Saturday, October 29, 2011

lessons in riding, 11

I went out intending to ride, and Keil Bay came right in when he heard me come through the gate, so it felt like he wanted to ride too. But after I fed Salina, checked her in the midst of abscessing hoof, and let Keil Bay into a stall so I could tack him up I saw that he, and all the geldings, had been out rolling and all three were covered in dried mud.

Salina left a bit of her meal, so I added some to it and fed it to Keil Bay. He wishes he needed an extra wet tub a day. He doesn't really, but every now and then I give him one just to show him that I will if in fact he ever DOES need it to keep his weight and nutrition balanced.

He was thrilled with his midday "senior" meal, and I started working on his mud while he ate.

It was cool and windy today and I decided to let the other geldings come into stalls and have some hay out of the wind. They all seemed happy to have some quiet and some individual hay. I realized as I got busy grooming Keil that it was probably one of those days when it felt right to spend a long grooming session than to try and squeeze in a ride. He was enjoying the brushing, and the barn was peaceful with the late afternoon sun coming in the windows, the horses all munching, and the rhythm of the brush felt good to me as well as Keil.

Keil started banging his feed tub around in the manger so I stepped up to take it and let him lick it out. This is a favorite ritual he and I have, and as I lifted Salina's red tub I realized Keil's blue tub had been left in the manger at breakfast and he was banging because some of the midday meal had managed to spill between the red tub and the blue tub but they were stuck together and he couldn't get to the "trapped" portion. I separated the tubs and held them both up side by side so he could lick.

I suspect Keil Bay has never had two feed tubs both with feed in them in front of him inside his stall before. He seemed surprised but not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, so to speak, and he set forth to lick both, taking turns between one and the other. I could literally feel his pleasure. If horses purred like cats, Keil Bay was purring.

I've been doing ground work with him most of this week, and since I'd decided not to ride, I took him out in halter and lead rope to do a repeat of our work. The first day he needed a little urging to keep up with me but the past two days he has been sharp and perfectly focused. Today he was even more focused - clearly trying to anticipate my requests by watching my body. We were walking, trotting, halting, turning, backing w/o any cue passing between us. Keil is big and has a big stride, but he matched me step for step in every transition. It was impressive.

While we were working, Salina came out of the barn and began to graze in the big barnyard. She's moving, but still carefully, and this is the first day she's wanted to graze in about 4. The donkeys both asked to come into the arena, so, as it tends to go around here, my work with Keil Bay ended and some similar work with the donkeys began. Even the pony, who was in his stall with hay, came to his door to watch.

Everyone got groomed and worked and they're back in stalls with hay until dinner time, when they'll eat, get their blankets for the first freeze of the year, and head out to enjoy the cold, clear night.

Might I add that we noticed the sure sign of fall and winter on its way: flies sitting motionless, as if they were frozen in place. It's about time!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

mare magic, part 3

This morning I wrote that Salina had gone up to the barn. When I got out there I realized she had done it b/c the abscess has burst - so no need to stand outside my window where I can see her!

It is draining - but my guess is that the inner "seal" that formed when it healed over 3 weeks ago has not yet cleared. I tried to get her to take a walk in the arena as that always helps loosen things up and get the gunk to clear out once it's open, but she's not quite ready for that yet. I washed with warm water and have put some epsom salt poultice on top with a very light gauze wrap to keep flies away and see if we can draw out the gunk. Need the remedy NOW - but will do an Animalintex wrap later today and see if we can move this along now that it's open.

She feels better but is determined not to walk too much yet. She knows best.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

more mare magic

I wrote recently about Salina's abscessed hoof and how scary it was for me until it burst. After three weeks or so of being completely sound and feeling better than she has in a year, Salina is now suddenly in round two of the left hind hoof abscess.

Interesting though that this time she is not resting in her stall where I commented that not seeing her head in that window was alarming for me.

This time she is resting right by my bedroom window so that I can see her constantly. I have finally put hay and water right there with her since it seems she really wants to be there. She moves around and goes up and down to the barn when she wants to, but she is returning to my window at all times of the day and night.

I was worried yesterday because she didn't eat normally, but this morning she ate her full breakfast and just got a nice shampoo bath of all her legs and hooves so they are clean and less likely to attract the last bastion of flies that have set in here.

I find it amazing that after I wrote the blog post about her window, she has placed herself literally a few feet away from me so that I can check on her with one simple glance.

Send some good energy for abscesses bursting and clearing completely. This one seemed like a doozy in its first incarnation - on both ends of the process. How lame she was and then how completely sound she got when it burst out. I am hoping this is a clearing out of something in response to putting her on jiaogulan and that once her hoof clears itself we'll see her bounce back with some renewed vigor.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

last night on the mountain retreat

On Thursday morning my two teenagers and I packed up, said goodbye to all the November Hill animal crew and husband/dad/solo farmhand, and headed up to one of my new favorite places on the earth. A good friend shared her mountain home for the second time - the first was the writing workshop back in June, and this weekend it's been a wonderful getaway and 3/4 of a family retreat.

We enjoyed the fall color on the drive here, and were absolutely thrilled when we got a few miles from the cabin and spotted what looked like a dusting of snow on neighboring mountaintops. The cabin is as wonderful as it was the first time, and I have loved seeing the rushing creek in its autumn outfit. We've done a little bit of walking, a little bit of riding on the Polaris up the mountain (daughter would not ride with me through sticky places - she got out and walked!), lots of creek watching, and some movie watching on the HUGE screen TV.

It's cold enough we've had the fire burning all weekend.

I've written a chapter in Fiona and the Water Horse, another chapter in Ava Lee's book, and been thrilled to sit here with Cold Mountain in my hands for a re-read. I had forgotten that a 17-hand Hanoverian gelding is in the book. Made me miss the Big Bay and also made me wonder - were there Hanoverians in the U.S. during the Civil War?

Daughter has finished her first research paper, done long exposure shots of waterfalls, and did a model shoot for my son in his ancient Greek garb.

Son has identified trees, gathered some wood samples, taken many photographs, and cooked some meals for us.

Tomorrow we're heading back to November Hill, but on the way we'll take a different route, stop by a favorite place for lunch, and see what else presents itself!

I had a terrible time uprooting from November Hill. It's always hard to leave. We've checked in daily and everyone there is doing fine so far.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Come chat with me and Janet Roper Tuesday night!

Janet Roper, of Talk to the Animals, will be chatting with me about horses, books, life, and who knows what else Tuesday night on her BlogTalk radio show:

GO HERE for the details.

And if you can't join us live, you can always listen to the recorded chat at your leisure!

Knowing me and knowing Janet and knowing the animals on November Hill, I expect this will be a blast in every single way!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The FEI and the No Blood Rule

As I understand it, the current rule is that blood in warm-up or competition means elimination. The FEI is now talking about amending this rule so that if there is blood, a vet on site can examine the horse and clear it to continue competing.

If you feel dressage should not in any way be a "blood sport" GO HERE to sign a petition expressing that.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

western pleasure QH champion 2011

You'll have to wait through the interview to see the world champion QH in western pleasure and his movement. This is what Cody looked like when he came to live with us at age 2. We thought he was almost 4 years old, but when his papers came he was 2 years old! And fully working at walk, trot, and canter under saddle.

His canter was just like this one. It took several years of gentle encouragement to teach him that we did NOT want this kind of mincing, choppy movement. He literally had to be re-taught to move like a horse.

I admit, it was easy to sit. But it looks like lameness to me, not like anything I've ever seen a horse do at liberty.

I'm not trying to pick on the rider of the world champion western pleasure horse. But I'm curious - what do you think of this way of going? I'm not even talking about the training methods or the riding - just the movement.

How does it compare to the canter pirouette and piaffe - my least favorite dressage movements?

Saturday, October 08, 2011

lest you think horses lack intention and empathy

This morning Salina had an appointment with her massage therapist. Salina is 28 years old with one eye, arthritic knees, and I have said many times that she has become the heartbeat of November Hill. There is nothing that happens on this plot of land that escapes her attention. She is my partner. While I am inside, not always alert to the goings-on in the pastures that surround our house, my most trusted way of checking the "temperature" of the herd is to look out the window and find Salina. During the summer in the daytime she is often in the barn with hay and fans, and she seems to know when I look out that I need to see her face. She almost always puts her head out her window at just the moment I glance out needing to know what's going on. I know when things are okay from the way she holds her head and ears.

 At night she will come to my bedroom window and whinny if she needs the help of the humans in the family. There is no mistaking the tone in her call. It means COME NOW.

This morning everyone had breakfast tubs and I had allowed Keil Bay to come to Salina and the donkeys' side of the barn thinking that while Salina got her massage I would groom Keil Bay and get him ready for a ride. I had all kinds of thoughts flowing about what we might do in the ride. I even thought I might take him into the back field and jump a few baby jumps.

But I never got to that point. At the appointed massage hour, Keil Bay went into Salina's stall and planted himself in front of her, head emerging into the barn aisle, clearly waiting for something.

When H. arrived, Keil was ready. Keil Bay loves body work. He loves chiropractic adjustment, loves massage, and basically just loves attention of all kinds. He's the only horse I've ever seen who greets the vet with the same enthusiasm with which he greets almost everyone. He is a horse that will come and wait at his stall door or at the gate if he has an injury. Keil is a horse, but he trusts his people to take care of him. Today it was obvious he was asking for a massage.

Even when I got him out of Salina's stall, thinking he would walk on out of the barn, he stopped, and as if to accentuate the point, Salina came out behind him and lined up - LINED UP - behind him, along with both donkeys. If we had been doing structural family therapy I would have noticed that they were physically, literally, putting him FIRST IN LINE. It was not my most observant moment.

I am embarrassed to say that I did not listen. I stood and to my credit I apologized to him that it was not his turn. With a tighter budget not every horse here is getting regular massages right now, and I have Salina on a monthly schedule mostly because of her age and her infirmities. In my mind she has earned that monthly massage and the relief it brings her.

So I told Keil Bay he would get a turn as soon as I could manage it, and I headed him to the front field gate, which I had left open, and which he had ignored, because as much as he wanted the grass, he wanted that massage more. I quite literally shoved him through the gate, with both my hands on his hind end, and being the good sport he is, he went.

I walked back to the barn aisle expecting Salina to be ready for her massage. It always takes her a minute to relax and give up her role as boss mare, but she generally does it and then goes into endorphin bliss as H. works her muscles from head to tail and back up to her head again. I have seen Salina almost fall to the ground due to the extreme relaxation she experiences from this work. The benefits she gets from it are concrete and measurable.

Today she would not have any part of it. She tossed her head, snapped her lips at me, and tried to walk out of the barn. I fussed at her in English and in German. I tried cajoling her. We walked her to the edge of the barn aisle so she could see out. We tied her. She was absolutely furious and let us know in the most emphatic gesturing I've ever seen her do that she was NOT getting a massage.

Finally, in frustration, I unhooked the lead line and said "What are you trying to say?" She walked out of the barn with as bold and fluid a stride as I've seen her take in months. She headed straight down the grass paddock and began looking down the hill.

I turned to H. and said I would just go get Keil Bay. By this time, he'd gone down the hill to the front field and Cody had come up near the gate. So I said, well, maybe Cody is the one who needs it today. I opened the gate and went to get Cody and he walked up to me and then RAN past me to Salina who was pacing back and forth still looking down the hill.

I went and got Keil Bay. As soon as he was in the barn aisle and H. put her hands on him she said "He really does need this." As she worked, it became clear to both of us that in fact Keil REALLY needed the work. He had many tight muscles and some sore spots. As soon as he was in the barn Salina completely settled down and began to graze. Her agitation simply disappeared. About halfway through the work, she came up and looked in, as if she were making sure he was getting what he needed. I herded her back out, and closed the barn doors so we wouldn't end up with a crowd of equine spectators. She came around to the end stall and stood mirroring what Keil Bay did. He rubbed his eye on my shoulder, she rubbed hers on the stall wall. He shook his head, she shook hers.

And throughout his massage he would turn to look at H. with soft eyes and big yawns and licking and chewing.

Nothing these horses and donkeys do surprises me any more. They are advanced beings as far as I'm concerned, and they share more with me than I ever knew to expect when they came into our lives. What surprises me every single time is how absolutely dumb I can be when it comes to listening to them. As much as I watch and note and look for, as devoted as I am to trying to see what it is they have to say to me, I still miss the most obvious statements. I do my human thing and they try their best to say what they need to say ten different ways until they hit on one that clicks for me.

And when I finally get it, when I actually listen and act on what it is they're trying to tell me, they are ALWAYS right. But never are they smug or anything but grateful that I listened.

I've written this before but I feel the need to write it again. If you think equines don't have feelings, don't feel emotion, don't have the brain matter to form thoughts and plans and intentions, that's fine. All I can say is you are missing out on a relationship that is pure and honest and has more to teach than I can put into words.

The only thing you have to do is open your heart and your mind and listen.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

lessons in riding, 10

Earlier this week the pony's lesson was cancelled at the last minute, so instead of putting him back in the paddock I decided to work with him myself. We did a little lunging, a little in-hand work, some leading, walking, trotting, halting, leg yielding, and we ended with something my daughter has taught him: if you walk up to the mounting block and tap it with the whip, he will put his hoof there. This is something he's done in the past, most of the time when she was on his back, and not too long ago she transformed it into something he will do on cue. There's no real purpose to it, but he seems to enjoy it, so I gave him a chance to practice.

I'm learning that the Little Man is not completely heartbroken now that my daughter is not riding him. He has a few lessons with young/beginning riders a week, and I'm working with him on the ground to make sure he's tuned up and listens well when the young riders are here. I feel we've gotten "closer" since this all started in August. He is far more tuned in to me than he's been in the past few years.

I hope my daughter continues to work with him. He dearly loves her and I know he misses her. But right now he has the distinction of introducing some new little riders to the world of ponies, and he seems to know that it's an important job and one he is quite good at doing. I've been careful to make sure the experience is good for him. There is no tugging on his mouth, no kicking him on (we use the words tap or gently squeeze), and no banging around on his back, as I am teaching the sitting trot first, then two-point, then posting. The sitting trot is being done with a thick bareback pad with a Thinline pad underneath, and only for the number of strides the child can sit (way more than beginning adults can, I assure you!) comfortably.

I've put regular chiropractic adjustments back on his schedule so I can make sure things stay clear as we do this work.

He is teaching me that it's possible to do two things well - help a young beginning rider have a good, safe, experience, and do it with complete regard and respect for the pony.

Later in the day Keil Bay and I had a ride. We did a lot of walking and some tuning up with reference to whisper-quiet aids. I focused in on his movement, gauging how things are going for him and making sure we were doing things like tracking up, moving with relaxation and rhythm, etc. After our ride, it turned into the right time to do his annual "sport cut," which is a fancy name for me taking the scissors to his mane. Once the heat of summer is past, I always cut the manes down to the neck, as I love the way the horses (and the pony) look. It's also nice to see how the muscling is doing and they all seem to perk up when I do it. By spring they all have nice manes again so that going into summer they can use the manes to shake off flies, etc.

And I ended this beautiful horsey day with a lesson on Cody. My husband is thinking about joining the neighborhood "dad" brigade who are doing some trail riding, and (I think) we agree that before he does this he needs some lessons. What did I learn? We need wider stirrups, a new saddle, and maybe an instructor who is not the student's wife. :)

P/S: I want to thank Arlene from Grey Horse Matters for the lovely blog award! I have sadly narrowed down the blogs I read each day to a very small number, most of which have already received this award, so I will suggest you go to GHM and follow the links to all the blogs she's listed. Hopefully they will have links to more great blogs, and you can expand your reading exponentially!