Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas

The snow situation is improving, it's only around a foot high now. I was able to get the gate open, too. No more climbing over with a bucket full of wet beet pulp. Tomorrow's forecast calls for rain, which should melt away most of the icy stuff. I suppose most people would be upset about rain and gloom on Christmas Day, but I care more about not wading through a snowy mess. The only downside is that everything will probably turn into a soaking wet mess. Oh well, I guess that's the price I'll have to pay.

The high today was around 40 F, so I took the boys blankets off for a bit. They took the opportunity to soak up some sun. Hopefully Vinny isn't too wet, I'll have to towel him off before I put his blanket on this evening.

All the horses got carrots in their beet pulp this morning. They'll get the same for dinner and breakfast tomorrow. I might even add in a few of the pears I have for tomorrow. It is Christmas, after all. The humans are having a special meal, it's only fair that they get a little something, too.

Oh, I keep forgetting. SprinklerBandit asked if I took the picture of Spider in one of my last posts. I did, thank you. I take all the pictures for my blog, unless of course it's a picture of me on a horse. Obviously it would be hard to take a picture of myself on the horse while on the horse. My husband takes the pictures of me on the horse. I have little talent as a photographer, but I do have a very nice camera and access to digital editing software, which makes up for my lack of talent. I learned long ago that the secret to photographing animals and children is to take as many pictures as possible and then edit them to death.

Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas from Me, Spider, Vinny, Matilda and The Chickens!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Still Snowed In

But it seems Matilda has made a new friend. Yes, that is a chicken in her food bowl. Apparently chickens like beet pulp. There is a picture of a chicken on the bag, as well as a llama, a pig, a cow, a horse and a ferret. Apparently every animal likes beet pulp. Who knew?

Spider, being Spider, has decided he does not like to eat in his stall. He takes his meals outside in the snow. " Al Fresco", as they say. This means that in order to feed him I have to trudge through the snow and climb over the gate, which doesn't open because of the giant snow drift behind it. He is a very good human trainer, I hardly even mind the extra work. I am fully aware that it's all about Spider.

Vinny doesn't mind eating in the stall. Vinny doesn't really care where he eats, so long as he eats. Typical Warmblood!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Well, It Isn't Raining!

We've gotten around two feet of snow since Friday night. I'm not sure exactly how much it was, but it was enough to completely bury the round muck tubs I use as the horses water tubs. The weatherman is saying this is one of the heaviest snows in 100 years. The snow is up to the horses knees, and up past Matilda's belly. I suppose I won't be lunging her for a while.

Saturday was actually the worst, it snowed hard all day. The chickens left the coop in the morning when there was only around 6 inches of snow. By the time dusk rolled around we had well over a foot of snow on the ground and they couldn't get back to the coop. I spent an hour wading through snow finding and rescuing them.

The boys are faring well, they're both tall so the snow doesn't bother them too much. They seem to like eating it, no worries about dehydration here. I wonder if they've been warned about the yellow snow......

Needless to say, we did not get around to pony-proofing the fence this weekend. So Matilda is still living in the chicken coop. I thought she would have trouble getting around, but she's managed to wear down little paths through the snow. Clever pony.

It's supposed to rain on Friday, hopefully that will melt all this wretched snow. Until then, I'm not getting much done besides trudging along.

Happy Solstice!

Friday, December 18, 2009

It's All About Spider

Spider is probably one of the strangest horses I've ever worked with. He's a good horse to work with: kind, great work ethic, sensitive and athletic, but some of his personality quirks are just plain odd. People who know him have classified him as needy, co-dependant and histrionic, as well as several other less flattering descriptions. For the most part his odd behavior doesn't bother me much. He works hard for me, so I can overlook the weirdness. Unfortunately, when I need to work with a horse other than Spider, his "quirks" start to get old quick.

You see, Spider is sort of a one person horse. He hates people he doesn't know well, won't let them near him. I have to personally "introduce" him to people so that he'll accept them. I guess I never have to worry about him being stolen. He also takes on the personality of whoever is handling or riding him. It's great for lessons, he's sort of like a tattle-tale. If the person on him is calm and confident, Spider is calm and confident. If the person on him is tense, Spider is tense. If they get scared, Spider gets scared. However, he never really gets comfortable in lessons or sessions with a trainer. He would much rather have someone he knows on him or handling him. It makes him more comfortable to have "his" person with him.

For now, the person he's decided is "his" is me. Which is a great thing when I'm working with Spider. Spider would do anything for me, all I have to do is ask. Loose in the pasture, he follows me like a puppy. I can direct him around with nothing more than gestures. Great, right? He will also beat the crap out of any other horse that comes near me if I let him. I don't pretend to know what his motivation is. Perhaps he sees the two of us as his "herd" and feels the need to protect the herd, or maybe he doesn't want to share attention with the other horses. At any rate, in order to do anything with the other horses I have to chase him away, and watch him, as he will sneak back up if given the opportunity. Since the other horses usually only get groomed once a day, I've never really seen the need to get to the root of the problem. I just make him stand back and ignore him.

Now that I've started working with Matilda regularly, Spider is really letting his freak flag fly. He really could care less that Matilda no longer lives in the pasture with him, but when it comes to me taking her out to groom and lunge he throws an absolute fit. We're talking about running the fence, banging the gate, screaming, crying toddler-worthy fits. He behaves this way when the farrier visits, also. Not when he sees the farrier, he's quite happy and content to be away from the others when it's his turn. But when Vinny gets taken out, the fits start. It's sort of embarrassing. I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like it from a horse. I've seen herd sour horses behave this way, but since he doesn't care where Matilda is when she isn't with me I don't know that I'd call it herd sour. Unless he thinks I'm his herd, but then he doesn't care if I go in the house, only if I'm paying attention to the other horses and not him.

I hate to anthropomorphize, but if we were talking about a human I would call his behavior jealousy. Behavior really boils down to a few simple motivations: fear, aggression and reproduction. But since humans love to over-complicate things, we've come up with a thousand shades of grey to describe our "emotions". Horses do not over-complicate things, so Spider's motivation is fear, aggression, reproduction or some combination of those. Right now I'm working off the hypothesis that's it's herd sourness centered on the wrong herd (me). So I'm treating it like I would any other case of herd sourness: keep doing what I'm doing and ignore the offender. The only problem is that, after 15 minutes or so, a screaming, crying, banging horse starts to get really annoying. Did I mention that the gate faces the ring? It's actually right next to the ring, so Spider can cry and have his fit right next to me, up close and personal. I find it takes all my willpower not to throw the whip at him.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Why Is That Pony In The Chicken Coop?

Well, the mud finally dried, but now the ground is frozen again. I'm sorely regretting not building my arena last fall. I don't think I'll be getting much done with Spider for a while. Luckily, I've found a new, training prospect: Matilda the pony! I call her a pony because it's easier to say (and spell), but at 29 inches high at the wither she's technically a miniature horse. She's much too small for me to ride, but she lunges just fine, so we've been working on that. The person I bought her from said she rode and drove, I saw her ridden before I bought her, but did not get a chance to see her pull a cart. It wasn't a huge priority, anyway, seeing as I don't have a cart. However, I'm thinking that since she drives, she probably long-lines. I just need to get a surcingle that fits her. I tried the horse sized surcingle on her and it almost fit (Matilda is a little plump). I figure a pony sized one should do.

And now to answer the titular question: Why is there a pony in the chicken coop? Well, yesterday morning when I went out to feed Matilda was waiting patiently at the gate to be fed. The outside of the gate. As in: she was not inside the fence, where horses belong. The fence in question is three strand electric rope, with 18 inches between each strand. At 29 inches high, Matilda should not be able to squeeze underneath it. However, I have seen foals get pushed under or through fences by rowdy adults, or get under after rolling too close to the fence. Since there were no breaks in the fence and the charger was working properly, I assumed this was what happened. I checked her for injuries and, upon finding nothing amiss, fed her breakfast. I checked on her a few times throughout the morning, she spent most of the morning napping in the sun. I felt bad for her, who knows how long the poor dear had been trapped outside the fence.

Around noon I saw her pacing the fence. I was immediately concerned, there are many things for a nosy pony to get into in the yard. Could she be colicking? She had nibbled on the bok choy and collard greens in the garden, could those be harmful? Had she gotten into the compost pile? Suddenly there was a crash in the sun room and I had to stop watching Matilda to go find out if the crash had been caused by the dog, cat or child. It turned out to be a combination of cat and child. When I got back to the window, Matilda was nowhere to be seen. I went to the front, no Matilda. Then to the back, no Matilda. Where was that pony?

Then I saw her, she was not in the pasture at all. She was in the yard, grazing on the lawn. Suddenly it became apparent just why she was pacing the fence....she was working up the nerve to go through. Here I had been feeling sorry for her, thinking that the boys had pushed her through the fence and she had gone through herself the whole time! It's a pretty impressive feat, I've been zapped by the fence a few times and it's not pleasant. I've also seen the fence send the boys running several times. I'm guessing Matilda's yak-like coat gives her some protection, either that or she has nerves of steel.

At any rate, I had a real problem on my hands: how do you keep a horse in the fence who seems to be immune to getting shocked? You don't. So I put her in the chicken coop. Actually it's more of a chicken yard. The coop itself is a large garden shed with roosts built into the sides, and the run is more than large enough to accommodate a naughty pony. Best of all, there is absolutely no way for her to escape. *knock wood*.

This weekend we'll be running additional strands of rope between the bottom strands, which will hopefully be enough to keep Matilda in. It's supposed to snow this weekend...Oh the joys of owning a pony!.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Fat Lot Of Nothing

The title refers to what I've managed to accomplish this week. The weather can't decide whether to be freezing or flooding, neither of which is conducive to horse training. Oh well, it's supposed to stay nice (in the 40s F) for the rest of the week, so if the mud dries I'll be able to get something done.

In general news, Vinny managed to cut his eyelid up. I'm pretty sure Spider kicked him, but since I wasn't there I can't prove anything. If Spider did kick him, he deserved it. Last week we had a really hard rain, then freezing cold weather. All the mud froze hard and poor Spider, who's still getting used to being unshod, was having a hard time of it. His feet were pretty tender and he was gimping around and trying to stay in his stall. Knowing that Spider wouldn't defend himself because his feet hurt, Vinny took every possible opportunity to pick on him. When the ground finally thawed, Vinny mysteriously showed up with a cut over his eye. It's not much more than a scrape, not worth a visit from the vet. But I bet Vinny will think twice about picking on Spider next time.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

I'm Going to Have A Lot More Time For The Horses

Recently I wrote a post about my difficulties in trying to juggle my career, my family and my riding. It's a subject that's been eating at me for some time. I simply can't be a good employee, a good mother and a good rider all at the same time. But I've found it impossible to choose what needs to be cut from my life. Obviously my family is here to stay, and they come first. So, by default, I either need to cut out riding or my career. But which one?

I've worked hard and sacrificed a lot for both. I've spent most of my life learning horsemanship, and nearly fifteen years studying dressage. I've poured my mind, my body and my soul into my riding. I've broken my back, my ribs, my fingers and feet learning to handle horses. I've sacrificed so much of my time to the pursuit of perfection that it seems ridiculous to turn away now. But I've also spent years on my education in pursuit of my career, and I have the student loans to prove it. I've fought tooth and nail to earn the respect of my colleagues in what is undeniably a male dominated field. I can now stand toe to toe with the men and be taken seriously. It's no mean feat in the sciences, especially in academia. How can I just walk away from that?

Fortunately, fate intervened to help me make my decision. I am pregnant again. And with that new development, my decision was easy to make. I know I cannot split my time evenly between two children and still maintain a full time job and a horse in training. When I thought about how to spend my time, one question kept coming up over and over in my mind: When will I have time to teach my children to ride? It was then that I realized what is most important to me: sharing my passion for horses with my children. My career does not need me, someone else will step up to take my place. But no one else can pass on my love of horses or my years of experience with them to my children. It was the easiest decision I've ever made.

So this is my last week as a productive member of the workforce. Next week I begin my new career as a broodmare. And it won't be a complete waste of my education, my concentrations were in physiology, neuroscience and behavior. I can think of no better application for that particular skill set than training horses and raising children.

And yes, I will continue riding with my Obstetrician's blessing. As long as the pregnancy is going well and I am within my comfort zone, my OB feels that it's perfectly safe to ride. With my first I rode until about six months along, when my belly started to get in the way I stopped. I'll be long-lining and lunging after I'm too big to get into the saddle anymore. With winter setting in and no indoor, I don't think I'll be training much soon, anyway. From here on out it will just be maintaining the training I have!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Miserable Weather

I hate winter. I have always hated winter, for as long as I can remember. There is simply no magic for me in a snow covered setting. I always think "That looks cold. And wet. How awful" It doesn't help that I grew up in Louisiana. We never had snow and it rarely dropped below freezing. My body is simply not accustomed to the cold, even after ten years in the frigid wasteland that is New Jersey.

So, based on my afore-mentioned hatred of winter, I have gotten nothing done with my horse. We had freezing rain all day Saturday, then Sunday it was bitterly cold. By "bitterly cold" I mean that it was below 50 degrees. Like I said, I'm not very cold tolerant. I suppose I could have done something, maybe a bit of long lining around the puddles, but I didn't want to. It seems Spider will have another week to get used to being barefoot before he starts back into work.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Suprise Visit From the Farrier

My farrier called Sunday to say he was coming out to do the horses. He likes to keep me on my toes with these things. Actually, he comes from North Jersey/PA, so I'm lucky that he even comes to Bumble, South Jersey to do my horses. He often doesn't know when he's going to get out my way much in advance, so I put up with the suprises. It's funny what we'll go through for a good they say, "No hoof, no horse!

In typical Thoroughbred fashion, Spider has rotten feet. Mile long toes and no heels. When I bought him his feet looked like a donkey's, a poorly shod donkey. My farrier has done wonders for the shape of his feet, but kept telling me that what Spider really needed was to go barefoot for a little while. But I just didn't have the nerve. All I could imagine is broken up hooves and an unsound horse. Plus, who ever heard of an unshod competitive dressage horse? I'd be laughed out of the ring. But last winter I finally let Chris talk me into removing just the hind shoes. I was still too chicken to take off the fronts.

Wonder of wonders, Spider's hind feet began to get better. He started to grow heels, the toe wore down and his hooves started to change shape. It was beautiful. He's now been unshod behind for a year, completely sound and has gorgeous feet. So I said to my farrier "I want Spider's front feet to look like his back feet." And my farrier said, "Well, then we have to take off the shoes." I had concerns: would he stay sound, what if his feet wore down too much? Spider doesn't grow hoof very fast, in the summer he can easily go eight weeks without a trim, in winter he can go twelve. Chris assured me that he would be fine, and if it wasn't we could always put the shoes back on. So I made the decision.....we pulled his front shoes. I now have a completely barefoot dressage horse.

I'm giving him this week off, to give his hooves time to toughen up. I think it's going to rain all week anyway. He's on 24/7 turnout, so he moves around a lot. A week should be plenty of time for him to get used to being unshod. So far he doesn't seem sore, we'll see how he goes under saddle at the end of the week. He moved a bit tenderly at first after I pulled the hind shoes, so I expect him to do the same with the fronts off. It might even make him more willing to collect, he'll want to get the weight off his forehand!


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