had shown me that I had a nasty habit of letting the horse fall in at the corner, a therapist showed me how my emotional patterns were making me sicker. After noting the problem, they then gave me strategies to improve.
IT IS STILL A PART OF MY LIFE, BUT IT NO LONGER CONTROLS MY LIFE.
I know that if I had treated my depression sooner, I would have enjoyed my days on the farm more, I would have ridden more, worked harder, and laughed more. I would have been a better advocate for the horses I rode. If I had started therapy sooner, I would have ridden better, too. I would have spent the time noting reality, instead of simply trying to stay afloat in a soup of depression induced self-deprecation.
I am still not free of depression but because I understand it, I am better at taking care of myself when it appears. It is still a part of my life, it probably always will be, but it no longer controls my life.
You may, at this point, think I have sworn off horses as medicine altogether. If I had struggled that hard with depression when I was around horses every day, you might be surprised to hear that I do believe that horses are a valid way to help treat depression and other mental illnesses.
“Help treat” is the key statement here. My feelings on equine therapy for mental illness simply hold more specific parameters than they once did. I believe that if equine therapy is a primary treatment then it should be done in the company of a trained professional. In fact, this kind of therapy on horseback or in the company of horses is done all over the world and has been used to treat everyone from teens with severe anxiety, to veterans with PTSD, to those incarcerated. While research on the effectiveness of equine-based therapy for mental illness is still in its early stages, early studies show promise.
Time with horses have proven to be one of my best forms of secondary treatment to supplement therapy and medication. One of the beautiful things about depression, notes psychology writer Andrew Solomon, is that it is a disease that impacts the way we feel. If someone has diabetes, lunges a horse, and feels better, they will still leave the round pen with diabetes. If someone goes into a round pen with depression and lunges a horse makes them feel better, then for that moment it is an effective treatment for depression.
Exercise is also often a key component in treating depression and, for many, being around horses is a good excuse for doing just that. It also can provide a low-stress way to cut down on isolation as our interactions with horses can have lower social stakes than those with other people.
I now understand that cowgirls do cry and we should. Our time with horses should be a safe time to struggle and change and talk and perhaps find some relief from what ails us. If it is not, then it’s important to find out the reason why and do what we can to address it.
Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it is a sign of agency and self-awareness and these are two things that I, as a horse person, have learned to admire.
Even if I can’t use metaphors to describe depression, I can use one to describe what it is like when it lifts. When the depression first lifts, it feels like the first time I correctly rode a flying lead change. There is a moment of flight, of release, of understanding and clarity that is so delicious I wish I could bottle it and keep it on a windowsill. It’s as if the mysterious thing that I had been prevented from understanding is now understood.
When depression is gone, I can see the steam curl from a sweaty horse in the morning light with a renewed sense of wonder. I can laugh at horse galloping at play in a pasture.
When my depression lifts, it is as though I can pull myself out of the dingy trailer of my despair and a long trail ride awaits, and my horse is already saddled.
About the Author
Gretchen Lida is an essayist and equestrian. Her work has appeared in Brevity, Earth Island Journal, Washington Independent Review of Books, and many others. She has an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Columbia College Chicago and currently lives in Wisconsin. Follow her on Twitter at @GC_Lida.
I have been desperately trying to get my miniature donkey, Lucky, to drop some lbs. The thing with Lucky- he literally gained weight overnight. One day he was a skinny mini and the next he had a potbelly. I was really concerned that the weight suddenly appeared and had the vet run a heptic panel to ensure he wasn’t experiencing some sort of liver dysfunction. Sort of like how humans can develop Ascites when they have liver related disease. Anyways, his blood work came back and all was okay….he was just fat!
Unlike horses, donkeys develop “fat deposits” around their neck, abdomen, and butt and even once the weight has been lost the deposits stay for life!
The Dangers of Obesity in Donkeys
According to the Scarsdale Vets;
“Obesity increases the risk of developing hyperlipaemia and laminitis, both of which can be fatal. Prevention of obesity is better than cure, because rapid loss of condition in overweight donkeys can trigger hyperlipaemia.
Hyperlipaemia is a condition in which triglycerides (fats) are released into the circulation which can result in organ failure and death unless treated rapidly. The early signs of dullness and reduced appetite can be difficult to detect. Hyperlipaemia can be triggered by anything that causes a reduction in food intake e.g. stress, transport, dental disease.
Laminitis is a condition in which there is inflammation in the laminae of the foot that connect the pedal bone to the hoof wall. This can progress to rotation or sinking of the pedal bone within the foot. The cause is not fully understood and many factors are involved but obese animals are more prone to develop the disease.”
Equine Metabolic Syndrome: “Overweight donkeys often develop a fat, crest neck and fat pads around their tail base. When this occurs the donkey can develop a metabolic disease known as ‘Equine Metabolic Syndrome’. This causes insulin resistance and increased levels of blood glucose (blood sugar) in the blood stream. In equids this can lead to recurrent episodes of laminitis or founder. This disease involves inflammation of the white lining or laminar junctions of the feet, extreme foot pain and difficulty walking. In severe cases this can also cause changes in the bone of the foot and hoof wall” (Yarra Ranges Animal Clinic)
How To Help Your Donkey Lose Weight Safely
- Use a muzzle
- Limit grazing
- Ask your vet to do blood work to ensure your donkey is healthy
- Have the dentist come out and examine the donkey’s teeth
- Engage in an exercise routine
Donkey Related Resources and Information
Recently, I had to move to a new farm. And, if you are anything like me you loathe not only moving but moving your horse. The what-ifs running though my head- what if he won’t load? What if he hits his head? What if he freaks out? (Or to be completely transparent, what if I do?). What if he falls? Etc. Personally, when I am faced with a anxiety provoking situation, I need to have a sense of control however small it is. So, I did what I do best and planned and organized. Everything.
Chance had a bad prior experience with being trailered. Plus, with his age (31) and past health issues my anxiety was at an all time high. It was recommended that I plan to meet him at the new farm instead of being there for loading. Made sense. I scheduled the vet to be there in case medications were needed. And they scheduled a therapeutic trailering service with a large trailer that had an forward unloading ramp. The horse communicator was also scheduled as she knew of Chance’s past experience and did energy work.
The day arrived. I went to the farm early and wrapped Chance’s legs, brought he and Lucky inside, packed up all my stuff, and met with the horse communicator. She did some grounding exercises with Chance and myself. I left when everyone arrived and went to the new farm and unloaded our stuff. About 1 hour later the phone rang and of course, I thought the worse. Chance refused to load even after 2 rounds of medications. Lucky was on the trailer. They requested I come and try. I drove the 30 minutes back to the farm- praying to everyone and anything- that Chance would load. I read some tips on Google (yes, I’m ashamed to admit, while driving). One article suggested doing groundwork to get the horse to pay attention. For example, stop him, make him stand, back up, etc. Once he was listening that is when you try to load. The article went on to say that anger and frustration would not work. Because a horse is in sync with our emotions. And that physically, a horse has stamina that we as humans do not share. However, mentally the horse will give up quicker. Patience. Kindness. Persistence.
I arrived. I followed the advice of the article. I walked him and gave commands. I was cool, collected, firm, and kind. We tried once. He walked part way up the ramp, stopped, and backed up. Again, I did the commands. Tried once more. Same thing. The third time the lady who was there to Trailer him lightly smacked his butt with a crop and suddenly, he was on the trailer! I couldn’t believe it. We quickly shut the doors and off we went.
The trip was about 45 minutes. And, thankfully, uneventful. The trailering company was amazing and patient. I’m beyond grateful for everyone’s help!
Below is information for trailering issues, how-tos, and professionals that can make the transition 10000% easier and, almost, stress free.
1. True North Equine in Marshall, Virginia
2. Trailering service: Always There Horsecare: 703-915-6255 or http://www.alwaystherehorsecare.com
3. Article: Think like a horse
4. Article: The hard to load horse
5. Article: Lets Get Loaded