Thursday, December 9, 2010

If At First You Don't Succeed . . . Or How Cones Focus the Mind

Last night at bring-in time there were kids going down the sledding hill nearby, so I took Pie on the lead over that way.  We didn't get that close - they were still about 50 yards away - but he did a lot of staring, and didn't seem too concerned about it.

* * * * * *
I'm not really sure what I was thinking trying to work with the horses this morning - by the time I got home the temperature was up to 17F (-8 C) with a wind chill of 9F (or -12C) - and trust me it was colder while we were working earlier.  But I actually do know what I was thinking - we've got a storm coming Saturday night into Sunday with an arctic blast to follow - the type where the highs struggle to get above zeroF (or -17C) and the wind chills are as bad as -20F (or -28C).  Not much opportunity for working with the horses in that type of weather, so I'm trying to squeeze in a few work sessions before I'm shut down for a while.  This was not necessarily a good idea.

Today was one of those days where you make an attempt to do something, it doesn't go so well, and then you try it another way and maybe you manage to turn things around just a bit, at least enough to end on a good note.  All the horses were super frisky this morning - lots of running and bucking at turnout - and Dawn and Pie were no exception.  I thought I'd give Dawn a little bit of attention and do some ground driving - she was wearing her turnout blanket and that was OK.  Only Pie had been turned out at that time, and all the other horses were still in the barn.  We made it a little ways and then I got some head-shaking, scooting and small bucks.  She was also calling.  It was pretty clear nothing good was going to come of this as I'm not all that fond of out-of-control horses on the long lines - I've dealt with that before (with Lily) and can't say I've enjoyed it much although the horse and I survived.  I also almost never work Dawn first thing in the morning and she may have been disturbed by the change in routine as well as excited by the cold.  So I decided to abort our session and we successfully ground drove back to the barn, doing lots of turns to help her contain herself.  I'm feeding this evening, so I may try another session with her then just to have a somewhat better result, and will likely use the cones set up in the arena to help her focus as we do patterns. (Update:  this didn't happen - just too cold and it was snowing.  Not fair to her or to me to try to work in these conditions.)

Then I got Pie out of turnout to work with him.  He was much fussier than normal while I was tacking, and doing some young horse stuff like pawing.  I got on, and he quickly told me he wasn't that interested in being cooperative - lots of head-shaking and wanting to veer towards the other horses, although fortunately nothing worse.  We did one very short excursion up the trail, but he felt pretty bunched up underneath me, so we did some circles and serpentines on the field behind the barn.  That wasn't going as well as I'd liked either - he still wanted to veer back towards the other horses and was still doing a lot of head-shaking to express his annoyance.  We did manage to work our way onto the field a bit, and then I decided to try something a bit different.  I took him back to the barn and took off his bridle (we were in the snaffle).  We went for a short trail walk with me on foot, including some standing around work (where his only job is to stay out of my space - I don't care if he moves his feet).  He was still distracted.  I tied him briefly - there was some pawing and I untied him when he stopped.

I wanted to end on a somewhat better note with our mounted work, so we went back into the barn and I got the sidepull out.  I really didn't want him in the snaffle at this point if we were doing tight circles and turns and we haven't done that much work in the bridle.  I put on the sidepull and we went to the arena - I thought the visual barrier between him and the other horses might help the veering, and I wanted to use the cones.  This session went much better - all we did was walk patterns using the cones, going from cone to cone and doing small circles around them in various directions.  He did do some head-shaking, but much less.  We worked for about 10 minutes or so, and he finally relaxed a little bit.  I was able to ride him on a loose rein and he was much more responsive and focussed.  I considered moving up to trot, but considering his energy level and that I wanted to maintain his calm, decided to save that for another day.

When I turned him out, he went galloping off, shaking his head, to tell the other horses how badly he'd been mistreated!

Unfortunately, in our part of the world, with no indoor, we're getting to the part of the year where opportunities to work the horses become few and far between.  Just part of life, I guess - the horses don't care too much so long as they have enough hay to eat.


  1. Good effort. The only good thing about my upcoming surgery is I will be out of pocket during January and February. I should be able to ride again by March if all goes well.

    Enjoy your cold days with a hot cup of tea.


  2. Dan - if you have to miss part of the year for riding, I suppose January and February aren't the worst months to miss!

  3. Kate-

    While I admire your drive and dedication, I think Pie and Dawn had a different perspective... their head shaking bridges language and species - perhaps equine cussing? :)

    Stay warm!!

  4. Well, you tired, and actually managed to finish with each horse on a positive note, despite the challenges.

    I don't blame you about the longlining. It gets downright dangerous with a really naughty horse. But you both got safely back to the barn, so that's good.

    As for Pie, he continues to show some really good qualities. For a youngster, he really does keep his wits about him, even when he's distracted. And I particularly like that he does not choose "explosions" as a disobedience, even when he's excited. He has a good head on those shoulders of his. *G*

    Wishing you some warmer weather at some point this year. And, as I've said before, it's not even officially winter yet!

  5. Getting too cold for work here too. My mini-herd is getting a little ancy though and would probably enjoy the work and time out of the pen. I might have a small window this weekend before that same storm hits us. I hope so because I sure don't wanna have to deal with my "Miss Priss" after ANOTHER week off! :)

  6. I'm so glad you found a good note to end on. It's so important even if it's just standing around.

    I do applaud your dedication to riding in such cold weather. No way for me, not even in our indoor (which isn't very nice anyway).

  7. Kate...I have to say (and don't get mad), I don't understand why you would ask a horse to work in those temperatures. They were giving you a message and I'll bet they were not too thrilled. I was always under the impression that extreme cold had quite an impact on their lungs...maybe I am wrong. You are some trooper.

  8. Yikes. I think I'd be shaking my head, too, if I was asked to focus in those temperatures. Brrr!
    You are much tougher than me, for sure.
    Too bad you can't come here to work and ride the horses. Today it was over 60F degrees and almost summer like. I could have worn shorts. Weird weather we're having here.


  9. Lori - that had occurred to me too! (while I was in the middle of things - by that point I had to finish in a better place with Pie. I think Pie was saying "gotta eat Mom to stay warm . . ."

    Lisa - I wish I could just pack up and move in with you, but I'm sure Dawn would manage to impale herself on a cholla or end up with a scorpion or snake attached to her nose!

  10. Those temps are too cold for me to work in. I'm sure you're bundled up and used to it though. Glad you ended on a good note with Dawn and Pie. Hope you don't get too much snow and arctic chill and can continue to keep them in work.

  11. I do the exact same thing--try to squeeze in as much as I can before a cold blast hits us, and then when things don't go well I "give up" and just find anything I can to end on a good note. :)

    Today will be one of those days--I'll race home and try to get Fabian driven before the sun sets. Do we ever learn? Heck, no LOL!!

  12. Whenever I try to use the cold as an excuse for staying inside and staying warm, I think of you and your steadfast insistence on working your horses. You are an inspiration (or you are a popsicle)! Thanks for being such a great role model and giving me the impetus to get out and ride!

  13. You have to have a few tough days to make the good ones shine brighter.

    I wonder if there's an indoor in the area that will let you ride for a fee?

  14. Yeah, this time of year is tough for riding/training without an indoor. Our weather sounds pretty similar to yours...

    I agree with you 100% about riding with cones. I find having something like that to do really focuses horse and rider. I use them regularly.

  15. When it gets that cold, I don't do anything with them--January and February are my time for doing other things, but I do have access to an indoor and it makes it nice when the weather's in the 30's--like today.

  16. Working without an indoor can be tough! Im impressed your still going as it is :)

  17. That's funny, that he ran off to tell the other horses how mean you were!

    Though I bet at dinner time you were his best friend again. :)


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