Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Four Feet off the Ground

Its been doggone hot here since the middle of last week.

On the one hand, there isn't much activity going on other than trying to stay in the shade or the house -- or an air conditioned office.

Last weekend we escaped the heat: we spend Saturday in San Francisco visiting my son and his girlfriend.  Sunday we hoisted the kayaks onto the top of the Subaru and drove to Bear River Lake.  Snow melt is still rushing into the lake, making the water cold and the lake level very high.  We paddled over submerged picnic tables and fire rings.

The horses are spending the day time hours in the barn where they can escape the sun and the flies.  In the evening we turn them out into their pastures to stretch their legs and their brains.  It gives me the opportunity to work with Tex twice a day and he's been rock steady.  It helps, of course, that he wants to go to the barn for breakfast and to the pasture for dinner.

It has also given me the opportunity to work with Lucy and Jackson on their manners.  Neither of them were doing well with "wait" but instead were diving their noses down to the grass whenever I paused on our walks back and forth.

Lucy was a quick study.  Robin said to me, a while back, "Don't yank on the lead rope; that's abusive.  Instead, make one very strong correction with the whip.  Lucy will jump with all four feet off the ground, but she won't do it again. One clear correction is kinder than continuous, nagging, yanking on her face."  I had to agree.

And she was right.  Lucy dove for the grass and I snapped the whip, hard, on the ground next to me.  Lucy hates whips so I knew I didn't have to touch her with it.  Sure enough, she levitated, landed, and began to piaffe (trot in place).  I looked at her mildly, waited for her to regain her composure, and we walked on.  I carry the whip when we walk, but I haven't had to use it since.  When we halt, she looks at me for permission to graze.  If she is calm and polite about it, I say "Have some."

Jackson was a bit more work.  He's getting with the program, though.  After Robin pointed out to me during one of my lessons, that her horse, Red, was subtly moving me instead of vice verse, I became more aware.  Jackson is a lot like Red.  He's sensitive, enjoys interacting with people, and enjoys seeing what he can get away with.  He never pushes me.  No, no, he would never be that ... obvious.  He just drifts into me as we walk and I used to step away, to alter my course.  Now I pick a path and he has to alter his path to accommodate me.  Its funny to watch him, really. He's so confused.

When he dove for the grass, I snapped the whip -- right in front of his nose.  He jumped back, and with his head high in the air, he gave me his most offended look.  He likes to push boundaries so he tried again a bit later.  This time his nose would have been stung if he hadn't lifted it so quickly.  He didn't try again... for a few days.  The last time he tried to very sneakily drop his head, I wasn't carrying the whip (and he knew it).  I reached behind me and smacked him with the end of the lead line.

Oh.  Hmmm.  Maybe not a good idea.

Its amazing how polite he's become.  I can walk both he and Lucy on a completely slack lead, and they walk quietly beside me, across the green grass, and only eat when I stop and invite them to do so.

Brett has been working with Flash... he brings him into the barn in the morning at liberty.  Flash knows his bucket is in his stall so he's happy to follow Brett there.  In the evening though, forget it.  Brett tried to take him back to the pasture at liberty and Flash decided to turn and go the other way.  It was pretty funny watching Flash amble down the barn aisle while Brett went chasing after him.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Confessions of a Control Freak

I tell my daughter, Camille, that its genetic; that it isn't our fault.  But there it is.  Its my largest character flaw -- and one that has cost me friends over the years.  It is also the source of the conflict that defined my relationship with my father for many years.  Both of us, control freaks.  Not pretty.

Of course, I didn't always recognize this trait as a flaw.  I was pretty blind about it, to tell you the truth.  And, I've only come to the realization that it is the reason I lost some friends, years after the fact.

I'm this strange mix of control, intuition, sensitivity and introversion.  I am consistently an outlier on personality profile tests.  I'm a weirdo.  Its a fact.  About fifteen years ago, I identified the control demon in the course of doing some hard spiritual work, acknowledged it, and began the hard work of controlling that beast.  (It's not easy and I'm not always successful).

What does this have to do with horses you ask?  Everything.

I think control freaks are drawn to dressage.  I could be wrong.  But I know I liked having clear goals, and a training pyramid to follow.  Dressage involves a dance between precision and feel.  It has been a good fit for my personality.

Tex... well, he's a whole different ballgame.  He draws on the intuitive side of my personality and my sensitivity -- that's a good fit.  But, he has good days and bad days and our progress is far from linear.  I struggle with that part.  Its not a training pyramid, its a training trail; a true journey.  There are sunny days and cloudy days; beautiful stretches of trail under the trees with a view of snow-capped mountains, and there are stretches where we trudge through switch backs, on a bare mountain side, under the beating sun.  ...okay, maybe not quite that bad.  But, challenging.

Thank goodness for Robin.  A few days ago, she reminded me that I can't just set parameters with Tex and hold the line.  Tex is a very damaged horse.  He's going to have good days and he's going to have days where its hard to trust.  Really, really hard.

On his good days, I can push on the boundaries of his comfort zone.


On his bad days, I need to encourage him to trust.  Robin calls this "seeking mode."  I want him to be seeking me -- whether its watching me from the pasture or walking towards me.  If I catch him watching me, I throw him a carrot.  I don't require him to walk all the way over to me and stand in a designated place.  If he starts walking towards me, I toss him a carrot.

After two days of tossing cookies, Tex is stalking me.  And, I love it.

This morning, when we brought the horses into the barn to escape the heat and the flies, Flash was first to the gate.  Flash nickered to me, while Tex stood at his flank, a few steps back.  I knew Flash was nickering more for breakfast than for me, but I praised him anyway and gave him a treat and rubbed his face.

Tex had this look like, "What the heck?  He's not your horse.  I'm your horse."

And then he stood perfectly still when I approached and was even a tad greedy about getting his halter and a treat.

I'm not so sure that I'm training Tex.  I think he is teaching me.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Ten Questions

I don't normally participate in blog hops or question lists making the rounds, but I like this one.

It would be fun - and interesting for me - to hear from all of you.  If you don't blog, or don't want to post on this, pick a question or two to answer in the comments.  I'd love to get to know everyone better.

1. What is your earliest, clearest horse memory? 
My earliest horse memories revolve around when I discovered horse stables at the end of a street, a couple blocks from my home.  I found the stable, and started spending all my free time there, when I was about ten years old.  I remember the tall, leggy, black and white horse in a corner stall; the dark palomino stallion with a flaxen mane in a deeply bedded double box stall; a huge black horse (named Blue) that would lunge at you as you walked by his box stall (single, not deeply bedded); and the Shetland pony that I, eventually, was allowed to ride.  I remember the pile of clean wood shavings behind the barn; the stacks of sweet smelling alfalfa stacked to the ceiling in the hay barn where I went to escape the heat; and the coke machine with old-fashioned curvey bottles of ice cold coke.   It was a large boarding stable, probably 50 horses, and I can remember the layout of the property as well as I remember the house I grew up in.

2. Describe the perfect summer day.
I like to be outdoors, and active, but I don't tolerate the heat well.  So, in general, I am not a fan of summer.  I do, however, love the days that we escape to lakes high in the Sierras, with our kayaks and a picnic lunch.

3.  Are you reading anything right now?  Tell me about it!
I'm not reading anything at the moment.  We are up at 5:30 to do chores before the sun comes over the mountain ridge.  After I get home from work we are back outside until dark doing the evening chores.  We typically finish dinner at 8:30 or 9 -- then its a shower and bed.  Although I love to read, I really only have time to lose myself in a book on an airplane or on vacation.

4.  Do you follow a celebrity (horsey or not) that fascinates you?
Nope.  I used to be fascinated by Princess Diana and her sense of style.

5. What is your single largest horse dream or goal? 
Goals change over time.  I think my largest, current, horse dream is to ride Tex bareback.  I'd also like to be able to walk with my horses at liberty, all over the ranch.  I used to have a lot of dressage related goals -- I wanted to ride single tempi changes; I wanted to do a musical freestyle.  Now, I dream about complete connection.  I'd love to have the same connection with Tex that I do with Jackson and Lucy.

6.  If you were at Starbucks right now, what would you order?
Grande, two raw sugar, triple shot latte with chocolate and cinnamon powder sprinkled on top.

7. What is your biggest equine pet peeve?
People who think of horses as tractors.  -- no regard for their physical well being; just riding them into the ground.

8.  With everything going on politically and in the media, do you follow it religiously?  Tune it out? Something in between? 
I have an hour commute each morning and evening and I listen to NPR while I drive.  Other than that, I don't follow the media.  I am interested, but also often repelled, by what I hear.  Not a Trump fan.  I didn't like him as a real estate mogul, reality TV dude, or attention grabbing celebrity.  I like him even less now.  If that's possible.

9. If you had to show your horse to a song, what would you choose?
The horse would be Lucy.  She's an elegant horse...  And I love Bach.  I think Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring (Ode to Joy) captures how I feel when I am riding her; in those moments when we are in perfect harmony and sync.

10. What are you most looking forward to this summer?
Kayaking.  A visit from the kids in August.  It's hard for me to put "look forward to" and "summer" in the same sentence.


Monday, June 12, 2017

An Unplanned Test for Tex

Tex has been moving back and forth between being brave and not-so-much.  Honestly, I was getting a bit frustrated, annoyed, perplexed, tired.  I couldn't decide if Tex was stepping back and choosing not to engage because of fear or chutzpah.

So, I called Robin.  One of the cool things about my clinic with Robin is that I can still access her wisdom post-clinic.  She is continues to be my trainer, although my lessons are now conducted via telephone.  I asked her why Tex is blowing me off more -- because he doesn't seem scared and he isn't rude; he just chooses to step out of reach when I approach.  I thought he was playing alpha games with me.  But, its more complicated than that.

Robin reminded me that Tex's behavior of avoidance has served him well for many years.  It has protected him from contact with people -- who have not historically been a good thing for him.  He is learning that we are different; that I bring him good things and that I'm fair.  But, the neurons in his brain need to be re-wired.  Its happening, but its a slow process and there will be times when the old wiring will speak louder to him than the new.  My job is to be consistent and to keep the parameters constant -- good things only come with engagement.

Last week, most of our interactions went like this:  I walk past the pasture.  I have cookies in my pocket (in case).  He sees me and turns to face me.  I go to the fence and call him.  He walks over, but stops a couple feet away; out of reach.  I invite him closer.  He declines.  I leave.  No cookie.

Yesterday, we had some bizarre weather.  In the middle of June, we had a day full of hail storms and drenching rain.  The wood stove burned all day.  We decided to bring the horses into the barn since the stormy weather was expected to last well into the night.

The girls were standing in their run-in shed; basically dry.

Tex and Flash were initially running around their pasture as the hail pelted them, but then they took refuge under an oak where they were shielded from the brunt of the fury.  Jackson was in his round-pen.

Brett and I stood under the barn eaves, waiting for the hail to turn to rain.  When that happened, we went to the boys pasture.  I wasn't at all sure that I'd be able to catch Tex -- between the weather putting him on edge and the past week's un-interest, I figured he would be spending the night under the tree and not in his dry stall with a sheltered run-out.

Brett and Flash left the pasture, closing the gate behind them.  Tex stood near me, watching them go.  I approached him.  He stepped back.  I turned and walked toward the gate.  I heard hoof beats splashing through the mud behind me.  I stopped and turned.  He touched his nose to my hand and I stepped toward him; he backed up.  I walked away -- faster this time.  I felt his nose at my shoulder, walking with me.  Again I stopped and turned.  He stood like a rock while I slipped on the halter and led him to the barn.  Brett had filled the grain bin in his stall with alfalfa cubes so got a nice reward when I slipped off his halter in the stall.

And, I ran inside and called Robin to tell her the good news.  Its a long journey with Tex, but we are making good, solid, lasting progress.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Trust at Canter

Last weekend I had a lovely ride on Lucy.  I love how easy it is to ride her when we are both fit.

We spent quite a bit of time at trot and canter.  We cantered to the left first and she felt great.  She was round and didn't rush at all.  I was able to concentrate on following with my hands (I tend to be rigid and constrictive) and we were both very happy.

We took a walk break and then I changed direction.  Lucy knew what was coming (CANTER!!!) and she was ready.  We had to delay the transition a few times because as soon as I thought, "maybe after the corner," she was all Miss Anticipation.  So I changed my mind and waited.  And waited.

Finally, she stayed relaxed and I asked.

Canter!! Wheee!

Um, Lucy, its not necessary to race around the court like its the Kentucky Derby or something.  Slow down and relax.

But.... CANTER!  We're cantering!

So, I took a firmer contact.  And Lucy got pissed.  She does not like to be held; she gets claustrophobic.  So she got stronger.  And so did I.  My bad.

We came back to trot and I thought about how I was going to manage this.  Then we went back to canter and I was careful to walk the line between contact and holding/ bracing with my hands.  She was still trying to haul buns, but I used my core -- a tightening in my abs while sitting deep and tall -- to ask her to slow the heck down.  She complied and we had some very nice canter.  Finally.

I need to trust Lucy and follow.  She does listen to my core and my seat.  I just have to remember that; and trust.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Who's in Charge Here, Anyway?

Tex has been a bit different this past week.

He's been subtly trying to get the upper hand.  I've watched him do this with Flash in the pasture.  A little push here, a little nudge there, and pretty soon Tex is herding Flash around.  Tex doesn't make a big bold move; he nibbles at the edges.

And I'm onto him.

It started with him backing away from me, wanting me to come to him.  It didn't work; I just left the pasture and he missed out on treats.  He also started getting cautious about me standing close to him, flinching, and jumping back.  Again, I left.

In the mornings, when I bring him his vitamin bucket, I'm not dumping it in his feed bin.  I'm holding it, or sitting on the edge of the bin with it in front of my feet.  He doesn't like it, but he eventually eats.

(I'm also increasing his dose of Quiessence).

The pulling back and startling is being done with the intent of getting me to move where he wants me to go.  It doesn't work that way.  I move him; he doesn't move me.
I'm sitting in the back of the trailer.  He's not too sure about that.

Sunday we spent a lot of time together.  We practiced approaching the back of the open trailer.

We practiced lining up at the mounting block (on a lead rope, no tack), we practiced standing on the mats at the tie rail -- and he got treats at each place, with some hand grazing under the oaks in between "work" sessions.

By the end of the day, he had given up on flinching or moving me around.

For the moment.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Its Hard to Wait

With Tex, I work a lot with "draw."

With Jackson and Lucy, I don't have any problem with "draw."  They both are learning "pause."  This is particularly hard for Lucy -- a pushy, dominant, princess mare.
Left to right: Pistol, Jackson and Lucy
I use pause when I am walking Lucy and Jackson between pastures, or the barn, or just hand grazing.  Basically, they are not allowed to drag me around and graze at will.  I choose where we walk, and I choose when they graze.  Of course, I make sure that the spots I choose are superior to those that they see.
Pistol is in heat again... Jackson continues to be a bit confused.

Jackson has always been a bit rude.  Before he was retired, I didn't tolerate it and he stopped (with me; he still tested everyone else).  After he was retired, I got lax.  He has been retired for six years -- so he's back to being pretty rude.  Fortunately, it only took one reminder for me to establish the ground rules.  We walk; I stop; he waits for me to say "have some," and then he grazes.

Lucy is a bit more work.  We walk.  We stop.  She dives for the grass.

"Wait." I say, in a firm voice.

She dives for the hay.  I repeat, while correcting with either the whip touching her nose, or a yank on the lead rope (if I forgot to carry the whip).

She raises her head and looks away from me in disgust.  When she turns to me, I say "have some."

She understands, but she'd rather not comply, so we repeat this a lot.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Another Chicken Massacre

No gruesome photos.  No photos at all since this occurred at 10pm.  Lucky you.  Not so lucky us.

The chicks had a grand time on Saturday and Sunday, running in and out of the hen house and exploring the chicken run.  After the last massacre, Brett put chicken wire along the sides (sunk into the ground) and across the top.  Some teeny tiny birds squeeze through the wire, and squirrels tunnel in, but other than that nothing gets into the chicken area.

Or so we thought.

Last night I was sitting on the couch, with my feet up, working a puzzle on my iPad and thinking about heading upstairs to bed.  It was quiet outside, with just the sound of crickets and frogs drifting in through the open window.  And then, the sound of chicks chirping joined the crickets -- and then the chirping got very loud.  Odd... the chicks should have been inside the hen house fast asleep.

I assumed one had gone out into the chicken run and couldn't get back in (it is a bit of a jump from the ground to the ledge of the pop-hole in the hen house door).  I put on my clogs and grabbed a flash light, ready to find and rescue the chick.

The beam of the flashlight revealed a skunk, leaping (they don't run, they leap like deer) from one end of the run to the other, chasing chicks.  Chicks were flying through the air, bundles of white, yellow and orange fluff.  I opened the chicken run gate and rushed in (I know, I'm lucky I didn't get sprayed), shouting at the top of my lungs for Brett and screaming "GET OUT!"  It didn't; and Brett wasn't coming -- so I ran back towards the house.  I saw Brett coming around the corner of the garage.

"Are you okay?" he called.

"No! A skunk is attacking the chicks."

The conversation continued as we rushed back to the chicken area.

"How did it get in?"

"I have no idea."

The skunk was gone.  And there were chick carcasses littering the ground.  We opened the hen house door and saw more dead chicks.  We found a few live chicks here and there, and then a group of eight or so huddled in the far corner of the run.  I carried them into the hen house, and locked the door -- with the pop-hole shut.  Between counting the dead chicks as we put them in a bag, and counting the live chicks as I picked them up and moved them, we completely lost count.

I think we lost six chicks.  I counted eleven in a dog pile in the corner of the hen house this morning.  They were clamboring over each other -- so it was very hard to count.

We were up at 5am, first light, to get a better look at the chicken pen.  We discovered how the skunk got in.  It moved the mango and grapefruit sized rocks that blocked the gate, and dug a hole under the gate.  Brett sunk a board and some rocks this morning, and secured them with stakes so they can't be moved.  We like to keep the pop-hole open in the summer when the nights are warm, but we won't be doing that anymore.  At least, not until the chicks are full grown.

The two existing hens were roosting on the top rung of their roosting ladder.  They didn't move a muscle.  They are survivors, those two.

This mountain living, on the edge of the wilderness, is beautiful -- but it sure is difficult.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Turn 'em Loose

The chicks, that is.  They are getting big, to the stage where they look more like dinosaurs than chicks.  Last weekend, with the help of some friends who were up for an oak tree demolition work day, we moved the brooder box into the hen house.

We knew that the weather was going to be warm and that, combined with the chicks having grown out some feathers, meant that they would be okay without a heat lamp.  It took four of us to carry the box, one on each side, and even so we had to stop and rest a few times.  The chicks, inside, were chirping like mad.  Another person walked with us carrying the chick's waterer and the bricks on which it sits.

The brooder box has been sitting in the hen house since then, getting used to the sights and sounds of life with the two hens and whatever other critters visit (squirrels tunnel into the area regularly).  We wanted the hens to be bored with the whole idea of chicks before we let them loose.

We lifted the chicks out of the box, where they promptly huddled together in the corner.

A few hours later, the chicks were starting to spill out the door of the hen house into the run.  They didn't venture far.  The two hens were on patrol.

Periodically, one of the hens chased the chicks back inside and then ran around inside, squawking at them.  As soon as she left, the chicks spilled back outside.

It seems to be going very well.  And the chicks are endlessly entertaining.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Jackson is Improving

Jackson is doing much better, thanks to his multitude of medications and fancy new aluminum shoes with pads.

When we first started him on the meds, he stood by the window of his round pen with his head drooping and didn't take an interest in much of anything.  I read that depression is a common side effect of pergolide and would resolve within a few days, which it thankfully did.

With all his medication mixed together, it equals about a quarter cup of powder.  It was too much to mask in food so I gave up on that pretty quick.  Jackson is our pickiest eater, by far.  Fortunately, he is also the easiest to medicate with a syringe.  I bought a big jar of applesauce and use a couple spoonfuls of that as the base.  I add the powdered meds and a bit of water, then mix it up thoroughly.  It resembles pancake batter in consistency, except that it is a lovely shade of brown.

Next, I load it into a great big syringe and squirt it down his throat.  Then I give him a carrot or a cookie.  I repeat this three times -- I told you its a lot of meds.  He doesn't mind it (way better than wormer), and looks for the treat.

Now that everything is dry, he is also spending time outside in the back arena.  I put him out in the evening and bring him back into the barn in the morning.  He always rolls first.  Lately, he's also been adding some bucking and rearing moves to the repertoire.

He gets his medication slurry in the morning.  In the evening, he gets some senior feed with two tablespoons of one of the meds, and then he wears special bell boots during the night that create heat and increase circulation to his hoofs.

It's a lot to manage, but he's definitely improving and he loves all the attention.