dancing horses

dancing horses

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Do you know what's really cool?

Steele was out in the paddock dozing in the warm spring sun. His ears were floppy, his hind leg cocked and he looked quite relaxed.

 I came out to the barn and called "hey Steele do you want to come play?"

One ear wiggled, then his eye focused. Two ears came forward. I looked at him brightly. With a sigh he came wandering down to the barn.

Now that's cool.

Lunge Session #3

Yesterday spring finally arrived. The sun was warm and it was so pleasant to be outside. I spent the morning doing barn chores and then after lunch I decided it was time to play with the horses. I put on my breeches and went outside.

Irish took one look at me and headed out of the little paddock - he was definitely saying 'um, I think I just want to doze in the sun thank you very much'. Steele of course was hanging around. So by default he was first.

On the left rein he was lovely. Walking, trotting and halting like a pro. He has a tendency to dip in towards me on one part of the circle but I was working on that by pointing the whip at his shoulder to encourage him to move away. I then switched to the right. A little more 'ragged' but still good. But I made a mistake and my brain wandered for a millisecond. In that time frame he took off. Stupid me! But I dropped the whip, went with him and got him back under control. He then switched and went the other way. So I halted him, turned him around and sent him back to the right. But I could see the wheel's turning in his head. Sure enough, he did a quick slam of the brakes and a deke back the other way.

This was not a spook. This was a test. While I was correcting it I was considering how athletic he was. Anyway, I halted him and put him back the way that I wanted. He then tried taking off again. I brought him back and then before he could do his spin I used the whip to get him to move forward (no I didn't hit him). Hmm this was not what he wanted. Again I could see the wheel turning. As he came around I saw him drop his haunches and then take off . I was ready, going with him and keeping him on the circle and not letting him stop. Two more times this was repeated. By now he was getting a bit tired and it was no longer fun. So back to the walk and few walk-halt-walk. A scratch on the nose and we're done.

Walking back to the barn Irish decided to blast by us in the paddock. I didn't even tighten the lead. I just kept walking and said 'easy now'. Steele did a little jig sideways but never came against the lead and then settled at my shoulder again.

After that I rode Irish. He was so good in the ring that after about 30 minutes I decided to go for a hack. Apparently his energy was hiding in the woods because once we got in there he was 'up'. Not spooky (although he could have turned that way) but 'whee'. Of course the footing does not allow for 'whee'. I went on a short hack and on the way home he was trying to barge through the aids to get home. I hate that. I can't hold him because that creates a fight, I can't circle anything because there's no room so I have developed this  technique- half-halt, release, count to 3 and repeat. This way I keep him with me but there's it's short so there's nothing to fight. His 1/2 TB comes to the fore in these times and trying to stop the forward motion all together is losing battle because he begins to spiral mentally and then physically. I have to let him move but in a controlled way. Once we got back to the barn he was 'oh good and tried to amble to a stop'. No way I said. Back up to the ring and more work. I cannot reward bad behavior with a break. So we worked for another 15-20 minutes. And then we were done. As for how Irish is doing he's the same. the medication seems to be keeping him on an even keel right now. Sometimes he has trouble maintaining the right canter, he  really has trouble moving his weight off his forehand. It's tricky trying to find the balance of building/maintaining the right muscles without stressing his spine.

After this Ed and I tightened up the fencing. After the winter it develops some sag. We were closely inspected by Irish and Steele. d'Arcy (my border) and Belle (my aussie) kept us company as well.

By then I was sweaty, tired and dirty. All in all it was a good day.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Spring is in the air.

As you may recall last year I introduced Steele to the concept of lunging. A few weeks ago I brought him out the ring and he was perfect. We worked on walk-halt-walk and walk-trot-walk. He caught on so quickly and seemed quite proud of himself. I kept the session short and sweet so that it was all positive.

Then it snowed. And snowed. And froze. So I couldn't continue the lesson.

Today was my day off. I work extra time so that I have every other Monday off. I love having them off. As luck would have it the weather was actually spring like. I checked out the riding ring and it was pretty bare. That's what I love about rubber- it helps to thaw the ring so that it's usable so much sooner.  I rode Irish first. He did pretty good. I'm trying to figure out what he can do without straining or stressing anything. He definitely felt 'springy'. But because he's 13 and out of shape it doesn't last too long and he doesn't get too carried with it. Steele hung around in the paddock.

Then it was Steele's turn. I brought him in to get him ready. At Christmas time I brought him a set of boots to protect his legs in case he gets silly on the lunge. I put them on and then go myself organized. It was cute- he picked up each foot in turn and waved it about with a look of curiosity on his face. He wasn't upset just not sure.

I led him out of the barn and headed up the hill to the ring. Irish came trotting by us and Steele was NOT impressed that he wasn't allowed to go too. But he listened and stayed beside me, but he was definitely 'up'. He pranced beside me. This time I knew I wasn't in for the calm and easy session as last time. As I prepared the line and whip he stood still beside me but I could feel the vibration. When I let the line out and told him to 'walk on' he interpreted that to mean 'engage in full self-expression'. Unfortunately the ring is not fenced yet. Once it all thaws Ed is going to enclose it for me. That will be helpful for days like today. But for now I need to make do with what I have. While I am not the most graceful of lungers I do have a pretty good idea of what I'm doing. The trick with a horse that it is building up a full head of steam is to not try to hold them because that can lead to a fight or, heaven forbid, a wreck. So gave periodic tugs on the halter with the lunge line to keep him off balance and going around me while moving with him. He tried to run off a few times and I just gently brought him back and when he did told him that he was wonderful. Other things that he tried out was to roll (nope) or slam on the brakes and go the other way. A little body language and judicious waving of the lunge whip convinced him that neither was a good idea. I could see that he was not impressed with me impinging on his freedom of expression. Oh well. This is just the start of the many things he will have to learn.

We were settling into the rhythm of the work when something caught his eye in the distance- he slammed on the brakes, his head went to it's full height, his eyes were huge and his ears were so far forward they practically pinged. He then started to snort. This is a really loud sound that horses do when they are alert and considering flight. I don't know what set him off- there could have been deer in the next field or he heard the cow or Belle was chasing mice in the grass. I tried to get him back to work but it wasn't working. His tail was up and his trot was about a foot off of the ground. He would scoot every now and then and I was glad that he had the boots on. I think that there were a few caprioles in there:

I realized that the work was not helping so I asked him to 'whoa'. I then went back to our leading exercise work from last year. I figured that this being 'old lessons' would settle him. And it did. As I walked beside him I concentrated on keeping my body language calm and gave a few deep sighs. This worked well for him. I then decided to walk him over by the 'scary place'. This could have backfired but I had a good sense of it so over we went (I did have a plan if it all went south). He stood stock still staring. I quietly blew and rubbed his shoulder. He then blew gently and lowered his head. This is the opposite of what I would have to do with Irish. If he's all upset over something and I let him look at it he gets worse. If I work him through it and stay in charge then he settle.

After a few minutes I walked Steele away toward the top part of the ring next to Irish.

Through all this Irish was riveted. I could see him watching and I'm pretty sure that he was saying things like 'that's good kid. Try to get a bit more umph into it. That's it!'

At that end of the ring we went back to work. He did so well- walking and trotting to voice commands. There were a couple times when he tried to reverse but I was able to head him off. After a few minutes I told him 'whoa' and then walked up and rubbed his head. He nuzzled me and looked  a bit tired from all of it. We walked back to the barn and I gave him a nice groom. I then took him out to let him loose. I fully expected him to go bursting out to Irish but, no, he turned around and gave me a nuzzle. And then hung out in the barn while I put stuff away watching me.
How cool is that?

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Mary Poppins/Mary Schoppins

Today was a wonderful day spent with Cindy- she's a fellow horse person and just a great girl to hang out with. We had a lovely day visiting a tack shop (bought recently by two other friends), lunch out (I have a new love- it's called Peanut Butter Cheesecake!), a run to a used tack sale and ending with visits with friends and seeing their barns/horses. I love days spent with people that you can talk about horses and they never get that far-away tolerant look of non-horsey friends and family.

In one conversation a friend was telling me about how her horses became freaked out by an umbrella. Umbrellas are pretty spooky for horses. I remember early in our show career Irish and I trotted down center line at a schooling show and did a perfect halt at X. At that moment the large patio umbrella providing shade flew up in the air with a gust of wind about 3 feet to land upside down in bushes. it stayed there by "M" fluttering for the rest of our test. All Irish did was shuffle two steps sideways. I couldn't believe that the judge had to nerve to knock us down for 'not staying square at X'.

So tonight when I was giving Irish a nice groom I decided that I should see how Steele reacts to umbrellas. I went out to the car and brought it back in. Irish was wary in his stall but Steele was all "what is it? can I see it? bring it here"

I brought it closer nice and slow keeping it low.

His eyes were big but not with fear but interest.

I raised it up

He sniffed it. And then tried to eat it.

I opened and closed it, like a manic Mary Poppins. His eyes got bigger with excitement "ohhh, cool. Look Irish, it moves! Let me try, Let me try!'

I put it down and brought Steele out to groom. Once we were done grooming I put on my gloves and snapped a lead line on him. We walked up to the umbrella. I picked it up. Steele was still trying to take it from me. I put it up over his head. "hey! what happened to the lights? oh it's up there. Let me sniff. Yup, still the same. Let me put it over your head.'
I moved it down his body both sides.

he yawned.

I put it on his haunches and moved it up his body. He tried to steal Irish's hay.

So I put him in his stall and did one last thing. I walked up and down the aisle way letting it bob and swing. Irish was quite impressed with my performance and made sure I could see how 'brave' he was. Steele, however was eating hay.


Nailed it.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

In which Steele makes a break for it

Today was a long day. I was in the city for meetings. This means that I leave early and get home around supper time. On those days, Ed is good about the horses. I feed before I go and he lets them out and cleans the stall.

Oh and he makes supper too.

Yes, I know how lucky I am. (did I mention that he cleans?) Sorry, I am getting off topic.

Today when I came home Ed said to me "well, I had quite the adventure with the horses today".

I looked at him.

"go and get changed he said and I'll tell you all about it."

I went upstairs wondering what on earth happened. Martin was curled up on the end of my bed. When I came in he opened one eye and looked at me as though to say "you won't believe the shenanigans that went on today!"

I go back downstairs and Ed tells me his story:

Around 4 he started cleaning out the stalls. He had Irish's mostly done when he had to empty the muck cart (we truck our manure down away to the compost pile). Because of the weather and snow/mud we are keeping the cart in the barn. It will go back out once things settle down. To take out the cart Ed has to take out the rope that is across the doors as a line of defence if the horses get loose in the barn. When he came back he left the cart outside to do some sweeping and finish Irish's stall. He said that he had the stall door open and Steele was in his stall eating hay. Ed was cleaning up a corner of the barn when he heard Steele come out of the stall. At first he was not concerned and then he remembered that the rope was down.

It was too late. Steele was out the barn and headed around to the back and up to the riding ring with Ed in hot pursuit. He was smart enough to grab a carrot but it was not working. I can picture it very well: Ed trying to get him to come close, Steele prancing around spouting slogans like 'cry freedom' and 'don't fence me in' and grabbing snatches of grass that were bravely sprouting up through the snow. However, I did not marry a dumb man- he took the carrot over to Irish (who was watching over the fence). In no time at all Steele was over there for his share. Ed opened the gate and Steele went in to the paddock. But Irish came out! Ed sighed and then locked Steele in the paddock. He went back to the barn, grabbed more carrots and Irish's halter. It was not difficult to get him and put him back where he belonged.

This story has taught me 3 things:

1. My horses are well mannered but are not above having fun with their servants.

2. Despite my worries, Ed is quite able to cope with situations, even though he knows very little about horses.

3. I am out of wine.

I was just teasing him- see my halo?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Someone call horse protection- this is not a drill!

Dear Fans
I hate to frighten you but I had to break into the house while the servants are at work to let you know of my dire situation.

(Irish STOP snickering!)

My life up to now has gone pretty well. But last week it was turned around. I was hanging out in my paddock minding my own business when a pick up truck pulled into the yard. A man came out and the male servant (called Ed) came out of the house. I vaguely recognized the man from the spring. He came to do something to Irish' teeth and was very appreciative of my handsomeness. I had no worries when the brought me into the barn and put me on the cross ties. Ed told me that the 'vet wanted to see me'

Ed said that Teresa (my regular caretaker) was on her way home. The vet stood back and looked at me. I waited for the compliments. But did he discuss how well I've grown? How well I take care of my coat by regular applications of mud? no!

 He used the 'f'' word.  Yes, dear readers, he called me fat. I was too shocked to move.

I'm not fat. I'm fluffy.

Just then I heard the sound of tires and the scattering of gravel as a car pulled into the driveway. A few minutes later Mom came in. She took the lead line from Ed and gave me a scratch. I looked at her. My eyes said 'save me' but she didn't seem to understand.

 She asked this so-called-vet "how does he look?"

"he's fat" said the vet.
I waited for her to correct him. I even closed my eyes in anticipation of the blast that this vet was going to get.
"oh" she said. "I was afraid of that"

My world crumbled and I stuck my nose under her arm. There was much discussion of feed and growth and nutrients, but frankly I wasn't listening.

The vet even said that I looked good and was ready to do more grown up activities. It was too little too late. As far as I was concerned this vet was dead to me.

Next it was Irish's turn. I hung out in the stall to hear him called fat. But no! The vet said 'he looks good. Keep feeding him the same'.


Irish stood there looking all perfect and smug.

That night my starvation began. I am getting only 1/2 of my normal ration. How am I to subsist on that? I ate it in about 5 minutes and the sidled over to Irish's side.
"come on buddy, give me some. I'm dying here"
"sorry junior. You wouldn't want me to violate doctor's orders would you?"

Yes, I am still getting hay but I miss my grain. After a few days of this I decided enough is enough.

I've tried staying in Irish's stall to get his feed. So far this is a failure.
I've tried to snag Irish's feed bin (it hangs over the stall and can be removed). If I'm not getting fed then neither is he! But the humans keep finding it and he's still getting fed.

My last act of desperation is to ask my internet fans for help.
I beg you- send carrots, apples, grain anything. 

Except for peppermints. I hate those.

You can disguise these goodies in hay bundles or saddle pads.

I won't tell. I promise.


Monday, March 18, 2013

The Perils of an Easy Keeper

Last week my vet came out to do the annual checkup and vaccinations. As per usual, both horses were very cooperative. They also had their teeth done. For those of you without horses, their teeth can develop points with the grinding of hay. The vet (or equine dentist) takes a large implement and files them down. This way they don't cut their cheeks and develop ulcers. Steele was very good about this. He only had a couple points. I did have a giggle when Irish clamped his molars on the file and wouldn't let go. He just stood there looking at both of us with a twinkle in his eye and a 'whatcha gonna do now? huh?'.

Part of the check up is their body condition and weight. Irish is what is known as a 'hard keeper'. This means that he requires a lot of roughage and grain to maintain a decent weight. I was thrilled to hear that his weight is just fine. it's the first time ever at this time of year that the vet doesn't mention that he's thin.

But the bad news is that Steele is overweight. Turns out it's not just his winter coat. He is not fed the same amount as Irish. In fact he gets 1/2 the amount in grain. His growing is slowing down and so he's not using the feed for growth. Well not vertical growth anyway. Turns out that he's an 'easy keeper'. Which means that he can maintain his weight on less feed. Another term in 'air fern' (the idea being that he can live on air). I can relate, as this point in my life, I have become an 'air fern'. I asked the vet to help me with his diet as he still needs to grow. Turns out that our hay is so rich that he didn't need the amount of grain I was giving. And here I was feeling bad as I wasn't giving him near the recommended amount on the package. So now his ration has been halved with a vitamin supplement to ensure he gets the nutrients he needs. I've got my tape ready to monitor his intake.

That night at supper I gave him his new ration. He finished it quickly and then put his head out the stall door
"um mom, I need the reset of my feed"
"sorry Steele that's all you're getting"
"WHAT??? but I'm HUNGRY"
Irish, who has been munching away seems to be munching louder
"hey Irish, buddy, can I have some"
"Sorry Steele old buddy, but I can't. She's watching. But man is tastes sooooo good"
"MOM! it's not fair. Irish is eating I should be eating too"
Irish is slurping his food. I swear. The most delicate eater in the world is sounding like a hog at the trough.

Steele is now looking very sad and thin. Well he's trying to be thin.

With a sniff he consoled himself with his hay. I suspect that he'll end up on no grain. Can you imagine the rebellion when Irish is getting his 2 quarts of feed + beetpulp and Steele is getting a thimbleful of supplements??

I am sorry Rachael and Karen. really. I didn't realize that when you told me that they were easy keepers what that meant! I promise to do better. Don't show up with a trailer or anything to take him back.

On a positive note the vet said that he's developing nicely and gave me the go ahead to carry ahead with my free lunging and light (very light) work on the longe.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Someone gave me this hat a while ago because of  Irish's name. And the fact that he's so very lovable.

1 hat + 1 camera + 1 cooperative animal= photo shoot!

Steele: oh you look so cute. c'mon give me a kiss
Irish: piss off!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

My Little Einstein

Every morning the horses are turned out. Unless the weather is horrible. However, they are not always allowed into the bigger paddock if it's too icy or mucky.

On Thursday it was too mucky so I just let them into the small 'sacrifice' area. They are not impressed with this at all. I came home Thursday to find them a mucky mess from rolling in the mud. Even Irish who tends to be more fastidious was one big ball of mud. I noticed that the top gate latch was off and pointed it out to my husband.
'That would be Steele' he said
'no' I said
'yes' He said. 'I've seen him at it.'
'hmmm' I didn't want to say I disagreed but I couldn't see it as it's the tape attached to the handle. I figured he would be getting shocked.

We headed into town to buy seeds and some feed. When we came back there was Steele playing with the handle.
'see!' says Ed.

At the moment Irish came charging up with ears pinned and chased Steele away.
'What was that about?' I asked
Ed said 'I think he was saying "not now you idiot they can see you"

I changed my clothes and headed out to tackle my little pigpens.

I decided to do it outside because of the amount of dust and dirt I was going to get. When they are really muddy I used a shedding blade to scrape the worst of it. I started with Irish. He likes this and will stand still with no halter or tie of any kind. As I'm scraping away I saw Steele amble innocently towards to gate. He did everything but whistle. I watched out of the corner of my eye as he gently nibbled the handle until it fell. He looked at me to see if I saw that. I kept grooming. All that was left was the bottom tape. He grabbed the tape with his mouth and pulled. It feel off. He sniffed it. I stopped with Irish and walked over. We both looked at the tape. I looked at Steele and he looked back at me as though to say
"I have no idea how that got there"

How on earth was he not getting shocked? I have a hefty charger and that was his mouth. I went in and grabbed the fence tester. Steele followed me and watched over my shoulder as I checked. nada. nothing. no charge was coming to the fence. ahhh.

So I finished my chores and went into the house. I told Ed what I found.

"oh good' he said. "I was worried that I would have nothing to do tomorrow'. I recognize sarcasm when I hear it. Well mostly. But you have to love a man who doesn't question that this needs to be fixed, now. When he investigated he found that the tape at the beginning had become frayed and was not getting the charge. It's now fixed.

"good" I said. "that should sort that out"
"hmm" says Ed. "What will you do if he figures out that if he grabs the handle he won't get shocked"
"shut up" I said.
I swear that he snickered.

Monday, March 11, 2013

March Mud Madness

It finally feels like spring. The weather is warmer and the snow is melting. This is very exciting because this means that the training can resume. And that Ed can put in the fencing around the riding ring and for the new paddock.

However, with all the snow we've had the property seems like one big mud pit. I know that it's shortlived but   it is hard to deal with. Yesterday I spent an hour grooming Steele. He looked pretty good. Today I looked at him after he'd been out for a few hours.
oh.   dear.

I brought him out into the cross ties and gave it a good try. But it was wet and sticky and impossible. It's too cold to bathe so I have to wait for it to crust up.

My horse is officially too dirty to clean.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Home Sweet Home

If you've been following my blog you know how long I waited to get my farm and how excited Ed and I were to make this all happen. When we were property shopping we looked at everything that was within spitting distance of our budget (assuming that you can spit really far). I knew the first time I looked at this house that it was 'the one'. It was because of this tree:
She is a huge ancient tree. I know that it makes me sound a bit crazy but over the years I've had many dreams of farms over the years. So when the real estate agent opened the front door and I saw this:
So I knew that this was our house. And of course it all worked out. The purchase, the reno, the barn construction, the moving Irish home and then the purchase of you-know-who. (I sometimes talk to this tree. I am sure she's listening.)

Who? Oh, you mean me. 
Whenever I travel away I am always happy to be home. There is a feeling of contentment that I don't remember ever feeling before.  I don't use the word 'lucky' because that implies a certain randomness and, while I recognize that there is always 'luck' involved, most of it was because we worked really hard towards this. There was planning, saving and quite a bit of scheming on my part. But I know that we are fortunate and I hope that I never come off sounding smug about it.

Home really is sweet.