Friday, April 5, 2013

ANNIE'S STORY (published)

Annie (left) - Trillium Evening Primrose (right)
The pregnancy had been usual. The Quarter Horse mare shifted her great weight uneasily as her due date approached. Her sides swelled and rippled with twinges of new life within. Mother Nature was preparing the mare for her first foal, slowly filling the udder to compliment the now pendulum shaped belly. The huge muscles of the croup and dock began to relax.

Her owner-in-waiting already owned two paternal purebred brothers of Morgan descent. Her Quarter Horse mare had developed a cancerous tumour that didn’t bolster well for her future. As the tumour seemingly went into a state of remission, it was decided that the mare be bred. The planned pregnancy to the same sire of her Morgans would yield a special part-bred.  It would be the mare’s legacy, should she pass.

I walked down the wide aisle peering into the occupied stalls of expectant moms. All was well in the quiet of early dawn. At first glance I didn’t notice anything unusual as the Quarter Horse mare, two weeks away from foaling, looked in earnest for her morning grain ration. She was her impatient self, wanting to be first in line for grub as she pushed forward to the door, ears pricked straight ahead and head nodding in anticipation. As I turned to check the next box, I caught a glimpse of what appeared to be a tiny bay foal, cowering in the tight far corner of the stall. I turned on my heel and rushed back, slowly entering the roomy stall.

The foal stood shaking and confused with such a sad look of forlorn. I approached it in a crouched position, talking to it with a soothing reassuring voice. It was still wet, evidence of a fairly new birth. The mare showed no interest in her newborn; not even a nicker. Instead, she circled the area of her grain bin with a wide-eyed look demanding her feed.

As I eased the fragile looking filly towards her mother, the mare tempestuously moved away. My first reaction was that the mare’s sensitive abdomen was making her understandably cautious of touch. The now full udder had no relief as the milk had not been let down by the natural process of nursing.  This behaviour is not unusual in a maiden mare that hasn’t experienced foaling before. The thought of being bumped and probed by a clumsy foal in search of nourishment in such a sensitive area is not inviting. Still, the maternal need to protect and feed a newborn foal usually is an over-riding instinct that prevails long after the pain of birth subsides. Whatever quirk of nature that afflicted this mare would seal the fate of this filly if immediate action wasn’t taken. It was obvious that managing an unsteady foal and an aggressive mare was not a one-person job. The owner was subsequently summoned to the stable.

The owner held the mare while I attempted to steer the filly cautiously towards the side of the mare’s full quarters. This met with more hostility and aggression from the mare. Nothing we did, no form of restraint not even a leg hold or twitch, was going to coerce the mare into accepting her baby. She stubbornly would not acquiesce to the suckling needs of her baby. More medical intervention was urgently required.
Before attempting to hand milk the mare, the veterinarian administered the usual spectrum of antibiotics. The mare was becoming very dangerous with deadly aim from her hooves and barred teeth that could bite into flesh with a viciousness of a she wolf.

Without life-saving colostrum from the mare’s first milk, there was no chance for this filly to survive. The minutes and hours quickly passed unmercifully. A hurried rush to a local Thoroughbred horse-breeding farm that maintained a colostrum bank, bought the filly some hours of hope in her now apparent fight for life.

The mare was partitioned off, just enough so that she couldn’t strike or attack the foal. The tiny filly now had a reprieve from the unrelenting advances of her angry and confused mother. It was hoped that by seeing her filly close by, without human intervention, the mare might become the mother that her foal so desperately needed. After 30 hours of supervised cohabitation with no favourable change in the mare’s behaviour, meant that a new plan had to be hatched, and hatched quickly if this little filly was to have any chance at all.

The mare’s next-door neighbour was the Morgan mare, Kennan’s Memory. Memory already had a two-week-old filly at her side. She would be the closest thing to a nurse mare that we could find. Of all the Morgan broodmares in the stable, Memory would be the most likely candidate for this life-saving task.  She was a mom’s mom, very devoted to her foals and watchful of others. Would it be possible for her to adopt this now orphaned foal?  A nurse mare that accepts a strange foal usual does so as a result of her natural born foal being taken from her and a substitute foal added. This was not the case here. Clearly, it would be up to the good graces and willing heart of Memory to allow another mare’s foal under her belly.

Memory was brought out into the aisle way with her 14-day old filly foal placed by her chest. The mare was held steady as the shy little rejected filly was cautiously brought along side. Memory raised her hind leg ever so gently as a mild warning, turning her head and staring perplexed at the wee starved filly. But as we asked Memory to behave with a strong firm voice, she lowered her leg without hesitation. The filly was guided gently to the full udder of the mare. Within minutes the hungry filly had latched on to a teat and for the first time in her short stressful life, sucked contently. Memory looked back at the alien foal reaching beneath her hip. Memory was unsure as her ears constantly moved back and forth without ever flattening, trying to decipher what was happening. After a long and much needed grasp of the full teat, the filly was finally satisfied.

Safely housing a mare with two nursing foals was our next challenge.  The farm’s six-horse trailer was brought into the indoor arena. For the next week it would double as a nursery on wheels. Memory was led into one of the middle stalls at the rear section of the trailer and tethered. A haynet hung from the ceiling hook and a water bucket was fastened to the front stall bar. The other three stall partitions at the front of the trailer were removed allowing the two fillies full run of the trailer while being able to nurse from either side of the mare with the half partitions of the stall stanch allowing access and protection. A deep straw bedding provided a safe landing and warmth for much needed snoozing.

During the day, the mare and foals were turned out in a small round-ring, which had ground-to-rail, full screen plastic mesh surrounding the perimeter. It was in essence, an over-size playpen. Every couple of hours, Memory would be held with a shank so that the little filly, now nicknamed Orphan Annie, could nurse. Everyday since birth, Annie’s natural mother was introduced to her in hopes of reconciliation. Each time the mare attempted to attack the filly when she came too close. After two weeks of futile custodial meetings, it was evident that this mare would not realize the role of motherhood and so the daily visits ended.

After a week of nightly trailer sleepovers, the foaling stall in the barn was converted over to replicate the horse trailer’s new nursery blueprint design. A stock was provided for the mare with easy access for the foals to nurse.

Day-by-day Memory slowly accepted the rejected Annie to her udder. Annie’s big paternal sister, Primrose, showed a distinct but natural propensity for jealously during the first couple of weeks. She often would shove Annie out of the way when she wanted to nurse, or kick at her in defiance as if to say this is my Mom, not yours. By the third week, Primrose had softened her attitude and accepted Annie as her little sister and playmate. No longer wrought with jealousy, Primrose showed clinginess to Annie. Everyone had hope that this would work out for the best. Yet, there was to be one more major hurdle that Annie had to overcome.     

One evening feed, I entered the stall of the two fillies, brushing Primrose then Annie aside to put in their booster milk replacement bucket. Annie stood motionless. I pushed harder and she stumbled forward and down. Something was terribly wrong. Her right front leg was totally useless. I immediately felt for any sign of fracture, but there was no discernible heat, just a scrape on her cannon bone. My next thought was a dislocated shoulder. I was puzzled as I dragged her to a safe space in the stall away from crushing hooves. Paralysis was my next suspicion.

I talked the on-call veterinarian into making the late night trek out and examining the filly. If it was a break, I didn’t want to leave the filly unattended and without treatment that long. The result of the veterinary examination confirmed a paralysis. It was suspected that Annie had rolled under the partition that held the mare and was stepped on sometime during the evening. The crush had caused nerve damage involving the mobility of the entire right front leg, originating in the shoulder region. A splint was fashioned to try and support the leg and keep the fetlock flexed in a more normal position enabling her to have some weight bearing on the injured leg. It was an awkward predicament for Annie and one that might have snuffed away any chance of a normal life or life itself.

Annie struggled clumsily around the stall at night and round ring in daylight. She dragged that leg showing no legitimate effort to use it. The prognosis didn’t look favourable, but the filly was determined to feed herself, lie down and follow her big sister.

Weeks passed with little improvement. After reassessment, it was decided that the crutch splint should be removed. It seemed to hinder and impair more than it supported. The fetlock and leg were bandaged for protection, as dragging her leg behind her meant certain abrasions and possible infection if not guarded properly. Her leg now free of its brace, Annie was determined to make her leg work.

Like most soft tissue injuries, they can be a nightmare in recovery. Slowly sensation returned to her shoulder, transferring eventually to her forearm. It was a considerable length of time before the knee became somewhat functional. The fetlock was the last to show signs of life and movement. It would take weeks if not months for Annie to regain most of her movement and strength back while continuing the rapid foal growth.  

As she convalesced, the bonding between her big sister Primrose and step mom Memory grew closer. No longer did Memory try to push her away but instead circled and protected her from the rest of the broodmare band. Primrose looked after Annie as well, shadowing her everywhere and being her constant playmate and protector. As the days passed, Annie and her sister joined the expanded herd of other youngsters and soon they all cantered across the pasture kicking up with squeals of delight.
Now weaned, Annie continues to mature. Although small in stature, her early life experiences have toughened her in the herd. The human bond has been cemented in her very being, as she looks to people as protector and friend. Still, without the sweetness and affection of a kind old broodmare named Memory, it was uncertain if Annie would have lived. Now there is no doubt.

HORSE SHOW HORRORS - What can go wrong and how to avoid problems.

Every year when show season begins in earnest, thousands of horse trailers roll along the highways on route to a horse show. These weekend warriors are headed for competition and sometimes misadventure.

Veterans of the show arena have witnessed some bazaar and frightening experiences over their years of involvement on the show circuit. You may be the most conscientious horse owner, but other external factors can play havoc with the pleasure and safety of the horse shows you attend.

The Stress Factor

Horse shows are stressful!  Not only do most competitors suffer from show-ring jitters, so do horses. Psychology teaches us that our own insecurities are easily transported to the horse. Calming our nerves is harder than we can imagine. It is often the “hurry up and wait” syndrome that most competitors suffer from. It seems like an eternity waiting to make our entrance through the “in gate”. Keeping oneself busy between classes, either by cleaning tack, watering the horse or some other useful activity, will help ease anxieties. It becomes a distraction to our worried minds that often dwells on the “what ifs”.    

Practice self-calming techniques, such as deep breathing exercises and muscle relaxation while focusing on positive thought and imagery. Be aware of your muscle groups and learn how to release the tension of competition through these beneficial tools of relaxation.

So often we see horses being longed, ridden and longed again to get the edge off them. Most horses won’t wear down and in some cases the extra work only builds them up, defeating the whole purpose of this often-futile exercise. The simple act of walking a ring before a show starts or during lunch break, acquainting the horse to the new environment, will help it adjust and settle. Just taking your horse to a show without competing and letting it experience the sights and sounds will help prepare it for future competition. Unfortunately, you can’t completely duplicate the show ring at home, but there are some training tips that will help.

Training at Home

Desensitize your horse to many of the variables it will encounter at horse shows. These will include such things as camera flashes, balloons, flags, umbrellas, rain slickers, and those annoying sneaky baby strollers. Tents and awnings are also commonplace sights at shows. That flapping noise can be disturbing, even terrifying to the horse.   

Play recorded sound tracks, introducing loud noises such as band music, cheering and clapping and a host of other uncommon sounds your horse will encounter at shows and fairs.

Moving vehicles can often upset a horse. Practice walking your horse by stationary cars with engines running and slow moving automobiles.

Trailer Loading

Your homework in preparation for horse showing should include trailer loading. Nothing is more frustrating than an uncooperative loader. Equally important, is the controlled unloading of your horse. A horse rushing out of the trailer, can injury itself just as easily as the horse that is difficult to load. The frazzled horse’s anxiety level will have peaked by the time you arrive for your competition. This, combined with your own personal stress from the ordeal, could sabotage your ride in the show ring.

If your horse is new to the rattle and shake of a moving trailer, take a few short trips to help the horse establish its ‘trailer legs’ prior to embarking on the real road trip to a show. Be certain that you take precautions when navigating corners and coming to stops. Remember, you are carrying live cargo that will react to sudden manoeuvers.          

Be Prepared

Before you head out, prepare a complete checklist of items well in advance. The list should include everything from tack to apparel, food, directional maps, and personal needs such as headache remedies and sunscreen. So often basic items are forgotten in the frenzy of packing for a show and only add to our stress levels.

Make certain you have organized all of your show documents. Having photocopies of these required papers and placing them in a binder for safekeeping in your horse trailer, will ensure that these documents are available at every show when making entries.

Don’t forget to store tools for your truck and trailer in the event of a breakdown. Include a first aid kit: one for you and one for your horse. Other items to consider for your first aid kit are instant ice packs and electrolytes for your horse.

Bring along a flysheet and extra repellent and pack a horse cooler and body sponges. Take your own water supply. (Horses can be finicky drinkers of unfamiliar water sources.)  Serious dehydration could ensue from lack of water during heavy competition and extreme heat. Offer water to your horse at several intervals throughout the day, even if it refused it. Don’t forget about the horse that makes the long haul in and from a horse show. Stop often and offer a fresh bucket of water during these brief breaks from the road.

Pack an extra halter and lead shank. You never know when you might need one. Store a shoe puller in your trailer for emergencies.

 The Weather Factor

Since a lot of local events and fairs are held outdoors, weather and ring conditions are a consideration when competing.

If the footing is slick or rough, you might not want to risk injury to you or your horse. Depending on your shoeing requirements and discipline, you may want to outfit your horse’s shoes accordingly. Lightning strikes have been known to be fatal for riders and horses. Sadly, fatalities like these happen from time to time at outdoor horse show events. Your horse’s steel shoes makes for an excellent conductor for a bolt of lightning. Since the rider becomes the highest point in the show ring, he or she becomes the ultimate target and victim. Be prudent and safe by withdrawing from competition in extreme weather conditions such as thunderstorms.

Practicing Good Horsemanship

Proper tying with quick release knots or snaps with appropriate length and height consideration will aid in the prevention of accidents and injury. Place your horse in an area free of entrapment. (Fender wells can be considered hazards.)  Provide shelter from the hot summer sun by parking your trailer under trees if possible. Set up an awning beside your trailer in open areas. This will give your horse added relief and protection from the sun. A flysheet will also be of benefit to guard against insect pests and the sun’s ultra-violet rays.

Play it safe. Do not allow your horse to graze on unfamiliar turf. Some multi-use public grounds used for the occasional horse show may have been treated with toxic chemical sprays to control the weed populations.

You can’t always guard against public ignorance. Be vigilant, never complacent.

Do not allow visitors to approach your horse without supervision. An outreached hand can be mistaken for a treat and an innocent nip or bite from a jealous horse can lead to a host of problems. Few horse owners realize that in some jurisdictions, a person bitten by a horse who seeks medical treatment for their injury, will result in mandatory quarantine of that horse for possible rabies by the local health department. Regardless of the circumstances, or proof of rabies vaccination, there is no exception to the law in this regard.

 If your horse should become frightened by a passer-by on a bicycle, or a baby stroller walking behind it and that horse reacts and lashes out in fear, you are liable for any injuries.

The general public does not often think about their actions and resulting consequences. They may offer your horse a treat that is not suitable, or attempt to pet your horse in a sensitive or ticklish area. This may evoke an unfavourable response from your horse.

There can always be a dark side to events and situations when things go wrong. By minimizing possible disaster scenarios and desensitizing your horse, enjoying a horse show and reaping the thrill of victory can come at a reduced cost both financially and emotionally for you and your equine partner.


On the sleepy spring morning of Thursday, May 29, 1986, a new arrival was eagerly welcomed in the stable by the curious nicker of horses. He was a noble bearing colt, dressed in a rich burgundy satin resembling the colour of a fine red wine. His sharp features of a delicately defined head were anointed with a bright star. Cautiously he peeked his nose out from beneath the camouflage of his mother's tail and craned his somewhat long neck in search of exciting scents in this mysterious world.  He was undeniably handsome from the moment the sack was shed to reveal his true identity.
From his ancestral roots, this colt would show the resilience and survivor instincts that this family of old government bred Morgans are noted for. He would be named in honour of his famous great grand sire, UVM Flash and would be known from that day forward as "Trillium Flashdance.”
As the colt found unsteady support from his wavering long limbs, he clumsily bumped his way along his dam's sides and quarters, until he was rewarded with the warm nourishment from his mother's fulsome teats. Everything had appeared normal up to that point. The foaling went well, the colt seemed alert and inquisitive. He was up and moving with new found strength and improved equilibrium in every step. The mare was grateful for the relief from her aching and swollen udder, as the long suckling noises brought contentment and joy to a famished new member of the equine species.
It was not until the colt had had his fill of that all important protection of colostrum, or first milk, when he turned to greet his dotting human companion and something unusual was revealed. A soft cough was heard and a slow steady trickle of white fluid drained from his nostrils. As the colt returned to nurse at his mother's side, again the milk trickled from the nostrils and the spontaneous cough persisted. Alarm bells rang - something was terribly wrong!
The usual visit by the veterinarian was hastened this time when the observations of the new born colt were relayed. The arrival and diagnosis of the attending veterinarian set in motion an emergency plan of action. Within twenty-four hours, Flash and his mom were loaded into the now converted box stall in the spacious six horse trailer and were on route for a two hour journey to Large Animal Admissions at the University of Guelph (Equine Centre).
On May 30, Flash was examined by a battalion of veterinarians and surgeons. The endoscopic examination and diagnosis was that Flash had a soft cleft palate or incomplete closure affecting his windpipe and trachea. There were three options of choice available:  do nothing and let nature take its course; euthanize the colt, or surgery. Without surgery, he may not have survived and might quite possibly succumb to respiratory failure via pneumonia or infection. The time for surgery with the best prognosis, was now.
The decision we came to was to give this darling little fellow, a chance. So less than a week from his birth, Flash underwent his life-saving operation to repair his palate.  As with any surgery, there was no guarantee that the operation would be totally successful. Indicators of its success would be observed in his latter progression and rate of growth . There was no way of foretelling the fate of this little Morgan colt.
Flash came through his surgery well and after several days was finally allowed to come home. He would later return to Guelph for re-examination and evaluation. During the interim, special intensive care at home would have to be provided during his nearly two month convalescence. A daily journal was kept of all observations, temperature and treatment administered. These findings and readings were recorded every one to two hours with only a reprieve from note taking during the late night hours. Flash was closely monitored, the incision site medicated and protected against the constant onslaught of summer flies and dust; the antibiotics administered as instructed.
On July 21, Flash was re-admitted to Guelph for follow up evaluation. The report was positive. The repair to his palate appeared to have been ninety per cent successful. Now it was just a matter of time that would determine just how successful the surgery had been, remembering that the growth of the colt  was a strong determining factor.
During his first year that took him from weanling to yearling, Flash continued to be monitored for any signs of respiratory distress. He was gaining size too; another good omen and he began initial training in voice commands and longeing. Since it was not known for certain if the cleft palate had been a result of an undetectable in vitro viral infection, or that it was somehow heredity, it was decided that gelding Flash would at least safeguard against passing on a possible problem. (To date, this defect has never been seen in Flash's siblings or any other member of his family.)
In the spring of 1988, Flash caught the eye of a prospective buyer who visited the farm. Shortly thereafter, Flash was sold with a full discloser of his medical history. The now tall two year old continued to mature rapidly and was becoming a very pretty boy indeed. Flash bid farewell to the only home and family he knew, as he travelled to a new stable and a new life; everyone filled with excitement and promise. However, the final chapter to this story had not been written.
Just two years after his sale, and with a tone of distress in his new owner's voice, a disturbing phone call was received. She (the owner) had suffered an unfortunate accident being thrown to the ground during a wind storm, fracturing a vertebra. In hind sight, it was an accident that shouldn't have happened. Flash, a novice horse just newly put under saddle, had become the recipient of retaliation for his part in the incident. His attacker, someone ignorant in the knowledge of horses and handling, mistakenly presumed that the horse was the doer of bad deeds and was to blame for the injuries. So in the heat of the moment, Flash had been savagely beaten. The mere sight of a saddle and bridle now evoked a trembling frenzy within the horse that was not easily calmed.
His owner was deeply saddened by the unfortunate turn of events and just wanted to have her old Flash back. It would later take the better part of two months of intense conditioning and confidence building to bring Flash around to accept his tack, let alone a rider again. And so, Flash returned to his birthplace once more.
Although the somewhat over used popular term of the day, namely "horse whisperer," congers up connotations of mystical ways, I am reluctant to attached this label to myself. Whatever title you may want to bestow for my role and method of training is unimportant. There really is nothing magical about it, suffice to say that it involves a capacity for compassion, enormous patience and simple understanding of the horse's mind and circumstance. The journey of Flash's ascension from unbridled fear and despair would begin.
Those once healing hands that soothed his incision, the soft voice that gave him comfort during his young days of recuperation, would return to instill trust once again much as a kindred spirit. It was a daunting task to restore a frightened fragile mind to its former self, or closeness thereof. But little by little, Flash began to respond until his transformation was complete. All too soon, it was time to say goodbye yet again.
I can still remember the day they came for him. He was loaded into a pony trailer that was dwarfed by his now 15.2+ hand, 1,200 lbs. frame.  I had lent them a helmet to protect his poll from trauma as he willingly walked on the trailer, stooped, and travelled home in that position. Only unshakable confidence in his handler would allow him to enter such small confines and tolerate the ride in such cramped quarters.
Six years later, another desperate call would come. This time, Flash's owner's personal situation had become precarious and she feared that Flash might possibly become a target of violence once again. An urgent plea was made for us to try and find someone to lease Flash until her life could return to some normality and she could be reunited with her best friend. After several phone calls and attempts to secure a lease, Tanya, our junior rider at the time, entered the picture.
It was a cold windy day in late fall  when we first saw Flash grazing alone in a large open field with only sheep as his companions. It had been months since he had last been ridden, but the meeting went well and at the end of the visit, a signed lease was tucked safely in hand. The union between Flash and Tanya would become one of utter devotion. So once again, this time under stressful circumstances and with some trepidation on our part, Flash walked up the ramp and came home to Trillium.
Flash and Tanya would blossom not only physically, but in spirit, each giving one another a sense of worth; each learning that you can't always have your own way.   In summer, they would travel the show circuit and tranquillity of the woodland trails. They were good for each other, inseparable - every day growing and learning about themselves. For a teenager going through the typical mayhem of youth, Flash had become an anchor, something solid and secure to hold on to. Something you could believe in and would keep you focused.
As the lease formally came to an end, and Flash was to return home, more than a few tears moistened the cheeks of those involved with this horse. When it was learned that he had found a new owner and home, Tanya felt it difficult to accept that her beloved Flash would no longer be a part of her life. It took great courage for her to watch Flash and his new owner parade the show ring. (I'm certain that Tanya rode every stride of the class from the rail.)  But with maturity, Tanya soon accepted that Flash was loved too and being cared for as he should. Tanya can take pride in knowing that she in some small way contributed to his success.
So if by chance you wonder why all the hoopla and hollering that follows this majestic horse down the rail, the tri-colour hanging from his headstall dancing in the breeze of a victory pass,  just know that there is more behind the applause and cheers for a simple ribbon won. It's a celebration of struggle and accomplished that Flash has overcome and achieved.  He has touched many lives as he trotted a true path over a trail of past illness, abuse, misfortune and lost love. The title of champion befits him, not only for his great ability as a Morgan horse, but also for his dauntless courage. If we had it to do over again that Friday afternoon in May, as we reflected upon our options over a cup of coffee, the decision would probably be the same - we would do it "for the love of Flash".

HEAVY HAULERS (published)

The return to nature through improved forest management has renewed interest in the original workhorse of the woods. Log hauling by horse has been practised for hundreds of years. Their giant presence and muffled hoof beats through dense forestation, is a welcome sight once again. These horses know the meaning of tolerance, fortitude and obedience.  It is dangerous and calculating hard work.  

Tree Roots of the Past

During the late 1800’s and the beginning of the 20th century, the heavy horse in the logging camps and on the slick stone riverbeds, was considered king of the timberlands. A team of draft once hauled a titanic load of 306 logs on a skid weighing 30 tons. Once the load was started, the team dug deep and low and pushed into their collars along a polished road of glare ice. Although not the norm, the sure power of these great beasts, dwarfed only by the enormous mountain of logs, was recorded and captured on celluloid that day at a lumber camp in Webbwood, Ontario in the winter of 1916.   

Not only were draft horses required to haul logs from the dense brush, others were asked to swim and wade through rivers and fast flowing streams. Behind the common sight of a trio of draft in harness, lay a seventy-foot scow loaded with five to seven tons of timber. Horses selected for this dangerous job were chosen for their courage and swimming ability. Drownings were not uncommon if the horse was not suitable or up to the challenge. Vigorous training at a young age made the difference for survival of the water log horse.  

The average logging camp of the past meant portaging supplies over very rough and difficult terrain. A typical camp of 100 men and 20 horses would consume 1,700 pounds of food and fodder every single day. The hard work meant large appetites for both man and beast alike.

The Modern Day Teamster

Not much has changed over the years for the draft horse in the woods. Today, only 100 or so loggers practise these logging techniques across the vast Canadian wilderness. One of these rare breeds of naturalist loggers is Cec Andrus who works in harmony with his Belgium-cross Gelding, Jack. He and his seven year old partner are employed twelve months of the year. It’s a solitary life in the bush that both seem to enjoy. Cec, a transplanted Nova Scotian, speaks with ease in the friendly down-home persona of “the coaster”, as he gives a little history lesson on the region he is skidding logs out of.

In one Haliburton region of northern Ontario, known as Old Kenesis Lake Saw Mill, 150,000,000 boards were taken from that forest over a period of 25 years. (A board measures 1’Wx1’Lx1” thick.)  That translates into an enormous amount of timber for a relatively small mill. With the advent of larger mills and modern heavy equipment in the 1970s, cuttings of the forests were well in excess of 50 million feet annually. Today, better forest management is aimed at controlling some of the past systematic raping of forest. Since some variety of hardwood trees have a 75-year growing rate to maturity, replenishing the forest may take a whole generation to accomplish.

Selective Harvesting

Prior to hauling timber from the bush, determining the size of the area for prospective culling is undertaken using a prism or measuring tool. With the help of the prism, an area is mapped out and the trees for cutting are marked with fluorescent paint. Old, dying and diseased trees are chosen first, followed by a select group of more healthy and mature trees. The horse and teamster can manage terminally cankerous or expired trees that are not accessible with modern logging equipment from soft shorelines and frozen lake frontage, both economically and skilfully. By limiting the harvest of these trees, it aids in the prevention of soil erosion, while allowing for more natural light to filter into the forest seedbeds, creating room for future trees to grow.

Unlike the destructive forces brought on by modern automated skidders and heavy logging equipment, the horse and teamster minimize the disturbance to the forest. The sacrificial scarring of healthy trees left in the wake of machinery activity is eliminated. Two years after a horse has logged an area, there is virtually no evidence of its presence. The forestlands remain in tact and are rejuvenated with new growth.

Hazards of the Forest

With the last fitting of the trace to the stout whiffletree, Cec readies his hardhat and ear protectors for the trip into the forest. The work harness is not fancy. It is durable and simple with the open bridle fitted over the halter, as a loose ring snaffle hangs in Jack’s mouth awaiting direction. Jack is turned towards the crude path leading to the cutting site as the chainsaw swings loosely from the metal hames that guide the lines on his work collar.   

Jack steps carefully over the protruding rock and underbrush slow and methodical as he makes his way. He lowers his massive head as he travels under an overhanging limb. Cec keeps a constant vigil surveying the woods for “silent killers”. This is the term given to broken branches that hang perilously from treetops during cutting. Serious injury to horse and handler, even death, awaits them with these dismembered tree limbs. The slight shake of a tree or sudden gust of wind can dislodge these branches from their resting place, sending them hurling to the ground, sometimes hitting their target with deadly accuracy.

Jack scrapes his hind cannon bone on a sharp twig that snaps in protest under his hoof. Unperturbed by the sudden sting and superficial scrape to his leg, Jack pushes deeper into the forest and ever-advancing brush.

Beautiful landscapes, but at times treacherous, Jack has to manoeuvre the steep inclines making switchbacks to accomplish the laborious journey as he works towards the pinnacle of the hill moving from side to side. Precise, defining steps, Jack drags the whiffletree as it reluctantly snags its way along. Loose rock falls away beneath his flat wide hooves. The toe grabs and heel calks dig deep into the soil to give Jack added stability. He reaches the clearing, barely breaking a sweat. The huge hulk of his body suffers from the endless onslaught of deer flies and mosquitoes, leaving huge quarter-size welts along his neck and shoulders. Unlike the draft horses used in farming, the logging horse is spared from the procedure of tail docking (removing the tail). Here in the wild country, the horse needs every measure of protection against the elements. Its fly swatting tail, long flowing mane and nose-touching forelock are a necessity.

In early spring, black flies tore relentlessly at his flesh during the long days in the bush. Sprays and repellents provided little protection in the bug battle zone of the woods. Jack shakes his enormous head in defiance. Still he stands patiently waiting to begin his daily task.

 Because some areas are not conducive for long-lining, the logging horse must often work without the direction of lines. It solely depends on guidance delivered by the teamster through voice commands: “Gee” for right; “Haw” for left. The integrate manoeuvres the horse makes while hauling a log to the landing site is truly amazing. Not only do these compact, low set horses work from voice, they often work at speed, trotting or cantering down a hill without hooking the log on an unmoveable rock or tree along its often self-determining route. These equine journeymen of the forest are remarkable athletes on to themselves.

The roar and hum of the chainsaw breaks the silence of the forest as the tree is felled and prepared for hauling as the last wrap of the chain is fitted to the log. After eight hours of hard work with a dozen trees hauled from the thick underbrush, it is time to call it a day.

The horses are corralled in a makeshift paddock, protected by the resonating tick of a portable shock box that pulses an electrical charge on the string of wire surrounding the horses. It is their only protection against the stalking night predators of bear, wolf and coyote packs, mountain lion, and lynx. Still the horses herd together and continue to feed contently into the restful night. The reassuring “tick – tick” from the box stands guard to sting any uninvited guests.

The medicinal smell of liniment permeates the sharp crisp air. Fuelling their depleted energy reserves, the horse drops his head into his large filled grain bucket. Two gallons of a molasses oat and corn ration, ten gallons of clear spring water and a round bale of sweet hay, slowly restore the horses’ vigour. The soft chomping sound of the horse at rest is a welcoming sound as dusk approaches and the sun fades into darkness.      

Horse logging in winter carries an added burden of risk with the slippery footing and hidden rocks to navigate. Soft cavernous snow now strains every sinew and fibre of muscle as the teamster and his horse are hampered and delayed with the slow progress.

The teamster must be cautious when it pioneers an uncharted slope. It is here that the horse is tested for obedience and strength. The horse must be focused on the voice commands it is given. “Whoa” is perhaps the single most important word the horse must respond to in its limited dictionary of words it has come to know. The teamster must watch with intensity, every step that horse takes as a log weighing hundreds of pounds slides along. One misstep in judgment on the part of the teamster could spell disaster and serious injury.

When harvesting hardwoods, such as oak, maple and hemlock from the forest, a team of horses is most often required. This timber is extremely heavy and difficult to haul. Matching a team of horses that will work in unison is essential.

The Partnership

Life as a logger brings one back to the roots of this land. The precious eco system we have all come to enjoy, can only be enhanced and preserved by the use of the horse. The masterful teamster is one of compassion for his horse. He harbours a great passion for the stewardship of the forest. The teamster is a conservationist, naturalist and loyal partner with his horse. It is a life that is filled with the simple pleasures and beauty of the land that is shared equally with the horse. We owe a debt of gratitude to these heavy haulers that guard and manage our timberlands for generations to come.


The sacred sanctity of the night is quickly disturbed with the harsh shrill of a pager resting by the nightstand. Harry unwillingly tries to focus with one eye on the illuminated clock. He fumbles for his reading glasses and turns on the stabbing light as he presses the offending device into a muted state. The old collie whines and howls in distress and is comforted by a reassuring pat. It is 1:13 a.m. and the answering service has summoned him from his peaceful sweet serenity.

He calls for his message and a brief report on the case at hand. He dials the client’s number from a scribbled unintelligible writing only he can decipher. The rings go unanswered, with the phone abandoned by the farmer now in the stable. The farmer assumes the veterinarian will arrive at his beckoning call within minutes. No need to waste time sitting the by the phone as the farmer rationalizes.

There is no such thing as a typical night call. Most often it is a cattle call for milk fever, a hard calving, horse foaling or colic. An injured saddle horse after a summer evening’s ride of misfortune or a fence encounter in a pasture is also commonplace.

Feeling the effects of sleep deprivation, he wanders to the bathroom. His jaw widens in protest with a stubborn prolonged yawn. He washes the sleep from his face and runs a comb through his equally tired locks of graying hair. He pulls on the freshly laundered coveralls; grabs the keys to his four- wheel Jeep and walks into the coolness of the night air.

With a feeble attempt a slight wandering hand clicks off the nightstand light. His slender wife recoils to a semi-fetal position, as she hugs the pillow. She wonders for a moment, how long this call will take or even if her husband will see the sheets of a warm comforting bed before dawn. She worries at times, for the emergency calls carry personal risk. It could be a night of freezing rain or a howling snowstorm with no plows on duty to clear the way. It may even be a driving rainstorm with lightning briefly showing the way with its angry flashes of light. A deer may appear over the hill in the haunting darkness of country road or a sudden curve on an unfamiliar route give cause for concern as the Jeep rolls and jives to the pitch of the road.  He grabs the shifter with his toughened hands that bear the deep cuts from dryness and weather, guarded only by tape. His hands resemble the roughness and imperfection of fresh hewn logs. Strong and determined hands, yet gentle, searching and caring. Above all else, these hands are his greatest tools in healing. Hands not pampered or absent from hard physical work or protected from the elements of nature. He slips the Jeep into gear with intention.

His practice covers 60 miles from one boundary to another and includes two clinic locations. The active clientele averages 5,000 large animals alone. The practice is split evenly with fifty percent cattle, sheep, pigs, goats; the remaining fifty percent being horses of all breeds, disciplines and purpose. He treats exotic pets, including llamas, emus and ostrich. Ailments can be seasonal. Eighty percent of the spring and summer months' emergency calls are dedicated to horses. In winter cattle demand more attention for urgent care.

There are two other veterinarians that share the large animal clients and three small animal veterinarians on site. The workload is burdening with only one weekend off in three and alternating weekend shifts, standbys, as well as two or three evenings during the weekdays that he must cover. It is not a nine-to-five job but a 24-hour service. Vacation time is rare in this profession and burnout can be a serious side effect.

He is also the official veterinarian at the local racetrack for the Sunday racing card. He inspects the horses as they do their token jog by on their way to the paddock for saddling. Groomers in hand nod their heads in recognition with greetings of “hello doc.”  “Trot that bay by again please” he asks. This time with a more even gait, Harry gives his approval for the groom to continue to the saddling area.

As the horses begin to warm up on the track for the post parade, Harry takes his place with the trainers and race crew. He bumps along unceremoniously in the back of a pick-up that rolls quickly and without caution over the untamed grassy strip that follows the rail and dirt track. As race veterinarian his duty is to bear witness at the starting gate for each race to ensure the wellbeing of the horses. It is here nervous energy can spill over into jeopardy as the taut muscles and eager minds wait for the starter’s bell to release them. This is the place where accidents are most likely to occur and not in the stretch run. Harry is also required for post-race inspection. When injuries do occur, many are catastrophic and ultimately fatal for the horses.   

As the Jeep groans and bumps along following the landscape of the gravel road, Harry ponders what might be required in the next hour. With a new supply of inventory of medicines packed securely in the Jeep, he wonders what working conditions he will find this night.

He doesn’t always have the luxury of kneeling over an animal in the comfort of a deep bedded stall sheltered by stonewalls. Sometimes he points his Jeep to the roundup terrain of a dew-covered pasture. As he bends over a cow in the dampness of the night, the Jeep’s headlights provide the emergency lighting as he struggles to right a yet unborn calf. In wintertime, his only mode of transportation may be a Ski Doo that meets him at the farmer’s gate, waiting to take him to his place of need. In many instances you have to be inventive.

He may also arrive for a colic with a horse down and cast in a stall. Sometimes, only a flashlight provides meager assistance with his stethoscope firmly placed and a pocket light searching the distressed eye of the horse.

Wearing the telltale signs of sticky red stains from a late night emergency with a hard calving, he sighs. This night it was a cow suffering from the ill effects of milk fever and in hard labour with twins, complicated by a breach for one and a backward twisted leg on the other. He manages to save the cow, but the calves do not survive. He is pumped and alert as he wheels the Jeep around and heads home. One last bend in the road and the Jeep crunches the gravel of the driveway beneath its worn-treads. Soon the welcoming warmth of his home will be his again, as he prepares to retire to his bed. The curse of the pager announces yet another crisis. He heads out the door muttering his disapproval only to be lost to the silence and solitude of the night.

Finally his work is over as he longs to close his faltering eyelids and shut them for some much-needed rest. However, unlike other jobs, he cannot afford the luxury of sleeping in or calling in sick when illness takes hold. Six-thirty comes early this morning. There are chores to do before he makes his way to the clinic and begins another day. This will be a short night of sleep for him, an all too often occurrence.

Dressed, sitting pensive and weary in thought, he sips quietly on his refreshing orange juice. He spies the creamy yogurt before him and savors the taste for a few seconds of utter delight and relaxation. His health conscious breakfast now over, he moves his chair away from the table and prepares to feed his menagerie of animals.

With regularity, they eagerly anticipate his morning visits. Three cats who are a little too heavy even for a vet’s pet; two rather spoiled retired show jumping horses and a 150 or so fancy birds, racing pigeons and flying Tipplers, along with one lone peacock and two farm dogs. They greet him with coos, wagging tails, prancing paws and nickers from the stable. Oh to be so popular even if it is only cupboard love. Still he’s content knowing their needs have been met for at least this moment, as they munch away without concern or even acknowledgement of his presence now.

Back in the personal confines of his familiar Jeep he is slowly feeling the effects of his nightly rounds. The nagging ache of a recent injury to his shoulder inflicted by an ill- tempered cow reminds him not to be complacent in his duties today. He reaches uneasily for his seatbelt, turns the ignition; clutches and thrusts the stick into first gear.

As the clock in his jeep registered 8:00 o’clock, he rolls into the parking lot of his clinic. Henry, the lordly cat, strolls by indifferent to his visit. He turns the corner to his office and begins to review the papers laid neatly in a pile beside his appointment book open to the day.

He scans several laboratory reports for work done previously and returns his client’s calls advising them of post-mortem results he had found the previous day or the written verification of prognosis from the laboratory.

It is not a given to plan one’s day in an orderly fashion as emergencies are always a priority. The lines on his telephone flash with impatience as he answers one call after another. Soon his appointment book looks like a jumbled mess of notes with a sidebar of ticklers to remind him of important actions. This could be one of those days when he may have as many as 14 calls. After surmising from the various ailments of his patients as described by their owners he is scheduled to see today, he checks his supplies and restocks his portable medicine chest with the appropriate medium.

Harry’s first call of the day takes him to an elderly client whose two year old cow has been non-responsive to drug treatment for a period of time now. The old farmer keeps a few beef cattle on his treasured farm, long since the days when it was a bustling dairy operation. The tidy pens and barns stand in tribute to the pride of the farmer’s care. Harold, the farmer, dismounts from the rattle-rattle of his tractor and ushers Harry in to examine his sick cow once again.

He knows the prognosis is not good. Still the kind-hearted farmer doesn’t want to give in to what will most likely be the inevitable. The heifer is not just any cow to him. She has become the pet, ambassador of better, healthier days for both of them.  He knows that the cow's fibrous lungs, damaged from the prolonged illness of pneumonia will only respond briefly to the concoction of drugs administered to her this morning. Harry examines the cow and prepares his intravenous cocktail. He finds the jugular vein inserting the needle and holding the bottle of fluids with a raised arm. With wonderment in their eyes a horde of kittens appear intent on exploring the case of bottles, tubes and an assortment of syringes in his open medicine bag. Harold chats with Harry who is anxious to make his round of calls before noon. Even so he doesn’t rush, and spends a few moments reminiscing with the worried farmer to help ease his anguish. Knee-high black rubbers washed and sanitized are stashed away in the back of the Jeep. He heads down the road for his next call.

As he feels the road with the steering wheel and navigates a sharp bend he comes upon a rollover. The blind curves of these rural roads make for hazardous driving to the foreigner. He takes note of the damage and cluster of people working to clear the wreckage as he drives by. A couple of horses are on his list this morning to re-check.

The first patient is a 20 something Thoroughbred that is recovering from a slight bow. The owner has been keeping it wrapped for support and quiet from the freedom of a large open field and fellow hoodlums in the herd. It looks good, and no further treatment other than time is recommended.

His next visit brings him back to the little Appaloosa gelding that re-injured his left hind cannon bone. The dramatic presentation of proud flesh is examined once the bandages are carefully removed. The owner has been diligent in her care giving. Her efforts are rewarded with the cleanliness of the wound now healing for the second time. Still she agonizes over the possibility of the leg scarring on her future show prospect. Harry brings her back to reality in what is best for the horse. A bump on the leg from scar tissue is minor in the overall scheme of things. Somewhat guilt ridden over the vanity suggested towards the show arena, she is satisfied to have a functional horse in the end. The bandage is reapplied and Harry departs the stable for his next call.

He picks up the handset of his two-way radio and announces into the speaker “2102 to 2100”. A voice responds on the other end. As he clicks the button down, he asks “any change?” the reply is “negative.” He shifts the Jeep into third gear and continues on his way.

 He arrives at a busy riding stable to examine a few more horses before returning to the clinic. He steps out into the choking road dust that now clings to the Jeep like a dirty brown blanket. He lifts the heavy case of medicine from the back of his vehicle that shows no mercy to his aching shoulder. Harry no sooner enters the stable than an anxious owner asks him to examine her mare if he has time.  Not a scheduled appointment, he bows to her wishes. But first he must see the pony with the injured eye.

The gray pony is summoned and walks cautiously down the aisle. Suspicious of the man in coveralls, Harry takes his time to reassure the little horse that he is here to help. The eye is ulcerated and the owner is advised to administer a prescribed eye ointment and to keep the pony indoors away from the stinging rays of the bright sunlight.

He moves on to vaccinate a finicky show horse that is rather reluctant to the needle. With good aim and swiftness directed at his target, the needle penetrates without too much reaction. One more shot and it’s all over for another year.

Finally he walks to the stall where the paint mare has evidence of heavily soiled quarters. The owner is concerned that something is amiss in the mare’s delicate condition. She worries that the mare has slipped her foal. He reaches for a long sleeved glove and prepares to do a rectal examination on the mare. Much to the owner’s relief, she is confirmed to be still carrying her foal and dismisses the dark yellow stained quarters as nothing more than some loose manure. Returning to the solitude of his Jeep he points the vehicle towards the clinic.

Harry re-stocks his case with the used drugs he administered and checks his desk for more appointments. He returns phone calls before heading off to make one last call before lunch. He grabs his favourite drink (Coke) from the refrigerator and turns the ignition key in the Jeep. He makes his way to a dairy farm to look in on a three-quarter mastitis case, a veterinary term meaning three of four teats infected..

It is a stifling hot day as he relishes the relief from the heat in his climate controlled Jeep. Record breaking temperatures have been playing out for the past three weeks now, with drought conditions day after day. Nature is cruel to the sick animals under his care. In some cases, the heat stresses these animals to the point of no return. Exhaust fans are working overtime in the barns these days, as farmers and stable managers try to provide some comfort to their sweltering livestock.

He comes prepared to infuse two other cows and treat the ominous case of escherichia coli in the one cow. The farm has a large herd of Holstein cattle and the sick cow with the urgent case of mastitis is his first patient.

Leslie the cow registered 103 F degrees on the thermometer. Her respiration has increased as he prepares medication. Harry administers Oxymycin, Dextrose and Vitamaster, a litre of hypertonic saline, 15 cc of Anafen and four litres of electrolytes. The treatment would later prove to be in vain.

With the other two cows infused with a bridine solution for a suspicious uterine infection, his stomach growls in protest as he breaks for lunch. Harry takes a juicy ripe plum from his pack of snacks and checks his wristwatch. It is now 1:10 p.m.

Back in the comfort of his home he prepares a simple meal. Famished, he feeds his hunger with slices of fresh tomatoes, seasoned and placed between two slices of bread and drinks a large glass of milk to toast the rest of the day. Just 30 minutes of reprieve from his duties his pager rings. Before he pulls away in his chariot of wheel and steel, he looks skyward searching the air for his Tipplers he released earlier. He counts their numbers hoping a prey-seeking hawk has not made a meal out of one of the babies.

This time it is an old mare writhing in pain from a previous day’s colic. His partner had seen the horse initially and forewarned him that he might expect another call.    

He comes prepared for the worst. As he accelerates into fourth gear, he questions in his mind the wisdom of owners who want to be present for that fatal injection. It is those owners who can’t be consoled and yet stay for the euthanasia he can’t understand. They sometimes endanger themselves when attempting to comfort their dying horse. The horse will fall heavily to the ground without warning or direction as the deadly effects of the injection grips the last remaining life from the horse. He prefers that the owner isn’t there at the end but carries the memory of the horse standing in better times. It is that final scene that he feels will haunt the owners for years to come, rather than give them closure and comfort. He knows all too well from personal experiences.

He arrives on the scene only to realize his worst fears for this horse. He begins his somber examination with care and compassion.The little girl sobs uncontrollably desperately wanting to help her dying horse. She is unable to accept the fate of her equine friend. Her mother flounders for the right words and correct diagnosis of the situation that such young ears and mind can comprehend. The small black mare fights on courageously staying on her feet, heaving in vain with groans of pain and excursion trying to relieve the horrendous cramp and bloat of a suspected twisted bowel.   

Her vitals tell the sad tale. Her heart rate is over 100 BPM, respiration 60 BMP and climbing. Her body temperature is falling below a normal 99.0 F; her clammy wet skin, dull tortured eyes and bluish gray gums spell circulatory failure. The hollow pinging sound of an air filled abdomen when the sides are tapped and the audio record from a stethoscope, gives rise to the fact that a deadly twist is probable. It’s all there in the clinical signs. Although a merciful death by injection is the most humane thing to do, an owner’s wish to save their horse is hard to relinquish. Saying goodbye is perhaps one of the toughest tests of our humanity and so it should be.  

Finally, the agreement to end this horse’s misery is reached. Still the young girl wraps her arms around the neck of her beloved friend who is mercifully quiet now thanks to the veterinarian’s assistance. Harry picks up the spent syringes and walks away in silence, leaving the owners to their sobs and tears in private.

 As he prepares to take his next scheduled call, he broods about past experiences such as this. It is these painful images that make his job difficult for those animals that take a turn for the worst, regardless of the cocktails of drugs and treatment given. It is so disappointing and yes, sad. Sometimes it simply is not enough. Perhaps it could have been preventable with a little more knowledge on the part of the client and loosening of the purse strings of the more frugal owner. “Penny wise and pound foolish” is the phrase that comes to mind as help has been delayed and the consequences become a sad lesson.

On occasion client’s grief and nagging conscience is targeted at the veterinarian who couldn’t save their animal. It is often easier for the owner to lay blame, than to accept the mortality of an animal under their own personal care. The owner may struggle through the emotional strain of a tragedy that they could not salvage, even with professional medical intervention. Veterinarians are human too. Harry subconsciously strokes his beard and wonders to himself if it is really worth it, being in the profession he has chosen. Then he remembers the near miraculous recoveries of those that have defied the odds, despite the ignorance of some owners or the challenge of the disease itself. He smiles. Yes, that is why I became a vet, he acknowledges.

He still has a battery of calls ahead of him before dinner. The Jeep will need to be fueled; the clinic called for an update, and an emergency just around the corner. At least tonight he can stay home as his partner takes over the night shift.