Friday, January 25, 2013

ice day on the hill

We're getting ice pellets, sleet, and freezing rain today - it's piling up in some areas and not at all in others. Horses and donkeys are in the barn enjoying loose hay, stuffed hay nets, and warmed up water. Keil Bay took a little run through the barnyard earlier but other than that, they seem to be content to just hang out and munch their way through this winter day. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

at liberty with the Big Bay

Keil Bay was so caked with mud yesterday I went out earlier than usual thinking it was going to take longer to get him clean. Just as I went out the back door he was at the water trough giving himself a shower with his hoof, which basically re-constituted the mud and made a real mess halfway down both sides and the saddle area was drenched!

I decided we would just focus on the grooming and see if his back dried off by the time we finished. In the midst of the grooming it became clear he needed his sheath cleaned, and since the temp was in the mid-60s, and we're looking at several really cold days this week, I figured we'd just go ahead and do the full spa treatment.

He was fully cooperative with the sheath cleaning but once I finished that and the first once-over groom, he untied himself two times, indicating he was ready to be done. But I wanted to get every tiny chunk of mud off, and still had his hooves to pick, so he had to wait me out.

When I finished it was just starting to get dusky out. We went for a quick walk in the arena and I found that daughter had left the lunge whip out there - she'd been free lunging the pony - so I took Keil's lead rope off, picked up the lunge whip, and asked him to walk on.

He was incredible! He used the entire arena to walk, using the diagonals to change direction each time so we were working both ways exactly equally.

After he'd warmed up at the walk, I did two trot steps and he lifted his back and went into his gorgeous floating trot. We alternated walk/trot for awhile, and then I did two canter steps - no response - but when I called out can-ter! he did a lovely transition into the canter and did this beautifully many times in each direction.

By the end he did a bit of gallop with a big buck thrown in going both ways, and then we did a few more walk/trot/canters each way and finished up in the near-darkness.

I don't do this a lot with Keil, but it was such a joy to see him move and feel his energy as he transitioned up and down at my request.

When I took him out to the front field he didn't want to leave me but stood there after I removed his halter and kept his eyes on mine. "Go on and have your hay with your buddies," I said several times, and finally he did.

There's no walk from the barn aisle to the barnyard through the gate to the backyard and into the house better than one that ends a good time with the horses and donkeys. And that's just about every single time I take that walk, so I'm celebrating today. I'm lucky I get to be part of the November Hill herd.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

how to deal with crazy weather and evaluate your horses for lameness all at the same time

It's been raining here for two days now, and the local weather station has predicted snow tonight. As beautiful as snow is, I am having a hard time getting excited about inches of anything that melts landing on this already-saturated ground. But what can I do?

I had to drive my daughter to her biology class today. She went out early and got the barn cleaned up, no easy feat after a night of six equines eating hay and dropping manure inside the stalls and barn aisle. I went out after she finished to feed breakfast and get them set up for the couple of hours I'd be gone.

I cleaned up the extra manure they'd dropped since daughter went inside. Cleaned and filled water buckets. Checked water troughs and filled one. Cleaned feed tubs and put them away. Heaped mangers with hay. Gave out some peppermints. And, in a rare occurrence, closed the gates to both fields. It is so mucky out. I didn't want them rolling in the mud and I didn't really want them tromping through it either.

Since I closed the gates to the fields, I decided to open the gate to the arena. My last remark as I left the barn was this: I'll be back soon. Go in the arena if you get bored but don't roll in there!

The arena is grayish white screenings and it is a huge grooming nightmare when they roll in it wet. Worse than mud! But it drains well and cleans their hooves and gives them a place to parade around when the weather gets like this. So.

The drive to biology class was harried. Steady rain, poor visibility, having to be there on time. We were three-quarters of the way there when I realized we had time to spare. "Let's stop and get ice cream!" We drive by a local creamery where the cows live outdoors and are treated humanely. We're not getting our usual raw milk right now because Molly escaped in the fall and had a date with a Black Angus. She is taking some time off until her calf weans. So for now we're buying the local dairy milk and I love supporting their ice cream arm of operations.

Ten minutes later I had a coffee shake and daughter had a chocolate chip cookie dough waffle cone and all was much, much better. The rain seemed less wet somehow, and the landscape less bleak. Even the thought of four inches of snow seemed light and fluffy. All thoughts of mud had escaped my mind.

I dropped daughter off and headed back toward home. My husband picks her up and today he had double duty, as son was already at play rehearsal, so he had to pick up daughter first, then get son. I got ten minutes back toward home and suddenly the truck seemed to be having a hard time accelerating. Something felt off, but I was so cheerful, I decided it had to be the rough road. I drove on. Then I realized something was really wrong. I looked for the next safe place to pull over on the country road I was on. As I pulled off the road I smelled a horrible burnt rubber smell.

I got out. The front right tire was flat to the rim.

I called husband. He was at work, probably a half-hour away. He said he would be there as soon as he could. Somehow, even with the flat tire, I was still buoyed by that coffee milkshake. I cleaned out the glove box and the compartment between the front seats. I cleaned out my purse. I wrote in my little blue Moleskine, listing the names of all my books that are published and those that are in progress. It was not a list of things to do, but a list of things I have done. About the time I finished this list, husband showed up.

He sent me home in his car while he stayed and got the tire changed.

When I got home it was an hour past Salina's first lunch time. I hurried out to the barn to feed her. Of course all the morning hay was gone. The three geldings were in the arena, trotting around.

I fed Salina, replenished the mangers, and then proceeded to muck the stalls - and the arena. The arena had been pristine when I left, but now it was studded with beautiful hoof prints. It was clear from the patterns that I have three very sound horses. The walk and trot strides tracked up perfectly. The cantering was big and bold. All frogs looked to be healthy and loading well. 

Salina and the donkeys had wisely stayed in the barn, making a communal manure pile so their space stayed tidy. They were also clean and dry.

The geldings, of course, had to prove the old saying that if a horse is sound he can roll all the way over. All three were gray on both sides.

Now we're just waiting for the snow to start.

(all photos courtesy of dear husband and earlier in the week before the rain set in!)

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

busy week catch-up on November Hill

Last Friday we had hoof trims. In spite of the mud lately, everyone's hooves are doing well. My husband has taken over learning the trimming process, as he is stronger than me and much better at manipulating the rasp and the hoof knife. I'm still learning what to look for, so I can stand there and point out to him what he already knows while he's doing the trims!

At this point he has completely taken over the donkey trims and is doing a good job. He's also doing touch-ups on Keil Bay and Cody about every two weeks, which is really making a difference since their hooves tend to grow really fast.

His next candidate will be the pony - who has pretty much perfect feet. We'll likely put him on the touch-up schedule along with the geldings, but will see how it goes once that gets started.

The trimmer will come every 6 weeks to do Salina, Cody, and Keil Bay, and to check the others and continue teaching. It's given us a lot more confidence and is a relief to know that small things can be corrected in between trims!

We've taken a slow approach to purchasing the tools. We started with a rasp and new hoof knife, a sharpener, and gloves. This trip the trimmer had a hoof stand a friend was selling at a great price, and we grabbed the opportunity to add that to our tools. No more using a landscaping timber!

On Saturday the chiropractor was here for Salina, Keil Bay, and Cody. They all had minimal issues, but all seemed appreciative of the work, especially Salina and Keil. Since they were getting 48 hours off with the chiro, and since all this timed with two really warm days, I went ahead and did their deworming on Sunday (I generally don't ride them on deworming days, and I also try hard to time the deworming when we're not having extreme weather or on the cusp of a big weather change).

Now, as soon as this rain/cooling front moves through, we'll be all set ride again. I spent yesterday getting pine pellets, peat moss, and stocking up on feed supplies, then getting the stalls topped off. We were just getting dried out from the last rain spell, but it's muddy again and they're all trying hard to be the muddiest horse on the property. It's way too warm to blanket them, even with single-weight turn-out sheets!

Spring bulbs are coming up already, and the tree bark chewing started. The herd completely girded a red oak this year, which forced us to scurry and wrap more trees in the front field in case they decide to look for another one. So far, so good.

It seems greener this winter than it usually is - we over-seeded the back field so that's looking nice, but even in front, the grass is still growing. So much for my theory that the chewing has to do with them missing the green stuff!

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

mid-day ride on the Big Bay

After a streak of early evening rides, the Big Bay and I got to the arena at noon today. It was nice to ride without the sun setting, although I love seeing the sky change during our early evenings together.

Yesterday's ride felt a little bit off. Keil had eaten hay while I was grooming and then tacking him up, and I think I might have tightened the girth too tightly - he felt slightly stiff through the barrel and I felt slightly stiff through the hips. We rode out of this feeling by the end of the ride, and it was a nice ride because we had Salina and the donkeys with us, but I wish I'd thought to check the girth a few minutes in.

Today everything felt normal again and Keil Bay warmed himself up and let me know when he was ready to move into a bigger, more powerful walk, and then when he was ready to trot. Today we had a really lovely working trot going to the right and eventually got it to the left as well.

I realized today that one big leap I've made over the past year has to do with shortening and lengthening reins without losing contact. I struggled with that previously - tending to throw the reins away frequently. For whatever reason, I'm much better able to keep a consistent (though very light, especially compared to the oft recommend 5 lbs. of weight in each hand) contact without thinking much about it.

I also realized today that going on the left rein down the long side Keil's counter-bending is not due to  stiffness but due to the fact that he is actively wanting to keep an eye on the woods behind the back field. I decided to stop noticing that for now and just let him keep his eye out if he wants to do so. When we go left from M to C he immediately takes up a correct bend and keeps it all the way around to F.

When Salina and the donkeys were back there yesterday, interestly enough, he didn't counterbend. So I guess he's taking herd patrol when we're riding if he's the furthest equine back there!

Best thing I've done lately: dismounted onto the mounting block. Keil Bay loved it too.

Friday, January 04, 2013

new math on november hill

What do you get when you add 1 brilliant Hanoverian in the arena, an unknown creature crashing about in the woods behind the back field, and a woman sitting calm and centered on the Hanoverian's back?

Beautiful, beautiful passage.

And a reminder that you don't need to learn how to sit a powerful stride if the horse is bringing his back up underneath you. Just put your body in the classically correct position, relax, and enjoy.

Thank you, Keil Bay, for your elegant, athletic, powerful, brilliant self!

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

pretend fox hunting and serious peppermint hunting with the Big Bay

Keil Bay and I had a really fun ride today, which started with me giving him another peppermint from the saddle. I can see that if I keep this up he's going to expect it, so I'll probably start saving it for after the ride. Today though, after a few "chews" he dropped it on the ground. I told him we'd look for it after the ride as I didn't want to get off and on again, and I didn't want him eating it from the arena footing. He didn't want to leave it, but with some quick urging on my part he walked on. However, every time we came around to that far end of the arena he lowered his head and scanned for the peppermint. It was hilarious. Big stretchy long and low between C and M!

Sometime into the ride the peppermint was forgotten when one of the resident gray foxes ran down the woodline which parallels the barnyard, arena, and back field. The fox was totally silent but Keil Bay went into full alert, I looked where he was looking, and we both watched the fox run the entire edge of the forest. The rest of the ride Keil Bay was convinced a pack of hounds was soon to follow, and I decided to just go with it and enjoy the alert, soft snorts and big strides.

For whatever reason my body felt really loose and relaxed today, and I felt like I was centered pretty perfectly in the saddle and over Keil Bay's center of gravity. It also occurs to me that it's just easier to ride a horse who is alert and forward. For the first year of riding Keil Bay this wasn't true for me - I needed him to notch things down a lot. Now I find that when he's really forward my body cooperates much more easily. The weird crookedness I can get into happens more when I'm trying too hard. Doing the Sally Swift whole body equivalent of "soft eyes" works well for me.

Aside from the ride itself, the ambiance was lovely.  The sky was cloudy - the sun came out briefly this afternoon, but we never really got out from under the cloud over. The light was unusual with the sun behind the clouds but shedding some brightness as it started to set. We rode until the arena lights came on and then wound down.

I've wondered if Keil Bay would enjoy fox hunting. I suspect he might, if he were with horses he liked and and the hounds were well-trained. Our pretend hunt was pretty fun and pretty easy since there was no galloping and no jumps. :)

After the ride, as promised, I took Keil back to the area where he dropped the peppermint and we found it. I dusted it off and he got a second chance. This time, as you might imagine, he didn't drop it.