Saturday, February 26, 2011

Mellow is the feeling that I get

On my rides this week, and afterwards, while I graze the horses, I have been contemplating "energy".  I am not sure that is the right word, but I have been thinking about whatever it is that is invisible and yet so electric that my horse feels what I am thinking almost as I think it.  If I have clean, empty thoughts, without anticipation of a spook or a jump, I get a seamless next few minutes without cessation in the evenness of the ride or a stop in the munching of grass while my horse hand-grazes. But, if I imagine an outcome - and prepare for an event, then most of the time, I am not disappointed - I get to experience that which I prepared for - usually bad.  I know that I am passing the thoughts, this "energy" to my horse.  It is easy to understand if I am riding. Surely, I am using my muscles in a certain way that "tells" my horse my thoughts. Or perhaps my hands on the reins change ever so slightly and my horse picks up on it.  The energy transfer that I can't explain, though, is the one that happens while hand-grazing. How exactly am I conveying my thoughts to my horse when I am standing a few feet away?  The energy field that is between us must be, to my horse, so big and "real" because the transfer seems to happen immediately.    

When I say "real" I mean something that is visible to my horse. Something that is visible seems easier to explain and hopefully understand (in other words, not out there in my normal metaphysical la-la-land!). Lately, I have been thinking of this energy as a color that my horse can see.  If, to a horse, I have an intense band of color around me that is so obvious, then it would make perfect sense that he only has to catch a glimpse of me and know whether to a.) keep on grazing peacefully because the color I am giving off is safe or b.) flee because the color that I am giving off is warning of danger. 

Just giving this energy the quality of being visible doesn't necessary mean I can control what "color" I am giving out.  But, it has helped me to feel more participatory in what is going on between us.  I guess that is because, as a human, I am more comfortable with our five senses than the extra senses our equine friends seem to have. When I think that I am doing something that a horse can see it isn't vague.  It is real and I am causing it.  

When I was a beginning rider, my instructor would have us graze the school horses after our lessons.  If I had a Thoroughbred on the end of the lead, I would talk with my friends, but I was extra careful to watch out for sudden jumps.  I thought myself clever to be prepared and try to anticipate a frightened reaction.  I would have been mortified to have a horse get loose from me, so I was always conscientious, ready, alert.   If I had a tired, loving, old chubby Heinz 57 on the end of the lead, I could feel myself breathe, relax, become less worried.  Of course, it is easy to understand why I had many skittish Thoroughbreds to graze and few skittish Grades.  Back then, had I thought that I was giving off a color, almost like a wildly waving flag, I might have changed my approach.   

Our farm is right beside a busy road and directly across from a bustling auto-auction.  Huge tractor trailers pull in and out all day long.  Their gears shift, their air brakes hiss, their tires squeal.  They bump and crash and clang over the culverts in the road.  

When I ride, sometimes I have to go near the road (about 60 feet away) and I might end up going down a hill with a truck coming up from behind us in the near lane.  I am not on the road or in danger of being hit, but from behind, the engine roaring can send adrenaline through me and my horse.  I have learned to lean forward and laugh and empty my brain and pat my horse's neck. It takes lots of concentration, but I am getting good at it and it is not too difficult because I am touching the horse.

Grazing safely can actually be more difficult.  Of course, all three horses know that the best, greenest, most delectable grass is on the road side of the farm.  I would never graze them too near the road, but it is close enough to cause a jump or a flee.   By thinking of my energy as a color, periwinkle blue, this week I have avoided any fuss at all by the horses.  It is amazing.  I feel deliberate.  If I hear the approach of a roaring engine I breathe out and empty my brain like I am riding.  I do not anticipate a reaction but rather feel like I am surrounded by the "color" of safe - periwinkle.   I think it is more powerful than words because talking might inflect fear accidentally.  This is just a sign.  Safe. It has worked so far with Foggy who is new to our farm and all the roaring.   

Today's ride on Pie was exceptionally periwinkly.  We had not one upset, although there were many distractions.       

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

we are three together, we are for each other

Here is Pie pawing for his treats - naughty boy!  This was taken on our ride today.  It was 22 degrees when I got to the barn (it was 7 degrees when Maizie got on the bus this morning!) but I think it warmed up to around 30 or so when I finally headed out for a ride. The sun was gorgeous, glimmering off the snow.    

Here we are in shadow.

Pie and I are following my mom down a snowy trail.  She should have ridden her Sovey boy today.  He was so sleepy in the sunshine when I arrived.  I know he would have been a good boy for her.

Here we are at the "barstool apple station".  If you are new to my blog you might not know the story of the barstool apples.  Our kind neighbors used to put apples out on the fence post for our horses.  Here is a cute post about our "sweet apple friend".  The horses didn't like getting near the fence (they think it is electric - it isn't out there) so I would dismount and feed the boys by hand.  If I was riding bareback, I couldn't find a place to get back on so the neighbors kindly put a barstool out for us.  Now, they leave the apples on the barstool and Pie and Sovey gobble them up.  Foggy has wonderful treats waiting for him when he starts to go on rides too!

I love that after a snow you can see all the footprints from wild animals.  We have deer, foxes, coyote, rabbits, skunks, squirrels, birds, and who knows what else.  It is amazing how intricate the "highway"  of little footprints is out there in our field.  I think our horses have a lot to watch at night.  Last week, I saw an entire herd of deer and one fox at the same time making their way across the field.  

This is a photo of Pie reaching back for a treat from me.  I like the shadow of the tree in front of us.  Pie is good at arching his neck around for treats.  Because of our new clicker training, he has been very eager to touch or "target" things out on the trail.  He loves to approach previously scary items and touch them.  I didn't know what he was doing because I wasn't asking him to touch things, but he has been touching scary pipeline markers and brightly colored bags.  Today, he walked right up to a bluebird house that used to frighten him.  He touched it and "wrestled" it so intently that I was afraid he might break it!  He cracks me up.

We rode for 50 minutes and I think Pie was a sleepy boy when I turned him back out with his friends.  We only walked, but the exercise is really good for my Pie.  He has some nice winter "insulation" we need to reduce.

Here are the three friends sharing the sun and pasture after my ride.  I put out 8 flakes with 20' - 30' feet between.   Pie pushes Sovey forward to the next pile and Sovey pushes Foggy.  Pie sometimes allows Foggy to share a pile.  Sovey is allowing Foggy to drink out of the bucket.  Everyone is working into their positions, and so far, no cuts or injuries of any sort.  I pray we continue to be so lucky.  I am sure we will have the normal gelding play, complete with a few cuts and bruises, but no one has gotten really nasty.  I think Pie and Sovey actually are grateful for the new member.  Sovey, especially, can nap a little better since Pie isn't always the most reliable sentinel.  


Friday, February 18, 2011

after all the jacks are in their boxes

Have you ever had so much fun with your horses that you had trouble finding time to blog?  Well, that is what happened to me this past week!  Riding fun, Foggy fun and...MUD...not so much fun, but it sure keeps you busy!

Since I last posted, I have ridden every day.  My rides on Sovereign have been deliciously perfect and uneventful.  My rides on Pie have been eventful, but still good.  Foggy is the sweetest horse I have ever known and he is starting to fit in perfectly.  The mud, which became insistent on Thursday, is the worst I have ever seen and is tough to ignore no matter how hard I try.  

Just by dumb luck, Pie's riding days ended up being pretty windy.  On Valentine's Day we had huge gusts in the afternoon so I rode in the morning when the winds were considerably calmer, but Pie still was "electric" from the coming wind storm.  He barely kept me on.  He was trying very hard (to be good!) but there were too many distractions.  At the end of our ride, I came back to the barn and circled him around the pastures.  He did manage a few good, quiet steps, but Foggy and Sovey were racing around upsetting the big boy's nerves.  I had to dismount on my own in order to keep him from helping me to dismount.  

I felt like my ride on Pie was so short so I popped Sovey out of the pasture and hopped on bareback.  He was the perfect angel around the entire farm - wind or no wind - Sovey is amazing.  

The next day I tried again with Pie.  It was still windy.  I don't know whether I did something different or if Pie was just calmer and in a better frame of mind, but our ride was probably one of the best I have had on him ever.  He was eager to keep going, attempting to take all our exit trails off the property to nearby woods and to town.  I was mature (very tough for me!) and turned him around at various places to keep him eager.  What a pleasure to have the horse I remember who always wanted to head away from our farm!  He was just the very best.  I don't mean to personify his behaviour too much, but I swear it seemed like he was trying to prove to me how good he could be.  He was more than willing, like he was saying, "See, Julie, I'm a good boy just like Sovey!"

That day seemed like the best day to turn Pie out with Foggy for the first time.  Pie was loving and sweet to Foggy and there were zero problems.  After they spent the afternoon getting acquainted, I slipped Sovereign in with them.  All three boys grazed happily in the warm sunshine.  

I have been putting them together for a little bit each day.  Pie is fine with Foggy.  Sovereign is worried about his place in the herd and is determined to make sure that Foggy knows who is who and what is what.  Sovey will not let Foggy near the water until after he is done.  Foggy is very good about waiting, but there isn't water left for him because Sovey insists on swimming in the trough and pawing all the mud in and all the water out.  I am getting a little frustrated, trying endlessly to provide enough troughs only to have Sovey muddy them all up. Fortunately, Foggy's patience is without limit.  

I had a super week with the boys and I am trying to stay appreciative of our rides and the successful pasture turnouts.  Yesterday, the weak human that I am forgot all the good and only saw the mud and my poor pastures and the empty muddy water buckets.  Also, as soon as I groom them, they roll again.

This is what is waiting for me this morning!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Feel sunshine sparkle pink and blue

Two brothers sharing the sunshine today in the same pasture.  

After walking the little Foggy around the property in the morning and grooming him, I thought it was time to try him turned out with his brother.  I put Pie in the small paddock and brought Sovey over to Foggy's pasture.  Mostly they nibbled hay together. Sovey did pin his ears to keep Foggy in line.  Foggy only offers "nice" as a response - he stares, he snuggles, he keeps his ears up, questioning.  He never reacts back, so what is Sovey to do? Foggy reminds me of my husband.  Brian is only nice.  It is tough to "posture" against nice.  

Pie was worried for the first few minutes alone in the paddock watching the brothers, so I sat on the fence with him and we watched together.  Pie loved me sitting on the fence, especially because my treat pocket was mouth - level!

Strawberry Letter # 23 was running through my head the whole time they were out together, I guess because that song was by The Brothers Johnson and I was thinking of the "brothers" enjoying their time. Brian just said, "Speaking of esoterica, how about a little Brothers Johnson for you?"  Sorry. Boring post, but in this case, I welcome boring.  I like very little fireworks when working with horses!  


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

lingers forever as a part of me

Here I am on Sovereign as we headed out on our ride this morning.  It was 18 degrees, but it was sunny and less windy than yesterday.  I don't like cold weather at all, but I will do anything to ride, including wearing several layers and a helmet cover that makes me look like my head is ridiculously huge.  Sweet baystatebrumby has a similar helmet cozy but hers is in a soft pink color.  I bought this one a few years ago.  I thought the red color would be good for hunter safety, but I neglected to think about just how much bigger the red makes your head look!  

Of course, the attractive Carhartt coveralls and rectangular Sorel boots complete my high-end, upper-crust equestrian attire.  

And, here we have another equestrian dressed for success!

(I can barely type because I am laughing so hard - tears are rolling down my face.)  This is my mother and she wasn't riding today, but she did walk along with us on our ride around the farm.  She is absolutely hysterical looking in this get-up and I kept getting the giggles during the entire ride.  

Sovereign was such a great horse today.  He is always a great horse, but today he was exceptional.  I rode him on the buckle around the farm and through the woods.  February 9th, 18 degrees, OTTB, no bit, on the buckle!  I sure am lucky to have him.  He only had one little, tiny pause.  There is a pipeline that crosses under our property and they recently replaced the official marker.  I thought it looked different, but Sovey's reaction told me that it definitely was new.  He stopped and snorted and circled back.  I told mom to walk ahead by it and touch it.  She was talking and couldn't hear anything I was saying because of the crunching snow (and all the headgear she had on) so she just walked right on by the marker.  I thought she might stop and help me get Sovey by it.  No worries, he just followed her and never said another snort about it.

Next we stopped at the apple-barstool snack station.  Two apples greeted the Sovey-boy.  He gobbled them up slowly with his eyes closed.  We think they were frozen, but he didn't mind.  Mom said she was sweating from all the trudging through the snow, but I was freezing.  Riding just doesn't keep you warm at the walk, but it sure is fun.

This photo is out of order.  I took this right at the beginning of the ride.  You can see the mud I couldn't get off Sovey, and the mudball, Pie, in the paddock.  These two found mud yesterday afternoon and were covered in it.  It was super windy and they found the stinkiest mud to roll in.  It doesn't smell like manure, but it is mud where old hay is breaking down.  It has a pond/algae smell and I could barely stand grooming Sovey today.  I am a bloodhound, so it probably isn't that strong, but I thought both horses reeked.

On our way back around we saw the fox at the exact spot where Pie threw a wing-ding the other day!  Sovey was perfect but I bet that little fox was what caused Pie to jump around.  

I am so glad we were able to ride around the farm today of all days.   Today, February 9th, was my grandfather's birthday.  Here is the story of how he found our farm for my mother and her horses in 1957.   

Sometimes I flirt with the idea of starting another blog just to outline the wisdom this man passed on to me.  My husband, Brian, never got to meet my grandfather, but his philosophy about life and business and time and money inspire our daily choices.   Another Renaissance Man, my grandfather was an architect, a pilot, a hugely successful businessman (restaurant and motel) a tennis player and a golfer.  He rode horses a little, mainly because he was born and raised on a farm, but he wholeheartedly encouraged his wife and daughter to pursue their passion for horses. Mostly, though, I am in awe of how he figured out how to earn the most valuable commodity ever - TIME. 

My grandfather - 2 years old!

Monday, February 7, 2011

songbirds are singing like they know the score

Today was as perfect as a day could be for me and my sweet horses.  Yesterday was horrid and I was feeling very low, but it all went right today! Here is a photo (cell phone) I took this morning on Pie as we made our way out and around the tennis court.  The birds were singing almost like it was spring!

Yesterday I groomed and grazed each horse, ending with Pie.  Our Sovereign is a smart horse who likes to play tricks when I graze Pie.  I have posted before about his silly antics.  Usually, Pie is good about ignoring Sovereign, but now Sovey has a helper in Foggy.  While I was grazing Pie in the front lawn near the road, Sovey started racing around and whinnying like he was upset.  Foggy thought this was a serious situation and he started racing around too.  This time, Pie believed that there was real danger and stopped grazing and started snorting with his tail high in the air.  Next, he raised his head way up in the air and his heart was beating visibly through his chest.  This is Pie's "pre-freak-out stance" - he is going to blow, you just don't know how it's going to go.  The other two were racing around, screaming in separate pastures.  Pie started rearing and walking on his hind feet toward the barn.  As he got close to Foggy's pasture, Pie became uncontrollable.  He curved his neck tight and round and he kept pawing and snorting at Foggy.  I was hanging on to the lead, but I did not feel confident with his front feet flailing out at me.   I somehow managed to get him back into another pasture.

All of our introductions involving Pie and Foggy so far have elicited a strange "studish" response from Pie which was starting to worry me.  Pie is not a stallion, but I have a history of nutty experiences with stallions that I will have to relay some other time, and I was not thrilled to see Pie acting this way.  As I removed Pie's halter, I was shaken and annoyed.  Since November, my mom has been worried that if we brought Foggy home, he would hurt our boys.  Now that he is here with us, it is apparent that the concern should be quite the other way round.   Working with and around Foggy is like working around a little lamb.  He is tiny and not at all intimidating.  So yesterday afternoon,  as I removed Pie's halter, I have to admit, I was disgusted with his (Pie's) behaviour.  My perception was that he was a big bully, acting all stallion-y and aggressive trying to assert his pecking order in the herd.  I felt that this was normal and part of nature, but I was still sort of mad.  I shut the gate and my mother, who had witnessed the entire circus incident said, "Poor Pie, he is so scared." 

Talk about a light bulb moment for me.  I couldn't see it.  I hadn't seen it, but she was exactly right.  Pie was scared.  And, it hit me all at once, he wasn't just scared about them racing around.  Pie was scared of Foggy!  Pie has been acting weird since Foggy got here because he is afraid of this new horse.  Pie is big and blustery, and I assumed he was acting aggressively so that Foggy understands "who is boss around here."  That is what is so weird about Pie.  He is big and he does tend to throw his weight around about some things, but Sovey makes all the decisions about where they move and graze in the pastures.   Their roles of leadership are blurred, and I knew instantly that Pie hasn't been trying to dominate, he has been frightened. 

I stood at the gate and stared at Pie and all my stupid "stallion" worry just fell away.  I went back into the pasture with him and started brushing him and got him to calm down.  Next, I brought him outside and grazed him quietly.   Then, we retraced our steps back to the barn and forebay and he was perfect no matter what Sovey did to distract him. 

This morning, I got Pie out and  tacked him up.  Sovereign tried his tricks again, but Pie wasn't listening so Sovey stopped.  We rode all around through the frozen snow.  There were bright orange flagmen working on the road, but Pie was not phased.  He was the perfect angel.

After our ride, I introduced Foggy to a new pasture.  I arranged our gates so Foggy shared a gate for the first time with Pie and Sovey.  I did not leave the horses unattended with the shared gate setup because they could put a foot through, but I did allow them some time to get to know each other while I did pasture cleanup.  Pie was wonderful with Foggy.  They all groomed and the brothers made a "Pie sandwich" and everyone was grooming everyone else.  It was adorable and gives a hint that it might all work out in spite of my erroneous worries!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Stroll around the grounds until you feel at home

We have ice here after our storm on Tuesday and Wednesday, but I hate to complain because it is nothing like the snow my blogger friends got in the Midwest.  The horses have managed very well outside, although I did get Pie and Sovey's indoor stalls ready just in case. 

Our training days have been calm and uneventful, which is good.  Before Foggy came, I had started the very initial steps of clicker using targeting with Pie and Sovey.  I used a small, orange cone and they both caught on quickly.  After Foggy got here, I stopped mainly because of the weather causing time constraints, but also because I didn't want to overload the big Pie-Pie's brain.  I am aware that Foggy's arrival is causing some consternation in that quarter.  I use the word "aware" because I observe Pie's furrowed brow as he processes this new addition, but I am not attaching worry (yet) to my thoughts.  Pie has a HUGE heart, but he does bully humans and horses slightly when confused.  After some time, though, he is always open and loving.  It just takes him a little longer and I thought it best to delay clicker for a few days.  Tomorrow, I might try to begin again with all three horses.   

Sovey is having zero trouble with Foggy's presence.  I do not know if Sovereign and Foggy were stabled together at their breeding farm in Ocala.  They were born one year apart (almost to the day) and it is possible they were on the farm at the same time.  Their breeder has passed away, sadly,  but I did talk to his daughter, Sharon, who kindly commented on my blog when Foggy arrived.  I will ask her if they were ever together. 

After my ride on Monday, Sovey accidentally "bumped into" Foggy.  Foggy was out in a pasture near where I was hand-grazing Sovey.  Sovey pulled me over there at a weak moment and what I saw caused me to bust out bawling.  They started exchanging breath, which I expected, but then they started "rolling" their heads all over each other and both had their eyes shut.  I never saw anything like it.  Neither squealed or whinnied or said anything.  Then, they simultaneously put their noses under the other's mane and kept it there and again shut their eyes.  It was very moving.

Today, I walked Foggy all over the driveway and found some grass for him to nibble.  My mother drove up with two carrots and Foggy carefully stuck his head in her car window and daintily tried a carrot.  My carrots in the barn have been frozen (duh) and he hasn't been interested.  This was his first spoiling from Grandma Carrot and I think he has decided that he could get used to this life. 

Foggy is doing wonderfully learning to walk on the lead and hand-graze.  I mentioned that on my last post and I didn't mean to sound like I am some grand horse trainer "teaching" Foggy how to graze and lead.  Of course, these horses know how to do most things when they arrive.  It does take some time, though, to get them to walk at my pace, and graze calmly and stand for grooming and tacking up, etc.  In other words, do these things safely - daily.  Sovereign and Foggy both were raced.  I always say that Sovereign is unflappable because he stood in that starting gate with all its bells and whistles and adrenaline 26 times! Pie never raced at all, which is why he is the greenest of the green about most things.  He obviously was ridden and must have had a few track workouts (I honestly can't picture that no matter how hard I try) but he has put all of that WAY out of his sweet, big head.  Foggy raced 13 times, I believe, so he is somewhere in the middle.  He has the kindness of Pie and the mental quickness of his brother.  I am finding out that this is a winning combination.