Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Living in a bog

Well, guess what. It's raining again. It's been raining every day since Monday and is supposed to continue raining every day for the rest of the week. Yay us. I know, I know, I shouldn't be complaining. At least we have enough rain to really green up the fields...but what good are green, lush fields when I can't turn the horses out on it because it's like walking across a bog?

The ground is so saturated that when you walk on it the sod sinks and it does feel a whole lot like walking across a bog. If you listen while you walk you can hear the water move air bubbles through the soil three feet away from where you put your foot. Not exactly ground conducive to riding, that's for sure!

I can't plant anything, I can't ride, I can't mow (and mowing is desperately needed!) and our mosquitoes are HORRIBLE. I've never seen so many of the nasty bugs around here this time of year, ever. And they are almost big enough to carry off a horse! We have to mosquito spray the horses every evening and make sure their fly masks are on or they are absolutely miserable. The mosquitoes are swarming like mad, they are evening bothering my poor goats, so the goats get mosquito-sprayed, too. Unfortunately I haven't seen any fly masks for goats or they'd have some! Thank goodness the flies/horse flies haven't made a big appearance yet, it's just the mosquitoes at the moment.

When it dries up a bit more I plan to take Gabe out for a longe session involving the oh-so-scary gate. Once again I'll ask my patient, darling husband to help me train my horse and have him knock the thing over again and again while I'm longeing Gabe just to get him desensitized to that particular noise. Nothing like turning a scary thing into a learning lesson that will benefit Gabe and myself in the future.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Hitting the dirt

Ahh, it was bound to happen sooner or later.

I got my butt dumped into the dirt yesterday. In a way, it's kind of a relief that that particular first is finally over and done with aboard Gabe. I've been anticipating it and I think that anticipation translated into unnecessary nervousness in the saddle. Is it goofy to say that now that he's launched me I feel more confident? I admit, I was scared of the's an awful long way down, but now that I've done it and survived without a bump nor scratch, I no longer have to fear the fall. Sounds weird, I know, but it's true!

Sunday was beautiful, quite windy, but gorgeous. Ok, it was very, very windy and gusty and I was a bit tempted NOT to ride because of the gusts, but, I bit the bullet and refused to let the weather make me its slave once again.

Robert, Kayleigh and I all went for a ride. Another first! We've never all three been able to ride on separate horses at the same time! Kayleigh used to be small enough to ride double on Chief with Robert and me on Calypso, but she's gotten too big for that any more. It was wonderful! I was only able to ride in the arena area and Kayleigh and Robert went for a short hack after I was done riding Gabe.

We are in the process of fencing in the arena area to turn it into another pasture as well as make it safer for riding. An enclosed area is always a nice thing to have to ride in, especially if you have kids or are riding very green horses. But, it's not fenced yet. We have it all cleared and to be fenced, just haven't gotten to the posts and fencing part yet. There is fence along two sides where it abuts the dry lots and one of the grass pastures, a deep creek and woods on one side and an opening in the woods where it leads to a bridge over the creek and back out to the rest of the property. This opening is where the gate will be installed. The gate is not properly installed yet (ever try to dig post holes in thick mud? Not fun!) but, we had the metal gate leaning against a corner post and a tree to block that opening.

Remember that gusty wind I mentioned?

Blew that gate right over as Gabe and I were walking away from it. Ever hear one of those big, metal gates hit the ground and rocks? Not exactly silent.

Hoo boy! I don't know how jockeys manage to stay on when those horses break from the gate! Gabe sprang forward from a relaxed walk into a gallop in a second flat and left me wondering where the heck he went. BAM! Gone. It did give me an opportunity to admire the pretty wild flowers growing in the grass up close and personal. His spook caught me off guard at a point when I was really thinking about and working on being as loose and relaxed as possible in the saddle so I wasn't inadvertently giving him signals so slow down or stop. I guess I was, eh? ROFL! I was so mad at myself, too. I should have been able to ride that particular spook, I've ridden 100s, nay 1,000s of them without an issue.

Poor Kayleigh was so worried about me. She's never seen me dumped before and it wasn't a pretty land-on-your-feet fall either. It was an eat dirt fall. Thank goodness I had my hard hat on. Without that brim I would have face-planted right on my nose. But, I caught Gabe (he didn't go anywhere, and stopped running as soon as I left the saddle), gave him a reassuring pat, and got back up to finish our session. Not a bit of spook left in him and we finished on a good note.

Aside from ditching me, Gabe was wonderful. He is moving well off my leg. Sometimes I have to nudge, nudge, nudge, kiss, kiss, kiss to get him walking from a halt, but he's walking most often off a squeeze, and that's definitely a step in the right direction. The turns are still sticky and he threw a few little head tossing, grunting fits when I decided he could turn around and walk in the opposite direction Chief and Calypso were heading. He did NOT like that idea at all, but after "expressing himself" in his own unique way, he would sigh and give up and head in the direction I pointed him. Good boy!

Friday, April 24, 2009

What a difference a day makes

I am so proud of my big goober. He might be a little too playful at times, but when he settles into "work mode" he's golden.

Last night we tried the idea using Calypso as incentive for him to walk forward off my leg. I started him with a quick longe session, about 10 minutes, of walk/trot/canter/halt. There was no messing around on his part this time, not like Wednesday when he behaved like he had a screw or two loose. Immediate responses to my commands, no attempts to run out, no bucking, no ducking, pure workmanlike behavior.

Robert brought Calypso in and we both mounted up. We started by just letting Gabe follow her around the arena, circles, serpentines, on the rail, lots of transitions between halt and walk. His halt is spot on, I don't even have to go to the reins: Tighten the abs, sink my heels and stop moving with him and he stops. Fabulous! To start I'd say "Walk," give the leg cue and Robert walked Calypso so Gabe would be inspired to follow and hopefully associate the leg pressure with the forward movement. About 10 minutes of that and I started halting and walking him independently of what Calypso was doing. He didn't get it at first, especially when I asked him to walk while she was halted. So we tried a different tact...Robert kept just walking around the arena on Calypso while I halted and walked Gabe, figuring her constant forward movement would inspire him to also move forward when I put the leg on. It worked! He started getting it, slowly but surely. I think a few more sessions just like that and it will be cemented in his brain and we can start introducing more concepts and ideas. His steering is still a bit sticky, but nothing that more hours in the saddle won't improve.

Calypso was such a champ. Gabe kept trying to bite her butt at the beginning and left huge swaths of white foam all over her booty. She laid her ears back at him a few times but never offered to kick, what a good girl! Notice I said white foam? That boy was FOAMING like mad and really chewing the bit, all with no contact at all from me. While this is a good thing, he was playing with the bit so much and trying to suck it up into his moth and get his tongue over it that I am considering switching to something that will stay a bit more stable in his mouth rather than the eggbutt snaffle that kind of lays on his tongue. I have a Baucher bit (snaffle) that is designed to hang and be more stable in the mouth than a plain snaffle. It is designed to put more pressure on the corners of the lips and not so much on the bars or tongue. My old mare, Star, adored that bit and seemed to favor the stability in her mouth over a more "wiggly" snaffle of any kind. She also had a low, narrow palate and I imagine the joint of a regular snaffle could become rather uncomfortable on the roof of her mouth. I know it shouldn't matter what bit you use, but I'm willing to try different styles of snaffles until I find one he's less inclined to play with the entire ride. We've already discovered that he is NOT a big fan of the full cheek snaffle!

I also discovered that I really need to get a set of reins that are about four to six inches longer than my current set. When he stretched his neck down (also a good thing!) and really relaxed into the ride I had to lean forward and stretch my arms out or risk losing those reins. He's a BIG boy and when he stretches that neck, there a LOT of neck there. I'd really rather a few inches too much rein than a few inches too little rein, especially at this stage when I want him to go long and low and really learn to use his back well.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Boys will be boys

I've been brainstorming about how to successfully (and without a lot of fight!) address Gabe's lack of desire to move forward off the leg at ANY gait. I could sit there and beat the snot out of him with a crop or kick kick kick until he gets it, but that's really not what I'm aiming for. I don't want to harangue and harass him until he gets the answer right, I want to work with him in the most non-confrontational manner as I can until I am forced to resort to something more demanding and uncomfortable for him. I am not afraid to be harsh with him if necessary, but I've found, with him in particular, it ends up being counterproductive because he shuts down when he doesn't understand what I'm asking and doesn't understand why he's being reprimanded. It's a lot like punishing a kindergartner for not being able to read Hemingway or Voltaire. He tries really hard to figure out what I'm asking and when he gets confused, he just shuts down and the naughty behavior emerges full on.

So, I'm going to use my husband and his mare, Calypso, to help me get the point across to Gabe about this moving forward off the leg thing. I know Gabe knows how to follow a pony horse, he did it for the first half of his life, and that's what Calypso is going to be until we work through this. The trick will be timing, by both myself and my husband, so that Gabe understands leg pressure means move forward, and Calypso is only there to provide INCENTIVE to move forward when I put my leg on and give the verbal command to walk. I really don't think this will take very long, maybe a couple of sessions. I discovered in our last session that he really, really, really opposes the crop. He's not scared of it, he just doesn't like it and kicked out at it more than once when I gave him a spank and bucked/crow hopped with additional spanks. Mind, I didn't whack him hard, and definitely no harder than a jockey ever whacked him, but the reaction was very, very negative. I pissed him off and as soon as he's pissed off I can forget about accomplishing anything of any kind of worth for that session. I can rub the crop all over his body and tickle his ears with it from the saddle, he just doesn't like to be spanked. What a prima donna.

We were going to try the pony horse session yesterday, but my husband wasn't feeling very well so he declined to ride. *sigh* That's the downside with this training partner has to be willing to help me train.

So, I longed Gabe instead. And he was a BRAT. He wanted to play on the line and kept trying to stop to eat grass which just irritates the crap out of me and is extremely bad behavior. Then there was the running out issue he decided to engage in. Every time he came around the circle on the west edge he'd duck his head, buck and try to take off running towards the gate area hauling my behind him. WRONG! That earned him the longe line over his poll and clipped to the opposite bit rather than onto the longing dee I normally use. Bad, bad horse. And he kept trying it, over and over and over again and he got punished each and every time. He finally gave up, heaved a gigantic sigh, chewed the bit, dropped his neck and got to work. After that he was golden...responding to the voice commands, spiraling in and out as I asked, slowing down and speeding up when I asked and really paying attention to everything.

Boys...sometimes they just have to get the spit and vinegar out of their system before they decide to get their butts to work!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Let's talk about mud

It's the bane of horse owners every where. It never gets better, it only gets worse and it's a constant battle to keep it under control.

Mud. I hate it. My horses hate it. We have an unending supply of the sticky, nasty, slick and slimy stuff. In most areas it's only a couple inches deep (not over the top of the hooves) in other places its pastern-sucking deep. I worry about their hooves being wet all the time, but so far, we've had no problems *cross fingers!* and their hooves are quite healthy. They all have a very slight case of thrush, but nothing to get excited about. I've seen stalled horses with far worse cases of thrush than I've ever seen in any of mine. They are just standing in mud, not pee and poo. I treat the thrush a few times a week to keep it from getting worse, but that's about all I can do at this point. Grooming is an adventure, of course, and sometimes Gabe is more bay than gray! There are times you can't tell Chief is an Appy because all his spots are covered in mud. Last night Calypso had a dried patina of mud encrusting her entire body...she kind of looked like she'd been dipped in a milk chocolate coating! Their tails are so long the ends get little balls of mud stuck tight to them. That is SO much fun to groom, I tell you what. Mix in a bunch of shedding beasts and its a party! Their tails are so long the ends get little balls of mud stuck tight to them. I'm going to have a beauty spa day this weekend and wash those tails so I can detangle, de-mudify and whack about three or four inches off the bottom of each. Not Gabe's, of course. His is barely past his hocks at this point, but Chief and Calypso both have about 2 inches dragging the ground.

We have launched a battle against the worst of the worst with tons of gravel and geotextile cloth. But it's an expensive venture. If I could afford to we'd strip and cover both dry (mud!) lots with "cow carpet" and overlay that with stone dust. But it's a tad cost prohibitive at more than $5,000 per paddock (on the cheap side.) Yikes! Right now we are just putting down rock where the horses tend to the gates, in front of and in run-in sheds and around the water tanks. But the rest of the paddocks remain a muddy mess.

A barn is in our future and I'm still teetering on whether or not I'd actually leave the horses in stalls when the paddocks are muddy. It's kind of a two-edged sword. If you leave them in you can hypothetically prevent deeper mud by keeping damaging hooves out of it. However, leaving them in during the muddy season also seriously increases their energy level so when you DO turn them out, they'll most likely run around bucking and farting like fiends and 1. Rip up the paddock any way and 2. Injure their crazy selves. And I'd double my cost of horse keeping with the cost of shavings for each stall. I'm still leaning towards putting them in stalls during the worst of the weather (super cold winter days, icy paddocks. cold, pouring rain/sleet and just really, really nasty days.) instead of making it a regular thing. Cleaning three stalls every day would take that much more time away from riding and enjoying my horses! Keeping the farm in shape and gardening takes enough of that precious time already without adding more chores to the list.

I love having my horses at home. I love that I can sit on my deck with a drink in hand and just watch them be horses. I love that I can wake up in the morning and glance out the dining room window to do a quick welfare check to make sure everyone is still standing. I love hearing them nicker for their meals when they see me heading out with the feed buckets and hay. I love having my eyes on them every day and not having to trust someone else to notice if something is off or not quite right. I can wander out at any time and just visit with them if I want to. I know exactly what they are eating and when and can adjust feed on the fly if necessary. Extra hard day of riding? You get an extra pound of oats or another flake of hay. Looking a tad on the pudgy side? I can cut feed immediately instead of relying on someone else to do it. I don't ever have to wonder if they got their supplements or medication because I'M the one doing it. I will never, ever go back to a boarding situation again. Sure, I miss the indoor arena and the all-weather arena. Sometimes I even miss the silly barn drama and I definitely miss my riding buddiees. But I don't miss it enough to ever go back. EVER.

I just hate the mud!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Spring is busy!

The past few weeks have been busy at work and around the farm...and muddy! Spring is the busiest time of year because I'm trying to get my flowers and veggies in, clean up whatever needs cleaned after winter, reseeding pastures and in all of that, praying for a semi-dry day to play with my horse! Unfortunately, the massive amounts of mud means I don't get to do a lot with Gabe. I can groom him and make him all purty, but the moment I turn him loose, he finds the biggest, slimiest, stickiest mud hole in his paddock and immediately rolls in it.

We got a chance to work a bit on Friday, no riding though because no one was home and I'm just not comfortable enough to ride him without someone being home yet. We did some lunge work, especially on the voice commands again. We also worked on trot-canter departs. He wants to take off into the canter like he's breaking from the gate. He gets all unbalanced when he does that because I'm asking him to do it on a circle and then he panics because he's unbalanced and isn't quite sure how to fix it on his own. But Friday, after two explosive canter departs in both directions and the subsequent "OH MY GOD! I'M FALLING!" reaction from him, he finally figured it out and started lifting off very nicely into a canter from the trot. BEAUTIFUL! It took my breath away to watch him canter balanced and quiet once he figured it out. I can't wait to ride that, I think it's going to be one of the nicest canters I've ever ridden.

I was able to turn him out in on of the grass pastures for about an hour. He got turned out alone because I knew that as soon as I turned Calypso out with him the two would tear around the still slightly muddy pasture and rip it to shreds. Alone he just stands and grazes. We've put too much time and money into those pastures to let them destroy 'em!

Of course, Saturday and Sunday bring us more rain, and more mud. *sigh* So far, according to the state climatologist, we've had 58% MORE rain in the first two weeks of April than is normal for the entire month. If we stay on this track, it could become the wettest April since sometime in the late 1800s. Nice.

Saturday morning we got a load of rocks/gravel delivered. 15 tons. Sounds like a lot, doesn't it? Yeah, not so much. It will do about half of the rock jobs we need to get done to make headway in this never-ending mud battle. We spent 6 hours Saturday putting rock 6 inches deep in front of Gabe's gate, in his run-in, in front of the run-in and around it. After a heavy rainstorm last night, it looks like we'll need another 2-3 inches inside and in front of the run-in. I stripped in front of his run-in and inside it down to the clay and put a geotextile fabric beneath the rock in the run-in so he won't just grind it into the clay. It stayed much, much drier than it has been, but a few more inches of rock won't hurt. He seems quite a bit happier to have his feet out of the mud and has been hanging out on the rock. Smart guy.

We've been clearing woods/brambles/weeds on part of our property to put in fence for another pasture. Part of it currently serves as my riding arena and with more of it cleared of scrub, it will be about as large as a typical arena. It's about 2.5 acres of flat and grassy land and is mostly protected by trees. I'll be able to ride Gabe there once it's all fenced. Right now, I'm not quite ready to trust him outside a fenced area. Perhaps I'm a chicken, but I'd rather be safe than on my head or chasing my horse into the next county!