Monday, April 25, 2016

The Challenge Continues



" Mr. Blue"

I’m way behind on my 100-day challenge but I hope to be able to catch up soon.  This past weekend was the first chance I was actually able to work with the horses. After their little adventure down the road I needed to wait for the farrier to come and replace Blue’s lost shoe and make sure his pastern was feeling better. 

Donnie and I worked on some clicker training and he did really well.  He’s a very smart horse and loves to interact with people.  The reward treats didn’t hurt his enthusiasm either.  We also started some basic longeing.  Nothing more than an easy walk, trot, and whoa on a big circle.  He hasn’t forgotten anything he’s learned over the years.  He’s got beautiful balanced movement and is impressive to watch.

I decided to ride Blue in the indoor because it was cold and windy and threatening rain.  When I positioned him at the mounting block and climbed the step ready to get on I had a sort of  “I can’t do this attack.”  I don’t know what it was – PTSD syndrome from all my trouble with Dusty at the mounting block, or flashbacks to the anxiety she caused with her mounting antics. Whatever it was, I couldn’t get more than my foot in the stirrup.  I finally gave up and hand walked Blue around the arena a few times giving myself a good talking to until I was ready to try again.

When I was in the saddle the plan was to have an easy day for both of us working at the walk to revisit basic rein aids, which are Blue’s biggest issue to be addressed before advancing to other gaits.  True to form, whenever I asked him to yield to the rein in one direction he would resist and counter bend in the other.  After years of riding many different horses, I know my aids can’t only be misleading him.  No, he's discovered an evasion which requires the least work while getting him out of the most work... At least in the short term. "Oh, you were going to ask me to canter around this arena for a while? Um, that sounds hard. Hang on, let me just pop my shoulder in here and walk very slowly kinda sideways so you can deal with this for the next five minutes instead. How would that be?" Frustrating, Blue, very frustrating... 

He has a tendency to be lazy--always has been, and I expect he always will be.  He's also very clever. Together they make working with Blue a challenge. Over the years I’ve tried to develop what I call “thinking in the saddle,” meaning that when something isn’t working I need to come up with an alternative plan. When Blue would counter bend, instead of fighting with him (which is never productive) I would simply ride him into the new bend and we continued working in that direction for a while.  This went on and on until Mr. Contrary finally gave up.  After some very nice circles and figure eights in both directions we called it a day and ended on a good note.

It’s hard to work with a lazy/stubborn horse and not get frustrated. Having lots of patience with a healthy sense of humor doesn’t hurt either. 

Quote for Today
No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle.  ~Winston Churchill

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

It’s Always Something



"The Escape Route" (there's a gate at the bottom of the hill)

Sunday afternoon I was in my backyard looking over the flowerbeds and seeing what needed to be done when the weather starts cooperating.  That’s when a man walked in. Since I didn’t know him I said, “Hello, can I help you?” 
He says, “Yeah, your four horses are running all over my property and tearing the grass up.”
“ Oh no, are they okay?”
“Just get over there and get them.”
“Where do you live?”
He points across our farm, the hayfield, and down the empty road and says, “Over there.”
Um, ok. “Over there where?”
“The white house.” All the houses down that way are white. But, no problem. We'd use our expert tracking skills and follow the horse tracks, piles of manure, neighs, and the grumbles of angry neighbors to locate the runaway herd. How hard could it be?
He turns and stomps off. 

I call my daughter and let her know the situation; we grab four halters and lead ropes from the barn.  I can’t even see the white house from the barn, but she knows where it is and whose property it is.  So we proceed up the road, which, by the way, is uphill (BOTH ways), and in my guesstimation is about a half a mile from us.)

The first thing I notice when we get to their driveway is that the front gates are wide open. Wouldn’t you shut the gates so the horses couldn’t run out on the road again?  The next thing I notice is that their white house isn't even visible from the end of the driveway, much less a half mile away at my house where this guy was pointing. But never mind. After that I notice our four horses bunched up and jostling each other in a panic while this guy is leaping back and forth, flapping his arms (I think I saw some jazz-hands, too), and shrieking at them like a demented bird. When he saw my daughter approaching, he threw up his hands, climbed on his tractor, and drove away from the scene, shaking his head with a, "Good luck!" as he passed her. With them sufficiently warmed up for us, we had our work cut out for us.

We dove into the middle of this thrashing mass of horseflesh, threw lead ropes over necks and wrestled halters onto bobbing heads. One in each hand, my daughter starts down the driveway with Grady and Nate.  I’ve got Blue and Mellon.  The "farmer's wife" is in one of the paddocks with her two miniature donkeys, just watching all this go down and feeding them treats. Blue, at this point, hasn't seen enough of the donkeys, so is being a total jerk pulling and trampling me to get to the paddock for a closer look. I’ve never seen him so uncontrollable. We swapped Blue to my daughter and Grady to me. She put the rope over Blue’s nose and it helped. We seemed to have them under control.

Now, as we’re walking down the driveway with four very excited horses this guy decides it’s a good time to drive his tractor down the driveway, too, apparently just so he can shake his head at us at close range. Come on buddy! Give us a break! Of course, we apologized profusely for their inconvenience and the damage to their grass. But I’m thinking this whole time that maybe they could have just opened a gate to one of their empty paddocks and let them in there to be safe. Maybe I'm crazy, but that’s what I would have done.  The wife did say to us, “It’s a good thing they didn’t fall in the pool.” Um, ya think so…?

No one likes their Sunday interrupted by a herd of runaway horses (ok, I might, but nobody normal...) and I'm sure nobody appreciates their grass being mildly torn up by hooves. But there's an unwritten code among horsemen that we help one another--and help the horses in particular--in times of need. Not only did we not get a helping hand that day, I'm pretty sure we got the finger. And this after my daughter has helped these particular neighbors out of some sticky spots, given them diesel for their vehicles, and been generally friendly. The whole experience was an eye-opener.

So now the horses are prancing along nervously again down the driveway and out onto the road. We're hanging on for dear life. I didn't look back, but I have to assume someone pooped in their driveway. We walked them down the road and home. Blue lost a shoe somewhere along this little adventure and had a gushing scrape on the back of his pastern. Mellon tore off a heel bulb. Nate and Grady were very stiff behind, with their shivers acting up.  Mellon who is 28 years old was the one least affected of them all.  He's amazing. When we got back and put them in their stalls to chill out, we also brought Donnie and Sami in. 

We got in the RTV and went out to see where they escaped. Apparently, someone opened a gate in the back pasture that leads to the hay field next door and didn’t close it. My guess is it’s one of the hunters who don’t have permission to hunt our property but do it anyway at night. Some of our neighbors have been hunting coyote at night recently. My daughter has heard them shooting near the back of the property late at night.

I’ve learned from past experience that if there is a gate open Blue will find it and leave, taking whoever is willing to follow with him.  Nate will go just because he can.  Mellon will go because he’s the herd leader and feels it’s his duty to watch out for them. And Grady probably succumbed to peer pressure.  I have no idea why Donnie and Sami didn’t leave, but that didn’t stop them from running the fence up towards the barn neighing and generally carrying on until their buddies came back.

So it was an eventful day and we were lucky no one was hurt badly.   Nate is still very sore and lame today and for some reason Grady is mesmerized and still looking over the fence to where he was.  I think he’s never seen a donkey before and is looking for them. He’s probably having nightmares about those strange little hobbit horses.

Quote for Today
How do you catch a loose horse?  Make a noise like a carrot. 
      
 - British Cavalry joke -

Friday, April 1, 2016

I'm a ...What?


" What did she say?"
In a recent conversation with my daughter about our herd, I mentioned, that since most of our horses are officially retired or in a reduced work load these days because they’re getting older and there are  some we’ve adopted with no intention of riding them at all but simply to give them a good home and with the loss of Dusty, the thought has crossed my mind that having some younger healthier/fitter horses in the herd might be fun. The fact that we actually have no room for more horses and barely have enough time for the ones we currently have is just a minor detail.

My thoughts on adding more horses to the herd prompted her to call me a
 “horse-a-holic”  ( is that even a word?) and she suggested I seek professional help for this addiction. I thought it was a very funny observation and thought I'd share it.  I'm sure there are many more horseaholics out there!

Quote for Today
You can never have too many horses!

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Happy Birthday "Blue"



Today is Blue’s birthday. He is nineteen.  I don’t think there is much more I can say about Blue that I haven’t already said. Blue has a special place in my heart and always will. He is one of those extraordinary horses that will bring a smile to your heart when you are around him.  He has a personality that is so unique it would be an understatement to say he is quite a character.

I can remember when we first met him; he was a handsome four-year-old with his own unique personality. I should have known then how much I would admire this guy and come to love him. On the ride across L.I. Sound which took over an hour he was on a rocking ferry in a trailer with people he didn’t know and he never blinked an eye or made a fuss, but took it all in stride.  Typical Blue, of course--never expend more energy than absolutely necessary.

Blue has always had the capacity to make me laugh, so even though I’ve told these “Blue” anecdotes before, I’m going to repeat a few.  He is one of those rare horses who knows who he is and is very comfortable with himself.  Being one of the smartest horses I’ve ever known, his antics are nonetheless very comedic.  I sometimes wonder if he pulls these stunts to make us laugh. He may not think so, but any horse who will climb into the manure dumpster and stand on top of the pile surveying his kingdom majestically is just downright funny.  One time he was at a show and needed to be braided. Unfortunately for the girl who did the braiding, Blue was taking a nap and refused to get up.  She pulled up a chair and braided his mane while he stayed lying down. He did the same thing to our vet. Instead of getting up for his shots he stayed lying down and took it in stride. Blue has been known to actually hide behind the run-in shed when he knew he was going to be ridden, occasionally peeking around to see if he was spotted.

Some of the herd might crowd the gate waiting to be first to go in at night time.  If that happens he bides his time and comes in when it’s all clear so he doesn’t have to deal with the riff-raff. But if he looks around and sees no one is heading for the gate he’ll make eye contact with you and almost nod his head as if to say,  “I got this, do you?” and he’ll trot up to the gate to be first.  What can I say?  He's a complex guy.  There’s no way to put all of his personality quirks in a short post so this will have to do for now.  Suffice it to say Mr. Blue is one very cool horse.

I would also add that he is more affectionate to his humans than he is to his herd members. He’s always been a bit of a loner and seems to relate to people more than other horses. Maybe its because humans may be harboring treats. You never know when a carrot or apple will appear! So after a full day of searching for that elusive blade of perfect grass he’s more than willing to suffer through hugs and ear rubs.


Until next time

Quote for Today
The love for a horse is just as complicated as the love for another human being...If you never love a horse, you will never understand.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Horse Challenge – Days 4-5-6




Donnie
Donnie and I worked on more clicker training with the cone. We went to the outside arena that is near the road. There are a few more distractions with cars, occasional motorcycles and bike riders and, of course, Gunnar the dog. A few more advanced moves were added like putting the cone on fence posts or on the ground. He did really well finding and touching them and seems to be enjoying his work and his treats. Once the treats were gone I decided to walk in a circle that covered half the arena to see if he would follow me.  He did in both directions and stayed at my shoulder stopping when I did and moving on with me.  So I count that as some at liberty work even though he most likely thought I still had treats in my pocket and that was his motivation.  All in all we had a good time together.




Sami
Sami worked on a short session of longeing and did very well considering he hasn’t worked on anything since last Spring.  He seemed a little confused at first but picked up the signals quickly and liked the attention.  He’s a smart little guy who lives for hugs and scratches. So he’s on his way to getting fitter and having a job.  Although he’s a sturdy little Arabian, I doubt I will ever ride him since he’s only 14.1 hands.  Then again, never say never…

Blue
Blue and I had a ride together in the outdoor arena and it went well.  He was a little on the stubborn side about moving faster than molasses rolling uphill but we eventually worked it out.  I had to correct some steering glitches because he does like to cut the corners.  Once we got that sorted out he decided it would be amusing for him to counter bend a bit here and there to see if I was paying attention, I was and we worked that out between us.  It was fun to finally trot a bit with him and then we called it a day and ended on a good note.

Quote for Today
There is nothing so good for the inside of a man as the outside of a horse. ~John Lubbock ~

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Donnie’s Day


"Donnegal"  
 
Donnie’s Day

Donnie and I had a good start on his journey to developing more confidence in himself and his surroundings.  I decided to start slowly after a winter hiatus because that’s what always seems to work best with Donnie. I want him to feel that any time he is with me he has nothing to be apprehensive about and knows he will always have a good experience.  This may sound odd but Donnie is a special case and needs a lot of reassurance from everyone around him.  He’s a very intelligent horse and very sensitive. 

Unfortunately, he’s also a very nervous horse who has a tendency to become stiff and unresponsive when he’s upset. We got him when he was 3 or 4 years old, (nobody was sure of his age), Donnie has been with us for thirteen years and he does trust us but he still has episodes of distress.

After all these years he’s still a little head shy at times.  When I went out to the pasture to bring him in he threw his head up when I tried to halter him.  We have to unbuckle the halter and stand beside him and then put it on. He’s not comfortable when anything comes directly at him from the front.  We’ve often wondered if he has trouble with his eyes but there really aren’t any tests to diagnose nearsightedness or farsightedness in horses as far as I know. 

Donnie and I worked with a little clicker training involving touching his nose to a cone.  I moved it in all directions and he was a star. It only took him one click to figure the response that was needed for a treat.  We didn’t work for long but it was enough to start with.

I’m not ever going to ride Donnie. My goal is to make him feel good about himself and gain confidence by his achievements. I believe all horses like to have a job of some kind and feel useful.  It’s also important for them to feel special and get attention. 

Donnie is a sweet sensitive horse and to show his approval of what we did together he gave me a little shoulder nudge and a Donnie “horse hug.”  He gives the best hugs ever and will even call you over to his stall to get a scratch or rub then give a Donnie hug in return.  I love this horse.

Here’s Donnie’s full story from past blog posts if anyone is interested:




Quote For Today
In the steady gaze of the horse shines a silent eloquence that speaks of love and loyalty, strength and courage. It is the window that reveals to us how willing is his spirit, how generous his heart.

 



Thursday, March 3, 2016

Challenge – Day 2

 

Blue being "goofy" in a picture from last March


Today Blue and I had our first ride in the indoor.  It’s been a while since he has had a rider on his back but true- to- Blue form he was a gentleman at the mounting block and stood like a rock. I'm not used to that after riding Dusty for so many years. She was always a challenge at the mounting block.  

We didn’t do much, mainly walked and worked on our circles and bending a bit.  He has the tendency to counter bend and be a tad stubborn in his attitude at times. Today he was a star.  Blue has also been known to forget how to steer after some time off, yet today he was perfect with that too.  We walked a course of figure eights over cavalletti and he surprised me by cooperating.  It was a relaxing slow and easy ride.  With Blue slow is the name of the game, he’s as slow as molasses rolling up hill most of the time and today was no exception.  That’s a habit of his we’ll have to work on.  I guess he needs motivation too.  All in all it was a good first outing for both of us.

I think he was actually happy to get out and do something after hanging around all winter foraging from the hay nets.  Another plus of the day…I found all those lost riding muscles I thought were lost.  Although I only walked I now know where each and everyone of them were hiding.

Quote for Today
No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle. 
~Winston Churchill~