Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Spring Wind

Today it was much warmer, upper 50sF, and quite windy - 20mph with higher gusts. We're supposed to be into the 70sF for the next few days! The horses are all shedding like crazy; their shoulders are almost done and now the sides of the barrel and the hindquarters are really throwing off the hair. Of my three horses, Maisie is the one who really changes color - Dawn and Noble are both red bays and only get slightly darker in the winter, whereas Maisie's winter coat has a lot more black and less red than her summer coat. A lot of black hair is coming off right now. Maisie also gets whole-body dappling in the summer and that's already showing through on her shoulders.

When I went to bring Maisie in, she was lying down taking a nap, not by the round bales but out in the middle of the turnout. She was very adorable, with her long legs all folded up and her sweet, sleepy face - I was able to walk right up and pet her (sorry no photos). I was (only momentarily) tempted to get up on her before she got up, but thought better of it. If I'd been 30 (or 40) years younger, I'm sure I would have. She stayed there for a bit and then got up. She seemed a little bit bloated - she's had impaction colics several times and I always am a bit concerned if she's lying down at odd times (for her). She seemed a bit sleepy while I groomed, but otherwise behaved normally, including taking some treats - horses that are colicing don't usually eat treats in my experience. We saddled up, and went straight out on the trail - I didn't want her getting sweaty from a ring workout if her insides were at all questionable.

We took a long loop we haven't been on before this year. It took us much farther from the barn than we've been, and isn't a trail that we go on a lot. One part of the trail took us along some backyards, which had interesting trail challenges like a wooden swing blowing in the wind and a fairly nasty barking dog (luckily confined by an electronic fence). Although at times she was nervous and a little looky, she was really good - no jigging or jogging and completely responsive to all requests to slow, stop or back. A number of trails we ride go very close to houses, which means the horses are exposed to all sorts of things - one house has a large pair of metal sculptures (two cows), there are lots of different pieces of play equipment (including the plastic pool that one day blew into the middle of the trail - now that was a fun ride!), running children, barking dogs and even occasionally one of those large inflatable "bounce houses" people rent for children's parties. We get to experience a lot of things, which is good for trail training.

When we returned to the barn, we went in the arena (freshly dragged) for a few minutes. She was certainly plenty awake and forward by then! We did some trot work and figures for a little bit, and then took a brief walk away from the barn and back, and she was done. Maisie started eating hay as soon as I put her in her stall, and ate her dinner, all of which is good. She didn't pass any manure while I was riding, which is unusual for her, but did pass one pile in her stall - it was a little dark and hard in my opinion. When I left she was completely comfortable, but I'll be keeping a close eye on her over the next several days.

Then I brought Dawn in and groomed her ground-tied in the parking lot. She remembered her ground-tying perfectly. Our chiropractor is coming tomorrow for both Maisie and Dawn - a spring tune-up of sorts - and I want her to look at Dawn's right side along the rib cage where she seems a bit sensitive, and I also want to check saddle fit for Dawn.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Impromptu Targeting

One thing Dawn and I are working on is her spookiness and tendency to bolt when alarmed. I've taught her to target with her nose, using a cone, a tongue click and treats, and we're now applying that training to many objects.

I always carry a pocketful of small horse treats with me whenever I'm at the barn, just in case a targeting opportunity presents itself. I prefer to do this work if possible with the horse loose or at least unconstrained. This morning, I was out with my can of florescent orange spray paint surveying fences and marking posts and boards that need replacement. As I walked down the long aisle back to the barn, Dawn was near the fence line of her turnout. Targeting opportunity! I took the silvery spray can with its bright orange cap up to the fence and shook it - you know that odd sound the balls inside the can make. Dawn was alarmed and retreated a few steps. I placed the can on top of a fencepost and waited. She crept closer - I clicked and treated. When she got within an arm's-length, I held the can out towards her. I rewarded a stretch towards the can with a click and treat. Finally she was touching it with her nose - bingo! Then I shook it again; she retreated a few steps but came back. Shortly she was able to come very close to it right after I shook it. At that point I ran out of treats and fed her come plucked grass.

I'm hoping to teach her that when I'm with her, on the ground or when riding, and we encounter something scary, that she can trust me and my judgment about it. I'm not trying to desensitize her to specific objects, but to get her to think differently about things she encounters. We're not there yet, but every chance I have to reinforce that she can not be so worried about scary things, and can in fact be rewarded when she's with me for approaching them, the closer we get to our goal.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Dawn Takes a Spring Nap

Yesterday morning as I turned Dawn out, she did something she hasn't done in a long time - as I was taking her halter off, she almost ripped it out of my hands and bolted from the gate. I walked out to the round bale, rehaltered her and brought her back to the gate, took her outside, stood for a moment, then took her back in and unhaltered her again. This time she did better, although she still ran off once she was free.

As I was getting ready to leave the barn after doing morning chores a while later, I noticed that Dawn was taking her usual morning nap in the hay next to the round bale. I think she usually takes at least three naps a day, including one at noon time and one later in the afternoon. She perked up a little bit when I walked out to take some pictures:

But the eyes were very sleepy:

Maisie had to come up to investigate what I was doing:

Dawn's nose sagged down into the hay:

When she raised her head for a moment, her lower lip was drooping:

I love all the different angles in this shot:

The nose slowed descended again:

And then it was time for some solid REM sleep:

I love how the front legs elegantly fold up:

Her eye was partly open but she was deeply asleep:

The noise of the camera woke her up for a moment - it's amazing how they can move from sound asleep to fully alert in an instant:

A moment later, she was flat again and fast asleep, so I left her to get her rest without further disturbance.

* * * * * *
Yesterday was Scout's birthday - he's 7! - for his birthday post, and some cute foal pictures, see the post at Buckskin and Bay.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

A Delightful Ride

Yesterday, our temperature just brushed 40F, and by the time I brought the horses in and fed in the afternoon, we were in the upper 30sF. But there was only a little bit of wind and the sun was still bright, and Maisie and I got in a very good ride. I was glad about that, as I didn't get to ride Thursday due to the wind and cold, and I usually don't get to ride on the weekend because of other time commitments.

We started in the arena, with some walk and trot work on light contact - she was relaxed and stretching down and moving well. Then we did more trot work, using the whole ring and doing frequent changes of direction at the rising trot. Then we moved into some sitting trot where I was asking her to use herself a bit and using my inside leg into outside rein to ask her to soften and bend. We did a lot more patterns using our cones - this time I had set them in two staggered parallel lines for some variation - Maisie stood and waited for me at one end of the ring and watched with interest as I moved cones around - I never really trained her to do this but she does it nicely when I ask. Finally, just for fun and because she was going so well, we moved nicely up into the canter, and did several large circles in each direction. Her departures were good, even though I wasn't really asking her to use herself as she isn't fit yet, and she nicely maintained the canter until I asked her to trot. Her left lead canter, which has always been a little bit harder for her, was even pretty good. For just coming off the winter, this is all excellent work.

Finally, we went on a short trail ride. She was excellent, relaxed, interested and responsive. I must say, all in all, it was a delightful ride!

Friday, March 26, 2010

On Courtesy

This morning the sunrise was amazing - but I didn't have my camera so words will have to do. There were broken lines of clouds to the east, and as the sun started to come up, the horizon was a shining amber, the bottoms of the clouds were hot pink and the upper parts of the clouds were a beautiful dark blue and grey. Truly outstanding!

It's a bit warmer today, with sun and a little less wind, so with luck some riding will happen this afternoon. The mud is starting to dry out a little bit, although both Fred and Fritz lost a shoe yesterday - I noticed when I was leading out that they sounded funny on the concrete aisle, and sure enough.

The boarders are collectively going to do a fence survey, taking spray paint with them and marking posts and boards to be replaced, and then marking the spots on a diagram of the pastures we have. We have a lot of board fencing - all of the exterior fencing is board and some of the interior is as well. Most of our interior fencing is electric, as we do rotational grazing with two herds and move the horses about once a week during pasture season.

* * * * * *

I've been thinking about courtesy. I think it's true that we're more likely to be courteous to people who are courteous to us, and vice versa. I think this also applies to people and horses. If I expect my horse to be courteous to me - respecting my space and also listening to what I say and trying to do what I ask - it only makes sense that I should be courteous to my horse. I think if I can do this consistently, my horse will be much more likely to listen to me and be courteous in return. In my mind, this isn't at all inconsistent with providing my horse with consistent leadership and direction, and it also doesn't mean that I don't get big if I have to on the rare occasions when that's necessary. But if my approach is based on asking with the level of cue/ask/pressure that I want to end up with, and approaching the work with an objective of achieving softness, both in my asks and in the horse's response, then courtesy should be a given.

I've been trying to see how many different ways I can apply this - almost every circumstance seems to lend itself to this. This morning, when I went to halter Maisie to take her out, she had a few mouthfuls of hay in her stall that she wanted to finish - the hay inside is better than the hay in the turnout. I waited for a moment to allow her to finish - what do I need to be rushing for? When I went to halter Sugar, she had just taken a large mouthful of hay that was sticking out of her mouth to either side. Instead of jamming on her halter over the hay, I waited for a moment for her to chew enough that it disappeared inside her mouth, then I put on her halter.

I can think of even more examples - moving quietly instead of abruptly; not slamming stall doors shut loudly and abruptly but softly and quietly; being careful to hold gates so the horse never feels like they're going to swing shut on the horse's hindquarters; stroking and patting the horse without making noise - if a pat is making noise it probably doesn't feel all that good to the horse. Holding the bridle up when I take it off so that it comes gently out of the horse's mouth and doesn't hit the teeth. Asking a horse to move over with a soft touch instead of a shove. When picking feet, gently putting the foot down instead of dropping it so it hits the ground. Giving the horse time to figure out what it is that I want - not being impatient. Basically it's about treating the horse like I'd want to be treated if I were the horse. Sort of the horse version of the golden rule!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Windy and Colder With Spring Shots

The temperature's supposed to drop from the mid-40sF to 30F by this afternoon, and it's already noticeably colder. And since early this morning, the wind has really picked up and is howling - we're supposed to have 20-25 mph winds with gusts in the 30s. Temperatures overnight are going to drop into the 20sF - brrr! I'm not riding today - it's just too uncomfortable for me and the horse.

This morning our vet came to give 8 horses, including mine, their first round of spring shots. The other 3 horses use two different vets. Sugar's owner came to help me collect and hold horses for the vet and turn them back out when done. Today we had our 5-way: Flu/rhino, tetanus, E/W encephalitis and also West Nile boosters. She did the two shots on opposite sides of the neck so we can check for reactions - none of our horses has ever had a reaction and the vet hasn't changed vaccine suppliers so we should be OK. Joe, Blackjack, Noble and Sugar were a little nervous - everyone else was pretty laid back but everyone was good, minus a few "giraffe necks" and wide eyes. She also drew blood for a couple of Coggins tests for horses that may go elsewhere to ride or attend clinics. I like our new vet - her manner with the horses is very calm and low-key.

They were all happy to get back out despite the wind. We'll have our rabies and intranasal strep/strangles vaccines at a later appointment. I noted all the vaccinations in our barn book, where we have a section for each horse's records.

I think (and hope) this cold snap will be short - I'd like to get riding again!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Maisie Says No Lungeing is Required

The sunrise was splendid:

But then it turned into a somewhat grey day - here the mares are (one gelding in the background) hanging out waiting for their round bale to arrive:

When the round bale came, both Dawn and Maisie were taking naps in the hay, and had to get up (poor dears!) before they could eat from the new bale.

This afternoon, Maisie and I groomed in the parking lot and then we tacked up and went out to do our work. As we did yesterday, we went up to the hill behind the barn to do some work on the lunge. That's when something interesting happened. Maisie made it very clear that she would prefer not to lunge, by essentially asking if she could please not trot. I asked pretty strongly by walking fast, slapping my leg with the tail of the line and even moving behind her and swishing the line. Nothing but walk - no annoyance or fits, just no trot. What I'm trying to say is it didn't feel at all like "disobedience" or "disrespect" - not that I use those words with respect to horses, but you get what I mean. I confirmed that it was not a soreness issue by trotting her in hand, which she did easily and willingly. When I asked her to move up into the trot again on the lunge, she didn't want to trot and in fact looked at me in an inquiring way and then stopped and looked at me with her ears pricked. It was very clear to me that she was asking me if we could do without lungeing, and in fact I'd say that it was more than that - she was telling me that she didn't need lungeing in order to do the under saddle work that was coming next without getting too excited. It was sort of eerie.

So I walked up to her and said "are you sure we'll be OK?" and then took her back to the barn and put on her bridle and mounted up. We started our work in the arena, and were able for the first time this year to do some fairly relaxed trot work in straight lines, using the long sides, diagonals and making large circles. I was even able to do this in rising trot, which sometimes will get her moving too forward. She felt great and was moving well. We walked for a bit so she could catch her breath, and then we did some figure work at the sitting trot, including some very nice soft leg-yields. Then we went on the trail and took another new loop past a construction area - large piles of dirt, stakes with signs and ribbons - and although she did a bit of snorting, she was great the whole way out and back.

I was right to trust her and listen to what she was saying - she was right, we didn't need to lunge. I don't do groundwork as a routine matter - I'm not a big believer in doing the same exercises over and over again with a horse once the horse gets it - only if needed at a particular point in training or in getting back to work. Maisie's made it clear that she's willing to tell me what she needs, and I'm willing to encourage her to do this. I like it a lot that she feels willing to tell me things and ask for things - it means we're having a real two-way conversation. I feel like today was an important milestone for us - we've been together for almost 8 years and our relationship is still growing.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

If At First You Don't Succeed . . .

It was sharply windy and somewhat cold yesterday - low 40sF but colder with the wind - so Maisie and I groomed where the barn gave us some protection. While we were there, Bob (the naturally tailless) barn cat came out to enjoy the sun too:

Maise loves cats, and especially likes to gently snuff-a-whuff their fur; Bob was not concerned as he knows how gentle she is about it:

(Thanks to our wonderful barn lady for the excellent cell-phone pictures!)

I rode briefly - I should have lunged first but didn't. We walked around a bit on the trails close to the barn, and although Maisie was well-behaved, she was wound pretty tightly, so we made our way back to the barn and did some simple exercises on the field behind the barn - circles, serpentines, leg-yields, turns on the haunches, backing. She relaxed a little bit, but not enough to do much more, so I called it a day.

Today we tried again. It was a little bit warmer and a little bit less windy. After we groomed, we did some lungeing - we worked on walking, trotting and halting on voice commands (I haven't done this with her before but she picked it up immediately). Then we did some precision transition work, where I would ask her to trot only a few steps before walking a few steps and so on. We also did some direction changes.

Then we worked in the arena. First I placed a stack of 4 red traffic cones on a fence post. Then, after I mounted, Maisie and I rode up to the cones and carried them one at a time and dropped them at various points in the arena. She'd never done this before but did great - she didn't mind my picking up and holding the cone at all. Then we did some trotting sets - very few straight lines so she couldn't build up momentum - lots of circles and serpentines using the cones as focus points. It was pretty good - I did almost all the trot work in sitting trot, which seems to help her not get too excited. She was distracted at some points by my daughter riding Dawn in the arena, but managed to cope.

Finally, as a reward (I hope she thought it was a reward!), we took a short trail ride. We didn't get too far from the barn, but took a loop she hadn't taken before. Other than some tension due to a yapping dog, she did very well. She wanted to speed up heading back, but was able to respond when I asked her to slow, stop or back.

Much better than yesterday!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Horses Have a Conversation

Maise, Dawn and Sugar were talking one day around the round bale.

Dawn said, "you know, sometimes I'm sorry for people" [the horses don't call us "people" but we'll use this word] - "they have so many things that aren't as good as we horses have. They have those funny eyes that only point forwards, so they can't see well to the sides or behind them - how can they see well enough to keep themselves safe? And their ears don't even move! And they're so small and weak; they can't even kick or bite or run away fast to escape. Maybe that's why they make so many noises and move so abruptly, and even yell and get angry - to make themselves look bigger so they'll stay safe? I don't know, I both feel sorry for them sometimes and other times they annoy me."

Maisie said, "and they carry around these little boxes that sometimes make strange sounds, and then they put the box to their ear and make noises to the air - what's that all about? And when they do it, it's like we're not there anymore even though we're right in front of them or they're riding us. But they're always so easily distracted - it's really hard for them to pay attention to what's going on right now - I suppose it's a little like when I go on the trail and I start thinking about dinner or about how none of the other horses are with me - it makes it hard to concentrate."

Dawn said, "and when they're distracted, which is a lot of the time, they don't listen too well to what we're trying to tell them and show them."

Maisie said, "yes, it's like when my person and I first got together - she wanted me to do some things that I had a hard time doing because I hurt, and I finally had to really yell at her to get her to pay attention - I had to buck and throw my head until she finally understood and got the dentist and chiropractor to help me - but it sure took a long time and she was really slow to get it."

Sugar said, "but sometimes people do pay attention - when I was scared and had so much trouble leading my person understood that I wasn't trying to be mean to her when I would panic and fight to get away - my last people scared me even worse when that happened so I felt that I really, really had to fight to get away. My person sent me to that other person who worked with me so I could learn to give to pressure on my halter and to move away and then move back by paying attention to my person - now we're OK. And my person works with me almost every day so I can see that it's all OK."

Dawn said, "but what about how they see? They don't notice when something is lurking, or flashing white or glittery, or moves suddenly - I worry sometimes that I can't trust the person who is with me on the trail to protect me and that's why I have to pay attention to these things - after all it's my job to protect the herd so I know what I'm doing - but my person wants me to accept their view of things, and pay attention to them, when I'm the one who knows how to jump sideways, spin or run fast to get away from danger, and they can't do any of those things. And then when I do jump, spin or run, sometimes they can't keep up with me and get left behind. But I'm learning to not worry so much about scary things - sometimes when I come up to a scary thing my person gives me a reward, and nothing bad's happened yet. I still need some convincing, but maybe my people are more trustworthy than I think."

The three mares chewed for a bit as they thought about these things, but also about how good the sun and wind felt and how wonderful the hay tasted and looked.

Finally, Maisie said, "I guess these people of ours, for all their weakness and lack of ability to see what we see, and pay attention, can learn to pay more attention to what we're saying and show us that we can trust them - we've got a lot of work to do, but it's nice to see them improve from day to day." The other mares agreed - it was a sunny day, and almost spring, and they were happy.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Fred and I Do the Chicken Wing, and a Nice Ride

Chicken wing? That sounds like a dance, and perhaps it is. It's a special dance Fred and I do sometimes. He's been very full of himself lately - he's finally at a good weight and is feeling pretty good for a guy in his 20s who's had Lyme disease and has some soundness and muscle weakness problems. When he's really up, he sometimes will leap forwards or even rear on the lead line. To help him keep himself under control, we do the chicken wing. This involves my leading him on my right (so I'm using my dominant arm), with Fritz on the left. I work to keep his head low - he gives to a head-down cue pretty well. When he wants to leap forwards or seems like he's thinking of going up, I keep the lead fairly short with my hand at my stomach and tip his head towards me, while holding my lower arm horizontal so that my elbow is just brushing his shoulder. Hence the chicken wing analogy. It's harder for him to go up if his head is bent to the side, he can't brace against the lead and my pointy elbow helps keep him off of me - he tends to be a barger. Also, since his head is turned towards me, his shoulder is popped out to the other side, which means that if he should leap forward or go up, he'll likely not go directly into me. It works for us - most of the time!

* * * * * *

We've got a weather front moving through tonight, with a big drop in temperatures - mid 50sF to low 30sF, with rain and wet snow coming for tomorrow. I spent some time this afternoon getting ready - reactivating the heaters in the water tanks and filling them so I don't have to spend as much time outside tomorrow.

Maisie and I got in a nice ride, despite the wind and stuff blowing around. She seemed pretty calm, so I chanced it and just got on and rode. I figured she'd appreciate going on the trail after doing some arena work yesterday. Other than a minor spook at a robin (!) that was flitting from fence board to fence board, she was very well behaved both on the way out and on the way back, striding out but responding well when I asked her to slow down a bit. I'm glad I got a ride in, since I doubt there'll be much riding this weekend.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Beautiful Day

We had a gorgeous early spring day today - temperatures got into the 60sF, and there was a lot of sun. It was also quite windy, but that didn't matter too much because it was so warm, and besides, wind is good for drying out mud!

Maisie got a bit of lungeing before I rode, but she was pretty relaxed about the whole thing so we trotted a bit in both directions for a bit, with some inside turns, and then I got on. Sometimes she's more spooky than normal when it's windy, but not today - maybe the warm day slowed her down. The arena was actually dry enough to use, or at least the central parts were - near the rail and the ends was still very deep, so we stayed towards the middle. As she usually does, she balked slightly at the gate (I was already mounted), but went through pretty quickly without a fuss. She really doesn't like arena work that much. We were able to do some trot work, including a lot of serpentines and circles. There were very few spooks or upsets - she was actually very good.

Then we went out on the trail, and took some short loops near the barn that she hasn't been on yet this year. At a couple of points she was a little bit nervous, but remained well-behaved and responsive. It was our best ride so far this year. I hope to ride again tomorrow - the weekend's not going to be possible both because we've got much colder weather and rain and snow moving in, and I have some other places I have to be.

My younger daughter rode Dawn in the arena, and reported that she was good. She also rode a bit in the field behind the barn, and Dawn managed to step on a front shoe with a hind foot, springing the shoe and tearing out one nail. Since the nail head was bent over and poking out towards her other front foot, I went back to the barn to take a look, after putting in a call to the farrier (who'd only been yesterday to put the shoes on in the first place). We were able to remove the offending nail, which was already pulled free of the hoof. The shoe's pretty bent, but she'll be OK until the farrier comes tomorrow - one thing I like about our farrier is that he will come quickly to do repairs - some of the other farriers at our barn don't and horses can go a long time missing a shoe. I know how to remove a shoe, but was glad I didn't have to (Mrs Mom, you should do a post on that sometimes for us amateurs who sometimes need to remove a shoe, or refer us to a good video if there is one).

Scout Stars and Mudballs

The mud is now outstanding (is that a word that applies to mud?), although it's been drying out a bit. We've got beautiful warm weather, with cold and snow predicted for the weekend. The sunrise this morning had a purplish tone to it:

Misty (on the left) and Maisie (on the right) were cleaning up the last of the hay in the round bale holder - we've got new bales coming this morning if our hay guy can get into the turnouts:

Scout was playing one of his favorite games - "harass Fred" - Scout is the "baby" of our barn and often gets up to mischief:

Even though Fritz was very muddy, his tail was really beautiful - I mainly took this picture because of Fritz's tail, but I also liked Noble's peeved expression:

Another shot of the marvelous mix of colors in Fritz's tail:

Some roofers were working on a nearby house - you could see them up on the roof from the turnouts and they were making a lot of noise. Scout thought this was pretty exciting and did some racing around - at one point I had to wave him off when he was about to run right over me:

Something caught Scout's attention in the other direction (that's Joe in the foreground):

Dawn was interested in the roofers, but not alarmed. The next three shots show her in her full muddy glory (with muddy Misty in the background) - my daughter was staying with a friend last night and didn't get to the barn to groom:

Have a wonderful March day, and may it include mud rather than snow!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Lungeing Helped

Today was really beautiful - temperatures in the 50s and sunny. The mud in the turnouts is still awful (up to my ankles in places) and the arena is a soggy, unusable mess. But the grassy area behind the barn was dry enough to use as a lungeing area, so I lunged Maisie before I rode to improve our chances of a good trail ride. I don't usually do a lot of pre-ride lungeing; I usually just get on and ride. But lately Maisie's been pretty hot, as well as somewhat barn sour, and the hotness makes the barn sour harder to work on because she is so wound up she can't focus well on what I'm asking. So we lunged for about 15 minutes or so - with a horse as unfit as she is right now that was quite a workout. We went to the left first - her easier direction. She was pretty good about following directions - we did a nice forward walk for a bit before we trotted. Then we trotted for a while and also worked on some transitions, which she did pretty nicely.

When I lunge, I don't stand still in the middle of the circle, and I don't use a lunge whip. I just use the fuzzy-nose halter and a lunge line - no side reins either. I move with the horse inside the horse's circles, and we also do some straight lines from time to time. I walk slowly in a small circle when the horse is walking, and walk much faster in a somewhat larger circle when the horse is trotting - I try to match the energy level I want the horse to use. So, to slow down, I slow down myself and lower my energy. After we worked a while at trot to the left, we reversed and went to the right, walking some so she could stop huffing and puffing. Then we moved up to trot. Going to the right is harder for her - she often wants to pop her shoulder in and tilt her head to the outside. So I worked on keeping her head slightly to the inside, which was hard work for her. Just as we were working on this, my younger daughter, who had been grooming Dawn just outside the barn, took her back inside. I think the combination of Dawn leaving and having to work hard going to the right set Maisie off - there were a couple of minutes of galloping and huge bucks (glad I didn't have to try to ride those!). I asked her to halt - she was on full alert and very excited.

We hand-walked around for a few minutes so she could calm down, and did some crazy walking so she would start to focus on me again. Then we walked back to the lungeing area and did some more trot work to the right; that went well. Then I took her down to the mounting block, put on her bridle and got on for a bit of trail riding.

It went pretty well. We didn't go too far from the barn - a couple of hundred yards in a couple of directions - we'd go away from the barn, back again and past the barn and then away in a different direction. We did this for about 20 minutes. She was forward but controlled. On the way back towards the barn, when she wanted to speed up she was able to respond to my asks to slow down. At the very end I asked for and got several yards of trot. It wasn't high-quality trot, but it was trot and I was happy with that.

I think that, until she settles down a bit, we'll do some lungeing before riding just to take the edge off. My younger did get in a brief ride on Dawn (she hasn't ridden her since the end of last August) - she only rides Dawn bareback - they walked around a bit and were done. Dawn thought it was pretty exciting, but was reasonably well-behaved.

We're supposed to have nice weather for the next several days, so I'm hoping for more rides.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Maisie Makes Circles and the Conversation

I didn't ride yesterday, as it rained hard on and off. But the snow's almost all gone, as is the ice, and so I was determined to ride today. When I went to get Maisie, she galloped to the gate through the mud, splashing her chest, legs and belly with wet mud. Ugh! But the rest of her was clean (unlike many of the other horses who were caked with mud), so I groomed and saddled up. She was clearly feeling very lively - spring fever, I guess. There wasn't anywhere where the footing was good enough to lunge - she could have used it - so I just got on. We went a ways down the trail - her walk was a little more forward than forward, if you get what I mean - it had quite a bit of bounce to it. At one point I asked for trot and got head-shaking and a small buck - trotting wasn't going to be part of the program today. When we turned towards home, I asked her to walk on a loose rein. She couldn't hold it together, and started to jig; I asked her to slow and she was getting ready to ball herself up and explode - she has a decent buck on her when she's excited. So I got off and sat on a handy retaining wall holding the reins. We stayed there for quite a while. At points she pawed. I ignored that.

When she was more calm, I got back on using the wall as a mounting block. (Maisie's 16.2 and I can't easily mount from the ground even if I'd wanted to.) I asked her to walk on a loose rein back towards the barn (I had my reins bridged just in case); she jigged a step; I asked her to come back to walk; she didn't want to; I used an opening rein to circle her back around so we were facing away from the barn; and we stood on on loose rein. We repeated this an uncountable number of times, sometimes with a spin thrown in for good measure. Progress towards the barn only happened with steps of walk on a loose rein. We made a number of amazing divots in the trail. At points while we were standing facing away from the barn, she would paw (I ignored this) and throw me disgusted looks out of the corner of her eye.

She started being able to string more steps of walk together, which was a definite improvement. When we got to the barn we kept on going past it down the trail in the other direction for a ways, and then repeated the exercise coming back - it wasn't as hard this time as she was getting the point of what I wanted and what she was going to have to do if she didn't comply. She chose to string more walk steps together, and we had to circle less often. At one point some kids came running loudly down the street and she did a true sit-and-spin, but she came back from that pretty quickly. We walked back and forth on the trail in front of the barn several times, and then circled around the barn and went up to the field behind, where we crossed a large puddle and did a number of serpentines at the walk.

She was still exceedingly alert when we got back inside, and I had her stand on the cross ties for a bit before I put her away. She's often like this in the spring - full of vim and vigor and somewhat barn-bound.

It wasn't the ride I started out to have, but we got some work done. She clearly needs to burn off some energy, and it's hard for her to focus when her energy level is so high. I'm hoping things will dry out soon so we've got a place where I can safely lunge her when she's like that before I ride - things might be a little less exciting.

I've been thinking about how my work with my horses is a conversation. I ask, the horse gives me an answer, I reply. Sometimes the horse asks, and I answer, and so on. As in a conversation, I don't want it to turn into an argument involving "yelling" on my part - bigger aids, yelling at the horse, hitting or kicking. If the horse "yells" at me, I try to treat it much as I would a tantrum by a toddler - if I can keep my cool and stay calm, things tend to go better. Sometimes the horse may answer my ask by saying "I don't understand", or "I'm afraid" or "I can't do that because it hurts" or "do you want this?", and I have to be careful to allow that and in fact listen for it, because the horse's answers tell me where I need to be more clear or specific, or perhaps where I need to try to explain, or approach, things in a different way. If the horse doesn't do what I'm looking for when I ask, I may say "good try, that's not what I want, try something else" - but I don't punish the horse for giving the wrong answer - I don't ever want to shut down the horse's attempts to figure out what I want - I want the horse to be engaged and willing to try different things. As in any good conversation, I need to pay close attention to what the horse is telling me so that I can appropriately reply - either by telling the horse "yes, that's it", or "good try, now let's do it this way". When things are going well, there's a real live connection there, and that's what I love to feel.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Maisie Chooses the Long Way Round, and the Pre-emptive Circle

It was a beautiful day after the rain showers cleared through. By mid-afternoon, we had a temperature of 58F, with bright sun - just amazing! When I went to get Maisie - she made me hike through the mud and water to the round bale to get her - Dawn was lying flat out in the hay sleeping. She rolled up into regular lying-down position as I got nearer, and I was able to walk up and rub her sleepy face and feed her a treat while she way still lying there.

Maisie and I were able to ride a bit. The arena is a soupy mess of ice, snow and water, and the trails aren't much better yet - there's a lot of ice and the areas without ice are very soggy, but we took a little ride anyway. As we picked our way along, we came to a point where there is a choice of which direction to go, and Maisie opted to turn away from the barn. She used to routinely do this on trail rides - I think to explore - but hasn't in a while. I guess she's tired of just hanging around in a muddy turnout. As we turned towards the barn, we had to walk in the street rather than on the trail, as it was too icy - we don't usually do this but she didn't mind. Our street is normally very quiet, and we met no cars. As we got near the barn, instead of heading there she opted to turn down the driveway to the organic farm. I can't remember the last time we've gone that way. She was very interested in all the things we saw, including some truck tires halfway embedded in the dirt that are part of a playground, an assortment of trash cans, greenhouses and other interesting things. She was looking around and a little bit snuff-a-whuffy, but very willing to walk forward and not spooking at all.

We came up to a large shed that is full of equipment and all sorts of farm stuff - the opening was in shadow and we couldn't see too far inside. She was intrigued (perhaps that's where I got her show name - Intrigue - from - she's often intrigued!), and we walked up closer. All of a sudden there was some clattering and crashing from inside the shed - she was on full alert as clearly there might be predators making those noises. But she stood her ground on a loose rein. I called out to ask the person inside the shed to say something, and he came out and did. This somewhat reassured her, but then the clattering and crashing resumed. Although she still stood there, it was that tense stance that's often a prelude to a spin and quick exit. I kept my reins completely loose - tightening up on the reins when a horse is nervous usually isn't a great idea, in my experience - and took a handful of mane in my left hand, just in case there was a spin coming - I can usually ride a spin just fine without mane, but it never hurts to have a little more stability. Then we did a move I call the pre-emptive circle - actually until I wrote this post I've never called it anything, just done it. Keeping my left rein completely loose, I used a right opening rein to ask her to circle to the right, and even though she would have preferred at this point to leave, we circled in a small (but not excessively tight) circle a couple of times until we were facing back towards the shed again and she stopped. We stood there for a bit on a loose rein (all those standing-around exercises really help with this), and then repeated the circle, and stood again. She was calmer at this point, so I turned her and we walked away about 50 yards. Then we turned back towards the shed and approached it again. She stood for a bit, not as worried, and we turned around and walked on a loose rein back to the barn. My thinking in doing the pre-emptive circling is to get ahead of the spin and possible bolt before it happens by directing the horse's feet, so I'm making the choice and offering her some direction - sometimes turning the horse will initiate a bolt, so I'm prepared for that, but since I'm already circling, the bolt doesn't usually get too far. And doing the circling of course presupposes that there's a safe space to circle in.

I was delighted with her, both for choosing the paths she took, and for dealing so well with a scary situation.

Fred got some good gate work in with Sugar's owner at bring-in time. Scout had started the geldings to running - this is something he often does at bring-in time. Joe and Noble ran around a bit, then, being sensible older guys, stood to one side as Scout, Fred and Fritz madly raced around and rolled in the mud, getting all hot and tired. Sugar's owner left Fred to last, so he wouldn't have to worry about another horse on his tail. After a few tries through the gate - I told her to just let him go back and forth through it on his own while she stood to the side until he calmed down - he was able to walk through calmly. It probably helped that he was tired out!

Why I Love Rain

Rain is very good. It washes away the snow and ice, and provides moisture to nourish the grass. It also means it's above freezing (at least for now) and that spring is on the way! One of my favorite childhood memories relates to melting snow. We had a long gravel driveway, and I walked down it every morning to wait at the end for the school bus. At about this time of year - I grew up in Ohio and we had lots of snow when I was a child - the snow would be melting and there would be rivers of water running down the driveway in between sculptured banks of snow. And that wonderful spring smell of wet earth! I try to remember that rain is good as I'm sloshing through the mud and muck with the horses.

Fred and I had the beginnings of some good remedial gate work this morning. As I was leading Fred and Fritz out, our local landfill started firing off rockets to scare off the seagulls - they make a whizzing and then a banging sound. Fred thought this would be a good excuse for a spook and bolt. If Fred seems a bit "up", I keep his nose tipped towards me so that if he does take a leap or go up - his two favorite moves - his shoulder will be away from me. Fred has been known to run people down when he's in a state. I recovered him from where he'd stopped at the end of the lead, and had him do some head-downs - this sometimes helps him "collect" himself (or at least his brain). At the gate to the pasture, Fritz stood patiently while Fred went into and out of the gate four or five times. By the last time, I was able to ask him to stop every few steps while exiting the gate and stand there for a moment on a loose lead. Of course he didn't have Scout on his heels to scare him, either. This afternoon I plan to take him out of the pasture first, and with luck while there are no other horses near the gate so he can feel safe while we practice.

Our trails are down to the hard-packed ice that was under the snow, although we're supposed to hit 50F today and have some more rain, so some of that may go away, except in the shaded areas which will take longer. I'm hoping the rain holds off this afternoon so Maisie and I can ride, assuming we can find any place where the footing is at least passable.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

I Probably Could Have Ridden . . .

It was a warmish day - mid 40sF, but no sun and a chilly wind. We were supposed to get rain, but it never really materialized. We did get some light rain at bring-in time, but I probably could have gotten a ride in, although I didn't. I was working PM bring-in and feeding, so time was a bit short.

Over the weekend, Fred apparently had some trouble at the gate during bring-in. Scout has a bad habit of sneaking up behind other horses at the gate, and nipping them, and Fred is very afraid of this. He tends to want to get out of the pasture, and on Sunday the person bringing him and Fritz in was taking Fritz through the gate when Fred forced his way through and ran off down the aisle. Now Fred is very sweet, but he's big and excitable and also has a habit of really, really remembering something that happened that worried or excited him, even if things are now OK. (I would never, ever, say that any horse was stupid, but Fred's the closest thing . . .) So this evening as I was bringing in he was very agitated. I knew he was likely to bolt through the gate, so first I showed him that we could drive the other horses away from the gate together - he wasn't reassured. Then I had him go through the gate a number of times - there was much bolting and even some plunging and rearing (I stood clear and "fed" him through the gate - one of the reasons I love 10' cotton leads). He didn't really want to believe he was safe - perhaps he'd been banged by the gate over the weekend - I don't know. I wanted to do some more gate work with him in a safe (no other horses) location, but he was clearly fried - when Fritz, who was being led in next, spooked briefly at something, Fred did some more rearing and plunging on the lead, and I doubted, knowing Fred, if working with him today would do any good. I'll see if I can work with him some more tomorrow at bring-in when with some luck his brain will have returned - he doesn't have a problem when I turn him out in the morning.

On the way home, there was a glorious sunset - the rain's holding off for a bit:

Monday, March 8, 2010

Mud and Ice, But No Rain

Everything was icy this morning, but it's not supposed to get below freezing for the rest of the week, and there's rain in the forecast, so the snow and ice should be melting pretty quickly. No rain today, so all the horses got out without sheets or blankets, which both they and I appreciated. It's back into rain sheets for the rest of the week, I expect. The areas in the turnouts that aren't icy are goopy mud, or rather a nasty manure/mud mix. Maisie, of course, made me trudge out, across the ice and through the mud, to retrieve her from the round bale.

Maisie and I managed a brief trail ride this afternoon, but we didn't go far because the footing was dreadful - snow and water over icy patches. Maisie carefully minced her way along, and we made it back safely. I really wanted to get a ride in since the rain will stop our riding, and we managed it, which was good.

They're saying we may almost get to 50 by mid-week. My younger daughter will come home from college next weekend for spring vacation, and she's hoping to get a ride or two in on Dawn (in the arena, as Dawn hasn't been ridden since last fall), but we need to get some melting and drying before that'll be possible.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

We Rode Again

Maisie and I got another small ride in yesterday. The footing is still terrible, so we walked around a bit and down the trail a little ways. I was feeling somewhat out of sorts (not due to anything Maisie did - she was fine), so we called it a day. I was hoping to do some ground-driving with Dawn, but she's coming into heat - lots of head-flinging and "eeee!" in the stall, so her concentration isn't the best and I decided to postpone that to another day.

Absolutely beautiful sunrise this morning, although still frosty:

We're supposed to have some showers moving in this afternoon, so it probably isn't going to be a riding day.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Back In the Saddle Again

As best I can figure, the last time I rode was on December 21 - that's more than two months ago. To be fair, it's been a cold winter with lots of bad weather, and we have no indoor. It was 40F and sunny yesterday, but the footing wasn't really good enough to lunge - about 5 or 6 inches of half-melted, packed snow mixed with ice. So I said to myself, what the heck, I'll just ride - the worst that'll happen is that I'll end up in a snow bank or I'll have to get off. So I got Maisie out of the turnout, groomed and saddled and bridled her up, and off we went. She was outstanding! (Helped, I believe, by the not so good footing - she was having to pay close attention to her feet.) We didn't go far - up and around the hill behind the organic farm, and then back to the barn, up the hill behind and around to the pond and back around by the trailer - only about 10 minutes or so, but Maisie got a good workout walking through the snow.

I was thinking today that I used to be much more bold in my riding, from the time I was small - by the time I was 7 or 8 I was riding pretty much anything available bareback - right through college when I did some eventing on some pretty unsuitable school horses, and then when I came back to riding as an adult I was doing competitive showing in the hunters. I would get on anything and ride it - it didn't matter if it bucked, spooked or bolted, I rode it and pretty much stayed on, minus the occasional lost stirrup. I don't attribute much of this to skill - I did have a pretty good seat from spending years riding bareback on all sorts of horse that did all sorts of things, but I also rode in those days with a lot of hardware - big bits, martingales, etc., so if you had the arm strength and some determination, loss of control wasn't really an issue. My personality then, partly due to the work environment I was in, was also much more competitive and even combative, which meant I was always up for a challenge.

Once I retired and also started rethinking how I worked with horses, things changed a lot for me. I've consciously worked on dialing down my competitive and aggressive instincts, and I also now try to work with my horses using finesse and skill and not just control. This feels much more like working without a net than the way I used to ride, particularly with the hotter horses that we have. I'm also older now, and had some inner ear trouble about 7 years ago that compromised my balance, often in subtle ways, for a while. As a result, I've developed a somewhat cautious attitude towards my work with horses - and having Dawn accidentally kick me in the jaw last fall didn't help my confidence any. To be frank, I do a lot of pussy-footing around, which doesn't hurt the horses much - we don't just repeat the same old exercises but invent new ones, which they like. But I don't just get on and ride like I used to - this is partly good and partly bad - good in that I pay more attention to what the horse is saying to me than I used to, and bad because the horses could probably progress more effectively if I just rode.

This year, I plan on just getting on and riding more. Sometimes this may work well, and sometimes it may not, we'll just have to see. Do you ever have these issues in your horse work?

Friday, March 5, 2010

A Fine Day For a Roll

It was in the low 20sF when I walked to the barn this morning, but it was beautifully sunny, and we're promised 40 degrees later today. There was almost a layer of mist at ground level, and every surface was covered with a fine layer of frost:

Since temperatures were warmer today, both Dawn and Noble went out for the first time in a very long time without blankets - neither gets much of a winter coat, and I expected rolling. I usually don't get good rolling pictures, as I'm either without my camera or too busy with horses to take pictures. But this morning I was prepared.

As I was waiting to see what Dawn would do, Misty took a drink:

Dawn surveys her kingdom:

She chose to roll in the hay next to the round bale. Much sniffing and pawing to select a good spot:

Folding up:

Ahh! (Please excuse the excessively "anatomical" view.)

Neck-scrubbing and leg wiggling (Misty keeps a wary eye out):


And up:

Immediately followed by the same process on the other side:

Noble opted for his usual rolling spot near the gate:

Due to some hind-end arthritis (his 30th birthday is in May), he sometimes struggles a bit to get up, particularly when he's on his left side:

A good shake to finish off:

Noble usually rolls on both sides, but I think the crusty snow wasn't to his liking.

While I was filling water troughs, Dawn came up to drink. Despite the lens flare, I like this shot of her face, particularly the back-lit hairs and muzzle:

Her muzzle gets very square when she drinks (and icky troughs need scrubbing):

She let some water dribble from her mouth:

A sassy, gleaming Dawn butt on the way back to the round bale:

Sugar came up to drink next - her coat is gleaming:

Some obligatory Sugar nose shots:

Please enjoy your March day!