Monday, January 23, 2012

The Mist

My only conclusion is: Aliens stole his ever-lovin' mind and replaced it with mashed potatoes.


Gabe absolutely, completely and entirely lost it Sunday afternoon. Sure, it was quite foggy out, sure it was quiet and still and wet, maybe my dumb dog did decide that running mad circles around us and under us was a good idea and perhaps Chief was being a little stupid too, but that was no excuse for Gabe to behave the way he did.

This was his worst behavior ever and honestly, it scared me. Not because he threatened to throw me and run away, but because he was spinning in tight little circles, cantering sideways (I think we may have even cantered backwards a couple of times), blowing hard, tucking his chin to his chest and hopping, tossing his head and trying to rear and spin at every. little. sound. We didn't even make it halfway down the driveway when Chief (whom Kayleigh was riding bareback) spooked sideways, snorted and startled the crap out of Gabe, immediately putting him on an even higher level of stupid. I was more worried that we would slip and fall in the mud and occasional patch of ice or go sideways down a ravine than I was worried he'd run off with me. Running off I can handle, horse falling on me, I cannot. I got off, put him on the line and worked with him for a bit trying to get him to switch from reactive to thinking side of brain.

Failure. Massive. He was good and long gone, deep into his reactive, flighty brain and there was just not a whole lot I could do to get him back without risking a slip and fall. That's how awful he was. Because it wasn't just mud, it was a layer of mud over permafrost. Super super slick. Even the grass was slick. Ugh.

But I couldn't untack him and put him away after this awful, horrible, no good, extremely dangerous kind of behavior. So, into the arena we went with the idea to just work and work and work at the walk until I got his brain back. I wanted to avoid the arena in the first place (which is why we were heading down the driveway) because it was wet and I didn't want to destroy it. Fail.

The fog was heavy and dripping from the trees. It was misty, my face, helmet, saddle and horse soaked from it. The whiteness oozing around the trees and deep into the wood was heavily, eerily quiet. A still, deep kind of quiet that Stephen King writes about. I understand why he lost it, but that is no excuse, it's not even a good reason, period.

So we walked (kind of), flexed left and right (he got my toe popped in his nose a few times for biting), circled, halted, backed, more flexing, lots of stop and go. I flopped and flapped around on his back, I yelled into the woods so it would echo eerily back, I made him walk into the woods where he DIDN'T want to go ("Heart attacks are free. Give your horse one every day." - Clinton Anderson) and did everything he didn't want to do (at a walk-jig-wiggle) until he decided to just WALK. Whew. Who knew walking quietly was so damned HARD!?

Once I got the walk and he could stay at the walk without jigging, jogging, shimmying or scurrying, we trotted. And trotted. And trotted. I circled and circled and circled on a loose rein, keeping him moving forward until he sighed, dropped his head and licked his lips and I felt him really give in and relax. There is a big, muddy, icky circle in my arena now. Nice.

It only took 45 minutes to go from OH MY GOD I'M DYING!!! YOU'RE DYING! WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE!!!! over-reactive to relaxed and licking his lips quiet. Yeah. Only 45 minutes. Ha! I don't know what got into him, but it was completely unexpected and entirely out-of-character for both him and Chief. I do expect the occasional silly stupids from Gabe, I can handle the silly stupids and usually do so with a smile and a correction, but this was dangerous and scary, and I don't typically get scared easily in the saddle. If he behaved regularly like he behaved Sunday, I'd be worried about getting on him and he'd most likely find himself in a new home pretty quick.

Whew. Dumb horses.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Keepin' 'em healthy

Apparently I spoke too soon about having unseasonably warm weather.

It got cold and dumped ice and snow on us. Fun! Thank goodness the water tank heaters are working. I can deal with just about any aspect of winter that comes with having horses, but breaking ice I absolutely ABHOR.

Actually, instead of getting cold and staying cold, Mother Nature has been at the roulette table again. A day before the ice and cold it was 60+ degrees out. It got so damn cold and windy and snowy Thursday and Friday I ended up calling the farrier and giving him the option to reschedule. I don't have a proper barn so standing out there in the wind and cold and snow makes farrier work absolutely miserable. He rescheduled and I am glad he did! I don't like standing out there any more than he does! Their hooves actually look really, really good at the moment and it won't hurt hurt them one bit to wait a couple of weeks. Calypso has a touch of thrush in her front feet, but she always seems to have a touch of thrush, no matter how often I treat it.

Monday this week it was again 60+ degrees. Then it rained and rained and thunderstormed and hailed and the wind gusted like no one's business. Think Midwestern spring weather.

That evening, it turned frigid and cold again.

Weather like this is a horse owner's nightmare.

Colic is always a worry when the weather won't settle into something stable for a while. The constant change from warm to cold to warm to cold wreaks havoc on our poor beasts. And there's not a whole lot you can do to prevent it but keep them as hydrated, moving and as full of hay as they want to be. That's why I absolutely love my tank heaters and will never go through a winter without them. I know that my horses always have unfrozen, slightly warm water to keep their finicky digestive tracts moving like they are supposed to. And the extra helps too, not only to keep them toasty warm even on the most frigid nights, but to keep something in those guts. I'm a HUGE advocate of feeding well-soaked beet pulp during the winter, too, anything to help get as much water into them as possible, especially when it's cold and I know they tend to decrease their water intake. I think the horses really enjoy their morning and evening meals of steaming beet pulp, especially when sometimes I'm feeling extra generous and hide a couple of peppermints in the mix. They dig in and slurp away!

On the bright side, I've already noticed the daylight sticking around a little bit longer every day and poor Gabe is already starting to shed out some of his winter coat. The shedding seems a bit early to me, but who am I to argue with his internal clock? And it means spring is getting closer and closer, always a welcome time of year.

I have big plans for the spring, not only for riding and trail riding trips, but also plans to make some fairly significant lay-out changes to the farm to make things more user and horse friendly and make a little more room for a friend's horse I expect to move to my place this spring. We're moving paddocks, moving and rebuilding run-in sheds, increasing the size of the arena and adding a few more trails through the woods with cross country-style jump options. Actually, I need to get busy on clearing trails now, when all the foliage is gone and it's easy to get through the underbrush when I can see where my paths are going!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

NO! Not the toes!

We have had an absolutely amazing last few weeks. Because winter around here has been decidedly NOT very winter-like, and I am so grateful! Not only will my electric/propane bill be extremely low, but I've been able to ride much more than what is usual for me this time of year.

Oh, sure, we did several weeks of the regular "mud battle," but that's expected. Not enjoyed, not by any stretch of the imagination, but certainly expected and we're getting better at dealing with it. Is there almost nothing more frustrating than spending 45 minutes to an hour of good, hard grooming to knock all the caked on mud off your horse only to turn him loose in the paddock and watch as he finds the muddiest, stickiest, grossest spot to roll in and make mincemeat of your elbow grease? And Gabe, he's not really gray any more, he's got this glorious pee-yellow tinge to his entire body. Thanks, mud! Love ya!

The ground work is going exceedingly well. We've had a few minor "blow ups" by the big man, but he settles back into the work quickly. It's almost like his little Thoroughbred brain misfires momentarily then resets as fast as it got off track. We spend our on the ground sessions sensitizing the heck out of him to respond to my every move/command, then the last five or so minutes desensitizing the heck out of him with the rope and whip. After each session, he gets to stand for a significant amount of time at the patience pole, something he has never been a big fan of doing. We're up to over an hour now, something I would have never thought possible just a few months ago. He stands so quietly, the wiggling is over, and he's figured out that relaxing, dropping his neck and cocking a back leg is a far more productive way to spend his time than fretting and worrying the entire time.

So, one quirk that has cropped up has come to light with the lateral flexion in the saddle. He does it beautifully on the ground, gives into the pressure and touches his nose to his belly and I release. But, when I ask for the same thing in the saddle, he gives to the pressure, swings his neck around, relaxes and BITES MY FREAKING FOOT! Last night he stole my crop, just reached a little further back and snatched it quick as can be from where I'd tucked it behind my boot! I don't want to punish him for flexing because he's doing what I've asked and doing it well, he's just added his own twist to it. If I toe him in the nose, I'm punishing him for I'm at a loss.

All of the ground work is making our in saddle time so much more productive and so very enjoyable for both of us. Well, except for this past Saturday.

Saturday, the man threw an enormous fit. Kayleigh and I were out riding the fields and I asked him to trot. He trotted up nicely for about five steps then dropped that neck between his front legs and proceeded to buck and spin like a freaking rodeo bronc. Not kidding when I say that big guy is ATHLETIC! I stuck it, but it sure wasn't pretty nor graceful.

Oh, hell no. We are not going to play the bucking game. No way. I don't care how good he feels, bucking is not okay. So, I took advantage of those huge unplanted fields and worked his butt off, circles, serpentines, loops, leg yields, all at a good, strong working trot. And every time he gave even the slightest GLIMMER that he was going to act like a stupid teenager on crack, I asked him for even more and worked him a little harder. As soon as he relaxed into the work and gave me back his neck and face, I let him walk on a loose rein and get a breather. By the time we got back home he was once again a big lazy puppy dog.

He is definitely keeping me on my toes and keeping me honest, that's for sure! Gotta love the big guy.