Saturday, July 31, 2010

Jackson, Meet Frodo

One reason I've been impressed with D, who purchased Jackson, is how much care she is taking with helping young Jackson make the transition to a new home:
  • She did not want to bring Jackson home before her wedding--she realized she would be distracted and very busy, (and then away for the honeymoon for a week).
  • She wanted to make a few safety upgrades to her fencing for a baby horse.
  • She wanted to move him on one of her long 5-day "weekends" (she works a weird series of 12-hour shifts at the local hospital) so that she can be home to make sure he settles in well.
  • She wanted to find Jackson a companion animal--at first she thought "goat," but then she started looking for a pony.
Her search led to Rodeo City Equine Rescue (the sponsors of the Horse Daze event that I took Maddie and Beth to a few weeks ago). They had a small (13h.) pony with some sort of respiratory issues that were being checked on by the vet. If it wasn't contagious or needing significant medical care, D would adopt him. I met his "foster mom" at Horse Daze, and she said he was a great little guy--"If I had grandkids, I'd keep him!"
Turns out the breathing issues are related to a sort of scar tissue built up in his throat; if asked to work very hard, he will wheeze a bit, but otherwise no big concerns.

So "Frodo" enters the picture.
I was going to suggest to D that she move Frodo here for a few days or a week before Jackson went to her home, but D beat me to it and asked if that was possible. The idea is to "wean" Jackson from his current herd, and let him bond with Frodo, in a place familiar to him, before the move to a new place. D and a friend (and niece K) brought Frodo out Friday afternoon. I separated Jackson from the herd, though not quite out of sight. The boys shared adjoining paddocks overnight. Jackson wasn't too interested in the new neighbor; he fussed and called out much of the night, trying to figure out how to get to the south side of the barn, and really lost it the next morning when Mike and I took Kate and Maddy off in the trailer for a ride.
Frodo's biggest concern was dinner.... And breakfast.
After Mike and I got back, I let Frodo in to the larger paddock with Jackson (I wanted Frodo to have plenty of room if Jackson got aggressive over "his" territory). Frodo checked out the perimeter, while Jackson checked out Frodo.
Then I moved them back to the smaller paddock, totally out of sight-line of the mares and RT. There was some jockeying for authority, but although Frodo is small, he is very much the senior here (15 years old), and after Jackson tried pushing him around a little, Frodo finally told him to "Back OFF, kid!" and Jackson did. There was no big confrontation, and no panic. A good start.
They spent a couple of hours together while I cleaned up the trailer, and started dinner, then I let them head out to the pasture--which will have to be fairly limited for tubby little Frodo.

Jackson wandered back and forth from the paddock area (closer to the other horses), to Frodo's proximity, quite a bit at first. I was pleased that there was no racing back and forth or challenging fences, but it's obvious that Jackson is confused and anxious about the current change in circumstances. Frodo is just worried that the food will disappear.

Since he couldn't find his "regular herd," Jackson started to seek out Frodo's company (and comfort?) more and more--exactly why we wanted to put them together before the move to Wenatchee.

There was very little calling overnight on Saturday, though Jackson did nicker hopefully when I first went out Sunday morning. I let everybody out in their respective pastures, and, although Jackson has an oblique view of the rest of his "old" herd in the south pasture from the north one where he and Frodo are, he seemed much more content to hang out with his new buddy.
D will come out after her overnight shift Wednesday night, and we'll haul the two of them home.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A New Corner of the Valley, and a New Riding Companion

Well, EvenSong Farm is in the southeast corner of the Kittitas Valley, the Green Canyon ride with Maddie last week was the northwest corner, Manastash Ridge with Kate was the southwest corner, so what's left?
Parke Creek in the northeast corner!

View Larger Map
Today we rode the first few miles of the trip the KVTR's took last summer, when we ended up on a ridge of lava rock flanking the Wild Horse Wind Farm. We opted for the shorter ride, as we had a newbie on board: Grandson Mike is here for two weeks!
This is really the first time Mike has been out in "the real world." Last year we rode the ditchbank around the Farm, and yesterday, on his inaugural 2010 ride, we made a short circuit of Hank's cattle pasture. Mike is riding Kate again this year, and I was on Maddie, who did well, with only a couple of 180 degree spooks. This upsets Mike a bit, as he knows I can't pay attention to him and Kate when I'm busy working through things with Maddie. He also wasn't happy about coming down a fairly steep embankment, when Kate wandered unasked up the hill.

But today he was game to go out. Pat was joining us, but we decided, with Mike's inexperience, to fore go the scheduled group ride, and keep things small. So I picked up Pat and Rambler and we headed north to the Parke Creek trailhead.

Mounted up and ready to go (if Grandma would just put the camera away and get on her horse!).
Pat led the way, Mike was sandwiched in the middle, and Maddie slid right in just behind Kate. Maddie jogged off a few steps, but then quickly settled into an energetic walk (no jigging, yeah!).
But before we had gone even a quarter of a mile, we had to cross a 15 foot wide puddle fed by the creek!
Will Maddie remember that she doesn't melt when wet? Will Kate cooperate?
Pat's gelding Rambler moseyed across, Kate followed, and Maddie, with only the slightest hesitation, walked right through!
Yeah and YEAH again!
The first two or three miles was pretty open, but there was a little breeze to help.

Pat kept promising Mike that we would stop for a rest and turn around when we hit the trees. So when we came abreast of the first real pine tree, it started to sound a lot like "Are we there yet?"

But we pushed on to a "Y" in the creek/trail and stopped there.

We loosened cinches, pulled bridles, and "high-lined" the three horses to the lower boughs of a couple of the now-plentiful pines. Had some grapes, granola bars and water, and rested our (Mike's) weary limbs.

On the way back down, Mike's right leg/ankle started bothering him. We decided to stop and see if Pat could adjust the stirrup a bit to help him out, and when she remounted, I volunteered Maddie to take the lead.
I expected hesitant, booger-finding, reassurance-seeking, stop and go motion... What I got was a long-striding, confident (mostly), "Let's go!" attitude! Sure there were a few hard looks and brief startles (the worst being a large, horse-eating rock that Maddie was SURE hadn't been there on the way in), but for the most part, Maddie was outstanding! (Granted, she may have known we were headed back to the trailer, seeing as how our route was a direct back-track. But still.)
Cross the creeklet? Sure, no problem.
Cross the pond?!? Here we GO!
[I had wanted Pat to video the creek crossing for y'all, but with the forward momentum Maddie had, I decided not to stop to trade off the camera.]
We had been out three hours, and covered probably 6 or 7 miles (no GPS with us today). Good ol' Kate was "Miss Dependable" for Mike, but Maddie was the STAR!

After watering, unsaddling, and resting the horses for a bit, we loaded up for home.
Mike was asleep in the back seat of the truck before we had gone 200 yards!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Top 'o the world!

This post is actually over a week old--I just didn't get around to uploading the videos until this morning (waiting for my grand son to wake up--post on that later). Plus I was so excited about Maddie's creek crossing, that I posted it first, though it was after this ride.

Kate has been feeling neglected for the last several weeks, while I focused on getting Beth going and she and Maddie ready for the Horse Daze sale the previous Saturday.
Not only neglected, Kate been feeling downright abused by her new diet regimen:[She has lost a few pounds, though, and a couple of holes of her cinch.]

So, once all the "daze" had worn off, Maddie and Beth got a day or two off, and I loaded Kate up with Pat's horse Rambler, and we took off to join the Kittitas Valley Trail Riders for a couple of hours of trails, southwest of Ellensburg. This area is only about 30 miles south of Green Canyon, where Maddie and I wound through the trees the following week, but into the area of the "shrub-steppe"--no trees!

View Larger Map

We started a little south of the red "A" and headed east until we were at a nice overlook of the Yakima River Canyon.
[The wind is blowing in these videos (it made the heat of the day much more tolerable), and therefore the soundtrack is rather annoying. So I'll relate much of what I said here and you can turn the sound off if you want.]
Here the group of riders is wandering along the top of Manastash Ridge, south of Ellensburg, heading east. At one point I pan the camera towards Mount Stuart, northwest of us, and over my [shaky] shoulder to Mount Rainier to the west.

Here is the view of Ellensburg from the overlook on Manastash. Part way through I pan to the east, where EvenSong Farm is hidden behind the near ridge, just below the tallest little "peak" in the far ridge. [By the way, the gal behind me in the salmon top on the palomino is a fellow teacher, who took the photos of Maddie crossing the creek in the last post. Riding with her is her hubby Warren, who was the one who led us across the creek! Thanks again, Warren!]

Then I give you a look down into the Yakima River Canyon. The geology of the area is fascinating, with lots of volcanic uplift activity creating the Manastash and north and south Umptanum ridges, running east-west between here and Yakima, WA. Then another cataclysm formed the roughly north south rift that the river flows through. My personal theory (with absolutely no scientific basis) is that before the river broke through the ridges, the bowl-shaped Kittitas Valley must have been a huge lake.

Then we moseyed the long way back to the trailers, covering both volcanic basalt fields and grassy meadows. Her Simple Boots performed well again today. I have not yet lost one from either Kate or Maddie. Kate did stomp with her left hind a couple of times shortly before we got back to the trailhead. Another rider said nothing seemed amiss, so I wonder if she had just gotten a weed or something under the boots top. If we hadn't been so close to being done, I probably would have climbed off to check it, but she stopped fussing and continued back to the trailers fine, so I guess it wasn't a big deal.

The only green-horse moments we had were a couple of times climbing out of little gullies, where Kate would lurch and get a little "light" in front. After the second time I did an experiment on the flat: I reached up, as I had at the gullies, and grabbed a little mane, as all good trail riders have all been taught to do climbing hills. She shook her head hard at me! It turns out I have never taken the time to teach her this balancing maneuver, and she didn't particularly like it. We'll have to work on that.

Kate was a REALLY pleasant ride today! A little bit of a rush the first half mile or so, then settled to a really nice energetic amble along with the group. [I'm beginning to think her pokiness/lethargy last year might have been related somehow to the bite/abcess she got early in the season.]

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The good, the bad, and the...lovely

Today was an adventure in contrasts.
Maddie and I joined 16 other riders from the Kittitas Valley Trail Riders (and one pack horse-in-training) for a ride up Green Canyon, through the Wenatchee National Forest. We started at the two little rectangles at the bottom , slightly left of center of this map, rode up the creek into the area surrounding the words "Wenatchee National Forest" in the upper middle. It was mostly up hill going in, then some up-ing and down-ing in the roadless area, then downhill back to our starting point.

What was really irritating was that Maddie jigged for 90% of the three hour ride! I would just get her settled into an energetic but acceptable walk, and something would come along to give her an excuse to start up again with the dainty little trot steps. She wanted so very badly to keep up with whichever horse was in front of her, to the point of stuffing her head up their tail, if I would have let her (but that's rude and dangerous, so, of course, I didn't let her). It was nice that if the whole group stopped, she would stand quietly until it was time to move again--then move she did! It reminded me a lot of her first poker ride last year.

What was good was that she handled some of the things that came along to fluster her: we rode much of the time alongside a rushing brook, and for one little section, the creek had spilled on to the roadway, and she dealt with it without her behavior getting any worse (for the most part). The wet places weren't all that muddy, really, and ran the length of the road, parallel to our direction of travel. I sidepassed her over them several times, back and forth along the road, and she also managed to step in a few puddles without melting.
We also crossed several small bridges--at the first, our leader pointed out that there was the option of crossing the water rather than the bridge...Yeah, right! I spent nearly 45 minutes last summer with this same trail riding group to get Maddie across a small, muddy creek. Until last fall, Maddie was always trailered in my older ramp trailer, and I'm sure that's why she (and all my others) don't worry too much about thumping across wooden platforms. My only worry was that she might sidestep off the edge, but she walked across each time likes nobody's business. Good girl!

But the BIGGEST accomplishment of the day was just before we stopped for a break.
Just before we stopped for a break, on
(I do believe I saw my life flash before my eyes!)

On our first approach, the horse ahead of Maddie hesitated, and I think Maddie was just about to follow her through. Then the other horse barreled on across, leaving Maddie behind on the bank with nothing but her worries about getting her feet wet.
Warren came up behind us and said "Let her follow me." So as he inched his gelding down, one step at a time, Maddie slowly but steadily matched his steps.
She stopped at the muddy little drop off into the water, but Warren's gelding waited for her, and, after only a moment,
Maddie stepped into the creek!

This is not the best shot of my horsemanship (really) but I had given her her head to step down, and then she started rushing, and I didn't want her to think she could just charge out, so I'm scrambling a bit to gather her back to me. She did stop and stand for a minute before walking on out.
I climbed down, loosened her cinch, dropped her bridle and told her what a LOVELY GIRL she had been. I think we were both a little surprised at the feat of watery daring do.
After a 20 minute break, we were on our way again. Where all the climbing up the mountain had significantly reduced Maddie's energy, she was now rejuvenated, and the jigging resumed. But she crossed another slightly higher foot bridge, even stopping and standing quietly partway across when the horses in front of us had to wait for something. Beside the infernal jigging, the only nasty thing coming back down the mountain was an "airs above the ground" leap (I think it was a "levad") she made across one little puddle. The streaking wet farther down the road didn't much bother her, but in her mind that puddle was avoidable!
Here we are coming out of the canyon. It may look like Maddie's leading the group, but the cameraman and several others were ahead of us. I did make a point of having her in various parts of the group and behind different horses throughout the ride. It didn't make a difference in her rate--she wanted to be right behind whoever was in front of her. Shortly after this photo, I asked her to walk beside "Peaches" (the palomino to the right of us in this picture), who she had been crowding for much of the trip down. She actually seemed to like this arrangement, and settled partway down to a walk....until she realized we were almost back to the trailers
The resident GPS carrier said we did 8.28 miles, and we arrived back at the trailers almost exactly three hours after leaving them. It would have been a much more enjoyable ride if it had been at a walk, but the creek crossing more than made up for that.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Horse Daze

It was a busy weekend!
We finished haying on Thursday. Well, the rest of the crew finished: on Wednesday, one of the boys got a harrowbed stuck, and in an effort to pull it out with "my" tractor, they busted up some sort of seal on the front axle, so it was out of commission for Thursday! But finishing meant the equipment was now available to deliver my hay to the barn. Scheduling got a little fouled up, so here came several tons worth Friday afternoon while I was in the midst of cleaning up Maddie and Beth for the Horse Daze sale on Saturday!No problem. My middle name is "flexibility"! The girls retired to stalls to wait for the rest of their beauty treatment, while Hank and the twins brought in three loads on the "squeeze".
After some confusion about delivery and waiting to hear back, I did get a chance to load the girls up and haul them down to the neighboring indoor Friday afternoon for a little trial session off the farm.
Beth went first, and although this was the first time I have ridden her away from home, the first time she's ever seen an indoor arena, and the wind was blowing up a bit of a ruckus outside, she did very well! Looked hard at a damp spot in the dirt, and at the dressage letters on the walls, and was obviously higher energy than usual, but did everything I asked of her willingly and with a pretty good attitude. I have sold my heavy stock saddle and got an inexpensive synthetic to substitute (and be a friend and husband backup saddle) until I can find the right replacement, so she was in a new saddle besides.
Then Beth stood fairly quietly while Maddie took a turn. I've ridden Maddie here once before and she was fairly comfortable. Nice walk-trot work, then what I really wanted to do: lope work in the good footing and with more room than at home. She was good about her transitions, but still very unbalanced and awkward. But she gave it a good try, and evened out a little as we went. I'm still thinking about having an equine chiropractor check her out.

Saturday started out early, but already warm. It ended up not as bad as last year (where temps hovered around 100) and there was a bit of a breeze to help soften the 84-ish degrees. I did manage to snag one of the pens with shade, which was helpful for the girls. Here they are hangin' out between the morning and afternoon presentations.

Morning showing went well, with a better crowd than last year (blame the heat or the economy, whichever). We forgot to take the camera over, but Maddie worked very nicely, relaxed and cooperative. Several people came to look at her between showings, with one fellow and his family pretty interested--he would have tried her out but he just messed his knee up last week, so I'm hoping they will follow up when he's moving better.
Beth, too, worked nicely on the lungeline (in spite of a little attitude she had given me earlier when I was showing her around the grounds). I did decide not to mount her there in the open among all the vendors and spectators, but when we got back to their pen, I did climb on, and she did okay for the little space. She got a little "stuck" once or twice, but we worked through it.

By afternoon the crowd had dwindled to about 15 (plus volunteers) and some of the vendors who had been set up around the showing area had left, so there wasn't quite as much hubbub as in the morning.
Again, Maddie did a fine job.
Beth worked well on the lunge again.... I sucked it up and climbed on!
She started out okay, a little hesitant perhaps.... ....but then she gave me some of her head pulling, a resistance to the bit.I didn't want to push things, so we just walked around for a few minutes (since we were the last horse to go) then dismounted and led her out.After that, they got some free time in the pen while I packed up, then loaded up and we headed home, where both girls got a little extra time in the pasture.

I might not have sold a horse, but I consider it a successful day's outing!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Quick Update

Beth and I had a pretty good session yesterday: the least fuss ever about saddling, nice lunge work, relaxed walk circles and serpentines. Then got a little balkiness when I asked for the trot--I had forgotten to put on my stubby spurs, and she didn't want to move out. Went and got them, remounted, and with a little bit of persuasion we moved out.
I am working really hard on staying off of her mouth. If I fuss at her too much, she starts pulling at the bit and snaking her head all over. But I'm learning I can trust her (and myself): we've had a few little spooks and all she does is jump to the side a bit and stop and look.

Like yesterday, we were coming down the fence line shared with the backyard. Sandy was digging a hole to China (bad doggy) and literally couldn't be seen. Just as we were coming even with her, Sandy popped out of the hole, all smiley and dirty-nosed and proud of herself.
Beth, on the other hand, got all wide-eyed and teleported sideways about five feet!
It was the biggest spook she's given me, but that's all she did. Although I had to grab for mane and reins, I stuck with her, amazingly enough! And we went right back to riding our trot circles (though she kept a close eye on that naughty dog the rest of the ride!)

Back in the barn, I struggled to pull her back shoes--although I do my own trimming, I don't have any shoeing ( or rather, de-shoeing) equipment. Trainer guy had wanted her shod, so he could take her up in the hills near his place (he never did). Beth had thrown one front a couple of weeks ago, so I pulled the other. But I wanted to get the backs off and trimmed before the sale Saturday.
Beth was very patient with me, even with her left hind, which she tends to want to snatch away. She did better when she let me use the hoof stand (more stable for her and much easier on my back), and I used an old wood chisel to loosen the clinches. But my nippers didn't have very good leverage for prying the shoes off, so we worked on one nail at a time until I could pull it out, and finally got 'er done.

I'm a little worried about riding her at the fairgrounds on Saturday. She's been there before, and did well being ground driven (last year's sale), but it will be the first time I've ridden her away from here. And the "show" area isn't really contained--just a grassy area, with a little bit of separation (usually step in posts with electric tape) from the bleachers and tack sale and all the other goings-on. I could always just show her in hand at the actual presentations, and offer to get on her back in one of the pens. But if she would handle it, it's a selling point.
I'm also thinking about hauling somewhere Friday morning just to see how she behaves in a new situation.
We'll see....

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Better Behaved Beth

It's been miserably hot here this week, mid- to high 90's. Even the mornings have been sultry, so I try to get all my chores and projects and riding done as early as possible.

Haying is going well, we've been doing a field a day, sometimes two if they're small, and only have three more to go of first cutting timothy, about 75 acres. Then two with oats that will need a few more weeks, then second cutting of the one alfalfa field (for the sheep), then a few more weeks 'til second cutting timothy (usually after school starts). I don't usually help with the oats and alfalfa, but they're short one crew member this year (the foreman's 19 y.o. son is working a "real" job in his chosen career field), so I suppose I'll be on call.

Beth and Maddie get a few days off since Beth's temper tantrum the other day--I was sort of working up the energy (and gumption) to go at it again. I also got a load of gravel for the back end of the barn, and needed to get it spread before my hay comes, so that took a good day (along with a little bit of a reconfiguration of my storage area).

So this morning I skipped projects, and caught Beth and brought her in. She's slowly getting better about saddling--not so much dancing around, and I take my time cinching her up, and only get a stomp or two about that. Lots of lovin' when we can get dressed without too much of a fuss.
She lunged nicely on mostly verbal commands and body language (but then, she had done that part well the other day, too). Stood like a rock for me to mount, and waited for me to ask her to move out.
Walking, bending, circles and figure-eights. I was wearing my stubby spurs, and had the dressage whip tucked under the saddle, but never brought it out. Only once or twice did she need much encouragement to move forward.
A little less cooperative at the trot, wandering around and sometimes setting her jaw against my hand, but 300% better than the other day. Once we got a few nice circles each direction, I let her stand for a bit, then we went out in the north pasture for a walk.
Nothing too scary there (it's where they've been turned out at night for the last week), but the tall grass was a bit distracting. Also the fact that everyone else was back at the barn. But we did okay, and after about ten minutes, I climbed off, loosened her cinch, and we walked back side-by-side.

With the heat, we're starting haying a lot earlier in the day, and subsequently finishing earlier, as well. So today I was home by 5:30, and we had an early supper, then, as things cooled off outside, I caught Maddie and threw the dressage saddle on her, for a bit of a change-up in our routine. Walk, trot circles, with lots of bending to supple her and bring her nose down where it belongs. Then two nice sets of canter circles--to the right was really nice; to the left was a bit unbalanced to start, but evened out as she found her stride.
There is no evidence of the lameness from earlier this spring, so I think that has resolved itself. I continue to use her sports medicine boots for a little extra support and protection.

All in all, it was a good day to ride.

On a more somber note:Please keep Russell, Christine, and Megan Ray in your thoughts and prayers. Russell is a sweetheart of a man, who never misses his daughter's 4H shows, and will help or cheer on any kid there that might need it.
Russell disappeared without a trace on June 21st, while the rest of the family was out of town at a wedding (he stayed behind to take care of the animals). Nothing missing from the house, and both vehicles where they belonged. There are absolutely no leads.
Christine is a substitute teacher at my school, and very active as a parent as well. Megan just "graduated" from 5th grade to the middle school. Megan is somewhat timid by nature, and this whole thing is devastating for her.
Please ask whatever higher power you believe in to watch over them all, and hurry Russell's safe return to his family.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Bratty Baby Beth

What started out with a relaxed, forward, compliant lunging session this morning, turned into a hissy-fit temper tantrum the minute I got on the drama queen!
Beth would not move forward.
Sideways, yes.
Backwards, yes.
Or not at all.
But definitely not in the direction her head was pointed.

I got off and we lunged again for a few minutes, with her being pissy, and me being more pissy, demanding her respect. I wasn't so much mad, as confused about what had suddenly happened to her attitude and determined to work through it.

I got on and we made about 50 feet, before Beth decided there was something terrifying over the fence in the backyard. (There was absolutely nothing that hadn't been there for the last several years. And the "scary thingy" seemed to move, depending upon our position. Just an excuse for stopping, I think.)
Again, no forward gear. Just a lot of head tossing and stomping.

I got off and went and got both my stubby spurs and by dressage whip, to reinforce my leg aids.
I had to use both and we finally got forward, at first just a few steps. If I really got after her with the whip she would give a little hop-kick, not quite a buck, but the threat was there. I didn't want to push her that far, so rather than a sharp thwap, I used an irritating tap tap tap. Every time I got a little "try" I would relax a bit, then ask again.
She would get part way around the end of the arena, then sidepass [beautifully] back towards the barn gate and/or her herd in the paddocks. The couple of times she made it to where she wanted to be, I had to start all over with regaining the forward movement.

We finally managed several circles, both ways, at the end of the arena, at a semi-relaxed walk, so I called it good and loosened her cinch and let her stand for a bit in the grooming stall, to think about it, while I did some odd jobs around the barn. Then I unsaddled her and put her up.

Beth had managed to change what I had planned to be a short, review lesson into a major disagreement about who was in charge. I know there are readers who will think I needed to listen to what she was trying to tell me, but the message I was getting was:
No! I don't want to. I don't! I DON'T!!
It was not fear, nor discomfort, as far as I could tell. It was simple disobedience.
It was an example of Beth at her naughty worst.
I may need to ride her again tomorrow (instead of Maddie) to see where we stand.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Update on rides

Just a quick follow-up on my last post about riding both Beth and Maddie.

Monday was considerably hotter, and even a bit muggy, so I thought Beth's energy would be a bit more subdued than last Friday when it was so blustery.
I got on her again and we got some decent trot circles, though Beth really wanted to pull at the bit and kept veering off toward the barn. We worked through it for the most part, then I took her out in the pasture, where we daren't go the other day because of the nasty wind. She did okay going out, especially considering that she was all by herself, with only a little hesitation, that was overcome with some gentle reassurance. As we circled up the hill around the big log and came around facing home, however, I needed to keep her from careening down the hill. She did settle fairly quickly at the walk, until I asked her to swing to the left, around the pond: THAT wasn't the way home! We had a brief discussion, then she decided it wasn't such a big deal after all, and we circled the pond and walked back to the barn. The only spook was at a ittly bitty bird in the bushes at the gate back into the paddock, and even that was just a little startle.

Today, Maddie was pretty mellow, and it only took a few minutes for her to relax from a somewhat headstrong trot into some nice jog work. Then I sucked it up and pushed her into a lope. We got a little fuss face, then some decent 70 foot circles (half my little arena) each way. Let her stand and relax a bit, then headed sown the driveway and into the currently empty cattle pasture. She seemed to be enjoying that, until she unexpectedly found her feet in a slightly muddy spot below the irrigation pipe, and about had a cow! The rest of the way down the hill, she was on her guard for other sneaky wet spots (though she didn't see the one snake that I did) and seemed quite convinced that she would drop out of sight into quicksand at any moment. I didn't have the energy to do a whole session of water crossing, so I didn't even attempt to go across the bottoms where I knew it would be wet. Once we started back up the other side of the draw, Maddie relaxed again. She balked a bit at stepping over two telephone poles across from the house (I'm soooo tired!) but finally managed and we headed home. Just before the road (and the turn into our driveway) I asked her to walk straight past the big mud puddle that she had given a wide side-stepping berth to on the way in, and she did pretty well at that, so once we got onto the home place, I climbed down and loosened her cinch and we did a meander home, stopping to pull weeds and drag down a couple of dead branches on the way.

All in all, two good rides, considering that neither mare has done much all spring.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Breezy Beth

My trail ridin' buddy Pat has always admired Kate, so I bribed her to come down and ride her, if she would just accompany me on Beth for our first venture into the big pasture.
Pat's first impression:
Oh, my! She is wide!
Kate tried to buffalo Pat a little, but Pat's a good enough rider to put an end to that right away!
We started out in the arena, with Pat getting to know Kate, and me warming Beth up. This was Beth's third ride this week, and I pushed (and I mean pushed!) her into a few short jogs. Next ride I'll either put on my stubby spurs (trainer guy rode in his big western spurs) or carry my dressage whip for a little added motivation.
We ventured down to the pasture gate, and Pat dismounted to open it. But the wind was blowing something awful, and as we left the lee side of the house, it hit us full force, nearly snatching the gate from Pat's hands! Beth was unwilling to go past the security of Kate (waiting to close the gate) and I decided it wasn't a good day to push our luck with a very green horse, so we decided to stay in the paddock area--which was also new to Beth. It was at this point that I realized I should have the camera, so Pat held Beth while I ran back inside for it.
I had these four posts set up a little to let them air dry a bit before I use them to replace the rickety 4'"X4" posts to the left of us, but they seemed as good as any place to mount.
Beth stood well--twice--Pat wasn't ready with the camera the first time!
Here, she has moved away from the posts a bit, but then stood until asked to move forward--a must in my book.
Then we decided to use the posts as a training opportunity.
(Please note the heavy sweatshirts, and the directionality of Beth's tail in these photos! It's the second of July, by golly, and it's only 60F!)
Beth hesitated the first time through the "obstacle", then proceeded to walk every which way through it that I might ask.
Pat took this photo as I was describing how Jackson was tossing his "toy" (an old horse blanket) around the other day while I was on Beth for only the second time. Pat was impressed that Beth was standing so quietly for my demonstration. I had been impressed with her tolerating Jackson's play.We tried to stand her up for some nice shots against the green of the pasture.
Relaxed, but ears at half mast.
Here, something surprised Beth a bit. We got the ears up, but it's not exactly a "pleasure horse" stance.
I dun gud, right Ma?

On another front...
Or actually, I guess it was another back...
I've been slowly bringing Maddie back into work after her lay-up. Two weeks ago, we started with some easy lunging, to gauge whether she was still showing any tenderness on her left fore. (I also had been asked for a video by a prospective buyer.)

She seemed to be moving okay, so this week I began riding her, starting with 10-15 minute walk/jog sessions, with her Sports Medicine Boots on, for support for her forelegs.
We started mostly in the arena, but took a short ride up the road one day. You would have thought she was ready for an endurance race, the way she headed out the driveway. You would have thought she'd never been away from home, the way she stalled once we hit the road and encountered hazards such as the bridge over the irrigation ditch, a field of cut but unbaled hay, a telephone pole! But we worked through it. The return trip home, we practiced a lot of half-halts (she was ready to be home!) and stopping to stand patiently while I gabbed with the neighbor (also good manners for a horse).
Yesterday we moved up to a regular work session at the jog and working trot. Mostly I needed to remind her where her head belonged, so we did lots of circles, serpentines, and transitions until she was carrying it nicely flexed, with a very light contact.It was the most real work either of us had done in quite a while, so we interspersed the trot work with lots of quiet walk and standing to catch our respective breaths.
I must say, I'm a little sore today!

Suffice it to say, I'm feeling good that my second week of vacation has included much more time with the horses. I'm riding at least one a day, and I'm all caught up on hoof trimming. We started haying this past week, but that never starts until 2-ish in the afternoon, so I'm getting some of my own little projects finished up each morning...after riding. The biggest one for this summer will start with those four posts, and will include at least 12 or 15 more posts, depending on how efficient the PTO post hole digger is that I borrowed.

Edited to add:
Replying to Kate's comment reminded me that I forgot to tell you about Maddie's silliness on Saturday. The first time, she was making her "fuss-face" at me about the work we were doing: ears back (almost but not quite pinned) and you could almost hear her growling at me. When she didn't work out of it after a minute, I reached up and flat-handed her on the neck! It really surprised her, and she jumped hard to the other side. Of course, I'm already a bit off balance from reaching out, so I had to scramble to grab some mane. But it seemed to do the trick: no more fuss-face and she got down to work.
The second incident was as we were finishing up. I had been working on some yielding to my leg and asked Maddie to side pass up to the fence so I could retrieve a short 20 foot piece of hose looped there. She was fine with that, until that "snake" started to crawl off the fence towards her! I momentarily thought that once it was of the fence and hanging quietly at her side she would be okay, but her lateral movement at that point was getting mighty fast, so I decided not to press the point--I dropped the offending hose and got her settled, then we went back and investigated her "kill" on the ground.
What impressed me was that I stuck with her, unlike that fateful day last summer, and it was a boost for my confidence. It will translate to my work with Beth, as well, because she has shown herself to be sensible enough not to explode when flustered, and all I need to do is stick with her in those "green horse" moments.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Grass is Greener

Kate, over at A Year with Horses , recently was discussing the grazing routine at her barn:
"[W]e used to do intensive rotational grazing on smaller pastures, about 1 acre plus or minus, with each of our two herds spending about a week on one of our 10 grazing pastures before moving to the next one. With larger herds - we've had as many as 17 horses on pasture although that's probably too many - this intensive grazing maximized grass growth and productivity and meant we had to feed much less hay over the grazing months. The problem we've been confronting lately is that we now have only 9 grazing horses - one herd of 4 [mares] and the other of 5 [geldings]."
"We've decided that we no longer want to maximize grass production, and want to significantly reduce labor, so we've moved to grazing each herd in a large, conjoined 5 or 6 acre pasture without rotation, but with frequent mowing to control weeds and improve the ability of the horses to graze all the areas of the pastures.... We're expecting some decline in grass quantity and richness, which will be a good outcome considering the girth of many of our horses, although there should be enough grass for the grazing season."

I kinda hi-jacked her post with a discussion of my quandary over whether or not to mow two of my pastures which have gotten quite lush:
"I'm trying to figure out my rotation, too. I have seven pastures: five between 1 1/2 and 2 acres, and two that are both 2 acres or better. When I had the horses is separate groups coming out of winter, I rotated them through five of the pastures. Now that they're all (6) together, I'm trying to let them eat down the last two pastures that got belly high in places. But they are all very rotund, so I daren't leave them out full time--I'm letting them out first thing in the morning for 3-4 hours, then again in the evening for 2-3.
I've been wondering if I should just mow it all down? But I'm afraid the cuttings would just smother the new grass underneath. (I even thought about asking the neighbor to cut and bale it, but I know he doesn't like haying smaller spaces.) What do you think?
" (Even 30-year-old RT is looking plenty plump!)
Kate's response, in part:
"I'd recommend mowing. It keeps down the weeds and allows the horses to graze more evenly, not just where the grass is short - our horses tend to graze one area excessively and others not at all as the grasses grow up and get more coarse."
I started last week with the herd on one of those pastures, but because it is so rich, I was only leaving them out for 3-4 hours in the morning (when sugar content of grass is lowest) and 2-3 hours in the evening (when it's starting to drop from afternoon high sugar production). They got pretty good at the routine, coming in when I caled (mostly--in the evening their daily supplement ration cushions the blow of leaving the pasture).
I now have them up to about ten hours, and am putting them out last thing before I go to bed, and bringing them in first thing in the morning. Mostly this is so I have them up at the barn during the day, so I can work with Beth, Maddie and Kate.
Mowing gives the advantage of more even growth, and therefore more even grazing patterns. If you look at this pasture it may seem to be green and growing.
And it patches. But the issue is that the horses tend to choose the more succulent grasses, and leave older, taller grass behind (think: the school child who eats his Twinkie and leaves the bologna sandwich).
So, although this looks lush...
...twenty feet away, where they've been eating the younger grass, it looks like this:
So I decided to take Kate's advice and mow. (She also directed me to a great resource at the site, where the question is posed: "Are you feeding your horse like a cow?"
Down the page a bit on Kate's blog are also a couple of links to Paradigm Farm's posts on nutrition for horses that provide excellent information.)

This pasture has had about three weeks or so to recover from the last time it was grazed, including irrigation last week. I have to fight my instinct to mow it "lawn short" and leave it closer to 4 or 5 inches. The well eaten parts are just growing back to about 3-4 inches, so it will be awhile (and probably one more round of irrigation) before I put the herd back on it.
The finished field. (You can still see the darker "roughs" on either side.)
I'll do one of the 7 fields every day or so as they dry out from this last round of irrigation, ending with the 2 tallest fields, that the guys/gals are working on right now. (I also invited my neighbor to bring her sheep down if she wants them to work on the deepest pasture.)

On other fronts, my baby trees are doing as well as can be expected, at the hands of someone with brown thumbs.
These are two of the Austrian Pines, with a Rocky Mountain Juniper sandwiched in between. Survival on the pines was less than 50%; the junipers did a little better over the winter. The ones that did survive seem to be doing well now. Even a few that I didn't think were going to make it are turning a little green around the edges, so we'll see if they can build enough vigor to make it through next winter.
Of the deciduous trees and shrubs, the poplars are mostly going gang-busters. A few just seemed to disappear, so I fear some critter decided they were tasty, although one stretch of about 30 seedlings on the least protected edge of the property may have simply snapped off in the winter wind. Of the other shrubs, again, only about 50-60% survived, often according to species. It's a little frustrating.
Here's one bumper crop we've gotten this year!
The south end of our property had been neglected for several years before we moved here. It was the main impetus to put in the sprinkler system: the gravity flow irrigation that had been here just wasn't getting water to the far end.
Here you can see the rocky weed patch before we completed the water system and then reseeded. In the middle distance (underneath the sprinkler and to the right of it) you can see the three trenches I dug for the sprinkler lines.
Here's a closer look. Notice the additional rocks that I added to the landscape.
The National Resource Conservation Service maps showed the change in soil types, which we then discovered in person while ditch-witching the rest of the property. The south hillside required bigger equipment!
I've been picking rocks ever since (or trading horseback rides/lessons to grandkids and neighbor kiddos for the chore). Every year I think I've got them mostly out, and every year more seem to just appear! Oh well. It keeps me outta trouble.