Friday, April 30, 2010

Mow, mow, mow your pasture

When you have your horses at home you end up spending more time maintaining, repairing, feeding, cleaning and building than you actually do riding.

I'd say I put in four hours of farm work for every one hour I ride.

But I'm not complaining...I love it and would have it no other way! I love looking at my shiny, plump, healthy, happy horses in a safe, secure home and know that I did that, no one else. Me. Just me.

Sure, it can be a pain in the butt when I really, really want to ride and the weather is perfect, but when that fence in the upper pasture needs tightening or the pasture needs mowed, the work comes first and the horses watch with knowing little grins on their faces.

The herd has been out on our three acre pasture for about a month now and it was time to mow and rotate. When the grass is good I don't have to feed hay at all, which is so nice on the checkbook!

But keeping good pastures requires intensive maintenance and conscientious rotation.


Well, the simple answer is: Horses are jerks who can't eat down a pasture efficiently.

The long answer is: Horses will eat their favorite grasses/legumes first and eat them down to the dirt. Once they do that, you might as well forget about having a decent pasture because down to the dirt grass/legumes gives weeds an excellent opportunity to move in and take up residence. And they do it faster than you can say "weed 'n feed!"

A horse pasture has "roughs" and "greens."

Roughs are where they poo and they won't eat where they go if they have any choice at all. Greens are where they graze the field down to nothing. If you don't mow the roughs and spread the poo around they will never graze there...ever. And the beautiful green grass will just grow and grow and grow as they greens turn into bare, weedy patches.

So, you end up with a "lumpy" pasture...swaths of grass eaten down to the dirt with weeds moving in and patches where the grass is gorgeous and the horses avoid like the plague. At some point the grasses start developing seed heads...and as soon as that happens the grass begins losing a significant amount of nutrition. And what's the point of having horses on pasture if they aren't getting the nutrients they need from it?

That's when you mow and rotate. Keeping it mowed keeps it nutritious and keeps the weeds to a minimum.

Some people like to mow it tall, 6" or so. I mow short, 3.5" to 4" because I like to spread the poo with the mower and knock down as many grasses with seed heads as I can. And I get immense amount of satisfaction when I obliterate the weeds. I've been known to laugh wickedly as the thick, green leaves of a patch of curly dock go flying in little pieces. I HATE CURLY DOCK! HATRED. And it is so hard to get rid of and is hell on the grasses.

Plus, I just really, really like the look of a nicely mowed field. It gives me warm fuzzies.

Last night I mowed the three acre takes about an hour, maybe a little more depending on how tall I've allowed the roughs to become. The roughs were pretty thick and I was flinging poo EVERYWHERE! Take that, greens, have a little obliterated poo!

This morning I opened the gate to our other pasture, another four acre field that is chock full of good, thick, green grasses. They haven't been on that field yet this year. We have clover, alfalfa, orchard grass, timothy, fescue and brome in the field and very, very few weeds. It's LOVELY! The horses barely got through the gate before they dropped heads and tucked in with gusto. Nom nom nom! Grass is GOOD!

Yes. We have fescue. We have LOTS of fescue. Fescue is a good, hardy grass that is drought and stress tolerant and is perfectly suitable and nutritious for horses. It's just not good to feed if you are running pregnant mares. Which I don't and will NEVER have.

I'll keep them off the small pasture for about a month...then mow the field they are on now and rotate them back onto the small pasture. I have two more chunks of pasture (another 3-4 acre field and a 2 acre field) that I need to get fenced this summer. I can't wait to have more pastures to rotate, because the longer I can rest pastures between rotations, the better the grasses will be in the long run.

When we moved to our farm four years ago the pasture was nothing but tall, tall weeds. Some sections of the pasture had weeds that were taller than ME! The previous owner did NOT maintain them at all and did not rotate. It was just one big field surrounded by rusty, sagging barbed wire

I removed all the wire and all the posts and got to work getting the pasture horse-ready. It has taken four years to get these fields to the point where they CAN support three horses as a main food source during the summer and not end up looking like a barren wasteland. I must say, they are gorgeous now. Gorgeous.

But it takes a lot of attention to details, a lot of work and diligent pasture rotation to have beautiful pastures. Yes, I even go out there and walk the pastures, pulling up weeds by hand, filling in holes, looking for poisonous plants and kicking poo piles to spread them between mowings.

It's work I enjoy and it makes every hour in the saddle that much more precious.

But watching my horses knee deep in a lush field stuffing their faces with good food?


Thursday, April 29, 2010

Taking a beating

My poor big baby.

He got the shit kicked out of him yesterday and is now sporting a dozen or so big bumps, bruises and scrapes all over the side of his body. Even his boy bits weren't immune to the kick-fest. A hoof caught him right on his weinie and the sheath is swollen and sore. I feel so bad for him, but at the same time, so thankful none of those kicks made contact with his legs! He does have a rather large hematoma on the muscle (biceps femoris) above his gaskin and it's sore, sore, sore, but he's not lame. I'm going to keep an eye on it and if it doesn't go down fairly soon, the vet will be called. Poor baby.

When I turn all three out in the big pastures they are fine together. Gabe has room to get away from mean ole Calypso and bossy boy Chief when they give him "that look." And he can definitely outrun them any day of the week, so there haven't been any major kicking issues. But when they all wander down into the mud lots and into the run-ins, that's when the dirty business begins.

You see, Gabe is a lover. He's not a fighter. He won't kick back and prefers to get the hell out of Dodge when one of the other horses gives him a look or lays back an ear. He's happy at the bottom of the totem pole. He's happy with just being allowed to wander close to them every now and again.

Until he becomes a kicking bag.

Calypso cornered Gabe in his run-in yesterday and beat the crap out of him. So badly they busted a 2X6 and practically removed an entire sheet of siding from his shed. His shed has 3 and a half sides, so there's an enclosed area for him to get out of the wind, rain, sun, whatever. He likes his house a lot. He sleeps in there, he hangs out in there, eats in there and considers it a safe place to be.

Yesterday his safe place became a beating zone. He was so traumatized by the whole thing he wouldn't even go back in there to eat last night without plenty of coaxing and a couple of carrots.

That won't happen again. I closed the gate to the mud lot this morning when I turned them out so there will be no more cornering Gabe in his run-in and whaling on him like a red-headed stepchild.

Inexplicably, I was PISSED at Calypso (she was witnessed committing the foul kicking deed against my big guy). I know she's just being a horse doing what horses do, but still, he tries so hard to GET AWAY and move out of her way and she was just being, quite frankly, a bitch.

I was going to ride Gabe tonight. We had a FABULOUS session Monday and I was looking forward to more today. His inside hind was stepping under, under, under and pushing beautifully around corners, responding to my inside leg tap, tap, tap, tapping him. He lifted that back and belly like you wouldn't believe and stretched nicely into the bridle. He even quit with the bit fiddling long enough to really listen and pay attention, ears flicking back from time to time, listening...thinking...responding. It was so invigorating and inspiring!

But with him being rather body sore today I won't ride. Instead, she gets to fill in for him. And she needs A LOT of work.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

You want me to....WHAT?

Gabe showed his racehorse background over the weekend. No, he didn't take off with me nor did he act like the woods were going to eat him alive.

Instead, he displayed his green bean status when we came across a series of all too unfamiliar earthen obstacles that had him completely befuddled. He didn't know what to do with his body!

There is a barren strip of land on the backside of our property that runs for MILES in either direction. This is where a new oil pipeline was put in last fall and the path is wide, straight and dirt. However, the workers also constructed a series of low earthen berms along the length of it to prevent erosion. The berms are more like ramps...a gentle slope up one side leading to an 18" to 2' drop on the other side.

Heading out we stepped up the drop and walked down the ramp. No problem at all for Gabe and excellent exercise for that developing booty and topline.

However, the way back was a different story as we had to take the berms ramp first and step down.

Game over. The first step down sent him into a head-flinging nearly nose-breaking hissy fit in which he tried to gallop off sideways after the step down. I know it was because he couldn't figure out how to balance himself. He does something very similar down low hills, but not quite so extreme. I've been working on getting him to push his butt under himself going down hill while staying as balanced over his center as I can. Over and over again we stepped down off the edge and he flung his head up as soon as his front end and hind end were at different elevations. As soon as the hind end hit the lower elevation, the attempt to take off sideways ensued. Staying nicely balanced over his center became a challenge!

Yes, I popped him in the mouth the first couple of times he tried to connect his head with my face. I have had that experience and been knocked out due to a horse skull smashing into my face and I have no wish to ever repeat that again. So, I popped him and I felt bad for it but he cannot do that, period.

The next time I take him out there he will be wearing the running martingale so he can pop himself immediately AND so he can't smash my face should he decide to play the head tossing game again.

I am not a big believer in drilling horses in anything because I don't think there is any benefit to it. However, he will be drilling over those ramps/drops until he figures it out...we will also be drilling hills. If he is going to be a foxhunter and an eventer, he's got to figure this stuff out sooner rather than later. And soon, we will be popping over ditches and creeks.

I plan to concentrate on as much out-on-the-trail experience as I can this summer and stay out of the ring as much as possible. We are at the point where the basics in the ring are good, we need to apply those basics to an open, more challenging situation before we move back into the ring for the next phase of training. He NEEDS the experience out in the open right now and I think it will really improve our ring work as he learns that he must concentrate on me...not everything around us.

Monday, April 19, 2010

This It Be Right

Warning: This just might make you cry. You've been warned.

Special Horses.

P.S. Yes. I cried. Made me miss all the horses I've lost and be even more thankful for the time I get with the ones I have.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Got itches?

We all know what shedding season is like. Horses get SUPER ITCHY!

This is Gabe's favorite itching tree. He can stand out there for half and hour or more just itching his whole body. The bark on that little tree is worn smooth.

Gabe's Itching Tree

The birds were quite loud! The video isn't as clear as I'd hoped...I taped it from our deck at 30X magnification.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Freight train to Ferrari

Sometimes it's those "Ah ha!" moments that make all the difference.

Turning right, Gabe drives like a freight train: All power, no finesse. We could do huge, lop-sided, painfully crooked rather pathetic turns all day long. But, circles to the right resembling circles and not amoebas? Out of the question.

So, yesterday, I decided I was really going to think about what I was doing up there. Because I KNOW he can turn right, I've seen him do it in the pasture countless times, effortlessly and with an incredible amount of athleticism and grace.

I knew it was something I was doing wrong.

And I was right.

I concentrated on my body as we headed into a right turn...and wouldn't you know it. My right shoulder and waist immediately collapsed, which dropped my right seat bone into him and pushed him...that's correct...pushed him LEFT! He was just doing what my body was asking and I was clueless about what my body was asking. See what happens when we get lazy about paying attention to our bodies? Bad habits abound!

He was being good...and I was committing an all-too-common rider sin over and over and over again. Imagine how confused the poor guy was, being asked to do the same thing over and over and not understanding what he wasn't doing right. Because that big, wonderful boy, he's a pleaser and I could tell he was starting to get as frustrated as I was.

Once this information clicked I could concentrate on keeping my body upright, my shoulders squared, body centered and balanced in the middle of him without collapsing to either side and keeping my seatbones evenly balanced on either side of his spine, following the direction of his shoulders.

And wouldn't you know it, as soon as I got ME straightened out...he turned right beautifully!

The freight train became a Ferrari. And I rejoiced.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Where have all the cowboys gone? Or...why isn't this mare working more often?!

I really wanted to ride Thursday night but wasn't up to dealing with Gabe's usual antics.

You know how sometimes you just want to go along for the ride, not have to work for the ride? That's the kind of mood I was in. I didn't feel like working for the ride, I simply wanted to go out and plug along and enjoy some quiet time in the woods all by myself, just me and the horse. No muss, no fuss. No antics.

So, I hauled Calypso out of the pasture, knocked off the mud (and a considerable amount of hair!) and took her out, imagining a nice, relaxed amble through the woods to enjoy the birds, the golden sunset and inhaling the scents of freshly blooming spring flowers.

But I totally forgot she hasn't been ridden since the beginning of November, and hadn't been ridden a whole lot before that, either. I would guess she got MAYBE ten rides all last year, and that's being generous. It was almost like she forgot everything she's learned! She was a head-in-the-air giraffe horse, taking quick little short, mincing trot steps (on a trot that is already like sitting on a pogo stick) and iffy on the halts and steering.

It's the short-backed, steep-shouldered, steep-pasterned, toed-in little quarter horses with the jaw-jarring trots that remind me why I love my long-legged, slope-shouldered, smooth-striding Thoroughbred so very much. It's shocks vs no-shocks on a rough brick road.

The neighbor's peacocks freaked her out a bit. She did not like that colorful fan-tail heading towards her AT ALL and let me know in no uncertain terms that she didn't trust the horse-eating peafowl and would leave the vicinity if provoked at all. Unlike Gabe's fast, sideways "I'm outta here!" spooks, Calypso's cutting horse blood kicks in and she drops her entire body about 6", rocks back on her hocks and tenses her entire body, ready to flee out from under me if needed. Despite her craptacular trot, that mare can spin on a dime and teleport sideways when she feels like it.

A relaxed ride it was not. I did not enjoy the birds. I did not smell the flowers. I cursed the setting sun for being behind the peacocks to make them more frightening.

But I got her to relax and drop that head a bit. The trot became a bit less bone-jarring by the time I headed for home. I worked on starting the tune-up process to remind her that her job in this life is to just amble along, not act like a child hopped up on Twinkies and cake. That's her only job. She doesn't have to know anything more than go, turn and stop. Oh, sure, I've thrown a couple other things on her just for shits and grins, she can spin (albeit a slow, easy one, but a spin it is!), sidepass, leg yield, turn on the haunches, shoulder in and neck rein, but she doesn't NEED to know all that.

She just needs to be a safe, quiet trail horse who won't give peacocks a passing glance. Guess I need to get my butt in gear and remind her of her job before my husband puts his butt back in the saddle this summer.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Run, run, run!

What happens when you toss a herd of horses out into the big pasture for the first time in the spring?
They go a little CRAZY! Are these happy horses or what?

I love this photo, and I'm a little bit surprised Gabe allowed himself to be sandwiched between the other two. He's not big on being crowded.

They ran and bucked and farted and chased each other for a good 10 minutes before finally settling down to rip up as much green grass as they could in the hour I allowed them out.

Look ma! No feet!

Can't you almost hear him blowing and snorting? Cause he was. With that tail flagging high the entire time.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Mr. Bobblehead Bucky Boy

I'm just gonna say it like it is: Gabriel is a BRAT! A great big, silly brat who seems to have forgotten his manners.

Could be the beautiful spring weather and drying ground have something to do with his brattiness. Could be the inconsistent work he's been getting lately contributing to the lack of manners. Could be the rich alfalfa hay he's been eating for the past month is adding to the overall energy level of a 6-year-old SNOT. It's the end of the season, I get what I can get until the first cutting comes in. I don't LIKE feeding them 100% alfalfa, but it's dang good hay...and it's better than a load of weed-infested crap hay I got in January.

Could be anything.

I have seen him give little half-hearted humped-up bucks on the longe line. He pops up a little bit, chucks that head around and squeals. Typically I don't get after him for it as long as he gets it out of his system and settles back down and listens to me.

But Tuesday? Holy mackerel. That horse. OOOOOhhhh, that bratty, bratty, super-energized horse truly showed me his athletic ability. He's been keeping little secrets.

That boy can FLY. Straight up, all fours off the ground with those hind legs well above his head. Bucking bronco anyone? Buck after buck after buck...I swear he cracked his back more than once after he bucked around on the end of the line. It wasn't discomfort or frustration or anger, it was pure energy expressing itself in a most young horse-like way. As soon as I had his brain on the longe line (gait changes, spirals in and out, trot cavalletti, direction changes, etc.) I climbed aboard and hoped for the best.

You'd think he'd be more settled into work mode after the shenanigans on the longe line. You'd think the sweat and the blowing would have knocked some of the edge off.

Nope. We had a few bucks and more than a couple of spooks at absolutely nothing.

But I kept him moving forward, forward, forward and WORKED him. We had a few fleeting moments of brilliance. Those moments we work so hard towards seem to be coming more often, despite the moments of massive fail. We also had quite a few "oh shit! No you didn't!" moments. But I rode the 'oh shit!' moments and used them to my advantage. I'm pretty sure I called him a shithead more than once.

You want to spook sideways at that dandelion? Hmm...okay...spook right into this lateral movement! Ha! Take that, you booger. Work it! Bucking? Really? Okay. Canter on a circle and give me a little bend. There ya go! Chuck that head around like a danged fool? Fine. You can't trot cavalletti while flinging and gazing at the stars. Lets see how many times you trip over your feet and stumble over the poles before you stop with the head crap. Good boy! There ya go, round UP! Chew the bit softly! NICE!

We ended the ride very nicely with him trotting strong, forward and rounded up to me. His cool-out walk was long, powerful and relaxed.

He heaved a sigh, licked his lips and pricked those ears forward. It was good. We talked. He talked back a few times, but in the end, he listened and I listened and something between us clicked.

We're not perfect. In fact, sometimes we are absolutely HORRIBLE. But as long as he learns something positive by the time we are done I consider it a successful ride. Bucks, spooks and general naughtiness included. Because each one of those naughty behaviors can be transformed and used in the overall training process.

Because at some point, he'll figure out it's just easier to not act like a bobble-headed yearling full of spring oats. I hope!