Thursday, March 31, 2011

So you ride yourselves over the fields

Here is the cutest Sovey boy after our bareback ride yesterday afternoon.  Yes, he is back in his bitless bridle in this photo.  He is doing fine again.

Pie and I had a fabulous ride on Tuesday evening. This was my first evening ride since last year so he was nervous in the cross-ties trying to convey to me that I had mixed up the routine.  With Pie, I just have to proceed calmly and tell him that I know what I am doing. With his first balk and worry as we headed out, I pushed him forward with no ambivalence in my mind and that was all it took.  He trusted me the entire ride.  I need to trust myself and push him forward more when he thinks the only way out is up. And, as many of you kindly suggested, also circling him if he is doing the half-rear and absolutely won't go forward.  I think he will go forward if I mean it. He just senses my hesitation to push him forward. 

Kate, over at A Year With Horses, had a great post about her new Drifter boy and his baby habits called Drifter Acts Like a Baby.  This post really hit home with me because it described my Pie to a T.  Pie is willing until he is done or bored or onto the next thing and then he wants to be the boss like a spoiled child.  It was easy in the beginning because everything at our farm was new to him, but now he knows the routine and the farm and he wants to cooperate only so long.  My daily work involves trying to get him to give even when he is done.

Pie is the youngest of our three horses in actual age.  He is still five and will turn six on May 7th of this year.  Foggy turned six on January 22nd, but Foggy is the real baby.  This is a different kind of "baby" than the one I was just describing above or Kate is describing in her post.  Foggy's actions and view of everything reminds me of what it would be like to have a foal on the farm.  I know he raced and has seen way more of the "world" than Pie, who never raced, but Foggy is "coltish" in his daily play.  I really like that about him, but it might be a crazy ride when I finally climb on!  

The cutest thing about Foggy is the hair that flows out of the inside of his ears.  He looks like a long-haired bunny rabbit.  Because of his constant movement, I had a difficult time trying to photograph his cute ears.

These shots are from Tuesday evening.

He just won't stand still long enough for me to show both ears at the same time.  The tufts are adorable!  Here is a photo from last November when Brian and I went to see him at the track.  

He was calmer that day than he is with us.  He is not hyper here; the only way I can describe it is - exuberant!  He used to come out of his stall very slowly and walk calmly.  Now, he comes out excited to see the day and the other horses.  I know that I am partly to blame.  I am always so excited to see him in the morning and I can't contain my enthusiasm.  That is the worst thing about being around horses for me.  I get the best results when I act "bored" - like a mutt, as I say.  I am SO NOT bored when I am with horses!  Today, I acted bored and depressed when I brought Foggy out and he walked out quietly.  Oh, it is so difficult to be calm when you have such adorable cutie pies around you at every turn!!!  

Monday, March 28, 2011

they asked us to stay for tea and have some fun

This is my take on Frank Mather Beatty's poster, Out of the Running.

Today's ride on Sovey was ridiculously perfect in spite of a thundering herd of two stirring up trouble in the pastures beside us.

I left Pie and Foggy out together with access to all the pastures as I headed out riding Sovereign this afternoon. That wasn't very smart on my part. It is fine if they are out together, but I should have kept them in a small pasture. I gave the left-behind-boys hay to munch which only lasted as long as Foggy's tiny attention span (4 minutes!). They walked slowly and calmly around to be near us at first. I rode for 30 minutes around all the building and trees. Sovey likes variety more than anyone so this was a fun ride for him. My mother joined us and we followed her into the woods. Dumb me. I was talking and forgot what I doing. As soon as we were out of view, the two wild babies understandably took off looking for their herd mate. If I had been on Pie I would have been launched into orbit. Luckily, I was on Sovereign who takes care of me like no other horse I've ever known. He put his head up a little but that was all. I felt his heart thumping because he heard one of Pie's dragon snorts, but he didn't become the dynamite keg that Pie is known to imitate in scary situations and we made it back without any problems at all.

I love these three horses so much.  Each have unique personalities and their own positive attributes. I tell the horse I am with at the time that "you are my best boy" but really they all are my best boys. Sovey is a steady boy under saddle. Pie is willing and funny/goofy and sweet. Foggy is unbelievably kind and trusting to horses and dogs and people. They all like each other, too. Foggy is back in at night because our temperatures are so chilly, but in the day I have witnessed Sovey and Foggy grooming and resting their heads on each other. Pie and Foggy eat tight together sometimes. And, of course, Pie and Sovey are still best friends. It seems to me that Pie and Sovey are actually happier now than they were before. I think it is because they are one horse closer to a real herd and all the benefits that come with that natural dynamic.

I thought I was perfectly horse happy before, but I feel even more joy now, if possible.  My only regret about adding another horse is my sad lack of blogging time.  I have been having interesting rides on the two "old" boys and good progress on the ground each day with Foggy, but I find little time to post about it and then it is the next day and new things happen!  Three horses and a husband and a sixth grade sweetie-Maizie-girl and a smattering of posters to design and blogs to read (I have been reading-just not commenting) has been keeping me stepping - all in a good way. 

On Sunday, Maizie and I went geocaching and she found a pony travel bug that had instructions to have its picture taken with "other ponies" along the way.  Here it is with Pie and Sovey!

Friday, March 18, 2011

never seem to live up to the ones inside your head

Here is my cute boy, Pie, on our ride today to the cemetery.  We haven't been here in a long time but he has been "asking" to go, so today we attempted this big adventure.  

I finally kicked the flu (thank you for all the kind well wishes) and got back to riding this week.  I have been alternating riding Pie and Sovey each day and yesterday I tacked up the new, sweet Foggy for the first time.  I walked him (me on the ground walking beside him) around the ring in his tack.  He walked nicely for me, but I can tell he is nervous about "something new".  I have read in blogs and internet articles that a sign that a  horse is calm is when they chew.  I have to say that I must not understand what is meant by this.  Both Pie, and now Foggy, "chew" and lick and move their tongue around when they are nervous.  By contrast, Pie lowers his head and gives a nice, long sneeze-snort-sigh when he is relaxed and Foggy did that very thing after a few laps around our ring.  As soon as I heard that and felt him relax and lower his head, I untacked him.  He was much more worried about our new program than I like.  I didn't tack him today, but I will again in a few days.  He is just going to take a long time which is fine.  His weight is still very low so there is no hurry. 

I am getting bored riding around the farm and I know Pie and Sovey would like a change too.  Today, I pictured going north off our property and Pie headed right out there straightaway.  How do they know?

We have to pass an automotive garage on the way to the cemetery. Pie will not walk by without visiting there.  It is sort of embarrassing, but I like that he is interested and not frightened. My mom was walking along with me so you can see her talking to the mechanic in this picture. We gave the man treats for him to feed Pie.  Pie loves him now.  He took our photo (below), but unfortunately he got his hand in front of the lens.

Pie continues touching "targets" everywhere because of our clicker work.  A few days ago he was determined to touch every single plastic bag that had blown over from the auto-auction.  Our treats were long gone, but he would not stop!  Today in the cemetery he wanted to touch the monuments but I would not let him.  He had to settle for this trash can.  He loved it, but of course, thought it was smelly and made his "stinky face".

Pie and I headed down a path and somehow got lost from my mother. He was determined to go home a different way than the way I wanted to go.  He started throwing his head and popping up and down in the half-rear that he does when he is nervous and wants to go home but won't listen to me.  I stay with him and have small successes with sitting tight and pushing him forward. He gets very frustrated, but we are working on these tantrums.  As usual, I am kicking myself for not going home when we were at the trash can. I always have to push it and not quit when ahead. So, I kept working, but it was clear that he was not moving forward.  He started backing up and tearing up the cemetery grass. I only ride him on the pavement or way over at the grass edge near the woods, but still I didn't want him to be destructive.  I had to dismount which is the kiss of death for me because I am not as confident with him when I am on the ground.  I let him graze and pulled out my cell to phone my mom for moral support.  Pie really calmed down when I started talking on the phone which is weird, but tells me that my body language and voice probably calmed down first.  My mother was wondering how a huge horse could disappear in a cemetery.  She had started home when she lost us.  

I walked back out to the neighborhood beside the cemetery and found her.  She gave me a leg up while complaining how much I weigh.  She said that it was much easier to give me a leg up when I was in high school.  I reminded her that my mare was only 14.2 back then and Pie-Pie is almost 17 hands.  I was so proud of how still he stood.  I have been using clicker and treats to get him to stand better for mounting and it sure paid off today!

Back on our property Pie put a nasty rear in when a loud truck passed.  I just couldn't get my breathing together and I held my breath when the truck approached.  I'm not entirely happy with today's ride, but I am not mad at Pie.

Foggy is out all night tonight with the boys for the first time.  I hope I can sleep!  

Thursday, March 10, 2011

I had another look and I had a cup of tea

Here is the sweet Foggy (Found in the Fog) taken just after his win.


I have the flu. Maizie started with a head cold last Monday and happily she was over it by this Monday.  Brian and I got it on the weekend and now I have body aches eerily similar to the horrid flu we all had in 2009. This is the first time in my entire life that I made it this long without an illness. We all made it through the fall and spring and when February ended and I still hadn't caught a cold, I danced a jig. Now I am defeated.

Consequently, I have zero horse news. I have been grazing and grooming in between rain storms just to keep my sanity. We are flooding here in Pennsylvania and the rain and mud and fever and little horse time is depressing. I haven't blogged or visited any of my blogging friends posts. I promise to catch up soon.  

My only comfort has been watching old videos of Foggy and Sovey racing. Here are some cute videos of Foggy winning - his only win! I had to "film" the computer because the site doesn't allow downloads.  

Here is another of the cute boy taking his victory lap!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

freshly ground and fully packed

My sweet Pie is a little chubby this spring.  I was grateful for the extra layer he acquired because it helped me worry less on cold nights this winter.  Now is the time to begin a tiny, little exercise program to lift that belly before our spring grasses sprout their lush heads.

Thursday, I went to the barn in the morning with every intention of riding Pie, but I wasn't dressed right. It had been 40 degrees on Wednesday when I rode Sovey, so on Thursday morning I wore the same amount of layers. After grooming and grazing Foggy, followed by some animated manure cleanup, it became apparent that I was freezing.  

I went home and tried to get inspired to come back in the afternoon to ride my chubby boy.  It was sunny with very little wind, but it was 25 degrees and not supposed to get much warmer. What tricks do you use to get yourself up and moving and riding when all you really want to do is climb under a blanket and read blogs?  Sometimes I go running, but then I have to ride fairly soon after or my body temperature drops back to normal.  Sometimes I take a bath. Thursday, Brian had just got back from his run so we sat down to yummy cups of hot, creamy coffee.

I never drank coffee until 2007.  I had grown up drinking Carnation Instant Breakfast and kept that sugary habit well into my 40th year.  I loved their eggnog and coffee flavors back in the day, but they were bought out by Nestle and flavors were changed and dropped and ruined, so in the fall of 2007 I started experimenting with coffee.  Brian drank it every morning and it smelled so good when he would grind it, so I gave it a whirl.  

My dear friend, Susie, says that my coffee shouldn't be called coffee.  It is something else - a little more decadent.  Whatever it is, it gets me out the door on cold mornings and sometimes a second lunchtime cup can get me back out again if I need the extra push.  That is exactly what I needed on Thursday.

I use a French press with one tablespoon of coffee to one (8 oz) cup of boiling water. I press it right away without letting it wait for the recommended time.  My coffee isn't strong, obviously, but it does the trick!

UPDATE: WE ARE VEGAN NOW but this sadly was written before I was enlightened. I am so sorry to all the dairy cow mamas and babies because of my use of cream and other dairy products. Thank goodness I am enlightened now. 

I add 1 to 2 tablespoons of cream. I use real cream. I do not believe in our country's fear of fat (sugar scares me more), but I do make sure my cream just says "cream" in the ingredients.  I don't like other junk in my cream.  Each delicious cup of hot, perfectness has 50 or 100 calories depending on whether I use 1 tablespoon of cream or two. Coffee tastes better in my favorite cup from Anthropologie.  

So, I was finally warmed up and ready to ride!  I went back to the barn and Pie and I headed out around the trails and fields bareback.  He was just wonderful and I encouraged him to walk out with a little more energy. I knew that I wanted to make him push, but I rode bareback to keep it light and interesting for him.

Then, yesterday, I gave Sovereign a break from riding and only groomed him and grazed him and loved him up. I decided to ride Pie again, this time with a saddle and mixing in a tiny bit of trotting to help pull that belly up. I don't trot Pie all that often.  Pie is a lovely mover.  His trot is fluid and easy to ride, with a saddle or bareback, sitting or posting.  He looks amazing from the side when he trots, but straight-on, you can see that he wings with his right front. He was apparently born with some sort of anatomical problem on that right front.  The hoof grows out with a pronounced flare.  He was never raced because he bowed that tendon early in his training. He just isn't put together correctly there, which probably caused the bow.  My barefoot trimmer has tried a different method to prevent that flare from growing out so quickly.  It is working because the hoof looks pretty normal right now, six weeks out.

Pie always breaks into a canter when playing with the brothers long before they do. We joke that Pie is so lazy and cantering is the easier gate.  I think there is some truth to that with Pie, but I also think his right foot/tendon bothers him while trotting. Because of this, I gave him a long walking warm-up, and only planned to trot a tiny bit. 

Just as we were really getting started at the trot, a low flying plane began circling us. The plane was noisy and scary, but Pie kept it together.  The plane's shadow, which followed a few moments after every pass, scared Pie the most. I was really annoyed, but proud of Pie for not freaking out.  I called it a day and walked him around our property.  He was like a docile teddy bear, which tells me just how out of shape he is because we didn't trot all that long. I will continue to keep his trotting sessions very short, even without that annoying plane.

I don't know who rode or trained Pie before I got him. All I can say is that I have never ridden a horse as responsive as Pie.  Because the trot is a little faster than the walk, I am surprised and in constant awe of how quickly he listens to even a slight signal.  He circles full and round. Actually, he is amazing. I notice this when I open gates to lead him through. He moves his back end out of the way instinctively, calmly and round, not nervously. That is how he moves at the trot in circles and figure eights. Could he have these responses naturally or did someone teach him?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

watching the detectives "ooh, he's so cute"

I bought these halters from Pinkston's Turf Goods for the horses in January. They each have a brass nameplate with copper rivets.  I really like them, although I thought they were a little heavy for the sweet, tiny Foggy head, so I had them make me a custom one for him with thinner, lighter leather.  Everyone here laughed at me.  It ends up that he is doing fine in the one that is 7 ounces "heavier" as well as the light one.  Our horses are only in their halters when we are leading them or grazing or tacking up.  The rest of the time they are nakie boys.  I also bought the fleece sets for the halters in hunter green.  

I mention the halters, specifically, because yesterday I ended up riding Sovey all over our farm in just his halter.  This was not my original plan, but after some serious detective work, it became apparent to me that Sovey might not like his bitless bridle.

I spend much of my time striving to make Sovereign happy and yet his preferences still remain a mystery. I am going to have a traveling equine dentist visit us this spring to start the process of ruling out physical problems. I am keeping my eyes open looking for ulcer symptoms and/or anything else that might be happening. I know Foggy's introduction is a change, but Sovey's attitude is very similar to what it always has been - unpredictable.   

The last few rides on Sovey I have ridden bareback.  This is because I thought the saddle and girth might be hurting him. This is my third spring with him and when he is shedding, he is extremely sensitive to the touch.  I don't know if his hair tickles him or if something else is going on, but I decided that the saddle pad, saddle and girth might not be so great.  

He told me in no uncertain terms that I was wrong about that guess. I should have noticed when I was tacking up last week. He stood perfectly for the saddle, but made faces when I came out with the bridle. It didn't register that it was the bridle.

Yesterday, I got on bareback and started out south. Sovey would not cross the driveway to go.  He planted himself and light squeezing only caused him to plaster his ears and make a horrid face. I still thought it was his sides or back or something around the saddle area. I hopped off and encouraged him to walk down toward the farmhouse with me. He was angry and reluctant. I wondered, do horses get headaches?  That is what he reminded me of - me with a headache.  

We have these Kentucky Derby glasses from last year.  Every time Brian uses them he holds it up and says, "Sovey" because this is what he looks like when he is mad.  There are many things that causes this face but I usually see it when I am not understanding something he is trying to "tell" me. Sovereign is an excellent communicator. In the people world, I fashion myself to be a little like my hero, Nancy Drew. I think I am so perceptive. Ha! Sovereign would tell you otherwise. We spend much of our time together with him telling me "Timmy's in the well".  It takes me so long to figure out who is Timmy, and where is the well. Most of his conversations are not about pain. For example, he "told" me I left a gate to the far pasture shut the other day by walking down there and repeatedly pointing to it with his muzzle. He also "told" me that I forgot to fill his snack bucket (I had!) in the paddock when I rode Pie on Tuesday by uncharacteristically nickering softly. If I ask him to, he kindly moves the horses around for me so I can open gates. The first year he was with us, he clearly showed me that he would rather stand in the forebay for tacking.

So yesterday, I was having a tough time deciding what was bothering him. The farmhouse just had a water line dug and the dirt-filled trench has been making him nervous. I thought it was a good opportunity, since I was on the ground anyway at this point, to work through that fear.  He was excellent about it and we successfully conquered the trench and the new fire pit at the farmhouse.  Still, though, he was mad.

I re-mounted bareback and attempted to go east.  Nope.  More ear pinning.  He walked around the paddock and then would not take another step.  I was really confused because it was so uncharacteristic of him to balk, so I slid off, slipped the bridle off, and turned him out in the big pasture so I could think.  

Just then, I remembered how he made an ugly face when I brought the bridle out of the tackroom.  I decided that I would try to tack up with a saddle and only ride in a halter.  If he still was acting unusual, I would quit and get the vet to check him out.

I tacked him up with the saddle only and hooked two thin nylon leads to his halter.  I got on and asked him to go south toward the farmhouse.  Happy, forward ears!  He walked down there and over the trench.  Good boy!  He walked up and around and toward the turnpike.  We meandered down this way and that.  He was happy and sweet.  We walked all around the perimeter.  When he wanted to go in a direction different than I did, I circled him until he went my way. More "Good Boy" pats. Squeezing did not cause any ear pinning. The wind had picked up and it went through my brain for a split second that I had lost my mind.  What the heck was I doing out here in this crazy bad wind on him in just a halter?  I immediately let go of that thought because I had to get home safely so we continued on.  Sovey was just wonderful.

I had ridden him before in just a halter, but that ride was in the summer and I stayed in the pastures that day.  I was so intent on figuring out what his problem was yesterday, that I forgot what I was doing in terms of safety.

It worked out well anyway.  I don't know if the bridle is pinching him or pulling on his long winter chin hairs.  I don't even know if it is the bridle at all.  Maybe he was good in the halter because it was something new and exciting.  I am still going to watch him and see what is going on.  Sovereign is one horse I can't figure out. That makes him all the more endearing to me.

Update:  I just ordered U-Gard for him.  I am thinking this might be a spring flare up thing he experiences.  We will see!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

You can't let one precious day slip by

Here is my muddy Foggy boy grazing last evening at sunset.  All these mud speckles and this is after I groomed him!  

I have been taking my time with Foggy.  Not that I didn't take my time with Pie and Sovey, but it is different this time around.  I am just more relaxed with Foggy.  

Every day when I walk in the barn I see their snack bowls lined up on the stairs and I get the giggles and  think that they are "my three sons".  I've heard parents of multiple children say that they were more relaxed with the younger kids. I am definitely seeing that with my retraining of Foggy.  Pie and Sovey were in the barn together at night back when they arrived in February of 2009. Each morning, I would work on cross-tie practice with one of the horses and the other horse was right there, in his stall looking on. Foggy is alone so his program has been a little different, and, a little less structured.   

This is a rough outline of our schedule:

Pie and Sovey are outside and Foggy is in his stall all night.  My mom feeds all the horses hay at 7am and Foggy gets a little grain too.

I arrive around 8:30 am if the weather is nice and pick up manure in all the pastures to warm up.  Pie and Sovey usually help me when they are finished with their hay.  I bring Foggy outside.  I haven't tried him in the cross-ties yet because he is anxious to get out and see his friends.  I practice leading him around the farm. He leads very well.  He rushes a little if the other horses get out of his sight, but not too bad.  He grazes and I groom him.  Then I stick him into a small ring pasture with water and hay and more grain.

I put Pie and/or Sovey in a nearby paddock depending on who I am not riding that day. The horse in the paddock has hay and water.  I hope to one day leave the two horses that I am not riding out together, but for now I am trying to fatten Foggy up and he has some grain and rich hay out with him.  

I groom and tack up the horse du jour and off we go on our cross-country trek.  I rode Sovey on Sunday bareback and Pie yesterday with a saddle (it rained Monday).  Pie is screaming much less when I ride Sovey so that is great that he knows he has Foggy "with him".

Yesterday, when I rode Pie, he wanted to investigate a neighboring field east of our property.  I let him decide how far out he wants to go.  He was very willing to keep going which makes me happy.  Someday I am going to just keep going and never stop.

After my ride there is post-ride grazing and grooming/massage. This is the best part for the horse and can be nice for me in the sunshine.  Usually it is freezing though!  We had some considerable shedding from Pie yesterday - much relief that spring has sprung.

I put the horse I rode in the big pastures and add the paddock horse.  Then, I bring Foggy in to be with everyone. They all seem happy.  

I leave them out all day with more hay.  I used to have to clean Foggy's stall, but now my wonderful farm helper, Melanie, is doing his stall and buckets so I go home.  Melanie feeds hay in 8 separate piles at 4:30pm.  I come back around 6 or 7 pm and put Foggy in the barn for the night.  Removing him from the pasture at night seems cruel to me and I don't know why he lets me do it, but he doesn't have enough winter coat or fat to stay out all night. Around mid-March, I should be able to leave him out with the boys 24/7.  He walks into the barn and his stall willingly.  Last evening, when I got him out, I grazed and groomed him.  This was surely a terrible mistake.  I doubt he will forget - and now I'll be expected to do that every night!  

I have moments when I panic and think that I am not "doing" anything with Foggy.  I see when I go back and read my blog from 2009 that I was further ahead with Pie and Sovey at this point (they arrived February 22nd) than I am with Foggy.  Pie and Sovey had been at a Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation farm for 3 months before they came to us.  Foggy came straight from the track. He isn't showing any signs of nervousness or worry, but it just feels right to let him relax and fatten up and "do nothing" for a while.