Friday, October 29, 2010

My little helper...


Accomplishing farm tasks, in the pasture, is pretty darn near impossible with Gabe sticking his nose up in my business the entire time.

But I don't mind so much, not really. Even as much as I complain and call him all kinds of names during his nosiness, I kind of like that he chooses to be with me when I'm in the pasture and not the other horses.

He's not TOO pushy. Definitely not rude or scary. Just....curious, as all good horses should be.

Hmm...what have we here? A bucket of stuff? What's the stuff? Can I eat it?

What do you mean there are no peppermints here? Really? You're kidding right?

Oooh...this is yummy! Yes, the brute left teeth marks on the drill. He's like a baby...everything goes in his mouth at some point. I have to be extra diligent about keeping noxious/poisonous weeds out of the pastures because the dang fool has been witnessed EATING THEM!

Have hammer, will travel! He has been known to clock me in the head with the hammer...and has hit himself with it once or twice. I don't know what his deal is, but once he has it in his teeth he like to swing it around.

I did manage to get the gate up...took probably twice as long as it should have and it hangs a bit crooked...but it's up nonetheless! Thanks for your help, big guy!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Mmm....farrier! Tastes like peppermint

My farrier has been out for about three months with a broken arm. Not just any old broken arm either. He got nailed by an exploding fuel cell to a nail gun while he was burning a pile of construction trash. It not only broke his arm, it tore his arm open to the bone and did some nerve damage. Ewwww!!!

So, my ponies have been farrier-less all summer. Surprisingly though, their feet looked pretty darn good considered. They all "self-trimmed" and when he was finally able to get out and get them done Monday, he really didn't have to do much but trim back a flare and run a rasp over them. Nothing major at all. I blame it on the pastures and the fact that I don't keep them stalled.

Gabe loves the farrier.
Well, he loves to try to chew on him any way. Nom nom nom! I spend the entire trim keeping Gabe's lips and teeth off Don's hat, chaps, shirt and butt. He is one mouthy little turd, that's for sure.

I have decided that I need to find someone who will teach me basic farrier skills. I don't want to learn to shoe (mine go barefoot any way) or learn how to do any kind of major foot work. I just want to learn how to maintain those hooves between trims so maybe I can stretch out the time between trims a bit and be knowledgeable enough to be able to care for those feet when things happen that prevent the farrier from coming out on a regular schedule.

I did buy a rasp to have on hand, just in case, but so far I've been a little hesitant to apply rasp to hoof. My luck I'd rasp it all the way down to a nub.

So, that's my next goal (a non-riding goal!) learn how to do minor maintenance on my horse's hooves.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Just ride

This morning I got up before the sun to ride the mare before I had to go to work.

Early morning has always been my favorite time to ride...the world feels so new and fresh and full of promise. The horses are peppy and eager to go. When I was younger (high school age) I remember getting up early during the summer to get on my mare just as the sun was beginning to peek over the horizon. I loved, and still love, that quiet alone time, that softness of the world before it rubs the sleep from its eyes.

But as I was riding this morning I realized something was vastly different from when I rode in the morning as a teenager.

My reasons for riding had changed. I wasn't on Calypso purely for the joy of riding, exploring and being with her.

I was on her with a purpose: Get X done then work on Y.

And I started thinking (I know, scary stuff!). When was the last time I got on to ride just for the pure pleasure of riding? Nothing more, nothing less. When I get on now it's with some sort of training goal in mind: I'm going to accomplish this today with Gabe, or that today with Calypso.

And I ride until I achieve the goal and get off, content that I had achieved that goal, happy that I had ridden. I still get pleasure from riding but it's different than it was.

Have my reasons for riding changed over the years? I don't really think so. I get an indescribable joy, comfort and contentment when I ride. I relax and let the world go as soon as my foot hits the stirrup and all the tension and stress of my day melt away when my butt hits the saddle.

But the purpose has changed in ways I've never really considered. I get on to work my horse, get to that next level of training, accomplish a goal.

When I was 13, 14, 15 I got on with no real goal in mind...I just got on to ride and off I went. I didn't have any desire or need to work on perfecting a circle or fine-tuning a halt. We had stop, go and turn perfected and I saw no need to ever require anything more than that.

I just rode, over hills, across fields, out into no-man's land where it was just me, the horse and the Kansas prairie. I was content with just being one with my horse for however long we happened to be out. We'd trot, gallop, mosey along, pop over ditches and logs, gallop up an down hills, forge new paths, wade through creeks and sometimes get lost. I didn't worry about my hips being loose or my heels long as I stayed on (because I typically rode bareback every where) there was nothing else to think about.

My little quarter horse mare, Sundancer, became the most broke, responsive, willing beast I have ever sat upon. Why? Because we went out and DID everything. I didn't get stuck on some goal about training her to trot better or getting her on the bit properly, we went out, we rode, we tackled tough terrain and just had fun. And the entire time, by doing nothing more than enjoying the ride, I was training her to be exactly the kind of horse I wanted without realizing I was doing it.

What changed over the years? How did I go from a rider who rode purely for the joy of being with her horse, to a rider who got into the saddle a specific goal in mind?

I can't even trail ride any more without throwing some kind of training goal into the on laterals, fine-tune the halt, get a really good walk.

What happened to JUST RIDING? I have no lofty expectations or goals of ever doing a lot of showing. Sure, I'd like to show again, it's fun. But I don't NEED to show.

I just want to ride. I love to ride, but somehow, somewhere along the way I have forgotten WHY I ride.

I need to rediscover that pure, simple joy that is horses.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Look to yourself first

If I'm having training issues with my horse I always look at myself first.

One of my favorite horse books is "There are no problem horses, only problem riders," by Mary Twelveponies. That statement sums up almost every training and behavioral issue faced by riders and owners. Horses are just horses and will behave like horses when left alone. Riders and trainers create the bad behaviors/habits because every time we are with them, in any capacity, we are training them, both good and bad.

As I've written previously I've been having some "energy" issues with Gabe. He just can't get his hind end powered and moving like it should be. I've nicknamed him Mr. Lazy Pants, because that's what he feels like quite often.

I thought it might have been the hot weather sapping his energy, but, now that we've had a few weeks of cooler weather and chilly nights, he's still not got much up and go.

So, I looked to myself. What could I be doing in the saddle that might be preventing or inhibiting him from really moving forward with good energy?

I took stock of my position...closed my eyes at the walk and really felt every part of my body, how each joint was responding to his movement. Toes relaxed and not clenched, ankles relaxed and acting like shock absorbers, knees loosed, relaxed and not pinching, hips....whoa! Wait a minute here. What the heck is going on with those hip joints? Holy cow. Locked up good and tight and not moving with him AT ALL.

I found my issue, the one that is creating HIS issue. Once you lock those hip joints you're telling your horse to slow, slow, slow and blocking any kind of relaxed forward movement.

Basically, I was riding the brakes without even realizing I was doing it. I do a lot of yoga and relaxation visualization so, keeping my eyes closed, I thought about my hip joints being loose, elastic, supple and following and I felt them loosen. As they loosened I felt myself sink deeper and more solidly into the saddle. I'd been riding in a perched and "protective" position. I know I adopted that position when I first started riding him because he was so reactive and prone to moments of silliness.

As they loosened I felt him relax and start taking bigger, more energetic strides. I "walked" my seatbones bigger and faster, really working on keeping those hips relaxed and following, not blocking those hind legs from stepping forward and under me. And he responded in like by taking bigger, quicker and more energetic strides. When he's really striding out and using himself properly, his walk is AMAZING. When I bought him, I definitely bought the walk!

I had to think about it or those pesky, tight hip joints would start tightening up as soon as I wasn't thinking about it. I know it will take some time to "re-condition" those joints, but it can definitely be done. I'll be adding hip-loosening stretches to my stretching and yoga routine from now on.

I could have just strapped on the spurs or energetically employed the whip to get him up and moving forward, but I KNEW he had the energy and I knew somehow I had to be doing something to prevent him from using himself fully and properly.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Helpful hooves and busy lips

Gabe is an incredibly helpful guy. If he had thumbs, he'd be right up in the thick of things, getting it done.

Oh. Wait. He already is.

He likes to be right. there. with you, either resting his chin on your back or trying to operate the tools himself.

See how helpful he is, trying to assist Kayleigh in her poisonous weed digging efforts?

Hey, little human, gimme that shovel! I'll show you how it's done! He did try to snatch that shovel from her a few times and try as she might, she couldn't even bodily shove him away.

He's always been a helpful ham. When the run-ins were under construction, he'd casually wander over and steal tools...drills, hammers, a box of screws, whatever he could get his teeth on and take off with. As irritating as it can be, it sure makes hard work a little lighter.

The last big job of getting the fence done involved hand-digging a three foot deep hole to sink and concrete in a 6"x8' post to hang the gate from. I loaded up my little utility wagon with all the supplies: Post hole digger, shovel, concrete, post, level, measuring tape and a 5-gallon bucket of water to set the concrete.

Of course, my big man was over there right up in my business, making a gigantic mess of my neat pile of dirt by digging around in it. He kept trying to steal the post hole digger from me and snatched the level at least once.

Then, that great big snot drank my entire bucket of water. He stood there as I was laboring and sweating and swearing at the hole I was digging and that sneaky, sneaky turd drank all my water! Last thing I wanted to do was trek all the way back to the house to fetch more, but, of course I did. I swore I was going to make HIM do it and called him all sorts of lovely names while giving him neck scritches.

Gate posts must be as straight as possible or the gates hang funny and don't swing right. So, I dropped that post into the hole, dumped a little dry concrete in there to hold it in place a bit better and broke out my level to get that sucker as straight as possible.

And Gabe, once again, had to help. Level against the post I'd shift it ever so slightly one way or the other, intently watching to make sure that magic bubble lined up precisely. I'd get it juuuussttt right and here comes his big nose to shove the post where he sees it more fit to be.

Grrr...what should have taken a 1/2 hour to complete took over an hour because of his oh-so helpful nature.

Don't get me wrong, I love the big guy to pieces, but he seriously makes a simple job so much more complicated! If I'd loved him any less he would have been dodging the dirt clods aimed at his nosy rump rather than seeking scratches and resting his head on my shoulder where he'd sigh deeply and try to sneak the tools out of my hands.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Farm never ends (but I love it!)

How did you spend your weekend?

My plan was to ride both Gabe and Calypso each Saturday and Sunday. But, best laid plans...blah blah blah.

Neither got ridden but I am still sore and exhausted.

Instead, I spent the weekend putting up fence around the last big pasture. It hasn't been mowed since mid-summer so the grass is tall, thick and absolutely gorgeous. There is enough grass there that I'm going to get at least another full month of solid grazing in before I have to start feeding those poop machines any hay at all.

Of course, putting up fence is never simple for me. Putting up fence IS simple, but for me, there's always something that makes it not so simple. I had to clear a pretty good path through the woods for the fence, then, ended up spending well over an hour untangling at least a 1/2 mile of electric rope that I made the mistake of letting my kiddo carry out to the pasture. Oh. Joy. That'll learn me. Next time, she can carry the spool, I'll carry the "loose" fencing.

Once I got all the posts set and the insulators on, it is a breeze putting up the rope, that took a little over and hour. And when I turned the horses out on it you would have thought they'd gone to heaven! Running and bucking and farting and checking out the new digs and looking like a small herd of babies just being SILLY! I love it when they behave like that. I could spend all day just watching them be horses. It makes my heart laugh.

Fence posts along the backside of the woods. They eventually head into the woods....this was tricky as I had to figure out how to best, and most safely, navigate the fence up and down a pretty good sized ravine.

The easier line to set...nice and straight, flat and even.

Oooh...where does this go? OMG! We've never seen this part before! RUN!!!! BUCK!!! SQUEAL LIKE GIRLS!

Keep in mind...Gabe is 16.2hh. That's some grass. I kept waiting to find a small village of people living in there somewhere.

And just in case any rabid squirrels attempted to carry me off to their evil little squirrel villages, I brought along my own personal protector.