Thursday, June 24, 2010

Tidal Horses, Trotting and Crazy Walking

Today, horses went in and out like the tide - except more than twice in one day. We've changed our pasture arrangements - we used to do intensive rotational grazing on smaller pastures, about 1 acre plus or minus, with each of our two herds spending about a week on one of our 10 grazing pastures before moving to the next one. With larger herds - we've had as many as 17 horses on pasture although that's probably too many - this intensive grazing maximized grass growth and productivity and meant we had to feed much less hay over the grazing months.

The problem we've been confronting lately is that we now have only 9 grazing horses - one herd of 4 and the other of 5. Charisma's on permanent dry lot and Blackjack is so old and feeble that he can't safely be out with the herd. There's not much likelihood of more horses, and in fact we don't want more as it just means more labor that has to be done at our already labor-intensive facility. We've decided that we no longer want to maximize grass production, and want to significantly reduce labor, so we've moved to grazing each herd in a large, conjoined 5 or 6 acre pasture without rotation, but with frequent mowing to control weeds and improve the ability of the horses to graze all the areas of the pastures. We no longer need our extensive system of electric fencing, there will be no need to set up water - hoses and tanks - for new pastures, and we'll only be using two tanks very close to the barn which will be easy to fill and keep clean. We're expecting some decline in grass quantity and richness, which will be a good outcome considering the girth of many of our horses, although there should be enough grass for the grazing season.

The horses have been demonstrating to us that this should work well. The mares showed me how it works today. Sugar and Misty lingered near the barn for the first part of the morning while Maisie and Dawn were in dry lot - Dawn's the herd alpha and they wanted to be near her. When Dawn and Maisie were turned out, I showed the mares the open gates to the next two pastures, and they happily galloped through all the way to the far fenceline. Maisie is still getting reintroduced slowly to grazing, so I walked out to get her an hour and a half later. I haltered her and let her towards the barn. I heard galloping hooves, and turned to see Dawn, Misty and Sugar galloping up. As they passed us, I made sure they didn't get too close - Maisie stayed with me calmly, and then I let her go and she galloped up after them. They all went to the water tank and took turns drinking. Maisie also had a big drink as well. Then, since Maisie was in the barn, they lingered nearby - I expect if she'd been out they would have returned to the far reaches of the pastures.

The geldings also mimicked the behavior of the mares - they also galloped in for water and a noontime rest when the mares galloped in. Later they returned to the pastures. I actually think the horses are moving more, and more vigorously, with the new pasture arrangement.

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Both Maisie and Dawn got some work today. Maisie and I used the field behind the barn as a pseudo-arena - the actual arena is still a swamp after all the rain we've had. It has a bit of a slope to it, so it was a good workout for Maisie. She's doing well at her speed regulation, so we continued our conditioning work - we did a lot of large circles and big-looped serpentines at the trot, and I allowed her to extend a bit going up the slope. Then we took a short trail ride as a reward.

Dawn and I had some brief fun doing a bit of "crazy walking". Dawn and I haven't done much work together since last fall - we did some work before the weather got colder and then this spring Maisie took all my time. Dawn's my younger daughter's horse, and she rode her over spring break and then has been riding her this summer. My daughter rides bareback, and takes Dawn on the trails. I think Dawn's an amazing horse in many ways, but I'm unlikely to ride her on the trail for the foreseeable future - she's very athletic and reactive and at my age - I'm getting close to 60 - I'm not up for trying to ride her through the spooks, bolts and possible bucking out on the trail. If I were my daughter's age, maybe - I'd also be less breakable if I were younger. But I do think there's a lot of interesting work Dawn and I can do in the arena and near to the barn. If you've started reading this blog after last September, for a description of Dawn's issues and the work I think will help address them, see my post "The Horse Is Thinking About Leaving . . ." Since my daughter will be leaving soon for most of the rest of the summer and then will be going back to school, Dawn and I will pick up our work again. I'll wait to do under saddle work until my daughter leaves, since her riding style is so different from mine, and will do ground and in-hand work until then.

I think Dawn benefits from a work program that is consistent and has some predictable elements every time. So we'll start our sessions with leading and in-hand work (if you search "in-hand" in the label cloud, you'll find a variety of exercises Dawn and I have worked on), then do some lungeing or ground driving, and only then do mounted work. The most important thing with Dawn is for her to be "with you" - doing mounted work when this isn't there would be a very bad idea. Today all we did after grooming was a bit of "crazy walking" - I'm getting over a bit of flu and didn't feel up for more than that - which we both enjoy. For those of you who haven't read my description of this exercise before, it's a leading exercise in which I have Dawn on a loose lead, and then do various things - walk, jog, stop, back up, take abrupt turns to the left or right, turn in circles, etc. Dawn's job is to stay right with me and mirror my movements without getting distracted or running into me. Obviously, good leading must already be established, including backing out of my space or sideways away from me without my having to do much to get that. She remembered very well, and we had a bit of fun with it. I'm hoping for more tomorrow.

12 comments:

  1. What you have done with your pastures makes a lot of sense. Much more efficient and doing water will be so much easier. Good move.

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  2. Sounds liek you have a good handle on things.I like rotational grazing ,and use it here ,but with the numbers you have this new system likely works better

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  3. I'm trying to figure out my rotation, too. I have seven pastures: five between 1 1/2 and 2 acres, and two that are both 2 acres or better. All have access through various gates to paddocks surrounding the barn, each with a water tank, so that's not an issue.
    When I had the horses is separate groups coming out of winter, I rotated them through five of the pastures.
    Now that they're all (6) together, I'm trying to let them eat down the last two pastures that got belly high in places. But they are all very rotund, so I daren't leave them out full time--I'm letting them out first thing in the morning for 3-4 hours, then again in the evening for 2-3.
    I've been wondering if I should just mow it all down? But I'm afraid the cuttings would just smother the new grass underneath. (I even thought about asking the neighbor to cut and bale it, but I know he doesn't like haying smaller spaces.) What do you think?

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  4. EvenSong - I'd recommend mowing. It keeps down the weeds and allows the horses to graze more evenly, not just where the grass is short - our horses tend to graze one area excessively and others not at all as the grasses grow up and get more coarse.

    If you do mow, do it when the grass isn't wet and when a run of several days of dry sunny weather are expected. The horses should be kept off the pasture for several days until the clippings start to dry out - they don't have to be paper dry but somewhat dried up. Our pasture manager says that when the grass are still "respiring" - e.g. metabolically active, which can go on for a day or more after cutting - that they are particularly risky for fat/insulin resistant horses, although I haven't been able to find a good source for her information. If your clippings are so heavy that they form clumps, you might want to rake them a bit so they dry better and don't mold. I wouldn't worry too much about them smothering the grass (although I haven't seen your pastures!).

    Good luck!

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  5. EvenSong - a very good resource on pastures/grazing/hay/feeds, particularly on dealing with fat/insulin resistant/laminitic horses can be found at safergrass.org.

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  6. Thanks, Kate! I feel like I'm hogging your post!
    Yes, my herd does have their *favorite* spots. And that's what has me agreeing with you about mowing the "roughs". It's my understanding that the taller the grass, the tougher--hence the horses' preference for the newer grass where they've eaten more recently.
    My worry about clumping/ smothering is based on hay fields, where any leftover hay (near the edges or in the corners of fields, where the baler--that's me--can't get) needs to be raked and picked up by hand, or it will prevent new growth. But I mow my pasture with your basic "Bushwhacker" type mower, that mulches things pretty good, where hayfields are done with a "swather" that leaves heavy windrows of long hay stalks (that need to be "fluffed" at least once before baling, to help them dry evenly).
    Guess that goes on the chore list for next week (I just finished irrigating, so I'll have to let things dry out a bit).

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  7. Your Dawn sounds a lot like my Gwen. I just read the post you linked to and the part about getting Dawn's attention really caught me. When I got Gwen I could not get her attention if she was away from her brother. She was really dangerous, she'd spook all over the place and run right over the top of me. It was only after I started clicker training her that I could finally get her attention when we were alone.

    I know exactly what you mean when you say you need Dawn to be "with you." When that kind of horse isn't: Whoo! Scary.

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  8. Once again, the horses' behaviors are fascinating. There are decided herd dynamics at work and yet they seem to single horse--in this case Maisie--even when she is separated from them. Maybe they thought her staying in was a good idea at the time.

    I don't have enough pasture to rotate, so mine just gets abused. The Boys always have hay, so the grass is just there to amuse them.

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  9. Kate -new pasture plan sounds like it's going to work out really well.
    In hand work has such perks and can be just as fullfilling sometimes! I for sure know that my communication is getting better on ground and try to bring that up while on his back too.

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  10. love your new header photo and red surround. Looks great!. Sounds like your new pasture rotation will make life alot easier, and thats got to be a good thing.

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  11. I can only wish we had your pasture situation. Our place looks a bit like the Mojave right now, and what little is there is weeds.

    I never called it that, but I like to do crazy walking with Poco. It helps keep him focused on me, not trying to anticipate and assume.

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  12. Kate. Are you okay with me quoting a bit from this post and from our exchange in the comments in a post at my place? I will, of course, give credit and a link back to you. Just let me know... Laurie (EvenSong)

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