Friday, February 27, 2009

On Feeding

I've been meaning to do a post, or several posts, on how we feed our horses, but in the meantime, please check out the excellent post on feeding by Melissa of Paradigm Farms Horse Retirement.  This is the second of her posts on feeding, and both posts are thoughtful and practical.  She has particular experience with senior horses, but her thoughts are also applicable to all our horses.  She also has posted on pasture management, which is another topic I hope to post on - perhaps once we have pastures again!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

For Friends

Thank you so much to All Things Horses for bestowing this wonderful award on this blog - I'm a newcomer to the blog world and have been enjoying all the many wonderful blogs, and new friends, to be found there.

"These blogs are exceedingly charming.  These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends.  They are not interested in self-aggrandizement.  Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated.  Please give more attention to these writers.  Deliver this award to eight bloggers who must choose eight more and include this cleverly-written text into the body of their award."
Here are a few blogs (and friends) you should visit, if you aren't already doing so:

Horses of Follywoods

Grey Horse Matters

Noble Ridge Farm

Paradigm Farms Horse Retirement

Buckskin and Bay

Javas Barn

Zion Farm Equine Retirement

Glenshee Equestrian Centre
Thank you to all my blog friends who have left comments and thoughts, and thanks too to those who visit and read even if you don't comment!

A Little Ride

Yesterday, the temperature got to 50F, although it was pretty windy.  Maisie and I went for a little ride with Charisma.  My goal for the ride was, again, relaxation - to have Maisie walk without rushing on a loose rein, with relaxation.

This time we had the advantage of having another trail companion, and the disadvantage that Charisma was very "up" - wanting to walk very fast and to make a beeline for home at the earliest opportunity.  At some points, Charisma gave little bucks and spooks, and did a lot of pulling on her reins.  Maisie did very well through all of this.  Every time she started to get a little excited, or go too fast, or start jigging, she relaxed again when I asked her to.  We arrived back at the barn with a loose rein and sufficiently relaxed demeanor, so instead of asking her to do more, I got right off and put her away to reward her for doing what I had asked her to do.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

On the Trail Again - Ride the Horse You Have Today

Today it was actually in the mid-30sF, although a bit windy.  Since it was the nicest day we're likely to have for the rest of the week, I took Maisie for a trail ride.  This was her first trail ride alone since last year.  My goal for the ride was relaxation - to have her move at a regular walk, on a loose rein, and remain relaxed.  As things turned out, that goal was a bit too ambitious for today.

Here we are starting across the field behind the barn.

And here we are on the trail heading away from home.

For each of these photos, we stopped and Maisie stood on a loose rein while I took the photo.  So far, so good.  She was forward, but relaxed, and we were able to walk on a loose rein.  

As we turned for home, Maisie stayed relaxed for a while.  Then she wanted to pick up the pace, so I asked her to soften and slow, which she did.  We did this several times.  Then we got closer to home and she wanted to jig, so we did serpentines, which sometimes helps to relax her.  She got more tense, and, although she continued to soften when I asked her, her hind end wanted to go faster than we were going.  When this happens, she is inclined to start doing leaps and small round-backed bucks.  I can ride through this sort of thing, but I don't have anything to prove and think that if a horse gets to the point of a meltdown it's a bad experience and doesn't teach the horse anything useful.

Mark Rashid has a saying that applies to this - "ride the horse you have today".  While it's important to have a plan for what you want to accomplish, if the horse's mental or physical condition or other circumstances make that impossible without a fight, change your plans and work with what the horse presents you.

So, as Maisie was thinking about beginning to buck and leap, I had at least two choices - turn in tight circles or get off and work from the ground.  I generally try to avoid tight circles with Maisie, as she has some stifle issues, and in addition the footing was slippery.  So I asked her to stand still, and got off.

She was very nervous, so we worked on leading up and down the trail, stopping, standing and backing softly.  By the end of our session, she was still nervous but walking quietly on a loose rein just even with my shoulder.  Maisie is big enough (16.2) and I'm old enough that I can't easily remount from the ground, so we continued to work until we got back to the barn.

When one of my horses has an issue where I decide to dismount, I always try to get back on at some point during my ride.  I took Maisie back to the mounting block and we worked for a few minutes on our mounting.  I ask my horses to come up to the mounting block, stop at the correct place and stand on a loose rein, without my needing to direct or hold them.  Maisie did a good job on this.  Then we went back on the trail in a different direction, with my goal of relaxation back in operation.  She was walking nicely on a loose rein, and about 100 yards from the barn she gave a deep sigh - relaxation!  We went a few more yards, turned and walked calmly back to the barn on a loose rein.

That's what I consider a successful ride, where we took advantage of what happened to work on an issue, with a successful resolution - not necessarily the original plan, but still a success.  I learned that I need to be more gradual in my goals for our going on the trail again, but I know that very soon Maisie will be back to being comfortable trail-riding alone wherever I take her.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Dominance Games

Today things were a bit quieter with the gelding herd.  Fred and Fritz mostly stayed to themselves, and Joe, Noble and Scout kept together.  Occasionally there would be forays between groups - Fred seemed less concerned to herd Fritz away from the others, and Fritz seemed somewhat interested in approaching them.  Fred was just more comfortable in general.

The interesting thing about the herd dynamics right now has to do with the history the horses have together, combined with the reintroduction.  When Fritz, Joe and Noble were in a herd together before (Scout was not part of that herd), Fritz was the alpha, although not a very pushy one.  In the small heard of Joe, Noble and Scout, Joe is the alpha, and Noble is a somewhat aggressive beta.  I've often noticed that the beta is more aggressive towards the other horses in the herd than the alpha - it's almost as if the beta is the enforcer.  This is certainly true in our mare herd - Lily is the unquestioned alpha, who just has to walk towards another mare for that mare to move quickly away, while Dawn is our very aggressive beta.  Anyway, since both Joe and Fritz have been alphas, they still need to figure out who's alpha now.  Geldings seem to struggle with this pecking order issue more than mares, who would have figured everything out in about 30 minutes and gone back to eating.

At one point today, Joe and Fritz stood parallel to each other, facing in opposite directions, but about 20 feet apart.  They both pawed the ground and screamed, and then walked away in opposite directions - I think they were displaying their power to each other - perhaps the strength of one's bellow helps them figure out who is dominant.  This is a little like the mare dominance display that I call the "high kick", where two mares contesting for the top slot will engage in a high kicking contest, but not close enough to each other to actually connect.  It looks like a display of power.

Noble was doing his beta thing, occasionally running at Fred and Fritz with his ears pinned, and driving them away.  So it's hard to see how the Joe/Fritz/Noble dynamic will shake out in the end.  Fred, as before, will probably be subordinate, as will Scout, who's the baby of the herd.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Old Noble

Here is one of my horses you haven't met yet.  This is Noble, who will be 29 in May - it's hard to believe when you look at him.  He has some arthritis, and he told me last summer that he doesn't want to be ridden anymore, so I am not riding him any longer.