Wednesday, April 27, 2011

I'm gonna play with free livin' lads down the street

Three great (some rain but sun too) days in a row and three great rides on Pie and Sovereign.  Here is Sovey during our post-ride grazing session yesterday posing by the cherry tree.  

On Easter Sunday morning I rode Sovey and put the other two boys in the barn in their stalls with hay and snacks and water. Usually I put them in special pastures but our pastures have all gone to muck. It rains everyday now, even if the sun comes out later. Then, it is humid and buggy and muddy. Our barn has screen doors (!!!) so it is cool and fly-free.  Sunday was the first time I put them in there when I rode and I have to say it was wonderful.  Pie and Foggy were sleepy and peaceful when Sovereign and I returned.  

This photo, above, shows Sovey's bridle with the throat latch that goes nowhere and the reins hooked to the noseband.  We like this!

On Monday, Pie and I had to head out at noon because of the morning downpours.  It was squishy and humid, but look at the violets! I left Sovey and brother, Foggy, together in the barn and they were equally happy.

The neighborhood beside us was built in the 1960's on top of a creek that ran through our property. The creek is gone, but with all our rains, the basements in these homes have flooded. The people have been pumping water out with sump pumps. In this photo, Pie encountered wild looking black plastic pipe, coiled and drying on a clothesline. He looked and thought about it for a few seconds, and then did nothing.  What a good boy!

This photo is blurry because Pie is pawing for a treat from my mom (spoiled), but you can see that I am riding in shorts and a sleeveless shirt. It was 77 degrees!

Sovey ears and my uncle's barn in background.

Now you see the dandelions...

now you don't!

Sovey loves to munch dandelions and violets. He is a salad gourmand.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Made the skyline look like crooked teeth

We had an equine dentist out to work on the boys on Wednesday. Here is Sovey, above, giving me the listening ear on our ride Thursday. Sovereign was a happy boy on our ride - I think mostly in part to his new ability to chew correctly and relax his facial muscles.  

My Sovey is not always a happy camper. I have been using clicker training with him to work on "happy faces" (I call it Ears Up Mother Brodie) when on a lead or getting tacked up, and he is super quick to understand that "trick" but in the pastures, at liberty, he still carries his ears back.  That tells me that something might hurt. I have learned that before you call in massage or chiropractic help, it is important to make sure that a horse has proper jaw alignment. Kate over at A Year With Horses did an exceptional post back in December of last year about how a natural balance equine dentist can assess lateral alignment and front to back movement. Kate's post was well written and informative and I've referred to it many times since. I phoned her dentist, Mike Fragale, and he gave me the name of a natural balance equine dentist, Rick Samuels, whom Mike recommended to visit my horses in Pennsylvania. Rick doesn't have a website, but his email is: 

Kate's post describes how natural balance equine dentistry is different from traditional floating. I do not want to try to restate what she has already said so definitely check it out here to understand the different approach.

I had the boys in their stalls when Rick arrived. They were very calm and continued to munch hay happily when Rick came into the barn. We talked about Sovereign at length and then Rick went around to each horse and introduced himself and he watched and felt their jaw and face and teeth. Rick explained that the upper and lower jaws on a horse are supposed to grind and chew in an oval motion, moving around freely. If the teeth grow enamel on the outside edges that aren't used properly due to previous improper floating, that growth is like little "hooks" that latch the jaws and stop the correct oval-shaped grinding movement. In addition, as the horse puts his head down to graze, the jaws are to move forward freely, but the sharp hooks can prevent that too. Rick said that Sovereign had very little movement laterally and practically none when he put his head down. A horse is supposed to have relaxed muscles while resting with his head dropped. When hooks prevent the jaws from aligning correctly, the horse has to use his muscles (constantly) to hold them in the unnatural position.  This puts strain on the temporomandibular (TMJ) joints and can cause pain and stress down through the neck and back.

Rick is wonderful with the horses and worked gently and quietly and completely won their trust. He will sedate the horse if necessary, but surprisingly, all three of my boys were willing to have Rick work on them without sedation. I would not have believed this if I hadn't seen it. Rick said that Sovereign seemed to be aware of the help that he was offering, and he leaned into Rick allowing him to work easier. Pie had "wild" eyes and Rick was sure he would have to sedate him, but when his turn came, Pie cooperated fully. Poor little Foggy had no lateral movement at all to the one side. He was so good that I was able to get my hands in there and feel the points before and after removal.

I can honestly say that the horses acted unusual (in a good way) after Rick was there. They seemed relieved and shocked and  a little unsure of their new movement.  Rick said that sometimes they will "quid" or ball up hay and grass for a week after because their jaws and muscles need time to get used to the new movement.  My boys started chewing well straightaway. In fact, Sovereign always had a problem taking treats from a flat hand and would inadvertently pinch your hand. Sadly, I think someone in his past punished him for this when he could not help it. As I took him out to the pasture after his dentist work, I palmed him a round carrot chip and he took it like a normal horse. I was so shocked, I kept feeding him more!

I worked for a large animal veterinarian for many years and held countless horse tongues while Doc filed away points with a huge metal rasp. Doc was careful to check with his fingers each tooth, but I don't think the science at the time realized the correct angles of the molars and incisors and how they fit like a puzzle.

This year, when we were in Florida, there was an article in the St. Petersburg Times about a local equine dentist going "high tech". He had a shiny new van equipped with thousands of dollars in power tools to grind and buff and file horse teeth. Unfortunately, power tools can often overfloat a horse's teeth and take away the perfect meeting of upper and lower teeth for necessary grinding.

I am so grateful that I read Kate's post and called Rick. Another testament to these blogs. I am certain my horses are more comfortable now. Foggy is grazing like a lawn mower now and he needs the extra weight!

The rain continues to pour down on us, yesterday and today. I just asked Brian where Noodlebug was and he said, "Up on her throne." Here she is...the princess on her throne, sleeping away the rainy day.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Now could be forever

Pie and I had a great ride yesterday morning.  First we rode around our big field and he was quiet and lazy. I could barely get him to trot. As we circled to the north, he was more spooky than I have ever seen him, but he stayed with me.  He even did a strong backing/refusal to go forward when we entered the woods at first, but he never once went up into his half rear.  At the end of the backing (usually the pop up time) we just calmly stood still.  I talked to him and allowed him to stand.  He backed some more, but then stopped.  After what I felt was enough time to think about it, I asked him to go forward and made a big deal about one tiny step - loud "Good Boys" and then he kept going! Hooray! It was a nice practice on our own land - this usually only occurs when we are off our property. In the woods he was really nervous, shying at invisible ghosts. I thought that there must be deer in there, but after thinking about it some more, and running later in the day, I think Pie was shocked at the changes in the woods. We had heavy rains and flooding on Saturday and it seems like our leaves and flowering trees all just "popped" open at once. I think the woods he saw last week looked entirely different yesterday. To him, there were new green little shadows and white puffy cotton balls on every tree.

More rain today, so riding is out. I get to spend another day soaking wet, juggling little, sweet Foggy-boy from outside to inside trying to avoid lightning and save all the calories we have packed into our new boy. 

I am not complaining about the rain. Rain brings little treasures. Yesterday, when Maizie and I headed out for an afternoon run, Brian told us to take a camera. This is what we found!

A carpet of Grape Hyacinths!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Gather round all your clowns

Today is raining again but yesterday was sunny and gorgeous. Sovey and I headed out in his silly bitless without criss-cross straps.  I don't know if you can see it in this photo.  The one leather strap goes down and attaches to the noseband.  The other is short and attaches to nothing.  We love it!!!!  Sovey has been perfect for two rides like this.

On Thursday, Pie was acting funny in the pasture, watching something to our south.  On our ride, I saw that our farm market neighbor had erected their yearly circus tent.  I didn't take Pie over to see, but Sovey wanted to investigate yesterday.  You can see the orange tent in the distance.  The Pennsylvania Turnpike is in between our farm and their farm.  Sovey was very well behaved even though trucks were whizzing by us. 

After the tent we encountered two loud, barking dogs. I circled them in red and they look little and far away, but they are large and loud. The neighbors put an underground fence to keep the dogs on their property, but they put the flags out on our land to add more grass to their "yard".  Thanks a lot. I love all dogs and they crack me up when they are determined to bark like crazy - it is like they enjoy hearing how loud they can get.  Horses don't always find it funny and I do think it takes some nerve to put their boundary flags out on our land.   Sovey was scared at first, but then he walked right up to all their noisiness and looked down at them in a very condescending manner, like, "You two aren't so big. I could squish you with my big hoof if I wanted to.  I won't, but really, could you please pipe down a little. You are hurting my big ears with all that noise."

I love this photo of Sovey's fuzzy ears, but it looks like an optical illusion because I don't cut a bridle path into either of the boys manes/foretops.  It looks like Sovey might have his ears back and the foretop is coming over the browband, but in reality, Sovey has his ears pointed to the barn and is looking and listening to Pie screaming.  Pie hasn't figured out that Foggy is there with him. Foggy is so good and quietly grazes while we ride.  

Here is the gorgeous spring view I had while I grazed Sovereign after our ride.  This photo is of Foggy-boy and our lovely Forsythia and Maizie's tire swing in the foreground.  Sigh.

And another picture of our wagon shed and our license plate collection.  I posted photos of this in May of 2009 and my mother had a fit.  She thinks it looks so trashy.  Aesthetics! I ADORE this view in a historical/country/dusty farmer sort of way.  We have license plates from 1916!  Imagine my delight when I discovered that my all time favorite Black Crowes song, Wiser Time, has a video that starts with a wall of license plates and the song is about that very essence of what I feel when I see our lovely wagon shed. And, bonus, the lyrics to that song are so true - on a good day (I know it ain't every day) we can part the sea.  Sovey and I had a good day!

Friday, April 15, 2011

And yesterday I saw you kissing tiny flowers

Pie and I headed out through the woods yesterday morning for a great ride. 

We popped out on this street and talked to neighbors and Pie was the perfect boy.  I kept my seat tight and my reins loose and he "targeted" scary things (trash, bright flags in the ground, manhole cover).  Anything for a treat. Here he is looking at me, asking if one such treat is on the way.

Thursday is trash day. Fortunately, we were back on our property when the trash truck and trash men arrived.  You can see them in the distance of this photo, below. They are out on the street where we had just been. Pie probably would have been fine, but you never know.

It was a gorgeous day with temperatures in the 60's.  

Pie greeted me with a nice, thick coating of mud.  Here he is after some grooming. Mud is omnipresent.

He grazed in a patch of violets when we were finished with our ride.

I put some in his mane and foretop.  He promptly shook them out!

And, here is the littlest bunny rabbit, Foggy, grazing in his new fly mask.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

And all my dreams would come true

Here is sweet Sovereign grazing. He and I had our best ride to date on Sunday. I have been having the usual barn sour/buddy sour issues with him so I wanted to concentrate on shifting his focus. Just for fun, I removed the criss-cross leather pieces under the jaw on the Dr. Cook's bitless bridle and hooked the reins directly to the noseband rings. Therefore, there is a browband and noseband, but no throat latch.  Sovey loves changes, especially ones that free him up. This set-up has no more control than the halter and reins, but it is lighter on his face.  I am beginning to realize that he isn't uncomfortable in his halter or saddle, but he is uncomfortable leaving Pie and Foggy.

We started out on our ride to the south of our property. Previously, his buddy sour worries manifest in him going horribly slow/balking/ear pinning for the first 10 minutes out away from the barn. Occasionally, he tries to turn around quickly and head back. He also refuses to step on the driveway at all if I am on him, which may be unrelated (sore feet?).  

I decided that I was going to keep him moving forward (almost asking him to trot) with my reins long and if he turned back I was just going to go with that and keep him moving in any direction. That way we wouldn't get into a turning/tugging match, but he would have to keep moving forward.

For some reason, this approach worked. He didn't turn around once and never displayed any hesitation. I think our normal slow, boring, walk allows him time to worry about the other horses. When I am asking for the extended walk, he has to think and forgets his friends.  Once away from the barn, I rode him more collected and he was fine. Good Sovey-boy! 

Monday morning Pie and I had a warm, sunny ride before the vet came for spring shots (this photo is from chilly Thursday).  Our temperatures got into the 80's later in the day and Pie anticipated the heat with a sleepy, perfect jaunt around the farm. 

I put all the horses in their stalls for the vet's visit. Pie thought about throwing a little fit since he was inside and this was clearly NOT part of his accepted routine, but our earlier ride must have taken the edge off. All three horses are good for shots and never moved a muscle. I am so proud of them. They all stand like statues! Their fecals revealed that they are shedding well below the accepted range, so we are just going to worm in May and then recheck in September. I like that!  No unnecessary poison. An errant skunk got in the pasture on Sunday evening and the horses were sniffing it. Good timing for their rabies shots.

The last few days have been extremely stressful for me trying to juggle Foggy inside and outside during our torrential rains.  He doesn't have enough fat at this point to get soaking wet with our below normal temperatures. He was out all night on Monday and I didn't sleep at all listening to the pouring rain. We have the sheds, but he does what the big boys do and they are known to stand outside and eat. I originally thought I would get him a rain sheet when he arrived but I know I could have also taken the money and whipped it out in the street and it would have been just as helpful. This is because my Pie-Pie boy is very naughty and a sheet on Foggy would last about one minute until Pie ripped it off of him and tore it to shreds. Pie is known for his fly mask shredding and wheelbarrow tipping and any other devilish antics he can cook up. Sovey kindly handed me the road apple fork the other day, so he isn't above playing with "toys" either. So, the Foggy inside/outside marathon continues until we get a few consistently warm days!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Well all right, so I'm not working

It is raining again this morning. It has been a cold, raw spring so far with highs only in the mid 40's and depressing, overcast skies spitting rain at every turn. I have been lucky to squeeze in rides most days, when the sun peeks out for two tiny hours. I am only able to do this because I didn't teach at all this year. I took off in the fall because Maizie started middle school and I wanted to be around for her transition. She settled in nicely, although I am still wrestling with the mood swings of a middle school girl - glad I have horses to comfort me! Then, with the distant hope of getting Foggy, I didn't want to commit to teaching in the spring. I have to admit, I like this schedule WAY too much - especially with this sporadic weather, I am so glad to be flexible. Yesterday's ride on Pie was during a patch of sun in the afternoon.  The wind does pick up occasionally while I am riding, but both horses don't get flustered by wind, thankfully.

Here Pie is looking at the grass in anticipation of his post-ride hand grazing session!

We trotted quite a bit out on the trail.  Pie is off slightly on his right front. He seems to work out of it the more we trot.  As we headed back to the barn, I asked him to turn back for another walk in the woods. He hesitated slightly, but then willingly walked back around the woods. I am proud of him for doing this. Pie gets very comfortable with his routines and it is quite a stretch for him to change. The more I get these little "gives", the better he is when we encounter a crisis out on the trail.    

Sovereign is the opposite.  He is slightly barn/buddy sour, especially with the addition of a new brother. He balks right out of the box.  Once I get him out and away, he enjoys routine changes. 

Below is a video I took yesterday of Pie walking up to his beloved barstool apples and gobbling them all up. Warning: Turn your sound down or subject yourself to my squeaking saddle and nutty baby talk that is almost like another language (Yummy-lish?).  It seems like I do nothing but apologize about looking goofy or sounding silly. I am not super insecure and fishing for reassurance/compliments. I get a kick out of how hysterically intimate and unconcealed these blogs can be in an effort to show the beauty of our horses! 

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Sun and shower, wind and rain

Here is a photo of me riding Pie last evening.  I look goofy, but he looks adorable, as usual.  I think Pie has a very pretty head and face.  We had just finished our trotting work when Maizie took this picture. She took videos of us trotting, and I hope I can post them soon.  She is saying in the background during the video, "Ok, here is Momma and Pie-Pie trying to t-r-o-t", because neither of us were too spunky and getting him moving was a feat. He is just a big, roly-poly doll baby and I am just a wimp who never wants to make a horse work.  

Maizie had her best friend, Sophie-girl, over to the barn to play tennis and the 3 children who live in the farmhouse joined them, so the whole gang of kids were laughing and playing tennis and running and doing cartwheels and climbing trees, yet Pie seemed calm and content.  It helped that we had a single day of 70 degree temperatures (it is cold and rainy again this morning) to keep the big boy relaxed. Still, it was windy and unsettled as a storm approached and Pie was unusually good.

Earlier Brian and Maizie were up on my grandmother's roof installing a new flue Brian had built.

None of the horses seemed to mind "the roofers".

Watching Maizie and her friends whoop it up from horseback was magical.  The sun was setting and Pie and I walked the entire farm in and out of the woods and we could see and hear the kids playing and it seemed like summer to me. We don't live in a neighborhood and Maizie rarely gets to enjoy the free play I remember from my suburban childhood. 

After our ride, I brought Pie right beside the tennis court for grazing.  He was not rattled at all by all the tennis balls flying this way and that.  I am very proud of him.  You could tell that he enjoyed the silly playing and laughing.  I think laughter must be a universal good energy indicator, crossing language and species boundaries.  Pie never flinched the whole evening and even, while grazing, tried to rummage through Sophie's purse in search of her mint flavoured gum.  He is a character!