Wednesday, June 24, 2009

If I'm going to live in a jungle-like atmosphere, I want the monkeys and the parrots in the trees

Mother Nature is relentless.

First the never ending gully washers that put my riding on hold because of the mud. Now, not only are we getting gully washers and frog chokers, we are also getting 87% humidity with 98-degree temperatures. It's hot enough to roast an elephant. How fun is that? If I WANTED to live in jungle-like conditions, I'd move to the jungle. My horses are hot and miserable, I am hot and miserable and these dangerous temperatures are doing nothing to move my Gabe training program forward. I won't ride when it's this hot, for his comfort and mine.

Instead, he (and the other two sweat machines) get evening showers and plenty of fly spray. They have finally decided that the woods aren't big scary horse-eating monsters and are (THANKFULLY!) spending a good portion of the hottest part of the day squirreled away in the cooler shade of the woods. For a couple of days those morons were standing out in the middle of the field just baking and sweating and obviously beyond miserable. Sometimes, the DO have brains! They do! They do!

I have kind of found a more effective fly repellent program that seems to be working. Somewhat. Well, better than before any way. I now have three bottles of different kinds of fly spray plus a can of OFF! I rotate the sprays in the mornings (a different brand/kind each morning) and in the evenings, their legs and necks get Deep Woods OFF! and it seems to work really, really well. At least, so far. I've also put out a couple of those Fly Jug fly traps in the hopes of capturing as many of the nasty biting flies as I can. The more in the trap, the fewer on my critters. Word of warning though...when the instructions say to pour the liquid fly bait into the jug while wearing a pair of gloves...heed that advice. I thought "me? Need gloves? Naw. I won't spill a drop." WRONG! My hands now smell like rotting flesh mixed with catfish bait and I can't get the stink off. Kind of makes eating anything at all a bit disgusting because it all smells like it's rotten.

But this not riding thing is frustrating. Very frustrating. I know the horses don't really care whether they are ridden or not, but dang it, I enjoy riding! I NEED to ride, but it's just too hot, and dangerous. If I had arena lights I'd be out there at 10:30 p.m., riding when it cools off enough to be tolerable.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Here a fly, there a fly...UGH!

We are having a serious fly problem this year. I mean, it's BAD. I've done a bit of research and it seems the combination of a really wet spring and a significant decrease in the local bat population may have something to do with the explosion of flies. I am very diligent about keeping all the animals' living quarters clean and the grass and weeds kept under control, but these flies are INSANE.

And I can't seem to find a fly spray that works for more than 20 minutes and with three horses, we go through a LOT of spray. We spray in the morning before the horses are turned out and they all get their fly masks. They get sprayed again when the come in at night and sprayed before we ride. Most of the time, the horses are stomping and swishing less than an hour after we spray them. Poor critters!

I've tried the homemade fly sprays in the past (the apple cider vinegar and the Skin So Soft version) and was even less impressed with them than the commercial versions. I've read some people put garlic in their horse's feed to help ward off the bugs and some even put vinegar in the feed or water to help make them taste "nasty" to the bugs. I know other's who use feed-through fly control and have success with it and the fly predators are touted to be quite efficient.

But I can't use the feed-through fly control or the fly predators because we have free-range chickens who like to make a tasty meal out of the horse manure and would snatch those fly predators right up and render them absolutely useless.

Does feeding the horses garlic actually work? Does anyone have a homemade fly spray they use that works for more than an hour and doesn't end up costing more than the commercial fly spray? I'm pretty open to all suggestions at this point!

My ponies are desperate for long-term relief from those horrible things. Especially poor Gabe, thin-skinned, sensitive Thoroughbred that he is. Poor guy really, really suffers when the spray is no longer effective.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

A big, new world

Allow me a moment to CELEBRATE! Pump my fist in the air, do a little dance, YEE HAW!

Today I took Gabe out on his first foray into the wild, scary world out of the arena. Granted, it was with his nose on Calypso's tail and Chief in the lead making sure all the horse-eating monsters got him first, but out into the world we went.

He was fabulous. Relaxed but looking around and interested, walking with purpose, but not rushing. He was responsive and paying attention to me and didn't get excited, even when a bird flew out of the field right next to us and startled me. But not him!

We started with about 25 minutes working in the arena. He was okay, not on his best behavior and acting a little goofy, but not horrible, either. I always expect the occasional bad day, and today was his bad day in the arena.

Actually, I started the whole ride with a fight with him not wanting to go to the arena at all because getting there required him walking past the pigs. OH GOD! THE PIGS! The beast has walked past them before without issue, but this time, the piggies were being quite vocal. Terrifying little horse-devouring piglets they are. Squealing and carrying on like they were going to rip his legs right off and beat him with them. Eventually, he decided that if I was walking past them, they couldn't be to bad. We walked back and forth past them a few times until he relaxed and stopped giving them the terrified white-eye. Goof ball.

Then, in the arena, there was something in the woods he knew was waiting for him and refused to walk near that edge of the arena. Another little argument ensued and we did lots of backing up and circling. I had to spank him a couple of times with Mr. Whippy and he took exception to that and tried to buck me off into the dirt. The buck FELT huge, but Robert said his hind legs only came about a foot off the ground. Bad pony! Bucking does not help you get your way, it only makes me more determined! Eventually he went where I directed and I made him stand there before walking away and doing over again about four more times. He finally relaxed, sighed, licked his lips and quit being a butt about it.

We trotted a bit, circles, straight lines, figure eights. I have to keep our circles pretty big because he is so freaking unbalanced. That's one thing about a huge horse...they take a little longer to figure out where their feet and body go while carrying a rider and I really, really have to think about myself and my position on the turns. Which is good for both of us. Riding Calypso has gotten me into a bit of a bad habit of just being a passenger not a rider and partner. Gabe is kicking my butt and insisting I ride absolutely correctly. Have I mentioned he has a TO DIE FOR trot? Holy mackerel! Big, floating and smooth as silk. He really moves out and I know when I get that trot more under control and balanced and working, there's a good chance he's gonna toss me to the moon when it comes time to sit it. Guess I need to start working more Pilates into my workout routine and get my core ready to sit that thing.

Our "trail ride" consisted of walking down to the end of the driveway and back...which is just about a 1/2 mile total. Robert and Kayleigh wanted to take our woods trails, which are on our property and I keep them well-maintained, but I didn't want to push it too much. He took his first hill with a rider today, going from the arena up to the driveway and the woods trails have hills that are a bit steeper, and narrower. I don't need to push him quite yet, not when he's still as unbalanced as he is. Step by step. He was already being perfect for his first time out and I wanted to end on a perfect note. Next time, we'll add the woods trails to our trip. Yay! I'm SO excited! I cannot wait to get him road broke so we can go on longer rides. That will probably happen closer to fall, when the fields are harvested and we can ride on the edges of the fields instead of on the side of our little one lane road. Not that we get much traffic at all, hardly any actually, but, all things considered, I'd rather get him used to traffic along the road in the field, rather than on the side of the road where things can go bad quickly. We have to ride along the road to get down to the bottoms where all the good trails are.

Jump judging

Robert, Kayleigh and I spent the day Saturday out at Queeny Park in Manchester, Mo. jump judging the cross-country course for the QPEE Horse Trials. We were assigned to the water complex, always an entertaining series of jumps to judge because they involve water and a small pond with a variety of jumps in and out of the complex.

I love jump judging. It's a fun day, you meet tons of great horse people and you get to watch all levels of horse and rider pairs navigate the course.

There are four types of horse/rider combos that come through the water complex. I've noticed this at several events I've jump judged.

1. Water? What water?: This is the experienced pair. The horse has been through water more than a few times and the rider has no question about whether or not the horse will balk at the water. They hit that water at a gallop without a pause, trust not a question in either mind. They are a satisfying pair to watch because you know they are working very well together. They are probably reading each others' minds at this point.

2. Well....okay, if you say so!: This pair is usually an experienced rider on an inexperienced horse. The horse's ears and head come up at the sight of the water and the strides shorten as they approach. The horse is thinking: "Yes? No? Go? Stop?" But the rider feels the balk begin and gives the horse the confidence it needs to hit the water. The horse trusts the rider's command and surges forward into the wet obstacle, often leaping the first 10 feet of water and hitting the deep end with a splash. The horse lifts it's legs high as it goes through, trusting the rider but still a bit unsure about the footing.

3. Come on. Buck up. This easy.: The inexperienced rider on a packer. The horse sights the water, the ears come up. He has done this a few times and knows the drill. He is ready to go. Water is no problem for him. The rider tenses as the complex comes into view, sits up, sits back a bit, not trusting herself or the horse enough to hit the water running. The horse doesn't balk but tries to respond to the rider's conflicting signals: "Go! No wait, I'm nervous. Wait. Go!" He KNOWS what he's supposed to do but the rider is confusing him. They hit the water at a trot, not because the horse is worried, but because the rider is worried and the rider's worry transfers to her mount. Most of these riders go to the crop unnecessarily because they are worried. They get through, slowly, and you can almost always see the rider relax and heave a sigh of relief when the reach the other side and take off at a gallop again. You can almost sense the horse thinking: "Trust me, okay? I know what I'm doing."

4. OH MY GOD! NO! HORSE-EATING MONSTER AHEAD!: on green. The most entertaining of the group to watch. Many of these result in a refusal or an unintended dismount. We had two unintended dismounts at the complex Saturday. Not a bad percentage considering the number of green on green that came through. No one was hurt, thankfully. Horse and rider approach the water. Horse slows...slows...slows....STOPS! at the edge, and says "NO NO NO!" the rider says "Ummm...go?" The horse crabs back and forth at the edge, thinking, thinking, thinking, and the rider is still asking "GO?" There is very little trust between the two. The horse doesn't trust the rider won't put him into a dangerous situation...the rider doesn't trust the horse to get her through. Eventually, the horse puts a toe in, tests the water, then LEAPS into it and either walks through, weaving back and forth, not trusting, or trots through very, very fast to get out of the horse eating monster as quickly as possible. Worse case scenario the horse says "NO! puts on the brakes and the rider goes into the water alone. Green on green = black and blue.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Ribs? What ribs?

Calypso is fat and she keeps getting fatter. She's our one air fern and I can't seem to get her feed adjusted right! The mare is getting almost nothing in feed. She gets a large handful of oats and pelleted feed just to keep her busy while Chief is eating. She has put on mucho poundage since they have been out on pasture eating the lush grass they eat all day long! Her neck is getting cresty, you almost can't find her spine and there is definitely no feeling any ribs at all on her. She is definitely our one air fern. The other two look great.

Calypso just can't be fat. She has the typical tiny quarter horse feet on a really straight shoulder and upright pastern: Her fatness is laminitis waiting to happen.

I keep trying to convince Robert that he needs to ride her more and work some of the excess flesh off her, but it's looking more and more like her exercise program is going to fall to me. Which I really just don't have time for, between riding Gabe and keeping up on all the farm and garden work that needs to be done. He rides, but he is very much a weekend pleasure rider...and would really prefer just to have his horse fit and ready to go every time he rode. I guess I'm going to have to find time to git 'er done, even if it's just a 20 min. ride every other day in the beginning. I would put her on the longe line, but, in her current state of fatness, I'm afraid the confinement of circles on the longe would do her legs more harm than good. She needs lots of straight, easy lines to begin with until she's fitter and less fat. Ugh. I need to go from a full-time job to a part-time job just so I can get and keep these horses fit!

I'm considering a grazing muzzle for her just to see how that works out. Does any one have any experience with a grazing muzzle? Brand/style recommendations? How do you fit them? Any advice on how well they actually work and if they are worth the expense? I need her to eat less grass, but I also don't want to starve her to death or confine her away from the other two during the day.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

To treat or not to treat

I use treats to reward (and yes, I am not above bribery) my horses during training. Gabe's favorite treat are peppermints ( buy him sugar-free peppermints. No need to rot his teeth out!) When he first came to live with us he was quite rude about his treats: Pushy and demanding and had zero respect for my personal space. The other two are very polite about it because I refuse to have a rude horse. Period. Ever.

Gabe still comes running when he hears the peppermint wrapper crinkling, but he now respects my space and waits patiently for his treat. No pushiness, no crowding. He knows it's coming but he has learned that if he doesn't stand back and wait for me to offer, he doesn't get it. He also doesn't get it if he is nippy. He must take it gently and slowly from my hand, no teeth allowed. I had to do the same "rehabilitation" with him for feeding time. He came to us pushy and rude and even charged me from behind a few times while I was walking out to dump his grain in his feed tub. He learned quickly that if he didn't walk quietly beside me (no stealing bites from the bucket) or stand waiting patiently at his feed tub, I left and fed everyone else on the farm before he got his. The other two have also learned this and stand waiting at their feed tubs and won't put their heads in to eat until I empty my bucket and step away. Then, and only then, are they allowed to begin eating. I think this insistence of food politeness on my part has also translated to food politeness to each other. Chief and Calypso eat in the same paddock and there is never an issue of fighting over the feed. I have to feed Gabe separately because he's a super slow eater and would probably never be able to finish his meal if he was fed in the company of others. He likes to take a bite or two...walk around the paddock, come back to take another bite, walk around a little more. Eat some hay. Eat some more grain. Wander on over to the water tank for a sip and head back to the ground. He takes a good half an hour to finish about a pound and a half of pelleted feed and oats.

I know there are quite a few horse people who think treats are the devil and won't give their horses treats at any time, some won't give treats any where but in the feed tub. I guess I can kind of understand why some won't, especially if they have a rude horse, but I've never come across one that can't be rehabilitated to be "treat polite."

My horses appreciate a pat and a "good job!" when they've done something right, but the treat gives a little extra incentive, I think. And it makes me feel good about rewarding them with a little bit extra. I occasionally give treats from the saddle for a job extra well done and to encourage lateral flexion. Calypso especially benefits from the treat-inspired lateral flexions because she is so stiff through her neck and shoulder and quite hesitant to just bend her neck without moving her whole body.

Thoughts on treats? Does any one not give treats? Why or why not?

Friday, June 5, 2009


Every day I fall a little more in love with my big gray goof ball. He is such a love bug and a clown and now that we have gotten over the "forward" hump he is picking up things at an amazing pace!

Last night was a beautiful ride. He volunteered a nice, strong, rhythmic forward walk and was halting square and immediately with just a tightening of my abs and a closing of my thighs. I'm not having to go to the reins at all for the halt and I've completely eliminated the vocal "whoa" for our halts.

Steering has become much smoother and easier and he's actually bending his body. He's apt to pop his right shoulder more than his left, but a tap with the dressage whip on his shoulder straightens him up. We have a reverse now, too. Only 4 to 6 steps, but he's willing and relaxed about it. We also now have a bit of a leg yield and turns on the forehand in both directions, so he's definitely become more sensitive to my legs. I don't like to linger on turns on the forehand for too long as it does put them on their forehand instead of the rear. I use it just to teach moving away from leg pressure (for circles, leg yield and side passes) and move on to turns on the haunches to keep him off his forehand as much as possible. Granted, it's only him moving a step or two away from the leg pressure, but it's a start. I need to put him back on the long reins and really concentrate on teaching him to move away from the pressure as quickly and confidently as he responds to the halt cues.

When I first started riding him he had a habit that worried me quite a bit. He was a MAJOR head tosser. Big time. Bad enough that he nearly clocked me in the face a few times when he got that head going. He did it when I asked him to do something and I was worried he'd be a chronic tosser, something that's very, very hard to "fix." Fortunately, as soon as he started figuring out what I was actually asking and our communication got better, the head tossing has stopped. He also ground his teeth like mad *grind grind grind grind* in the beginning. That too, has ceased. Completely. He still plays with the bit and is very mouthy (he is apt to suck a rein up into his mouth or grab the noseband in his teeth while I'm bridling him!) but no more grinding. I'm going to guess the head tossing and tooth grinding was his way of dealing with the stress of not understanding what I was asking of him. Now that he gets it, he's not so stressed. While both habits are irritating (and the head tossing dangerous!) I'll take those any day of the week over a horse who gets tense through the entire body, jigs, runs around like a giraffe or spooks in response to stress and a lack of understanding.

I am also very pleased that he is stretching and really reaching for contact with the bit. I can feel his back lift when he stretches down. I do, however, need longer reins! Holy cow that beast has a long neck! When he's really stretching and marching forward I'm left holding the buckle with my arms practically stretched straight. Short legs, short arms. *sigh* I am definitely NOT built like a lanky-legged, long-armed classical dressage rider. We are at a phase where I don't want to discourage the stretching and seeking contact, but this is ridiculous! I need about six more inches of rein to be comfortable.

Is this going as quickly as I expected? Naw. Am I disappointed? Nope. I am loving every step of the way...every bobble, every misunderstanding, every flash of brilliance or light bulb of understanding. It has been absolutely wonderful and I love seeing him learn and actually ENJOY his job!

Next weekend I'll be jump judging a local horse trial (two day event: dressage, cross country and jumping). I love jump judging and it is definitely an inspiration to keep on marching towards my goal of eventually being able to take Gabe to one of those events!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Yes, my owner is a little girl, got a problem with that?

Today we have flowers, not feathers.

I'm a GELDING...not a girl, why am I being forced to frolic in a flower necklace? Oh, the things I put up with from the girl child. It's a good thing she comes with treats and lots of good pats.

What? I can eat it? It's made from clover? Life is, indeed, good.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Lazy days

Gabe has a new nickname: Mr. Lazy Pants.

Lounging around in the pasture and filling up on grass and clover and alfalfa all day must be hard work because when they come in for their night meal, he's seriously draggin' butt. It could be the weather, too: Hot and HUMID. The humidity is such an energy sapper for every one.

But I really think his Highness is feeling a bit worn out by the work it takes to be at the bottom of a herd, and his insatiable need to be a pest. This is the third week I've been able to turn all three out together as a herd and Gabe can be a bit overreactive. If Calypso turns her butt towards him, just turns, no threatening or warning, he's running to the other side of the pasture. If Chief lays his ears back at him, just a warning to back off a bit, not going after him, he's running to the other side of the pasture, flinging his head around and throwing a few bucks and squeals in there for good measure. I can't tell if he does it because he really is worried about getting kicked or if he's just using it as an excuse to run. He does like to run...when he's not being Mr. Lazy Pants.

He always runs back to his starting point, almost like he's saying "Ha! Ha! You can't catch me!" And they can't. Even though he's a track failure, he's MUCH faster than the other two butterballs and escapes teeth and feet every time. He hasn't a single mark on him, they just can't catch up to lay a tooth or a hoof on him. He has some amazing sliding stops and spins for a TB, that's for sure! My pastures aren't liking those sliding stops so much.

But he's a brat. Seriously, he's a giant, pestering brat and I really can't say I blame the other two for not putting up with his crap and giving him the stink eye when he comes near. I watched them this weekend and Gabe would creep up on one of the other two, slowly grazing his way towards them, watchful and wary, acting like la-tee-da, nothing going on over here, don't look at me, I'm just eating. Then, when he got close enough and the other horse was ignoring him and contentedly munching away, he'd reach out, nip the other on the butt, spin and take off running and bucking like a mad man while the other one whirled to find him already gone. He did it several times. He's like the bratty kid down the road who rings your doorbell then runs away.

I know he just wants them to play with him, but they aren't having any of it. I almost feel kind of bad for him because he's so playful and the other two, well, they just aren't. Chief is a Grumpy Old Man, and Calypso, she's just fat and not terribly athletic. It's easier to bury her head in the grass that *gasp!* trot or canter! But, I imagine he's having fun just pestering them or he wouldn't keep doing it.

Either that, or he's one of those horses who belongs on the short bus and takes a LONG time to figure things out. I really hope he's just having some fun!