Monday, March 30, 2009

Coyotes, Birds and Spring(?)

This morning as I was walking to the barn, I saw a coyote gallop out of the geldings' dry lot, across the road in front of me and up the hill across the way.  We have several styles of coyote - this one was medium sized, fawn/grey in color and looked to be healthy - he or she had a nice coat.  We sometimes have large, husky dog looking coyotes that I suspect may be dog crosses, and there are also small ones that look almost foxlike.  Earlier this winter we had a young coyote that would bed down in the hay next to the round bale holders at night.  When I would turn out my first pair of horses, we would wake him up - first you'd just see the ears sticking up out of the hay, then he or she would stand up and trot off.  One morning he was on the far side of the round bale, and didn't see us - Lily went out to eat at the bale, became very alert, started to trot and drove the coyote out of the dry lot!  We haven't seen that coyote for several months now.

With the snow on the ground, the killdeers are bewildered.  They may have already laid eggs, and were plaintively running around in the dry lots this morning looking for their nests.  This happened last year, but they renested and didn't have any trouble raising at least one brood.  We don't have a shortage of killdeers.

Even though there is snow and ice everywhere, it still feels like spring - perhaps it's the angle of the sun.  The snow is melting fast.  While I was working at my desk this morning, I saw a pair of goldfinches drinking where the downspout directs the meltwater from the roof.  The goldfinches (at least the males) look odd now - they are midway between their winter and summer plumages and look somewhat patchy.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

It's Back!

The "it" that is back is winter!  I walked to the barn this morning in a howling wind, with the snow blowing horizontally.  There were places in the barn parking lot where it was over my tall rubber boots, and there was a 3 foot drift against the north barn door.  I think we got about 5 inches or so, but it's hard to tell.  It's that extremely heavy, wet snow that immediately packs into ice.

After I fed the horses and cleaned one of my stalls, the snowing slowed down enough that I could turn Lily, Maisie and Dawn out - there was a lot of rolling and cavorting.  Dawn was a little dubious about the wind, but she has her fleece cooler on under her sheet so she decided she was OK.  Noble went out for about 10 minutes and then thought better of it.  I brought him back in and he seems content.  Norman doesn't care where he is as long as there is food, so I left him in.  The other boarders are on their own today - it's owner turnout day - for which I'm grateful, as I think one more tromp through the heavy snow would do it for me.

It'll be one of those days when even the barefoot horses will have ice balls in their feet when we bring them in - of course Dawn just came out of her ice shoes which will make it worse.  

Now for some tea and a hot bath!  I'm dreaming of spring.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Owls in the Night

Last night, in the middle of the night, I heard the soft hooting of a Great Horned Owl.  There are several nesting pairs nearby - I know of a pair in the tall evergreens near the barn, and I believe there is also a pair in the enormous spruce in the grove behind our house.  The owlets were probably hatched in February, although I haven't seen any yet.

We often hear them hooting in the night - they like to sit on our roof, or one of our neighbors' roofs, to hunt mice, voles or rabbits (or the stray house cat) in the open fields nearby.  We sometimes see evidence of their hunting - bits of fur - although this can also be due to the hunting activity of coyotes.

They are magnificent birds, and when you see them fly at dusk their wings make no sound at all.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Fritz and His Harem

Several of the mares are in heat - the first strong spring heat.  Misty, who has had two foals, has particularly strong heats - she only wants to talk to a stallion (or to a gelding, which is the best she's going to find around here).  For the past several days, she and Sugar, and Dawn until today (she's no longer interested), have been hanging around by the fence line between the dry lots, doing much displaying of their interest.  We have electric on both sides of the fence line, so contact is limited.

Fritz has been taking great interest in the mares - acting quite "studly" - prancing, snorting, tail swishing and parading up and down the fence line.  I'm not sure he or the "harem" ate any hay yesterday, they were so busy conversing.  He's also been doing some other stallion-like behaviors that aren't normal for him.  Yesterday I saw him charge at Scout at a full gallop from half-way across the dry lot, with ears pinned and teeth bared.  I guess he thinks Scout is the only credible rival in our otherwise senior gelding herd.  He drove Scout, who kicked out and then, in his confusion at this unseemly behavior by Fritz, galloped at high speed 3 or 4 times around the dry lot, giving bucks from time to time.  On one other chase, Fritz slipped and fell down in the hay next to the round bale holder - he was uninjured.

As a result of these antics, Fritz came in last night with cuts on both forearms - I expect from kicks.  We cleaned these up - they were mostly superficial.  This morning they were weepy in a good, wound-healing way - I hosed them clean.  Only one is at all deep, and we'll keep an eye on them.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Eagle Nest Webcam; Rainy Day Monday

It's another rainy day Monday - blustery, raw and spitting rain.  So it was one of those rainsheet-all-the-horses days, which adds some time to my morning routine.  The horses were still delighted to go out - the new grass is just starting to come up - and due to the wind and cold, they were doing a lot of frisking.  It was fun to watch the trotting, rolling, snorting and pawing.  The boys, particularly Fritz, are spending a lot of time up by the fence with the mares' dry lot - as the mares are starting to come into heat.  We have electric between the dry lots, but if the horses are careful and stretch their necks just so, they can touch noses at the very bottom of the fence.  I could hear Dawn giving squeals as she touched noses with Fritz!  But the grass prevailed, for now, and they went their separate ways.

A friend just forwarded me a fascinating link - it's from California and is a live webcam of a bald eagle's nest - two of the eggs have just hatched.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Lil Chill Pill

It was quite cold this morning - low 20sF - but sunny and with little wind.  There was a lot of frost as well.  Lily was calm when I fed her, but as I got ready to turn horses out, she started screaming and bolting around the paddock, with lots of head-snaking and tail swishing.  I usually turn her out in the first pair, but this morning decided to let her chill out and calm herself down before I tried to handle her.

So I turned out all the mares, and then the first pair of geldings.  By then, she had calmed down and even was picking at her hay.  She haltered OK and we did some head-down and backing.  I was able to lead her out on a loose lead - she stayed at or behind my shoulder, which is what I wanted.  I did hear a few tail swishes but ignored that since she was behaving.

When we got to the gate, and I let her go, she did her "drop-the-butt-and-bolt-from-the-gate" maneuver, and chased all the other mares around the round bale just to show them who's boss!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Noble Photo

Since I've been posting about Noble, here's a picture from a month or so ago of the handsome devil - I always think his ears look like commas!

His soreness is improved - the lady who does our PM bring-in and feeding reported that he was walking better and even trotted a bit when he was coming to the gate!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Noble Progress

Jean at Horses of Follywoods had a good suggestion on how to help Noble feel better - she thought it might be his neck, and that stretches might help.  I did some of that last night and also did some massage, looking for knots and crampy spots.  And, in fact, he had a large cramped area at the base of the right side of his neck right above his shoulder blade and below the withers.  I did a lot of massage and pressure application on his whole neck starting at the poll, particularly focussing on the tightest areas.  He seemed to really appreciate it, and stood ground-tied for the whole thing.  When I led him off, he seemed to be walking less stiffly already.  I turned him out in a small paddock to walk around for a bit, so he wouldn't stiffen back up, and then took him to our arena, thinking he might like to roll in the sand, but when I let him go, he just followed me around!

This morning, his neck and shoulder seemed less tight, and he walked a bit better - stride a bit longer and more confident.  Not back to normal, but better.  Tonight I may try rubbing a bit of arnica gel on the area to help with the soreness.


Today at noon I went for a walk.  It was about 50F, with a little bit of wind, and mostly cloudy - an average March day.  I was rewarded with sightings of a Muskrat, two species of migrant ducks - a whole fleet of Lesser Scaups and one male Bufflehead - and a solitary Sandhill Crane flying overhead, identifiable by its distinctive call.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Herons, Killdeers and Update on Noble

This morning, while I was in Lily's paddock, a Great Blue Heron flew overhead.  They seem to me to be an unlikely combination of gawky and elegant - long legs trailing, neck folded back and wings that seem to carry them along at surprising speed, despite the leisurely beat.

The Killdeers are back in force, raucously seeking mates and nesting sites.  I was amused to see that part of their species name is "vociferus".  They like to nest in bare areas where they can scrape out a nesting depression.  When they're on the nest, the bird's camouflage is excellent, and when a parent leaves the nest, the eggs are almost impossible to see against a background of dirt and stones.  The parents also do a wonderful "broken wing" display.  Since they like these sorts of nesting sites, we end up with nests in the outdoor arena, paddocks, areas near the gates of our grass pastures, and even in the community garden!  When the eggs hatch, the young, being precocial, are tiny miniatures of the adults, and are up and running within hours.  The parents shepherd them around as they are learning to fend for themselves.

Noble seems to be doing a little bit better.  He is still very sore and stiff, and went to turnout with short, slow steps, and came in the same way.  He doesn't seem as uncomfortable - no head-bobbing or pawing - and he was able to move off into the dry lot, albeit slowly and with care.  He didn't lie down last night in his stall (no bedding on his coat) and didn't roll yesterday in the dry lot, or this morning when I turned him out - he usually does.  So he's worried about lying down - probably not sure he could get up again.  I'll have to keep an eye on this - but at least he seems to be a bit less uncomfortable.

Monday, March 16, 2009

First Frogs and Ground Driving

When I was out walking the dog, I heard the first frogs of the season - Western Chorus Frogs - in a wetland near the barn.  Soon we'll have all sorts of frogs (and toads) doing their calls.  I call the Chorus Frogs "comb frogs", since they sound very like running your finger over a plastic comb.

Yesterday I took Maisie for a ground drive.  She's been very spooky on the trail lately, and somewhat herd bound.  When I first took her on the trail several years ago - she had only been an arena horse when I got her - we did a lot of ground driving.  I'm a big fan of ground driving for all sorts of purposes - working with a young horse, doing ground exercises, exercising a horse that's coming off an injury or layoff, evaluating a horse's way of movement and soundness, and getting a horse ready to drive in a cart.

Ground driving isn't lounging, which I almost never do.  I also almost never use a surcingle, and I can't remember the last time I used side reins.  Sometimes I use a bridle and sometimes I just use a halter - generally with the noseband padded with fleece to avoid rubs.  I like the flexibility of ground driving - you can do circles, just like on a lounge, but you can do all sorts of movements - serpentines, backing, turns on the forehand/haunches, almost anything you can think of.  Because you're not restricted to having the horse move in a circle, there is less stress on the muscles and joints, and because you're using two lines instead of one, there's a lot more ability to direct the horse's speed and direction - for example, if the horse is moving in a circle it's very easy to avoid having the horse cutting in.  To be fair, it is a little harder to do than lounging, since you have to handle two lines and adjust lengths as you go.

I usually don't use a surcingle, because that can add a lot of leverage to the action of the lines, which I don't want in most cases - I want a direct connection to the horse, and the ability to use the equivalent of an opening rein.  I also find that it's harder to give an accurate and quick release when the lines run through a surcingle.  I don't use side reins because they constrain the horse's head carriage, when I want the horse to carry its own head and neck in a soft posture in response to the pressure of the lines/release of pressure on the lines.  I also want my horses to be able to take breaks and relax, stretching their top line. 

Maisie has a very sensitive mouth - even the weight of the lines affects her - so we ground drove in a halter.  Here she is, ready to go.

I wouldn't purport to try to teach you how to ground drive - if you're interested, Mark Rashid has an excellent DVD on the subject.  I generally keep my lines separate (not connected at the ends), and keep one set of lines in each hand.  Making sure your lines aren't looped so you can trap a hand is important, as is not stepping on or getting tangled in your lines.  Obviously, staying well out of reach of a kick is in order, although due to the flexibility of the two lines you can walk somewhat to the side as well as directly behind the horse.  I don't use a whip of any sort, but use my voice (kiss or click) to have the horse move forward.  If the horse balks, I just keep them pointed where I want to go and encourage them to move.  When I first ground drove Maisie, it took her a while to get used to the lines hanging across her lower legs.  I tend to keep my lines low - not so low that she'll step on them, but low enough that, if we turn, they stay around her hindquarters and don't ride up over her back - or worse, under her tail.  I've had bucking (and, in the case of Lily, true caprioles), tails clamped over lines, etc. - all due to my inexperience.  I have found that, once the horse gets used to it, most enjoy it.

Here we are, setting out:

Without a surcingle, the lines are very "alive", and I have a good connection with the horse.  But it doesn't give you as strong a feel for the horse's thoughts as riding does.  Instead, since I can just see her ears over the top of her hindquarters, I keep an eye on them the whole time - they tell me some of what she's thinking.  When I ask her to do something - move forward, say, or slow down or halt - I watch to see if an ear turns back towards me.  When both ears are firmly forward, that's where she's focussing - which is OK - she doesn't have to be thinking about me every moment.

Maisie strode out confidently, and we took the route that had previously had monsters.  She was fine all the way around (about 3/4 mile), and didn't even try to speed up much heading for home.  She was very relaxed when we got back.  I'll probably keep doing this with her for a while, on different trails, and then go back to riding her on the trail.  I don't like her to have meltdowns, as it creates bad memories and results in frazzled nerves for all involved.

Hands on the Horse

I'm always surprised when people say they don't like to groom (or even worse, they don't know how to groom because they ride at a barn where someone else grooms and tacks the horse - how people think they or their kids are going to learn anything about horses by riding at a barn like that is beyond me, but don't get me started on that rant!).  For me, grooming is wonderful and is important for at least three reasons:  first, it gets your horse clean and is good for their skin, second, it helps you "know" your horse and build a relationship, and third, it's one of the most important ways to examine your horse closely for bumps, lumps, scratches and other physical problems and also assess your horse's mood and overall health.

I'm also a big believer in just putting your hands on your horse - feeling legs and feet, one at a time and compared to another leg, and knowing where all the little existing lumps and irregularities are so you know when there's a new one, and also doing a little massage to check for tension or soreness.  Some horses initially like this more than others, but most of them get so they appreciate it, and many will get so they "ask" for specific areas that they want to be rubbed or massaged.

All that said, Noble wasn't quite right this morning.  One of the most important things I do when I feed the horses and turn them out in the morning is watch them, and notice when anything isn't normal for each horse.  Each horse has its own routine and practices during feeding and as I turn out, and often the first clue that something is wrong is when a horse does something a little bit differently.  In the case of Noble, he started eating from the residue in his hay bag before I offered him new hay.  This meant he didn't turn towards the door, as he usually does, but kept his butt towards me.  Then, when I gave grain about ten minutes later, although he nickered while I was feeding - he's usually quite vocal - he was very slow to turn from his hay to come to his feed bin.

When I took him outside, he was slow moving - he's usually pretty forward.  I stood him outside and scraped off yesterday's mud and picked his feet.  He was fine with that, and picked up his feet normally - he's usually stiff behind, which isn't surprising considering that he's about to turn 29.  The PM feeders yesterday (I couldn't come to the barn yesterday PM because I was elsewhere) had reported that he seemed a little sore on his right front - which could have been because he was banging on the gate with his foot when he wanted in, or because the mud was slippery.  Since, when I asked, they also said that they had picked his feet (in case of rocks) and that he was weighting all four feet, as well as eating normally, I wasn't too worried.  But when I looked this morning, both front legs and feet were normal - his right knee is permanently larger due to an earlier injury but it doesn't bother him.

I'm sort of beginning to think back or hind end - he's somewhat arthritic behind - mostly hocks - and has had some difficulty lately in getting up after rolling on his left side, due to soreness/weakness in his left hind.  Nothing was obvious as I ran my hands over him, so we went to the pasture and I let him loose.  He didn't move far from the gate, and started doing little paws and head bobs, which are signs for him that something was bothering him.  He was also looking around to the left, but it didn't look to me like he was colicing - he seemed to be looking at his hindquarters, not his belly.  If it was a soreness issue, I wanted to give him a little bute to see if that would help, but didn't want to do that if it were digestive (horses that are colicing will often paw or indicate pain in other ways).  I went back inside and checked his stall - I do this for all the stalls after I turn out - he had eaten his hay and grain, and the poop and pee amounts and distribution in the stall were normal for him and there was no sign that he had been agitated - no signs of unusual movement or pawing.  So I got the bute and took it to the dry lot and gave him 1 gram to see if it would make a difference.  I went inside and kept making up feed and doing my regular barn chores.

I checked on him again about 15 minutes later.  He was standing quietly in the sun, which he sometimes does after turn out when it's warmer.  He had also moved away from the gate.  His stance wasn't quite normal for him, though - he usually stands very square, with his four legs at the corners.  He was standing square in front, but had his hind legs under him a ways with the left hind farther forward.  But he wasn't pawing or head-bobbing, so the bute seems to have helped.  So I went out to him to do some more feeling around, and give him a bit of a massage.

I started at his poll, and the muscles in his forehead over his eyes, applying pressure to see if there was tension, and massaging a bit and then releasing - he was loose and unhaltered for this, because I wanted him to be able to move if he needed to or had something to tell me.  His poll was tight, but as I massaged he lowered his head and licked and chewed - so that felt good.  Then I worked my way down his neck and back, pressing and massaging on both sides.  I think he was a little sore in the sacral area, and when I "bounced" his hips, the left one wasn't moving very much in comparison to the right.  I'm really thinking sacrum/left hind now (which would also explain the perceived soreness on the right front).  I carefully felt both hind legs, including stifles, all the way to the ground, but didn't find much.

I also, as a test, took his face in one hand and put my other hand on his side and asked him to rotate in place, in both directions.  He was able to turn to the left fairly well, but was reluctant and had trouble moving his hindquarters when we turned to the right - he did a little side-step instead of crossing over behind and avoided moving the left hind any more than he had to.

I'm guessing at this point that he wrenched something, but as he seemed to be more comfortable, I left him, after a bit more massaging of head, neck and shoulders.  I'll check on him later.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Missing in Action

I've been lax with posting for the past several days - I've been very busy with matters musical - if you're interested in such things see my post on a Musical Weekend on my other blog.  More on horses soon!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Update on Norman's Lump

We finally got the results on the lump removed from Norman's eyelid a couple of weeks ago - it was indeed squamous cell carcinoma, but in its earliest stages, so it's unlikely that it had spread.  All we have to do is keep an eye on the eyelid (odd sequence of words!) in case it recurs at the same spot.  It's likely it was a result of sun damage to the pink skin around his eye.  If we can get him to wear a fly mask this summer, that could help - we've had mixed success with this - if Norman wants it off, he'll figure out a way to get it off!

Monday, March 9, 2009


The horses and I are happy.  No rain, bright sun, temperatures rising into the 40s and . . . no blankets or sheets!  Much happiness and delight in the pastures - rolling, trotting, cantering, nibbling tiny grass shoots.  The mud is amazing - we got over 2" of rain over the weekend and the pastures were already muddy.  When I took the mares out, we confronted a good 6" of mud and standing water at the gate of the dry lot.  Several of the mares looked at me as if to say "you want me to walk through what?"  Once inside the footing improved after a few yards.  

Maisie and Lily have restarted the morning grooming ritual.  They do this almost every morning, spring, summer and fall; they even do it before starting to graze when we're out on pasture.  They do the mutual grooming thing from neck to tail, sometimes for 15 or 20 minutes, switching sides from time to time.  The white hair was flying this morning from Lily, who is shedding heavily.  It continues until Lily signals Maisie to leave, sometimes by pinning her ears and sometimes by nipping Maisie on the side.  Maisie also grooms with the other mares - she seems to be everyone's preferred grooming partner, perhaps because she does a good job without using her teeth too hard or nipping.

It's interesting that it's almost always mares who do the grooming thing.  We've had geldings do it, but nowhere near as often and certainly not regularly.  Similarly, the "face tag" (our horses don't wear halters in turnout so they can't do "halter tag" which is a variant) and play fighting - rearing, pawing - are exclusively gelding games - probably based on stallion behavior.

We're supposed to get more rain tonight, but right now it is good.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Rainy Day Sunday

It's in the mid 30sF, with thunder and lightening and heavy rain.  We've already had almost 2" of rain, and it's not over yet.  It's Sunday, so owners are responsible for their own turnout, so I only had to worry about whether to turn out my own horses - my three mares went out for about 2 hours while the rain was a bit lighter.  This gave me a chance to clean stalls (another Sunday thing).  They were glad to come back in when I got them - I had to slog through the mud to get Lily, and once I did Maisie and Dawn followed along.

When I offered to take Noble out, he looked at me and basically said "I didn't get to be this old by being stupid."  So he got a complete grooming instead - since he was dry I was able to get the mud off his lower legs for a change.  He's one of those horses that really likes grooming; he practically purrs with pleasure.  Norman the pony cares more about food than turnout, so he was happy in his stall with his hay, and he'll get some grooming along with the mares later today.

Later today I will go back and feed all the horses - I do this every Sunday.  Since they've been in, they'll be stalls to pick and hay and water to top up.  If the rain lets up, the mares at least may get a little more turnout - it'll reduce the "crazies" tomorrow when they go out.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Mr. "I'm In Charge Here"

Noble seems to have recaptured his alpha spot in the gelding herd.  Noble was briefly the alpha before Joe came, and then was bumped to #2. Everything got shaken up by the arrival of Fred and Fritz - for a while things were sort of circular - Joe would move Fritz and Noble but Noble would also move Fritz.  Joe seems to have tired of all this - although he's a few years younger than Noble, he's pretty stiff and seems older, and now he's inclined to stay out of the tussle.  He even seemed a little depressed, and, to add insult to injury, he seems to have pulled a muscle in his shoulder while playing with Scout yesterday and is stuck in a small paddock until he feels better.

Noble is definitely taking advantage of Joe's absence to make his dominance known - I saw them playing the "circle game" around one of the round bales this morning - Noble moved Fritz who moved Fred who moved Scout, who's the baby and is always at the bottom.  And then when Scout got too close, Noble warned him off - poor Scout!  Noble will actually charge at the others with his ears pinned, and is back to insisting that he come in first in the evening.  Not too bad for an old gelding who will be 29 in May!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Mud, Lily Stands and Maisie Spins

It was almost 60F today, and we had plenty of the mud I said I was hoping for (back when it was so cold).  So, since we had mud, we had what goes with mud - very muddy horses.  Here's a picture gallery - all the horses looked about like this.

Here's Blackjack:

And Dawn:
Lily pre-clean up:
As I had planned (see yesterday's post), while I cleaned her up I worked with Lily on standing ground-tied, as an exercise in self-calming.  This also allowed me to work on some other undesirable behaviors at the same time - she's been prone to threaten to bite and kick when I'm grooming her, particularly on her right neck and shoulder - she has a big area of scar tissue on the right side of her neck that our chiropractor found that gives her some trouble - and her hindquarters.  I'm not interested in getting in a fight with her or thumping on her - with a very dominant horse that's not always such a good idea - and I think there are better ways to solve the problem.

What I did was very simple.  I brought her in, and asked her to stand ground-tied in the parking lot while I groomed her.  Every time she moved, or made any sort of attempt to threaten with her teeth, I calmly, but by bringing my energy up, asked her to move around me in a small circle until she offered to stop - that's the trick in this - you have to notice when the horse is offering to stop.  I would then drop the lead and go on with my grooming.  Lily's very smart - actually most horses are.  Within minutes, she decided she would rather stand calmly than fidget or try to bite, since that was less work than circling.  Here she is after I completed grooming one side (yes I know she's still dirty):

I'm expecting some of this ability to self-calm to carry over to other things with Lily.  Now, with a horse that's never ground-tied before, this process will take longer - probably several sessions with incremental progress.  Lily has done ground-tying before, so this was really a refresher for her.

Then I rode Maisie.  It was very windy and Maisie was very forward.  We moved well as we went away from the stable.  Just as we were turning the corner around the pastures, a couple of hundred yards from the barn, Maisie became very alarmed at something she saw in the distance - she froze and looked.  This is sometimes a prelude to spinning away from the scary object and bolting, so I sat deep, relaxed my legs and keep my chin up.  I asked her to move forward, and sure enough, after a step or two, she spun and tried to bolt.  I simply sat quietly in the middle of the horse, let one rein go loose by putting my hand down on the neck, kept my legs relaxed and brought the other hand back to my knee - not hard, but enough to give her no option but to circle if she moved her feet.  So we spun in the circle for a moment until she decided to stop - this is important - I don't pull back nor do I ask her to stop - she stops on her own.  Then I headed her down a trail that would take us back to the barn by an oblique route.  Every few steps, she would start to bolt, and we would (quietly on my part) do the circle thing again, either in one direction or the other.  We slowly came back to the barn, circling most of the way, with stops and a few steps of walk in between.  By the end, she was still very nervous, but walking on a loose rein, holding herself together.

It didn't make any sense to take her back to confront the monster (I never saw what it was), since she would have just had a melt down and would have lost confidence in me if I had forced her.  So, instead, to give her some work she could do successfully, we walked up and back in several directions, to and from the barn, gradually increasing our distance but never to the point that she became so worried that she wanted to bolt.  At the end, we stood on a loose rein by the arena for about 5 minutes and watched Charisma being groomed - Maisie stood calmly and didn't move a muscle.  I was pleased with where we ended up, considering where we started.

No Blankets! and Lily Outside

Today, for the first time in what seems like forever, the horses are wearing no blankets, no rain sheets, no nothing.  It's supposed to be in the 50sF today!  Dawn, who almost always has to wear something due to her thin coat, was beside herself with delight - pawing, double pawing (both front feet at once), rolling, leaping up, bucking, head flinging as she ran and bucked - she does this amazing thing with her head where she repeatedly flings it from side to side.  One of our boarders, whose house overlooks the mares' dry lot, called me and said "there must be something wrong with Dawn - she's pawing, rolling and bucking" and I said that's just Dawn playing.

Lily did much better outside last night, although she did stand at the gate and look reproachfully at me as I left the barn.  This morning, after breakfast, when I took Maisie out of the barn on the way to pick up Lily, Lily did her bolt to the gate, screaming and head snaking (a mare frustration or anger gesture, often used to signal other horses to move away).  I spent a few minutes with her in the paddock, asking her to step away from me with a hand gesture, and once I haltered her I rubbed her face and neck and asked her to drop her head - and keep it there - and step back when asked.  She did all those things well, and wasn't aggressive (no bite threats), so we led out.  She was forward but well-behaved on the way to the pasture.

One thing I find useful with horses that are nervous or fidgety is to show them ways that they can self-calm.  This can be useful in all sorts of circumstances - I want my horses to be able to calm themselves down (I can't do it for them) when they spook on the trail, for example.  One way I do this is with ground tying.  If a horse can learn to ground tie, he or she can learn to self- calm.  The way I teach ground tying is by making it easy.  If the horse stays still, nothing happens - I keep grooming or whatever else I am doing, and the horse isn't asked to do anything.  If the horse moves, or does something else I don't want - like biting or pawing - I ask the horse to move in a circle around me until the horse offers to stop, then I drop the rope and continue doing whatever it was I was doing.  When I'm teaching this, I don't care if the horse ends up back where it was, I just want it to stop moving.  At a later stage, once the horse understands what I want, I might ask the horse to stay in one spot.  Most horses pick this up very quickly.

This afternoon, since the weather will be nice and I can groom outside, I'm going to work with Lily on this, to remind her that she can self-calm - she used to know how to ground tie but could use a refresher course.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Lily Gets Worried

Last night the temperatures were supposed to be in the low to mid-20sF with little wind, so I decided that Lily should stay outside.  She has a paddock with a run-in shed close to the barn.  She's supposed to stay there at nights instead of in a stall whenever possible, due to a chronic respiratory condition she has called heaves.  Heaves essentially is a sensitivity to dust and mold that leads to excessive mucus production in the lungs and exercise intolerance.  Horses stabled inside are more prone to it, and a horse that already has it can have a flare up at any time.  Lily had to be retired from show jumping because of this - she could jump as well as ever, but couldn't go at speed for any length of time and would become tired.

For several years after her retirement, she would have bad flare ups with some frequency.  Now that she mostly is outside, she's doing better and rarely needs medication.  Recently, due to our very cold temperatures and constant wind, she's been inside more than I would like.  So last night she went into the paddock to have her dinner when the horses came in from dry lot.  I was doing some other things and, after a while, stuck my head out the barn door to check on her.  She was standing at the gate of her paddock pushing on the gate with her chest and nosing at the gate latch.  As soon as she saw me she called loudly and started running up and down the fence line.

I went up to check on her and discovered that she was blowing hard and completely soaking wet under her blanket with sweat - she must have been running for a while and the skid marks in the mud of the paddock would confirm this.  She had to come inside since I couldn't leave her wet and unblanketed, nor could I leave the blanket on.  So to give her a moment to calm herself down, I put on her halter and led her back up to her pile of hay.  We stood there for a while until she started grabbing mouthfuls of hay.  I then led her back to the barn - she was very "up" but was able to hold it together until we got to the barn, without doing what we call "losing her mind" - which Lily can easily do.  She clearly wanted to bolt but responded when I asked her to slow or stop.

She is probably a little herd-bound from being inside so much with the other horses.  We'll keep working at it and soon she'll be comfortable in her paddock again.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

We Danced

It is a perfectly glorious morning - a new, light, dusting of lake effect snow - huge, feathery, shiny flakes.  Almost no wind, and sun glittering on the snow.  Birds singing everywhere.  I didn't think I would feel this way when I checked the temperature this morning and it was 15F.  It's supposed to get to 30 today, and be in the 40s for the rest of the week.  Despite the cold, it really feels like spring is on the way.

The horses and I had an excellent morning.  Everyone was calm.  The horses that I asked to stand ground-tied in the barn aisle while I got their leading companion out, stood.  Every horse was happy to stand in its stall door for a moment while I rubbed faces, necks and ears.  As I was leading, the lead ropes swung gently in time with the feet.  When I matched my breathing and steps to the feet of a horse and then, without touching a lead rope, slowed my breathing and steps, the horse slowed to match.  Every horse that I asked to wait ground-tied at the gate while I let its companion go, stood patiently.  This is what dancing feels like - what a delight!

After I turned out, and while water tanks were filling, I got the Jolly Ball out of the mare's dry lot and took it to Fred and Fritz - they were interested but haven't done much with it yet.  Then I gave Fritz a good scratching on his chin, neck, chest and withers, which he enjoyed very much.

There's a report of White-winged Crossbills in the spruce trees up the road from the barn, so I'll have to go over and check that out.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Snow and Hawk

I just got back from the barn - it's 15F with a wind chill of 8.  We are about 10 miles west of Lake Michigan, and sometimes get lake effect snow.  It's very pretty and fluffy, and has a low water content so it doesn't (thankfully!) pack down into ice.  It snowed a couple of inches last night, and it snowed hard the whole time I was working at the barn this morning.  But because there were bands of snow moving off the lake, there were periods of partially blue skies, and at one point the sun was shining brightly while it was still snowing.

As I was walking back into the kitchen to get a cup of tea, there was a Cooper's Hawk perched on the small tree just outside our back window - right by our bird feeders.  All hawks are beautiful, but to my mind the Cooper's is particularly elegant - very slim and with a long banded tail.  He or she was looking to have breakfast.  As I was creeping by the window to get to my camera, the hawk flew off, so no photo this time - perhaps next time!  

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Welcome, March Lion!

The wind is howling and the wind chill when I got up this morning was -8F.  The temperature today is supposed to get into the low 20s, with wind chills remaining in the single digits.  The horses still think it's spring - lots of hair being shed.  And many of the horses are nibbling on the tiniest, almost invisible, sprouts of grass in the dry lots (from the couple of warm days we had a little while ago) instead of eating the hay bales.  The male red-winged blackbirds are trying to stake out their territories in the wetlands despite the temperature.  Perhaps, since they have hope, we should too!