Monday, February 28, 2011

Nine and Nine and Nine

Pie and I got in our ninth ride of February yesterday - by coincidence, we also had nine rides in each of December and January, for a total of 27 over our worst months for riding.  With no indoor and the unusually cold weather we've had all winter and our early February blizzard, I'll take it.  It's certainly more riding than I've ever managed over the winter before.

Pie and I took a short excursion on the trail - the footing wasn't great but we managed.  He was fairly nervous and had his head up in the air - we haven't been on the trails in over a month and the last times were with other horses - and due to the footing I couldn't use some of my usual exercises to help him focus and relax (serpentines and circles), so part way out I dismounted and led him to help him out.  We stopped and looked at things from time to time and he did relax somewhat.  As we were heading back to the barn, I felt him reach out and grab the back of my coat just at the neckline - I expect he was complaining about my walking too slowly but coming into my space that way, particularly with his mouth, just isn't OK.  I spun around, and rushed towards him doing a wordless "roar" - he flew backwards, looking very surprised.  (Laura - there's a case where I do reprimand.) Then we just continued on our way back to the barn.  Once there, I mounted up again and we did more figure and transition work on the grassy area and also did some bits trotting a short distance away from the barn on the grassy edge of the trail.  Once I got a bit of focus and relaxation, we were done.

* * * * * *
And in Drifter news, it looks like the vet check will happen sometime in mid-March - like us, they have no indoor and the footing isn't suitable right now.  Keeping fingers crossed . . .

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Dawn Says Enough Is Enough

This time of year in our part of the world, the skunks are very active.  My house smelled this morning like there was a skunk living in it, and sure enough, right outside our bedroom window there was a dead skunk - looked like it might have been killed by coyotes although we didn't hear anything in the night.  Or it could have been a Great Horned Owl - they're one of the biggest predators of skunks - who killed the skunk and then didn't manage to carry it away.

And then there are the rabbits.  We have a plague of bunnies every year, eating everything in sight - tree bark, shrubs, vegetables, ornamentals, you name it, they eat it.  They also chew wood and wiring when they can find some.  They do keep the coyotes and owls well-fed.

Yesterday morning when I went into the barn, there was grey and white bunny fur strewn in the aisle just in front of Dawn's stall.  The only marks in the snow at the door opening were cat prints - we leave the barn door open at least a "cat-crack" even on the coldest nights - so I guess that means either Night or Bob (our two barn kitties) had a baby bunny dinner sometime in the night.

Then this morning, there was more bunny fur, and . . . bunny guts . . . in the aisle, and only cat tracks in and out.  It was right in front of Dawn's stall again, and she told me in no uncertain terms that she'd had enough of this violent feline behavior - as soon as I set foot in the barn she had a temper tantrum - rearing and bucking in the stall and running her teeth up and down the wall.  She did settle down when I gave her some hay.  One thing about Dawn, she always tells you what she thinks!

* * * * * *
And another lovely thing happened with Pie yesterday - as I entered the pasture with his halter to bring him in - he was eating at the round bale with the other geldings - he saw me, left the round bale and walked deliberately over to me with his ears pricked.  Sometimes he comes to the water tank when he knows I'm coming to get him to take a drink before we leave the pasture, but this time he came right up to me and almost stuck his nose in the halter.  It was pretty clear he was saying "hi - let's go for a ride!".  Sweet Pie (you can tell I'm besotted!)!

* * * * * *
And now I'm off to finish up my chili for my neighbor's 12th annual chili contest tonight!

Friday, February 25, 2011


Pie and I managed to get in another nice ride today.  The temperature was a little above freezing and there was almost no wind.  The snow and ice are melting, but the footing is still terrible except in the grassy area behind the barn.  We made good use of it, though.  We did some walk work using our cones, including figures and some more softening work.  He has more trouble softening when we're tracking right, and also finds it hard to flex his neck in that direction.  He's got some tight muscles on the left side of his neck, and I need to do more stretches and massage with him to help these relax.  He also frequently rests his left hind foot when standing, and I expect that may be related to the neck issues - he's not at all off or lame but I expect the stiff neck puts some strain on areas in his back and hindquarters.  Our chiropractor will be able to help with that.

We were also able to do some good work at the trot - transitions - the downwards ones are particularly nice - all I have to do is think "walk" or "halt" and breath out and he's right there.  We did some figure work and also some circles, and a figure I call "yin/yang" - it looks just like the yin yang symbol, doing circles with nice S shapes through the center to change directions:

It's a nice exercise, particularly when your space is limited as ours was today.  I wasn't using cones for that one, although you could put cones where the dots are.

Pie was very relaxed and responsive today and it was great to get in a ride - good Pie!

More Great Posts

Here's a couple more great posts for your February reading and thinking pleasure.

First, here's a follow-on post to the ones I linked to earlier this week (see this post of mine for those links), again from Linda at Beautiful Mustang.  Really good stuff.  I'm planning on putting together a sidebar with some of these posts so I can easily refer back to them.

And here's a post from Amanda at S.M.A.A.R.T. Horses that's about some issues that can arise in clicker training, and how to deal with them - but even if you don't do or have never done clicker, there are some pretty powerful ideas about working with horses in there that aren't specific to clicker.

* * * * * *
Pie and I got in a quick ride yesterday - the wind was fierce but temperatures were above freezing so we just did it.  There wasn't too much we could do - the footing is terrible in most places and the trails are unusable - but we did spend about 15 minutes walking around on the field behind the barn and doing some figure work, including some turns on the haunches.  That boy sure has his neck reining down - all I have to do is touch his neck with the rein and turn my eyes to the side and he's right on it.  So far he's soft, soft, soft at the slightest touch - he came that way from the great start he'd had with his old man.  Can't say I've had this experience before - every horse I've every had has come to me with a lot of braces built in.

I'm hoping for another (sort of) ride today.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Fear, Trust and Letting Go

One of things I love about the world of horse bloggers is that sometimes a really good post will cause others to talk further about the same subject or related subjects in a way that really adds to the conversation.  A couple of days ago I linked to this post by Katariina at Equine Insanity, which I strongly recommend you read if you haven't already.

This morning, there were two more posts that I also suggest you read - first, this post at One Old Cowgirl's View and second, this post by Linda at Beautiful Mustang.  The first post talks about fear, and two-way trust between horse and rider and how powerful that can be.  The second post is about Linda's work with her mare Beautiful and how powerful the concept of "letting go of the story" can be.  Here's a quote (used with her permission) from her post:
We like to hold onto old stories...about ourselves, each other, our animals. We like to say THIS is who I am, and THAT is who you are. So there.
But that's not reality. We are not who we were yesterday. We are not fairy tales, or cliches, or caricatures--all good and pure or all mean and evil.
Last week I had an epiphany--that I was holding onto a story or, more accurately, a fairy tale, about Beautiful Mustang. I thought it wasn't good for her or me or our training, and since it wasn't good, I decided to let it go.
An amazing thing happened, though, because when I let it go, I found out she is even smarter and more amazing than I thought. She is calmer than I thought. She thinks things through more than I thought. She is more of a willing partner than I knew.
Read Linda's post to find out what happened next - it's pretty amazing.

These two posts, together with the original one, have made me think more about Dawn and our mutual trust issues.  Pie is easy to trust, even though he's still a young horse and can spook or do something unexpected.  And he trusts easily - he's one of those fortunate horses whose trust has clearly never been betrayed by a human.  Dawn is another matter, both in terms of her trust of me and also my willingness to trust her.  There are reasons why we both feel this way.  Dawn has had her trust seriously betrayed in the past, and I think it makes her more inclined to trust her own feelings and thoughts than those of her human partner, and therefore to make her own decisions what to do when the chips are down.

She has learned to trust my younger daughter, though.  My daughter just kept riding through all of Dawn's bolts, and bucks, and spooks, and rears, and eventually Dawn learned to trust her enough that they were able to go for miles on the trail, my daughter riding bareback, not always without incident but with mutual trust, even galloping together for long stretches.  But my daughter rarely rides her any more - college got in the way.

So now Dawn and I have been working on building a relationship together.  When I first started working with her, I confess I was somewhat afraid of her.  See my post "The Horse Is Thinking About Leaving . . ." for more about that, and about where our work together has been going.  Part of my lack of trust in Dawn has more to do with a lack of confidence in myself rather than anything Dawn has done when I've been working with her - I'm not really sure I'd be able to ride out her acrobatics and I don't feel safe riding her on the trail - Dawn has actually never done anything "bad" when I've been working with or riding her in the arena and in fact has been a willing and cooperative partner.  She can also be very aggressive when around other horses, and this used to be a risk to humans who were near her, but over time I've convinced her that she's always to pay attention to me and stay out of my bubble regardless of how she feels about another horse that is nearby, and that when we're working under saddle, we're working even if other horses are in the arena.

I think part of it is that she has to trust me to keep her safe - from scary things in her environment and from other horses, whom she fears and tries to dominate as a defensive measure.  I also have to help her by giving her direction when she's worried or distracted, and I must always stay as calm and soft with her as I can for her to give me calmness and softness back.  If you up the ante with Dawn, things overload pretty quickly - she's a horse you have to persuade rather than pressure.

Riding her bareback and in a bitless bridle last fall really indicated that I was beginning to find her more trustworthy.  I need to take further steps down that road - of showing her that we can trust each other and keep each other safe and happy.  I need to let go of the stories I've told myself about her - about who she is and what she's likely to do or not do - and just take her as she actually is.  She's shown me some trust already and it's up to me to show her more, and as we do that I think our relationship will deepen.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Dawn Makes Her Opinion Known

Yesterday, the weather was really awful - hard rain and just barely above freezing.  The horses got some time out in the morning but were happy to come in at noon.  Even though she was wearing a warm blanket, Dawn was shivering when I got her - once she was in and I toweled off her neck and put her fleece cooler on she was fine.  Pie, who was only wearing a rain sheet, wasn't really cold, which didn't surprise me, but he stayed in for the afternoon and overnight to stay warm and dry.

In the late afternoons, after the horses have been brought in from turnout, I almost always go to the barn to check on my two and often do a little grooming.  I usually groom Pie after he's had his dinner before I turn him back out.  Dawn usually gets groomed in the morning before turnout - it just balances out the work.  I usually tie Pie in the aisle to groom him, which puts him in front of Dawn's stall.  This really doesn't seem to bother her too much normally.

But yesterday, while I had him tied in the aisle, I went in Dawn's stall to readjust her cooler.  She had been calm while I was grooming him, but as soon as I set foot in the stall she immediately began attacking the walls and bars with her teeth - she was launching herself with front feet off the ground and ears pinned.  If I hadn't mostly closed the door, I think she would have tried to go for Pie.  She wasn't after me - she was both protecting me and trying to scare him away from herself.  I think she's terribly jealous of him for getting attention from me, and since he chased her down when the herds got mixed by accident, she's been very worried about him.  A lot of Dawn's aggressiveness with other horses comes from fear - this is quite often the case with aggression in horses, both against other horses and people - she's a little thing and I think in prior lives has always had to defend herself and hold her ground to protect herself and get access to food.  Anyway, she's made her opinion of Pie known!

* * * * * *
Before the farrier gets here this morning to put Dawn's missing shoe back on, I'm going to make one more sweep of the dry lot with a magnet to see what turns up.  Here's hoping!

* * * * * *
And everyone needs a picture of a cute, fuzzy, trotting Norman pony to improve their day - thanks, Melissa!

Sunday, February 20, 2011


Well, not quite.  Dawn lost her left front shoe on Friday.  When I was grooming her that morning before I turned her out, I noticed that she had slightly sprung one corner of the shoe, not so much that I had to take it off and the side clips were still in place.  But the "dry" lot she was in on Friday was full of shoe-sucking mud, or otherwise slippery, and Dawn is prone to acrobatics, so the shoe was missing that evening.  She's walking comfortably, if a bit lop-sided, but the farrier will probably be out next week.

I've spent a lot of time over the past several days looking for the shoe - the dry lot is a little more than an acre.  I did find the oakum stuffing out of her foot - it looks sort of brown and hairy - which is odd since it's about the color of the mud - I noticed the hairiness.  She must have lost it after the shoe since there was some pine tar between her foot and the oakum.  No shoe anywhere in the vicinity.  When I'm looking for a shoe, early morning and late afternoon are best, as the low angle of the sun highlights things.  I'm usually pretty good at finding shoes - if they're lost in grass I ride a horse to look - I follow a deliberate pattern to be sure I cover all the square footage.

This morning I was out there looking one more time - those shoes with borium spots are expensive and take the farrier a long time to make when he's here.  Pie came marching up to me (geldings are in that dry lot today), ears pricked and with an inquisitive expression on his face:

"Whatcha doing?"

"I'm looking for Dawn's shoe."  I spoke out loud to him - I usually do when I talk to my horses. I rubbed his face and neck and gave him a hug around his neck.

"What's a shoe?" [He's never worn shoes.]

"It's about this big [holding hands apart], it's sort of round, and it's shiny around the edge and black in the middle [the snow pad].  If you see it let me know."

He headed off to graze - not sure if he'll follow up with me or not.

I suspect it's somewhere in the hay around the round bale - I poked around in there with no results.  I'll look again tomorrow.

Saturday, February 19, 2011


Here's a lovely post from Katariina at Equine Insanity that you might enjoy on a February Saturday.  I'd describe the post as about our emotions and those of our equine partners and how those interact.  The post is also about the fears many of us have.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Staying On

One definition of a good ride:  keeping the horse between you and the ground.

How to have a good ride: keep one leg on each side of the horse and your mind in the middle.

All riders, no matter how experienced, sometimes fail to have rides that comply with the definitions set out above.  Every rider falls off, sometime.  But I think there's some things riders can do to reduce the odds of falling off, and to reduce the odds of injury if they do fall off.  Add your thoughts in the comments.

1.  Stay relaxed.  If your body is tense or you have braces in your legs, arms or back, you're more likely to come off if your horse makes a sudden move.  If muscles need to contract to allow you to stay on, and other opposing muscles have to let go before those muscles can contract, you've lost valuable milliseconds of response time.  Also, being braced or tense doesn't allow you to easily follow the motion of the horse and tends to push you up out of the saddle - if you're bouncing around there are braces somewhere in your body.

2.  Ride in a balanced position.  If the horse were suddenly removed, and you were placed on the ground in the same position you have in the saddle, would you stand there nicely balanced or would you tip forwards or backwards or to one side?  If you're not in a balanced position, you're vulnerable.

3.  Keep riding.  Don't let your attention wander - when you're riding, you're riding - keep giving your horse direction and leadership - a horse who has to take over the controls because you aren't paying attention can get you in trouble.  And if something happens, don't stop riding - if you stop riding you're much more likely to come off, and if you scream or assume the fetal position, you almost certainly are going to come off.

4.  Learn how to do a one-rein stop.  It doesn't work in every circumstance, and sometimes you can't use it due to the terrain, but it's a useful tool.

5.  If your horse is a habitual bolter, rearer or bucker, figure out what the problem is and fix it.  First rule out all possible physical/pain issues and only then address it as a training issue.  Get help if you need it.

6.  Have an independent seat, legs and hands.  A corollary of this is to be physically fit enough to do the riding activities you do.  Riding bareback is a great builder of balance, as is riding without stirrups.  If you can find a horse that lunges well and someone to lunge you, ride at all gaits without reins or stirrups.  And no one should be jumping a horse, even over Xs, unless they've got an independent seat, legs and hands and are able to maintain a balanced position - it always amazes me how many photos there are of kids jumping, even in leading horse magazines, where the kid's leg is swinging back and they have no base of support except their hands on the horse's neck.  Too many trainers in the hunter/jumper world give in to the pressure from parents and kids and let kids jump too soon and jump too high.

7.  Ride "in" the horse, not on the horse.  Imagine that you and the horse are a single body, and ride from your combined center of gravity - sink into the horse.

8.  Assess your horse's mental and emotional condition and work accordingly.  If your horse needs lungeing or turnout or groundwork, make sure you do it.  Pay attention as you ride - there are typically lots of warning signals before things go sideways.  Don't hesitate to modify what you planned to do if your horse isn't in the right mental or emotional place to do it.  Don't wait for something to happen and then react - get ahead of things and give your horse direction before something goes wrong - keeping the horse's mind and body engaged will help in many circumstances.

9.  Don't jump a horse who has unsafe jumping form.  One of the most dangerous types of falls is a rotational fall where the horse catches a front leg, or both front legs, while jumping and flips over - people get seriously injured or even killed in falls like these.  I've seen lots of hunters, jumpers and even eventing horses with poor jumping form - crooked, or with front forearms that aren't parallel to the ground but instead with one or more knees below the horizontal.  These horses are accidents waiting to happen.

10.  Don't ride horses you shouldn't or compete in events you shouldn't.  If you're a beginning rider, stay away from "Fireball".  Don't let your trainer talk you into buying that fancy horse that you're not really experienced enough to ride - many trainers (not all) do this, perhaps because it ensures lifetime employment. If you're an intermediate rider, don't compete in advanced events.  This isn't to say you shouldn't stretch yourself and advance your riding skills by doing things and riding horses that are a challenge, but use some sense.  If you've got the wrong horse, or if you're scared of your horse, get the issues fixed (physical/pain issues to be ruled out first) and if they can't be fixed seriously consider getting another horse.

11.  Make sure your horse is fit enough to do the activities/events you are doing.  Unfit horses, or horses that become fatigued, can injure themselves and also their riders.  Pay attention to the footing - horses can slip and fall and it's up to you to choose a safe speed.

12.  On the trail, ride with safe and considerate companions.  Make sure everyone's aware and plays by the same rules.  If you're not interested in galloping on the trail, don't ride with people who take off at a gallop without telling you first.

13.  And, if you do fall, and you will, no matter how good a rider you are - freak accidents can happen - make sure you're wearing an approved, properly fitting, riding helmet.  You can still be injured or even killed while wearing a helmet, but a helmet that's properly fitted and worn can save you from injury, concussion, permanent brain damage or death.  I don't care if it's unpopular in your discipline or if it messes up your hair or makes you look like a sissy.  I'd rather look like a sissy than be in a coma.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Good Pie Ride

It was beautiful today, 40sF with little wind.  I've been having a spot of back trouble - a long standing problem - but today I felt better so Pie and I got in a bit of a ride.  The snow is still melting, so there's a mixture of snow, ice and soupy stuff depending on where you look, so finding places to ride is a challenge.   Pie and I took a ride down the road towards the organic farm - there were lots of new things to look at, and listen to - someone was unloading a truck (invisibly) which involved lots of sliding plastic noises - and many farm objects he's never seen before, but he just walked along, stopping from time to time to look and sniff - good Pie!  We don't usually ride back there, and Pie left a manure pile right in front of the organic farmers' house in their driveway, so I briefly popped him in his stall while I went over and collected the manure.

Then I put his sidepull back on, mounted up again and we briefly walked into the arena - one end was icy and the other was soupy - he sank up to his fetlocks - so we beat a hasty retreat.  Then we waded through some snow and went up on the hill behind the barn - the grass was exposed but it was very wet and slippery so we just walked and did a refresher on our softening work.  Then for a change of pace, we rode into the dry lot where Fritz and Fred were eating at the round bale (Scout's still in a paddock because of the cut near his eye) and rode around in there for a bit, doing some circles and figures.  Fritz and Fred didn't care but I think Pie was a bit disappointed not to join them in their eating.  As we left the dry lot, Pie allowed me to swing open the gate while mounted and let him through - his lateral work is pretty good.

Then we walked down the paved road for a bit, greeting a few passers-by.  Good Pie!

I'm still working on setting up the vet check arrangements for Drifter - more complicated than I'd like but the seller is very cooperative and we'll get it worked out.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Why I Love My Horse - Goldilocks and the Three Horses

Jane over at The Literary Horse has asked us to do posts on why we fell in love with our horse - if you go over there you'll find links to some marvelous stories.

My story includes Goldilocks (that would be me - I used to be blonde in the long-ago past and also have often acted pretty clueless when it comes to getting horses) and the three bears (oops!  meant to say horses - at least two of them were bears in certain ways and the third one is "just right").

I've loved horses forever.  We lived next door to a (very bad) livery stable - the type that rents out horses by the hour to anyone who shows up, whether they can ride or not.  I learned to ride there by climbing up on horses bareback and riding until I fell off and then getting back on again.  By the time I was 9 or 10 I was working there (for no pay except getting to ride all day, which was pay enough) all weekend taking customers on rides, which meant riding whatever horse I was riding that day, carrying a bullwhip and going along behind the customers and cracking the whip to get their horses to canter.  I was probably on a horse 8 to 10 hours a day each weekend day that the weather permitted and more days in the summer.  I got my first horse at age 8 - a completely unsuitable, barely trained and vicious (due to abuse) mare that spent a lot of time trying to kill me and almost succeeded on at least one occasion.  I had more horses as I grew up, the most memorable of which was Snow - a cremello QH mare who would do anything for me, and whom I loved dearly.  I rode other people's horses too whenever I could.  In college I rode almost every day, on school horses, and actually got some real lessons for the first time.  My college team did hunter/jumper and also eventing and we even had a drill team - now that was fun!

Then I started working (in the so-called "real" world), got married and had two daughters.  About 15 years went by since I'd even sat on a horse.  When my daughters got to be about 7 and 8, they wanted riding lessons, and one thing led to another.  I started taking some lessons again, and discovered that it all came right back.  I discovered Noble and got him - he wasn't a hunter but did beginning dressage.  I loved him for 13 years and he was always willing to do what I asked, even if he was nervous about it which he often was. My daughters started showing in hunters, and we got several horses, including the Norman pony - this would be in 1998.  In 2000, as I was getting ready to retire from my job, I got Promise and started showing with my daughters.  I loved her dearly - she wasn't just a hunter but would do anything and go anywhere I asked - but Promise very sadly had an accident that proved fatal in the fall of 2001, and I was looking for another horse - still thinking that I wanted to show.

Here's where the three horses come in.  Horse number one Lily showed up, stuck her muzzle into my face and also proved that she would jump anything.  Here's Lily, doing a Lily sort of thing:

And here she is, running, which she does very well:

I got her (my older daughter got Dawn at the same time).  It wasn't the wisest move on my part - she was a very difficult ride and not well-suited to hunters.  Although I liked her personality and fire, I never enjoyed riding her - it was just too darn much work.  She never worked down or tired out and I did.  My older daughter wanted to do jumpers and Lily had the potential, so I passed Lily on to her.  (My older daughter passed Dawn on to my younger daughter, who had outgrown Norman.)  I was searching for a horse again.

I think I tried at least 17 horses, or maybe more, before I got Maisie - horse number 2.  Here she is:

When she got off the trailer, her beauty just blew me away.  I also felt sorry for her - she was very sad and shut-down and really wanted nothing to do with me or anyone else.  And I still wanted to do hunters and, when we took her to a show during the tryout period, she cleaned up in every class she was in.  She was very sweet, and I overlooked her serious conformational problems and her, how shall we say this, "ditziness".   She was hard to ride in a different way than Lily - she was sweet but was a very slow learner and easily frustrated and flustered and prone to melt-downs.  We'd also stopped doing hunters - in fact had left the show world entirely. And she was constantly unsound because of her build.  I learned a lot from her, but she really wasn't suitable for what I wanted to do - all around activities and trail riding - and nothing we did was going to keep her sound.

Both Lily and Maisie are now retired, together with Norman, at Paradigm Farms.  At about the same time that Maisie retired last year, we lost Noble at the age of 30. The only horse I had left living with me was Dawn, who belongs to my younger daughter who's now at college.  I do love Dawn, but I would never have picked her as my horse and she can be quite a challenge.  Here she is doing a Dawn move:

And here she is looking beautiful, but very alert in that Dawn way:

I was on a horse search yet again, but this time I tried to pay some attention to what I was doing and end up with a more suitable horse, both mentally and physically - I was looking for the "just right" horse.  I looked long and hard - those of you who were with me on the horse search know about that. And here's what I found - Pie:

He's only 4, but he's smart, and sensible, sound and willing and has a great foundation on him already - he's just right.  He came home with me at the end of October and we've had 40 rides together already despite the weather.  I got to spend a lot of time with him the day I checked him out - he was easy to approach and halter in the pasture - he walked right up to me with interest, and he was a gentleman for everything including the vet check.  He's just a horse with a lot of confidence - he came that way I think - here's a picture of him as a baby that captures that feeling:

Every time I'm around him, I like him better.  And he makes me laugh - he's got a playful, goofy streak that's adorable, and he's a delight to be around and doesn't mind being hugged and fussed over - and who could resist this face:

(And we'll see how the runner-up - Drifter - in the great horse search fits in if and when he arrives in March.)

Happy Valentine's Day to you and all your equine friends!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Pie and I Make the Best of It

It was a beautiful day - it almost feels like spring in comparison to the very cold weather we've been having.  It got up to almost 45F, although with the wind it felt like 35F.  But it was sunny, and the snow was starting to melt, and the birds were singing, and even better, Pie and I had a ride - two days in a row in February is nothing to sneeze at. (Yesterday we rode around a bit on the plowed circle around the barn and in the aisle to the paddocks, and had a failed attempt at the trail due to deep snow.)

Today we did some work in the arena - for once there were no horses turned out there and the footing was OK for walk work.  The snow's melted some and isn't too deep.  We did lots of figure work - circles and serpentines as well as straight lines.  We worked on our slowing and extending the walk, as well as some halts and some backing.  And then, since Pie had plenty of energy and was having to push from the rear to walk through the snow, it was a perfect opportunity to start some real softening work.  We worked on softening at the walk, starting with working to get 3 soft steps followed by a big release - to make sure he got the message that he was doing what I wanted; the releases can get less dramatic as we continue to work and eventually he'll find his own release by my keeping my hands still.  Once we were getting 3 steps repeatedly in one direction, we did the other way and then alternated directions.  We took a break on a loose rein for a bit and then did more softening work, ending with him being able to repeat 5 soft steps in each direction.  I didn't want to do more today, as it was very hard work for him to walk through the snow and carry himself differently.  As always with softening work, it wasn't the head position so much as the feel of him engaging his core, lifting from behind and letting go with the top line that I was looking for.

Then, although I'm not a big fan of riding on pavement - Pie's barefoot which makes it marginally safer than if he were shod - we walked down the street in front of the barn - it's a quiet street with very little traffic - for a couple of hundred yards until we reached a trailhead where there was a path beaten down in the snow.  (The snow's too deep for safe riding on almost all of the trails.)  We tried this trail for 50 yards or so, but the footing was very slippery and neither Pie nor I liked it, so we turned around - I asked him to take a few more steps in the direction we were going when he wanted to stop, and then turned back.  We walked back the way we had come and past the barn for a bit and then turned back.

Nothing but walking, but it was a very productive ride.  Good Pie!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Ceremonial Time

Pie has been teaching me some things that are important - I expect I have a lot more to learn.  We've been together now for a little over 3 months - I suspect he thinks I'm a slow learner, but he puts up with me.   I pretty quickly figured out that he really didn't like staying in a stall at night.  He tolerated it - he never misbehaved in any way but made his preference known, mainly by indicating that he was eager to leave anytime I opened the stall door.  But he never kicked or pawed or pushed - that would be too much drama and he's not one for drama.

Then, after a while of taking him to his paddock directly from turnout and feeding him up there, we noticed that he would pace and pace the fence line after eating his pellets - never running and calling, but just walking up and down with his head over the fence - until I would go and bring him into the barn, tie him in the aisle and groom him and take him back out.  Then he would settle down for the night and eat his hay.  My bringing him in and then back out again was clearly a move in the right direction.

But finally, as a result of trying to find a way to make things easier for our p.m. feeders, we've been bringing him into the barn from turnout, and feeding him his dinner in his stall.  I leave some hay in there for him to nibble on before the horses are fed, but as soon as he's done with his soaked pellets, I take him back out to his paddock with his evening hay.  Last night I finally noticed what this  produced - happy, happy Pie!  He marched right off to his hay and started eating, even though this was the first night that had been warm enough for him to go out in 5 days.

And then I remembered that when I met him for the first time, I went to the pasture with his old man and we haltered and brought in the horses.  The old man apparently brought all the horses in once a day to feed them their grain in their stalls, and then turned them back out.  This was probably the routine Pie had followed since he was a weanling.  By replicating this pattern, even though Pie goes out by himself without other horses to his paddock after feeding time, somehow I've given Pie back a ritual, a ceremony, that was very important to him.  He would have been fine without it, but having it has made him deeply contented, and it's a gift that I'm glad to give him.  Last night when I left the barn after putting him out, I could see him happily eating his hay in his paddock, and lifting his head from time to time to survey his world with the profile of his ears silhouetted against the sky.  Happy, happy Pie.

* * * * * *
This got me thinking about the importance of ceremonies, and ceremonial time, in our interactions with our horses.  One of the best things about interacting with my horses, and the others at the barn, on a daily basis - often several times a day - is the opportunity to participate with them in the ceremonies we share, and to observe the ceremonies they have with each other in their herds - I did a post about the rhythms the horses have.  To me there is a deep connection in the small moments - riding is the least of it - particularly when I am touching or interacting with the horse, where time slows and the moment is all that matters.  It's in the greeting we give each other of glance and touch when I halter, as we look into each other's eyes and I touch a face or neck before the halter goes on.  It's in the rituals of grooming - the careful, slow, movement of the curry, brush or comb, the connection we share as my hands rest on and pass over the horse's body and as the horse carefully lifts each foot for picking.  It's in the breathing of each other's breath as the horse raises his nostrils to my face and takes me in.  It's in the deep intelligence of the horse's eye as the horse looks at me and sees me for who I truly am.  It's in the coming to me when I call them by name - sometimes at a run.  It's in Dawn taking time to rest her head on my shoulder as we groom and closing her eyes in contentment as I stroke her face. It's in the communication and figuring out we do together, involving balance, focus and energy, when we work on the ground or when I'm riding.  I'm never more alive than I am with the horses when we share these ceremonial times, and I try to carry that feeling with me into the rest of my life.

To conclude, here is a Navajo Blessing Way prayer that I believe captures the essence of the deep ceremonial time I am fortunate to share with horses - the horse and I are both the "I":

In beauty may I walk.
All day long may I walk.
Through the returning seasons may I walk.
On the trail marked with pollen may I walk.
With grasshoppers about my feet may I walk.
With dew about my feet may I walk.
With beauty may I walk.
With beauty before me, may I walk.
With beauty behind me, may I walk.
With beauty above me, may I walk.
With beauty below me, may I walk.
With beauty all around me, may I walk.
In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, lively, may I walk.
In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, living again, may I walk.
It is finished in beauty.
It is finished in beauty.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Horses Are Out! and More on Breathing

At last, the horses are out all day! It was 4F (-15C) this morning with no wind - just a beautiful morning as the sun came up.  The horses were all delighted to get out right after breakfast, and every lady and gentleman led perfectly to the dry lots even though it was their first morning out in days.  We're supposed to have rising temperatures through the next several days, so maybe there'll be some riding in my future.  I'm also sure that Pie will enjoy being back in his paddock at night rather than confined in a stall.

Poor Scout is getting turned out in Pie's paddock during the day for at least the next several days.  While Jill had Scout and Pie turned out together in the arena while she was cleaning her stall yesterday, they were playing halter tag and had each other's halters.  At one point when Scout let go of Pie's halter, Pie's nose rebounded and whacked Scout where his cut behind the corner of his eye had been stitched up.  The cut started bleeding again, and it clearly hurt Scout.  So he's having to stay by himself for a few days until things heal up a little more.

For those who may be interested, Shinyfluff (nice screen name!) and I have been having a conversation about breathing in the comments section of my old post "On Breathing" (this post is also on the sidebar under Other Favorites).

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Signs of Spring and Pie Meets the Ball

Despite the very cold weather we've been having, there are some encouraging signs of spring.  The cardinals have started singing - they're usually the first - and I've seen some at the bird feeders.  Just before our snowstorm last week, I saw a flock of at least 30 bluebirds - bad timing on their part - and saw one again this morning.  And most importantly in my world of horses, ladies and gentlemen, we have shedding!  Just last night when I was grooming Pie there was the smallest amount of shedding going on.  Spring will be here before we know it (along with the mud, and the cold rain . . .)!

* * * * * *
This afternoon, I introduced Pie to a large ball I got him as a toy.  I'd already ordered it when I saw the video which is included in this post from Equine Ink - the video of a foal playing with a ball is priceless - take a look.  My husband, who is quite a fan of Pie's, even though he is not a horse person, blew up the ball - here he's putting on the finishing touches:

I put it in the arena and led Pie in there.  He looked at it, touched it with his nose and looked at me as if to say, "nice, now can we go in and have dinner?"  Then I kicked it - he startled just a tiny bit then walked up to it with me and nosed it.  He said, "ok, I see the ball, dinner, please?"  So I took him in and he had dinner.  Talk about a horse who doesn't believe in drama!  We'll see what Dawn thinks of it - the objective will be for her not to end up in the next county, and the introduction will be gradual, and will involve allowing her to approach it at her own pace using clicker.

Colder Than Cold and Another Scout Boo-Boo

This morning was -9F (-23C), so the horses didn't go out.  There was supposed to be more wind, and I'm hoping the wind chills won't be as bad today as they were expecting.  Inside the barn it was 6F (-14C), which is the coldest I can remember it ever being.  We've had longer periods of even colder weather, but with only 8 horses in the barn instead of the 12 or 13 we used to have, the barn gets colder.  All the horses but Pie and Charisma are blanketed inside at those temperatures.  Pie and Charisma were both comfortable - their fur was lying flat - when it stands up the horse may be beginning to feel a bit cold even if not shivering.

Pie and Scout got a few minutes in a nearby turnout with some hay and a heated water tank, and did some running around and playing, while I was hand-walking Dawn in the barn aisle for about 10 minutes.  By noon I expect the temperature will be up a bit with wind chills still somewhat below zero, but we'll probably put the the horses out for at least a while.

It seems to be the week for Scout boo-boos.  When I brought Pie in and went back to get Scout, Scout hadn't come to the gate and was standing there licking his left knee.  Hmm . . .  Whenever a horse is behaving in an unusual way, I give them an extra checking over.  Sure enough, although there didn't seem to be anything wrong with his knee, there was blood on his left front foot on the inside just above the heel.  It looked as though he had overreached and caught himself on the heel while they were running.  Perhaps he tweaked his knee a bit when he stepped on himself, but he was standing on the leg just fine and walking normally.  I wiped the blood off, and it appeared to just be a small cut that looked like it had been cut by a hoof.  Not too serious, but I put on a bit of Nolvasan antiseptic ointment and left a message for Jill on her cell phone.

* * * * * *
Pie seems to be doing well at feeding time now on his new regime of U-Gard, soaked pellets and added salt.  (This morning soaking his pellets was a particular challenge - they were so cold that even soaking with hot water didn't do anything - the pellets just chilled the water.  I ended up having to run hot water in the sink in the office and sitting the small bucket with his feed in the hot water - it finally warmed up enough that the pellets dissolved.) He even drank (a very small amount of) water from his heated bucket last night.  I think he's just deciding not to drink - he's smart enough to know that he'll be going out where he can drink from a tank, which he prefers, so he just waits.  He also strongly dislikes being in a stall at all, so perhaps it's a protest.  I'm just glad he seems to be OK for now.  His hock sore is starting to come back, but with some luck tonight's the last night he'll have to be inside.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Back in the Deep Freeze

This morning the wind chill was about -15F when I went to the barn.  I put Scout and Pie out briefly in the arena, which has a water tank, with a bit of hay.  While they were out there, I cleaned and refilled Dawn's water bucket - she'd left a "deposit" as she often does on very cold nights - she likes to back her butt up to the heated bucket to warm it, with predictable results.  By the time I was done, Scout and Pie were having a good run and play, but as soon as I looked out the barn door, they were right at the gate desperate to get back in.

Pie seemed just fine last night - he has U-Gard in his feed and we're soaking it with some hot water.  He's fed in a pan on the floor.  The pan has a salt block in it, which together with the soaked pellets, helped to slow down his eating.  He also never drinks well from his heated bucket inside, so I'm going to start adding plain (uniodized) table salt to his feed.  He likes his salt block and vigorously licks and bites it, but a little more salt might do the trick for his drinking - it helped a lot with Maisie who was a poor drinker in the winter.

And, speaking of Maisie, here's a lovely picture of her down at Paradigm Farms - you can see why I got her - I was bewitched by her beauty and sweetness:

For those of you affected by the very cold weather, stay warm and safe!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Scout Gets Stitched and a Pie Mystery

Jill called the vet to come see Scout's cut near his eye, and fortunately our regular vet was only a few towns over and was able to come right away.  Scout was sedated, and the cut was stitched up.  The eye itself is fine, which is good news. This morning, it was a little swollen but that's all, and it should heal up well.

* * * * * *
Pie had a brief tummy ache again last evening.  He'd been in, eating his hay, and had eaten his dinner - it's just a half pound of vitamin/mineral balancer pellets with a little cocosoya oil.  After a bit, he started getting grumpy - pinning his ears at me while I was grooming, not eating his hay and looking uncomfortable.  Then he laid down (sternal, not flat) and was even groaning a bit.  But no signs of severe pain - no rolling or pawing.  Within an hour, he was fine again, and there was plenty of normal manure both before and after his episode.  His feet were warm but not hot - this seems to be how they usually are in the evening.  This morning his feet were cool.

This time there was no misfeeding to blame it on.  I'm not sure what's going on - it doesn't happen every day - the last time it happened was over a week ago when the misfeeding occurred.  It only has happened at afternoon feeding so far. And it doesn't last long, seems to resolve on its own and he's completely normal except for the brief periods when he's not.

There are a couple of possibilities - his permanent molars are still coming in, which means that his dental arcade isn't even.  He also tends to eat really fast - his appetite for dinner is good.  So perhaps he's not chewing his pellets thoroughly enough and they bother his stomach, and then his small intestine - food only stays in the stomach of the horse for about 15 minutes.  Or he could have an ulcer in either his stomach or his small intestine.  But his symptoms aren't quite typical for that - horses with ulcers usually show symptoms more consistently, particularly in the morning before feeding when the stomach is empty - but he's never yet had a problem in the morning.  But I suspect he's a stoic, so it could be ulcers. Or he could be one of those horses with some sensitivity to  weather changes involving big changes in pressure and temperature - we had a big temperature drop and big pressure increase last night.  Or all of the above.

For now, I've put him on U-Gard two times a day just as a precaution, and we may also soak his pellets so they're softer.  And then we'll just have to see what happens - horses can be a mystery sometimes.

* * * * * *
The horses are out today - wind chills are about -5C but the sun is bright.  The wind is very sharp, and I don't know how long they'll want to stay out.  Dawn is double-bagged - a heavyweight turnout over a medium weight - which should improve her staying power.  I'll check on them later.  It's good they're out now, since tomorrow will be colder and windier and they may not get out much if at all.  But spring's not too far away (I keep telling myself . . .)!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Another Pie Ride, Misty and Fritz Back and Lily Sleeps

Pie and I managed another ride today, before the arctic cold arrives tonight.  We went out on the trail for a bit, but only got a couple of hundred yards from the barn when the snow got well above his knees and looked to be getting deeper, so we turned around and went back to the barn.  Pie was very good - bravely and carefully making his way through the deep snow.  He seems to be very sure-footed and careful about where he puts his feet.  He would have gone further if I had asked him, but walking through the deep snow was very hard work, and he's not all that fit right now and I didn't want to risk an injury.

All the horses had been moved to Pie's paddock (mares) and the arena (geldings) in preparation for another visit by the bobcat guy.  He was coming to open access through the snowdrifts to the dry lots for our hay man to be able to get in with round bales, and to also cut us a path allowing direct access to the upper dry lot.  Since the gates were open and no horses were in the dry lots, Pie and I rode up in there and rode around for a bit, including some nice trotting - the snow's not as deep in parts and has been packed down by the horses.

Then I turned him back out with his herd - good Pie!

After lunch, I came back to the barn to see if bobcat guy was done, and he was.  I turned the horses back out in the dry lots.  While I was turning mares out, Misty got herself into the narrow slot in Pie's paddock that had been shoveled to get to and move his water tank.  She didn't seem to be able to figure out how to back out - she was as wide as the opening.  So I walked up to her, spoke to her and placed a hand on her rump to be sure she was OK and then squeezed between her and the snow bank, haltered her and directed her to back out - good Misty!

Then, Fritz and Fred and I had to do a tricky maneuver.  They were the last two of the geldings to be turned back out, and I wanted to lead them to the dry lot together, as they can both get pretty agitated when they're separated.  The access to the arena they were in is a very narrow shoveled path, barely one horse-width, that takes a winding path to the arena gate.  I haltered both horses, and then led Fritz out, turned him around and asked him to back carefully down the path, with Fred following behind me.  Fritz did great - I've never asked him to do anything like this before - he backed carefully, stopped when he started to step into the deep drifts, and allowed me to carefully lead him forwards and then back as needed to maneuver around the corners.  Fred was also great - he followed nicely and never came into my space even though all my attention was on Fritz.  When we came out of the slot, I turned Fritz around, told him what a good boy he was, and off we went to the dry lot.

As I was turning Scout out, I noticed that he had a cut running back from the outside corner of his left eye - the cut was about an inch long, fairly deep and bleeding.  His eye was also bloodshot in that corner.  I don't know if he bumped it on something or got bitten or kicked.  The eye itself seemed OK, which was good, and he wasn't squinting or teary.  I called Jill and she said she'd come over and look at it.  I never like to take chances with injuries close to the eyes.

* * * * * *
And here's another sleeping beauty - a photo of Lily enjoying the Tennessee weather down at Paradigm Farms - looks like she might be in need of a body clip sometime this spring:

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Around and Around, and Sleeping Beauties

Pie and I finally got in a ride today, our first in 11 days.  From the weather forecast, it doesn't look as though much riding will be going on until next weekend.  I was determined to ride today since it was about 30F and the wind wasn't blowing.  Because of the deep snow - one of our boarders went for  a short trail ride and said some of the drifts were up to her horse's belly - the only place we had to ride was in a circle on the plowed path around the barn.  We did a brief mounting refresher - the mounting blocks are buried so I used an overturned muck bucket - since Pie was somewhat antsy.  But he quickly remembered how to stand still on a loose rein.

Then we walked around for about 20 minutes - the footing was pretty iffy so no trotting - and did some walk/halt/walk transitions, with some backing and circles thrown in for good measure.  Pie was very good and very responsive.  It wasn't much of a ride, but I'll take what I can get this time of year.

* * * * * *
Here are a couple of sweet pictures of Norman (on the left in the first photo) and Maisie (on the right in the second photo) napping down at Paradigm Farms - thanks, Melissa!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Horse Play

It's still pretty cold - windchills below zero - but very sunny and the horses are out.  There was lots of playing and frisking.  The mares were checking out the "forbidden" gate - it's usually closed with electric across it so they were cautious:

Dawn had a lot of fun running and playing:

Dawn and Sugar took a breather for a moment:

Then Dawn was back at it - for some reason today I got some pictures with feet off the ground:

Misty decided to forge a new path through a very deep snowbank:

Pie and Scout were having fun, too, taking a run:

Pie puts on some speed:

Time for some rough-housing:

Scout at rest - this photo really captures his personality:

I hope everyone stays warm and safe on this February day.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

What a Difference a Day and a Bobcat Make

Things are looking up at the barn.  All of the horses managed to get some hours of turnout today, with hay and heated water.  Wind chills hovered near or below zero, but they were glad to get out.  Much progress was made with snow relocation so that access to the paddocks, barn and dry lots, including their water tanks, is improved.  We can now reach both dry lots, albeit in one case we have to go through one to reach the other as the long aisle is still full of drifts.  Amazingly enough, both water tank heaters were still functioning under all that snow due to protection for the outlet and extension cord/heater connections our wonderful p.m. barn lady had put on them.  Pie's paddock has been abandoned for now, as it has huge drifts and he can use Charisma's daytime paddock at night.  Our neighboring farm's bobcat was used to do the heavy lifting, and achieved wonders.  A group of kids did some more shoveling to clear the water hydrant and the outlet between the dry lots. There's still a bit of finish shoveling left to do so that the hot wire between the dry lots is not covered by snow, and to free the battery powering the hot wire.

Here are some photos showing how much got done - see this post for what things looked like before the bobcat was called into action.

Here's the area outside the south barn door looking up the aisle towards the paddocks:

Here's the snow mound between Charisma's and Pie's paddocks - that's Scout and Pie on the left:

Here's one approach to a water tank in one of the dry lots:

Here's an amazing drift top - that's one of the water tanks and the hydrant peeking out behind:

Here's the other side of the water tank - you can see the tall snow bank that's entrapped the hot wire on the far right:

Here's the approach to the water tank in the other dry lot - that gate, although it's clear, isn't usable - the snow drift is chest high just outside it:

Here's a huge snow drift running down one side of the upper dry lot:

Here's a view back towards the barn:

I managed to catch a few photos of Pie and Scout playing - they usually stop if I get too close, so these pictures are from a ways away.  Pie had an unfair advantage - Scout was wearing a halter - here Pie's grabbed on:

Pie harasses Scout from behind and Scout kicks up in response - no damage done:

Sweet Pie with Scout to the left:

Pie digs in a snowbank:

And ends up with snow on his face:

The dynamic duo:

To all affected by difficult weather, may you and your beasts be safe and warm.