Sunday, January 29, 2012

You know that I told her, I'd do what I can

I turned 45(!) on Thursday and one of my favorite gifts was from Lazarus and his mommy, Kristen, over at sweet horse's breath. Inside was a fabulous T-shirt that said "I Love Off-Track-Thoroughbreds" but instead of a heart, Kristen ingeniously used a heart red silhouette of a racehorse. Perfect!!!!  

Kristen has a new etsy shop and she is selling her great T-shirts there. Her shop is called kokoshell and you can visit by clicking here.

When I opened my package the shirt was pretty big and I couldn't figure out how I was going to "model" this for her. Then, I realized that she sent a big one for our cold temperatures - I could wear many layers underneath. It ended up that I needed to wear some jackets over top too. I took them off at our "photoshoot" and draped them over Foggy. When I saw the pictures later I could not stop laughing because my jacket looks like short little legs hanging over the saddle. It reminds me of Tim Conway as Dorf.

Foggy was a wee bit antsy about our picture taking. I will try again another day with the photogenic Pie. I don't know if I posted about this before, but Pie was one of the prize WINNERS of the MOO sticker contest I entered in the summer! 

Kristen, it is a fabulous shirt even if these photos are silly!!!!!

Poor Foggy!!! I don't yank like this on the reins normally! I was trying to get him to face my mom so she could get a good picture. Brian just now said, "That's a funny look" referring to my Ninja headgear so I shouldn't have worried about where Foggy was facing!  What a disaster! We are the half-put-together-gang on our farm.  

 Foggy says, "No more pictures! Let's nibble some grass - yum!"

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers

Here is a Sovey head photo from today. He looks like his father, Suave Prospect (below) I think.

I am sorry to report that our Sovey boy was not very good today on our ride. He uncharacteristically rushed throughout the whole affair. His legs were walking, but his upper body felt like it was trotting. His head was bobbing, working to walk FAST.  When he did trot up hills, he made that gelding sheath sound that means he is very nervous. 

In this photo you can see that the offending equipment from the other day was moved by the farmer, so there was no reason for the identical pricked ears. Two things were unfortunate about this afternoon's worried ride (three things if you count that the early sunshine disappeared behind clouds). First, I was on bareback again and Sovey was nervous for the entire ride, not just for brief moments like the other day. I would have preferred to have a saddle for such tension. Second, Sovey had a big bite gash on his face. I put Neosporin on it and checked to make sure the bridle would not hit it. Typically, Sovey is so calm that the bridle rarely comes into play at all. Today, though, my bareback seat and his freaky behavior made me worried that the bridle might bump his cut. 

My mom usually walks along when I ride but she was playing tennis today. I think Sovey gets used to her presence more than the other horses do. He treats her like the lookout horse and falls asleep on rides when she is along. He was on his own this time, so it was a rush job complete with nervous teeth chomping. No fun for either of us. Broke my #1 rule - the horse should enjoy the ride as much as the rider or what is the point? I don't think Sovey had fun. Back to small strolls, to and fro, around the outbuildings and trees and shrubbery, close to the barn for my next Sovey ride, sans mom. That always helps him forget his herdbound nervous tendencies.  

Warning:  I am going to post a photo of the cut below to show how close it was to the bridle. Don't look if you are squeamish. There is Neosporin all over it which makes it look worse than it actually is. I keep the Neosporin company in business with all the reindeer games my geldings get into. (Sorry about the prepositions ending sentences - too tired to fix!) Pie is a hock biter when playing and a butt biter when he isn't playing. The butt bites tell everyone where to stand and where not to stand. He only warns first, but if they don't move, then his second bite is real. The Brothers January, though, are head and face and neck jabbers. They like to play with each other best. Pie is just too rough. The brothers stand perfectly still - their feet don't move but they twirl their heads around and around playing and biting and jabbing each other. I believe Foggy to be the instigator which is amazing really, because Sovey could really hurt Foggy if he wanted to be mean. This is what Foggy did to Sovey today. These heal very quickly and don't seem to scar, thank goodness!

Our snow is melting making everything muckier than before. As I walked into the ring and sunk up to my arse, I was thinking that our little farm has become like the state of Florida. You think Florida is shaped like this:

 but you are wrong. There is not that much land at all. Because of the Everglades, it is really shaped like this:

When I fell into the mud in what was formerly known as our ring pasture, I realized that the Pennsylvania maps will have to be changed soon to accommodate the new swampland in south central Pennsylvania - our sweet,  Honeysuckle Faire Swamp!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Happy 7th Birthday, Found in the Fog!

Happy Birthday, Little Fog, today you are 7 years old!!!!  This isn't actually Foggy in the photo above. It is the baby, Pie. He is still 6 years old so that means we have a 6, 7, and 8 year old - one of each!  Pie, the baby and the biggest, will be 7 in May.  

I had a great ride on the birthday boy, Foggy, but we had our ride on Friday before the snow. He was nervous and anxious in the cross ties but rode like the dream he is.

Pie had to have the ride today because he was full of himself. Maizie has a tennis match this afternoon so only one boy could have a ride and it was the Pie.  He was perturbed that there was no grass for grazing post ride, poor honey. He is starving, you know!

Maizie's match is indoors! Pie walked across the court and sniffed the net. Silly boy.

Our snowy trail was gorgeous today.  All the snow buys me mud-free time. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

What a drag it is getting old

I hope sweet Sovey doesn't think it is a drag getting old because today was his 8th birthday!  Hooray! He does however think farm equipment abandoned in our field is a drag...

 I never saw his ears so pointy...

His head was in my lap in this picture and his heart was beating right out of his chest. I was on bareback and I could feel his worry. My mom is walking toward us in these photos, but Sovey is only looking at that contraption. I phoned the farmer and asked him to retrieve the offending machinery. He said he has a flat tire, but will get to it soon. It was a fun training device in November. Not so much fun now with our chilly temperatures. 

This is more like my Sovereign boy - bored and annoyed with all the birthday boy picture taking. No pretty ears up here. We walked through the woods and a fat deer jumped out at us. Sovey just sighed, "Ho hum. I am not afraid of that silly deer. But, big orange hay rakes are scary!"

Today was 22 degrees but SUNNY and no wind!  I had on my Carhartts and Sorels - with two layers of pants and four tops underneath. Snuggly warm.  

And here is a Mother's Little Helper - muddy Foggy grazing later in the day. He will be the 7 year old birthday boy in a few days!  My January birthday brothers. Sigh.

Here is chubalicious Pie with his mud beads. I groomed every speck of mud off all three boys. They each went back in the pastures and rolled.  What is the point? And (!) how do they find wet, goopy mud when it is below freezing? It does give me a workout though and I stay warm.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Sunspots have faded

Thank you dear blogging friends for all the great ideas, kind words and encouragement after my last post. We are in a deep freeze right now, so the mud has become frozen. Our temperatures are supposed to go to 50 at the weekend, so I will be employing the many great suggestions.  

As the days stretch on and I get used to the pastures and their current appearance, I am realizing that some of my reaction stems from my own lack of light. It was quite a shock to return from the "Sunshine State" to "Sunless State" - Pennsylvania. We have nice sun in PA for a few hours a day, but then the clouds return and it can get depressing fairly quickly.

To buoy my spirits, I rode my fat boy, Pie, today after lunch. The first few minutes were in sun, but then the clouds moved in. It was windy and cold (25 degrees) and I wore my Carhartts and Sorels and used a saddle! Pie was very good in the woods and only threw a few bucks at the end when leaves rustled behind us. My reins were twisted and ended up over his right ear (!) but I recovered and had him walk out like a sensible boy for a few minutes after the upset. We ended on a great note and I was so proud of him. He is a loose cannon at times, but it is obvious that he wants to do so well for me. He LOVES it when I say "Good Boy" almost more than treats. Almost.  

Speaking of treats, the photo at the top is from a February 2009 post when Maizie and I baked Thoroughbred Yummies in preparation of Pie and Sovereign's arrival. Tonight I am baking similar little cupcake/molasses treats for Sovey with his Mag Restore hidden inside.  Kristen of Sweet Horse's Breath kindly linked me to TB at X's blog post that talks about the benefits of balancing magnesium in ouchy horses like Sovereign. Sovey is a pill to groom and tack. His tenderness is caused by something that I haven't discovered yet. In the meantime, I have learned to "dance" around him in such a way as to be able to groom and tack effortlessly, but it is odd to have a horse that no one else can even touch when on the ground. (He is a joy to ride!) So when Kristen read this post she thought of Sovey and passed along the info. I ordered the powder and am having a fun time trying to give it to my highly intelligent patient. Tonight's cooking class will be how to secretly deposit two scoops of Mag Restore powder into the middle part of Thoroughbred Yummies!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

I guess the winter makes you laugh a little slower

This photo is of Pie last February in the mud.

And here is one of the boys in May.

I am posting these to help myself remember how frustrated I was last winter with the mud and my pastures. But, grass does come back over the summer. I need to remember this because I am very depressed right now about the state of our pastures.

I am usually very optimistic, but my return from Florida this year has left me with little hope within a sea of positives. My horses are fat and furry. They are in large pastures that wind around and encourage movement. They are outside 24/7 which seems to me to promote good digestion and good mental health. I am pleased with their weights, even Foggy. Their coats are fluffy and seem adequate for nighttime chilly temperatures.  That is all the good news. And it is very good news. I want to enjoy these nuggets of good and be grateful for them. My horses didn't colic or get injured when I was gone. They didn't need a farrier or vet visit the whole time. I devised a safe system for my farm helper to put them inside their stalls if necessary, but it wasn't necessary at all. I should be ecstatic. And, I have ridden each of them this week and they were perfect. In fact, I rode them all bareback!  I rode Pie the first day with a saddle, but now he is safe and I rode him yesterday bareback too. 

So where is the problem?

I don't think my horses look happy in the pastures like they once did. There I said it. This is where I lose my mind in a circle of worry and self doubt.

The entire fenced area looks like sacrifice pasture. It is all mud. All of it. I understand the concept of pasture rotation and pasture management. I also understand the opposite view, that of the Paddock Paradise paradigm which points to the rotation system as a recipe for lush green grass and colic/founder traps. Which is really correct? My horses aren't fat little Nordic ponies that founder on a blade of grass, but Thoroughbreds can colic and founder too and rotation from sparse pastures to rested ones would require 15 minute incremental increases of grazing time every pasture change. I don't live on the property and I do not want to toy with their healthy (so far) digestion.

My only electric source/water source that keeps a trough perfectly ice-free for the horses is in the muddiest of our pastures. And, Sovereign likes to swim daily in that bucket, splashing water in the already muddy area. We have other buckets around, but they are unheated and need constant attention. Sovey also swims in them. Pea gravel is in the future, but proper preparation would be necessary to ensure drainage and save the pea gravel from disappearing in the sucking mud.

The horses used to eat small piles of hay as their primary source of food and then wander around all day nibbling grass. They seemed mentally healthy in all that movement and entertainment. Now, there is no grass to nibble. They stand aimlessly for hours looking toward my mom's house or our farm helper's house waiting for the next feeding of hay or hand grazing session from me, just like the poor burros in Jaime Jackson's Paddock Paradise book.

They love the grazing and grooming and riding sessions, but I am only one person and it takes me 2 hours to do that well with each horse. I can give 6 hours some days, but everyday just isn't realistic. If they were happily moving in their pastures I would be able to spend 2 hours with one horse a day and then alternate the next day with another horse. That is how it is supposed to work. That is how it was working. Now, it seems to me like they are over anxious to get out of the pastures and very hesitant to go back in after a ride. This just wasn't the case before.

Our area received record rainfall this year. Is this what happened? Or did Foggy's arrival tip the balance of my pasture to horse ratio? Paddock Paradise owners scrape the top layer of grass off to get to the mud!  Should I applaud our mud? Am I just letting my former "horses need wide, green pastures" sensibilities over take me?

I seriously am losing my mind. When I arrive each day, I think my horses look like they are in zoo cages. I never thought that before because they were always so busy. I used to have trouble finding them because they were out somewhere having a good time. Now, they are standing in the mud waiting for me. 

Animal ownership is a tenuous balance to my brain anyway. I constantly live on the edge of questioning what is in it for them. That is how I am hardwired and this type of worry isn't new to me. For the first few years of re-entry into the horse world, though, I felt very pleased with what I was providing. Our last year of rain left me wondering about it all - even in summer our grass was a mirage from the road. It looked like it was green, but when you walked through the pastures, it was just tiny nubbins of baby thin grass in dirt. 

When it rains, like last night, it rains in inches. So, I put the horses inside the barn all night last night. I thought they probably needed a break from standing in muck. Their sheds are dry and bedded well, but they have to walk through a few feet of mud to get into them. 

Am I just a stupid human?  Did they hate their night inside due to boredom and stale air and the lack of proper walking movement? Would they have been just fine - no, better - in the mud?  These are the questions I have been wrestling with since the summer and all has come to a head since my return from Florida.

I dreaded posting about this because writing it down just makes me succumb to the worry all the more. I am hopeful you all can help with your solutions/ideas.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

pretty, pretty boys, that she calls friends

Pretty, pretty geldings...and mares that I call friends. 

Last night I finished reading my grandmother's diary from 1959. She was 39 years old.  This was the fourth and final one (1955, 1956, 1957, and 1959 - she didn't keep one in '58) and one underlying theme is that my grandmother was obsessed with horses.  I never really knew this about her. Of course, I knew she loved our horses. She fed them and watered them for us and gave them carrots and apples daily. But her horse routines that I witnessed seemed rather perfunctory. She loved animals so she had to care for animals which meant a daily "job" that she did willingly and punctually, but I didn't get that she did it happily. Somewhere in time she seemed to have lost the joy that her diaries convey.

My family boarded their horses in those days and my mom was in middle school. Therefore, my grandmother didn't actually have to go to the barn until after my mom was home from school, yet entry after entry tells of her cleaning the house quickly in the morning and then going to the barn to clean the horses and sometimes even ride. My grandmother was a beginning rider her entire life, never fully conquering her fear, but I can see when there are long stretches of consecutive grooming days, that she would feel close to the horses and gain confidence enough to ride, first for 10 minutes, then 20, then for a half hour.  Weather or activities would stop the streak and then she was back to just grooming. 

Her words tell of an insistence, an excitement that I share now in my life and I never knew she had. 

Recently, I have been savoring this feeling. The silly, giddy, pure joy of horses. I don't know what to compare it to except maybe the adrenaline of a first crush. I adore cleaning tack now - something I loathed when I showed. It was a chore then, like an unrelated task that my teenage mind couldn't see as important. Now, it is a connection with them, the regal ones. I lay my tack proudly across our dining room table and put on music and assemble my saddle soap and neatsfoot oil and just wallow in the smell of horse and leather. I pray and say thank you to the poor animals (cows?) who gave their skin for my saddle and reins, purchased 30 years ago and kept all these years so as not to diminish their sacrifice.  

I felt like I had a big secret when we drove down to Florida and I could smell my tack in the back of the van. The smell that meant the promise of horses when we arrived. I will feel that same surge on the way home when I smell Max's horsey smell on my tack every time we open the van tailgate. I will wonder how I can wait 1000 miles to see my three boys.

I empty my pockets at night and giggle when I discover, mixed in with the coins and hair ties, carrot stubs and horse treat crumbs.

I proudly go to the grocery store and clomp through the aisles in my wellies with the telltale signs of bareback riding on my jeans - something I would have died of embarrassment about as a kid. I don't know if my grandmother would have gone that far, but I do know that she never minded looking "horsey" in the horse sneeze on her sweater sense, not in the crisp, refined, "dress to the nines" hunt clothes sense. 

I hope I never lose this thrill, the giddy "I've got a secret" feeling of being a horse owner, a rider. I know that farm chores sometimes rob me of it. Don't get me wrong, I love cleaning stalls and feeding because it is for them, my sweetie pies. It is the farm management - planning, worrying, organizing, ordering, that becomes a bit off topic to the joy for me. Leasing this year in Florida helped me revisit the bliss without the management responsibilities. Is that what happened to my grandmother?  My grandparents moved the horses and themselves to our farm around 1960 and maybe some of the "horse" part was buried under all the "farm" part of my grandmother's days. I don't know. She is gone now and I can't ask, but I am going to strive this year to keep her horse joy in the fore of my mind.