dancing horses

dancing horses

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Oakfield Olympics

Hey everyone, Steele here.
I understand that there's this thing called the Olympics going on. I asked my servant and she explained that it's when different countries compete in sports. Then she said that there were no horse sports in the Winter Olympics and that seemed really odd to me. But Irish says that humans are weird that way and we should be happy that they don't have this as an Olympic sport:

I don't know, it looks like fun to me.

Anyway, here at the farm there is this fun sport going on that I thought I would share with you. I call it "The Irish Pursuit". It's certainly been entertaining to watch. It goes like this:
There are two players:
1. The Chaser- that's Mom's position
2. The Eluder- That's Irish.

The goal is to see who wins- does Mom get Irish into a halter or does Irish manage to elude her. It seems like a fun sport. It's a battle of wits and agility. Players need to have steely dertimination (is there any other kind?), quick wits and an ability to read body language.

The tournament started on Monday. It looked at the beginning that Mom was out of her league but she was able to use her wits to pull a win late in the game. It's fun to watch the two of them acting like they aren't paying attention to each other when they are keenly aware. Irish is watching for her to make her move with the halter and she's watching to see when he's going to make a break for the large field. The last two days she closes us in the little paddock.

Irish calls this cheating. But Mom calls it 'controlling the field of play'. I checked the rules and it seems that it is allowed. Irish tries to use me as a shield but I tell him that I'm more like the ref and need to stay out of the game. Besides it's easier to watch from the sidelines.

Here's the play by play from yesterday's match:
Well is a lovely afternoon on Oakfield Farms. The two players look to be in good form. 

As the game starts the players casually walk around the paddock pretending that they don't see each other. 

Irish makes an early move and heads to the big paddock. Looks like the game is going to get moving. But wait, wait, no. Teresa ignores this feint and carries on with her chores. It's a false start ladies and Gentlemen. 

Teresa heads into the barn. Is she forfeiting the game? I've never seen her give up before. I think she has another plan. ....and there she is- re-emerging on the field of play with a hay bale. I think she's using the 'bale bait'. Yes, yes there she goes- she's putting it in the hay box. Irish comes sauntering in, will he fall for this? 

Oh- there she goes- Teresa is heading for the gate. She's at the gate. Will she get it closed in time? Irish's head comes up- he knows something is up. He's comign to the gate. Who will get there first? It's a close call ladies and gentlemen but YES, Teresa gets the gate closed. Irish can no longer use the galloping gambit. 

Teresa approaches with the halter. She's not moving directly to Irish but at an angle. She's avoiding the confrontational stance. But Irish is too cagy to fall for this. He moves off looking for an escape hatch. Teresa moves to cut him off but he's too quick and moves away. She backs up and heads to the other side. Irish tries to go by but she moves and stands facing him. He has room- will he try to go by? No, no- he backs up. Oh oh, now he's in the corner. Irish tries to spin right and left but Teresa dances back and forth cutting off his escape. 

Irish stands still. I think it's a false forfeit but will she fall for it? No! She's staying put. Well I'm not surprised. This is not her first rodeo. She waits for the signal. And there it is! Irish breathes out and lowers his head. Teresa approaches slowly. She scratches him on the wither. 

AND SHE HAS THE HALTER ON! First match to Teresa!!!

Oh, wait. What's she doing now? She's taking off the halter and heading into the barn. In this brief pause before the next match let's talk about treats. Is your horse getting enough? Do you know that 9/10 horse believe that their owners are not free enough with the treats? 
And we're back for the second match!
Teresa emerges onto the field of play. Looks like she's going for the bolder approach this time. She's heading right to Irish! She's being careful to not approach Irish head on but look at the body language- it's screaming "I'm here to halter you". 

What will Irish do? There he goes- I think he's thinking of testing the fence. No. At the alst minute he changed his mind. I don't blame him, it hurts! And he's cornered. You know I'm not sure that his heart is in the game. And it's over. Yes she has the halter on him! 

Second Match to Teresa. 

*** a breif break for hay eating****

And we're back! Now this match will be interesting. Has the last two matches had an impact? 

Why yes. He's not even looking to move away. Teresa walks up and that's it it's over. 

I never would have believed it but it's clear that Irish is out of his league with this one. 

See? It's fascinating to watch.

On another note Mom is ecstatic because Canada has won gold in Women's curling and Hockey.
Not sure I get it, but it's nice to see her happy!

How can they look so happy when there's no horses to be seen?

This is Steele signing off!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

In Which Irish is a Total Brat

Yes, you read that correctly- Irish.

Let me tell you what happened. With the weather (hence yesterday's whiny post) I've not been spending as much time with the horses as I would like. And this has been causing some guilt- warranted or not. Today after walking the dogs I was puttering in the barn. Steele came in to hang out so I brought him in for a groom. He was quite funny about it- stretching out to show me which parts to scratch. When I was finished he nuzzled me. I let him back out and went back to preparing the stalls for night.

At that point Irish came in. I gave him a pat but went about my business. He stayed around so I thought that I would bring him in for a groom as well. I grabbed his halter and walked up to him. When I had it almost on he drew his head back and scooted away.
With a saucy flip of his tail he trotted off.
I now knew that my time in the barn was extended. I can't let him decide if and when he can be haltered. And what he did was blatently disrepectful. Now normally I would grab the lunge whip and make him move away from me until he would be ready to come to me. And then keep him moving for a bit more. However, the ground is icy- chasing him was asking for disaster. So I did the only thing I could. I locked him out of the little paddock just outside the barn. When he came scooting back he saw the gate was closed and slid to a halt.
"fine, I don't care"  he pranced off looking positively defiant.

Meanwhile Steele is hanging at my side.
"I know that I'm supposed to stay with you. I'm the good one"
I grabbed some treats and threw them in his food bin. While he was munching I closed his door. Now Irish was not only alone in the field but he couldn't see his buddy. Steele got a little upset but he calmed down immediately when he saw that he had hay. While I cleaned Irish ran back and forth a bit
"I'm free! And Independent!" 
And hungry. He reached over the fence to grab some hay. I turned on the electric.

Now he was cut off from the barn and his food. It was becoming less fun now. After a few minutes I walked back out with the halter. I stood with my back to him. He came up to me. As I moved the halter towards hime took off. I walked away. Gritting my teeth I went back to work. Irish started to pace. I ignored him. I started getting dinner ready. Now he was looking less happy. After a few minutes I walked out and stood by the gate. This time he came up to me quickly. This time I didn't reach for him right away. Instead I spoke to him softly for a minute. When his eye softened I put the halter up over his head. I knew that I could open the gate and he would boogie right into his stall. But that wasn't the point. The point was that I can halter him and lead him if I choose.

 So I did. I led him through the stall and into the aisle. Where I groomed him . And he enjoyed it.

Steele: "So what was that all about?

Irish: "You need to teach them that they aren't always in charge"

Steele: "Really?"

Irish: "Really!"

Steele: "Why?"

Irish: "That way they learn that they can't repress us and that we can choose our activities. It's all about freedom"

Steele: "But all you did was run around outside looking stressed"

Irish: "So?"

Steele: "I let her bring me in and I was groomed. While you were running around in the cold I was inside eating hay. The good hay I may add" 

Irish: "what's your point?"

Steele: "And now your inside. Getting groomed. Which is what she wanted in first place."

Irish: "Shut up"

Steele: *snicker*

'the good one' 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Waving the White Flag

Saturday was a beautiful day- sunshine and temperatures just above freezing gave us hope for spring. Even the birds were chipper.

Sunday morning we woke up to ice pellets being driven against the bedroom window. With a sigh I got up and donned the layers needed to head out to the barn. The wind and ice bit into my face. When I got to the barn there was a layer of ice over the doors. I grabbed the handle and pulled. They didn't budge. I kicked the bottom of the door to release it from the ice. I pulled again. It moved half an inch. After much pulling, kicking, hufifng and pufifng the doors opened enough so that I could stumble inside. 

The horses were looking at me. 
You certainly took your time. 

I went into the tack room and grabbed their feed. I then cleaned out their stalls. I decided to wait to let them out until the freezing rain stopped. By the time I got back to the house and wrapped my frozen fingers around a steaming cup of coffee I was not feeling particularly perky. I opened my laptop and clicked on my weather app to see a read weather alert: Flash freeze warning!  Great. I thought. Just great. I finished my coffee and headed back out. I grabbed the shovel and headed to dutch doors. The rain that fell the night had formed puddles and these puddles were starting to freeze. As they froze, they were creeping up the doors. I quickly broked the surface and started to move the icea away. I realized that I needed to dig up the whole trench so that the trapped water had a place to escape to and not expand and trap the doors. This took an hour. I then wrestled the doors open so that the horses could come out. I had shut them in the small paddock so that they wouldn't run and hurt themselves on the ice. 

I decided the grab my camera and take a few photos of the ice. I knew that if I went back in I would not want to go back out. 

After taking a few photos I headed back to the house. Then the conditions changed to blizzard- the wind actually blew me back across the icy crust. I headed back to the house, not being able to see very well. Another strong gust of wind blew in my face. I shut my eyes and then, crunch, I was trapped. I had accidentally walked into a snow bank and my foot had broken through the crust. The snow below was soft but the crust was firmly wrapped around my thigh. I tried to lift my leg out. Nope. I tried to push off with my stuck leg but I couldn't get a purchase. As I was flailing around, Belle noticed that I was trapped. She rushed over and began to lick my face. She's not a dog to let an opportunity like that pass her by. More flailing ensued and I was free. 

The wind was blowing the snow directly back into the stalls so I headed back to the barn to bring the horses back in. Steele was easy- I simply threw a lead line over his neck and led him into his stall. Irish thought, was having none of it. He knew that he had just been let out and was not impressed over me trying to get him back in. However, after a few minutes convincing him that yes I was serious and yes he had to listen. I wrestled the doors closed and then headed into the house. 

An hour later the sun came out. 

So back out I went to let the horses back out. By now even Steele is thinking that I'm losing it. Irish has been sure for a while.   

The ring is frozen solid and there's no hint of thaw:

I know that my natural optimism will reassert itself but for now I'm not sure what will break first, Winter or my Sanity. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

In Which Ed Gets a Bigger Stall

Our barn is 36 x 36. Along one side are 3 stalls. The original plan was for it to be 3 12 x 12 stalls. But in consulting with others and careful consideration I decided to do 3 10x 12 stalls. I had no plans to have a horse over 16'2 and could not see the reason for having huge stalls. The extra 6 feet I planned to have as an area for my wheel barrow, brooms, pitchforks etc.

However, it became apparent that Ed would need a spot for his tools and stuff. So until the garage was built those 6 feet became known as "Ed's straight stall". It's worked out okay. I found spots for my other items and it's been handy when I needed a screwdriver, or drill, or tape measure. I'm pretty sure Ed was worried about my free access to his tools. He's very particular about how his stuff is organized. I have, however, been trying hard to remember where things go.

When we agreed that his tools could go there we needed to iron out some details. First was that it was a barn first and a tool shed second. So far the co-habitation of horses and Ed's tools has gone well.

We are quickly learning that with a farm things are never truly done. The latest decision is that the dutch doors that I loved so much are just not going to work in a Winter climate. No matter how we try the snow and frost builds up and this makes them difficult to open. A few months ago with the big snow followed by ice they were almost impossible. Ed was not appreciating how diffucult they were until I was away for a few days. Nothing like trying to chip open doors in the freezing cold while a horse waits impatiently to make you rethink the esthetics.

So we decided that we would replace them with sliding doors. This means that this summer I will need to put up a barricade if I want air flow when the horses are in. But that will be easy enough.

We also just had some ductwork installed in the house to run the hot air upstairs. The house had forced hot air on the main floor and electric upstairs. When our house was built (a little less than 100 years ago) the heat source would have been the woodstove in the kitchen. I love having the hot air upstairs but now there are holes in my ceiling and walls that need repairs. Today Ed went and picked up wood for the doors and some drywall. When I came into the barn I saw it stacked in the aisleway and sighed. He really has no where else to work but I could foresee some difficulties. I then was struck with a brainwave. When Ed came back I said to him 'wouldn't it make sense if we took the hay out of the 3rd stall and you put the wood in there and did your work?"
His face lit up and he went right to work. We moved the hay out and I helped him bring in the wood and drywall.
"now you know that this is temporary, right? I need this stall for guests."
"Of course!" he assured me.

But I am a little worried. Time to start encouraging the garage...
Ed's box stall- an upgrade from the straight stall! 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Wax on - Wax off

I know I'm getting dating myself but do you remember the classic movie "The Karate Kid"?

It's a great movie. What I remember most from the movie is that when Danny first started working with Mr. Miyagi he didn't actually learn any karate. Instead he had to wash cars and paint fences.

Yes, I'm getting to how this relates to the Star of this Blog. The idea was that these apparrently unimportant chores laid the foundation for karate skills later.

The same is true of horse training. You can't prepare for everything that might happen when you ride. But you can lay in behaviour patterns that will assist you with the unexpected.

For the past 20 months that I've owned Steele I've been working on lots of things. One of them is get him to yield any part of his body when I tap it. If I tap him on his side he will move over away from the tap. I've bene doing this when we're at liberty and (of course) on the cross ties to get him to move over. while initially he didn't see the point of this he learned it quickly.

Fast forward to yesterday. It was a beautiful sunny winter day. The horses were out and I was catching up on some barn chores. I obviously do barn chores during the week but on the weekend I like to take my time and give it a really good clean. When I finished I grabbed Steele's halter and lead and went out the paddock. Irish was at the top of the hill having his afternoon nap. It's his favourite spot to snooze- where he can survey his kingdom. Steele was in the small paddock eating hay. When I came out he walked up to me and I put on his halter and led him into the barn and out the barn door to go for a walk. I like to take him for walks but haven't been recently due to ice. However, I had checked the driveway and it was snowy but not icy.

Steele walked beside me, looking around but not too fussed about it. I waited to hear Irish's whinny but it never happened. I peeked behind me- he was still sleeping and hadn't noticed we were gone. I carried on with the walking. When we got to the bottom of the driveway I turned along the path that leads to the manure pile and to the woods. Steele is less certain about this path - there's rustling trees, Belle was running around following rabbit tracks and there's various items stored there (like pallets, an old shed etc). But I just kept my pace steady and he walked along without trying to pull away and did not spook. Even when Belle came bursting out of the brush and bounded across to the other side. I knew she would do this and I wanted her to. When we go out hacking I won't be able to control everything (especially the grouse who like to jump out) so Steele needs to learn that it's okay for things to come bursting out. Steele snorted and stopped. I kept walking and he came along but arched his neck and made it clear that he didn't appreciate the tomfoolery. I think I heard Belle snicker...
Wax on- wax off- all that work I did on leading in the ring, stall, paddock etc have taught him that he's not to run away from me or carry on - no matter what the provocation.

We walked down the path as far as the manure pile. I turned around Steele came in front of me, anxious to head back to safety. I stopped and brought him back to my side. As we walked back I stopped a few times. the first time Steele kept going but when he hit the end of the lead, instead of pulling he turned so he was facing me. I walked up and moved so he was beside me. Whoops. I realized my error. I shouldn't be the one sorting out my position- he needs to sort out his position. So the next time he barged ahead and spun around. Of course he did- I had just taught him that it was okay. But there's no point in getting upset with him or me. I just needed to sort it out. So rather then move myself, I took the end of the lead and swung it towards his right side. He moved away. I swung it again and he moved so he was beside me.

Wax on-wax off- teaching him to move sideways to my cue made it easy to sort out this error. I then walked ahead. I stopped again and he ignored my signal again and ended up facing me. No big deal. I repeated the cue with the lead rope and once he was beside me we walked on. The next time I stopped he halted beside me.
good boy.  I scratched his withers. I could see him thinking this through. After that every time I stopped he stayed beside me.

When we were almost to the barn I saw Irish still asleep. Awww. He didn't even realize that we had left. At that point, he raised his head and looked around.
"zzzzz, huh, whazzat? oh it's just Steele and our servant walking in the driveway"
His head then shot up\
"hey, what? They left me ALL ALONE????"

As we walked into the barn he came galloping down the hill and into the barn. Steele looked at him calmly.
"oh Hi! we just went for a walk in the woods. It was interesting. Did you have a good nap?"

Looking peeved, Irish stormed out of his stall and stood with his back to us.

He forgave us by supper time.

Oh well, I'm sure that Mr. Miyagi had his critics too.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Steele and the Farrier

My farrier, Paul, came on saturday to do both of the horses. I quite like my farrier- he never hurries even if he's pressed for time. Irish does not have the best feet and Paul has  worked hard to make sure that he's shod properly.

I brought Irish in to be done first. Steele ignored all of us and stayed out in the little paddock munching on hay. In the past he would hang out in the stall and generally make a pest of himself. Sort of like a adolescent boy trying to attract attention. But not this time- to an outside observer he was totally oblivious to us.

I told Paul that I thought that Irish had an absess that blew last week. He had been lame and then there was a hole in the side of his foot. Sure enough there was signs that it was there, right where I thought. Irish is abscess prone- which has caused some problems in the past. I worry less about it now. I also used to follow all sorts of recommended treatments: soaking, poulticing etc. I have never found that they made a blind bit of difference. The only thing that works is turning him out to move around and time. So now I don't do anything other than to monitor him.

When Irish was done, I turned him out. As soon as he left, Steele left the hay and sauntered in.

"I'm ready for my turn"

So he was paying attention- he just knew to wait his turn! I wasn't ready and had to run and get his halter while he stood somewhat patiently and talked to Paul.

"you know I don't know how she could be caught off-guard. I mean it's not like a surprise that I need my feet done too"

I grabbed his halter and put it on while Steele helped. This is a new thing- he doesn't wait for me to put his halter on but tries to hurry up the process. It doesn't always seem to be that helpful. I'm trying to get it over his ears and he's moving around and sending forth a 'you're too slow'  vibe. I finally got the halter on and brought him into the aisle. Steele is pretty well behaved with the farrier. He did get a little restless with his hind leg. He wanted to shift and couldn't when his leg up in the air. He tried to take it from Paul. Paul growled at him and I saw Steele's eye get a  'you're not the boss of me'  glint. He pulled a little harder. This time Paul and I both growled at him. He looked at me.
"but he's taking too long and I want to rest my OTHER leg!'

I reached up and stroked his forhead. His eye softened, lowered his head and blew gently.

And he left his foot right where it was until Paul was finished.

When Steele was done we all had a cup of coffee and chatted horse stuff. Then he was on his way and I fed the horses supper. It may be weird but I always gett a good feeling after their feet are done.

After all, no hoof, no horse!
these new feet are springy!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Date Night

Friday Ed and I managed to get away overnight with friends. We had tickets to see Blue Rodeo. (if you don't know this band you should check them out- they are fabulous). Rather then drive home after the concert we decided to stay over.

However, that's not easy when you have animals. Fortunately our wonderful 'sitter' was available so we could do this. I took the afternoon off so I could get everything ready for her. Once that was done we hit the road. We checked into the hotel and met up with another couple and headed to the Midtown Tavern (a Halifax Landmark) for a beer and snack. This was followed by dinner with the rest of the gang at Durty Nelly's (a fun place to eat and they have Muphy's Stout on tap there!). The lovely thing about Halifax is that the downtown is small so you can walk everywhere! The concert was wonderful. Except for one thing- there were a pair of young women behind me who talked non-stop. Well in fairness, one of them talked non-stop! I believe that she was oblivious that she could possibly annoying as she prattled on, sang along and generally made herself a nuisance. I was tempted to turn around and tell to be quiet and try to just enjoy the music but I'm too Canadian so I didn't. :) Instead I did my best to tune her out and I was mostly successful.

It was a fun night. I actually stayed up until 2 a.m! I haven't done that in forever! It was heavenly to sleep in and not have any chores the next morning. We all met for breakfast and then it was time to head home. We had lovely time. And It was all thanks to our sitter.

 I was happy to get away and I was just as happy to return home. I know that some of my friends think that we're crazy to tie ourselves down with the animals. But I really wouldn't trade it for a thousand date nights.

oh look, she's back. 

I don't see how the city is better than the woods
welcome home! Joanne gave me lots of pats though
home sweet home