Friday, December 17, 2010

Steady As She Goes

Although I haven’t been writing blog entries, I have been working with the horses; primarily the boys. I have also added working with our newest horse, *GMC Andrea’s Ankti (Andi) by lifting her feet and doing some filing. I’ve handled her feet since birth, but not really asked her to hold them up too long, so this is a new task. She’s getting pretty good at it, considering that I am new to filing.

I did take *Walker out for a walk a day or two ago. We investigate the arena, walked through snow, found some turkeys. I also played a bit of Circling Game with her, but we are still being easy with her as she was ill this past spring and summer. And no official diagnosis either, but she seems to have come round with the fall. We’re very glad for that, as she is quite the light of our eyes.

And lately, with *Jack I have added trotting in hand. He’s getting very good at reading my body language, so I’m thrilled with his sensitivity.

The other night, though, I did add something fun, inadvertently. During the week I do evening chores by myself…chopping ice, watering, haying, and then feeding their grain to them. It takes an hour and a half to two hours, depending on how slow I want to be. The last group that I usually feed are *Glory, Silken, and *Love. After setting their buckets down, I decided to sit down. Apparently, I had never done that around *Love! Suddenly, I was even with her head as she ate, and this caused her to snort and pause in her eating. Both Silken and *Glory took this in stride, so she decided it was okay to go on eating. Silken is always done first, and when she finished she looked at me. I asked her forward, she took a step, and I gave her a treat. She then moved to help *Love with her bucket, as she always tries, and I made a “eeehhhhh” sound, as always as well, and she backed off. I still had not moved! Then I asked her forward again, and she took a step and I gave her a second treat. *Glory then asked for one, but she was concerned with stepping into Silk’s space. I pointed at Silken and said, “Back” and she took a step backward. (By this point I was pretty impressed with myself, I must say.) *Glory then stepped closer to get her treats. Finally *Love was done and looked at me. I said, “Come on *Love, it’s okay.” And she gingerly took a step toward me. She snuffled my foot, my leg, and finally thought it might be okay to take the treat. Once she had her two treats, I asked her back then got up. I call this “Training From Laziness”. It might not really count for RAC points, but it was fun nevertheless!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Pushing Thresholds & the Monster Rock

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving! Ours was full of family and fun, but without any real horse-time. Family left yesterday so it was “back to work” today!

Both *Red and *Beau were fabulous today, allowing me to push their thresholds. Last week was *Red’s first time working with me and the wand. Today he showed just how much he remembered. I use, not only physical cues, but verbal cues as well. I ask for movement with the horse’s name, as in *Red, Walk on” and I ask for a downward shift in motion, or stop, by drawing out the word “and” then adding on the gait I’m looking for, such as “and trot”. *Red showed that he recalled that very well! The first time I said “aaaannnnnnd whoa” he stopped on a dime! By the end of our time together he was stopping with the wand swinging in toward his chest and the beginning of the word “and”! I was thrilled.

*Beau was also on top of his game today, even remembering that just because you need to walk past those sexy mares you don’t need to talk, you DO need to pay attention because you might be asked to do something!! This may seem like no big deal but it is something he forgets when he is first near the ladies in the fall.

Last up was *Jack, and today I added in backing up while I was standing to his side. He is used to backing up when I face him; he knows the word “back”, he understands pressure to the nose or shoulder. Today, we started backing up and trying to stay straight. What I’ve found is that when they first are asked to do this, because they are used to facing you, they tend to back out away from you, so that they stop and are facing you. With the help of C/T we got it right many times. The most fun, however, was when he spied the ROCK. “Oh my, what is that big white thing in the field? I’ve never seen it before!” he said (it was a snow covered rock). So off we went to examine it. He’s so brave, that one! Marched right up with me and when I asked him to ‘touch’ he reached his nose right down to find out what it was. I love it when we just have to go touch that “boogie monster”!

All in all, we each had a good time!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Adrenaline Rush

Today was all about establishing good leadership with* Suncatcher and Dude. First, let me explain that it is one of those days where you think to yourself: “Self, should I really work with a horse in wind like this?” But then you say, “Sure, it’s a perfect time to establish good leadership.” The only thing you’ve forgotten is how hard it can be when there are THOUSANDS OF HORSE EATING MONSTERS and the horses have forgotten that you really are as good as you’ve been telling them you are.

That brings me to taking *Sun for his walk and today I saw a different side to *Sun than I’ve seen before. *Sun lives with 3 others: Dude, *Jack, and *Leo. All geldings, all somewhat goofballs in their own way; oh, and all of them hold up their hoof and yell “Take me, take me” when you walk in with a lead rope. So, actually walking out with the correct one is a feat in itself!! Having made sure that I had *Sun on the other end, we proceeded down the drive toward the lower pastures, walking and whoaing the whole way. That is, of course, until we had to pass the area where we have tractor equipment stored covered by a huge piece of tarp (tarp blows very nicely in a strong wind if you didn’t know...). *Sun was NOT so sure I was as smart as I keep telling him I am. However, we managed to go past it without it eating him, so perhaps I am okay. We then walked all the way down to the lower field without incident. Yes, he was very aware of his surroundings, but he kept his focus on me. We went to the round pen and walked one way around it. As we nearly completed the circle something ‘blew up his skirt’ as they say, and he charged ahead, got to the end of the rope, turned, snorted and looked at me. “What was that?” I asked; “Did you see me get upset? Did I tell you there was danger? Nooooo, you’re fine.” And I proceeded to walk on straightening him out as I went. We did another circle and walked out of the pen and turned left to go once around the outside of it, and he exploded! However, he did so while always being mindful of how close he was to me. He pulled out, moved his rear away from me, leapt into the air and cow-kicked. I asked him, “What was that?” (It is a favorite question of mine). He immediately came back in and inserted his head in my arms. I told him, again, he was fine, and we started to walk again. About six steps later, he again exploded by pulling himself out from me, leaping, kicking, then rearing, and kicking, then rearing again (he’s pretty impressive actually...have you ever noticed that while something like this is happening part of you is noticing the oddest things?) This time, I looked at him, swelled myself up to about 18 hands (which is good considering I’m only a bit over 15H) and said “NO!” I pulled him back in (actually pulling isn’t right, reeling is more like it) and asked him to walk and whoa over and over. He has recently been learning clicker, so now it was time to highly employ it. As we began to walk back up to the winter pastures, when he walked calmly and attentively next to me, I C/Ted. We did this all the way back up, and I am happy to report that he stayed “with” me the whole time. I deposited him back in with his cohorts, and took a breather.

Next up was Dude. Now Dude is typically a very calm fellow, but he is also an introverted horse. You need to pay attention to him as his eyes and his nostrils say it all. Dude, too, was very aware of his surroundings. That wind is a tricky fellow and it makes all sorts of things move around. Dude is, though, definitely one who likes to check out the “boogie men”. He’ll be startled, do that really cute splay-legged move, stare at it, then say “Let’s go look at it!” He also is VERY clicker-savvy. So, going past the moving tarp over the equipment was a definite eye-bugging process, and unfortunately, I couldn’t let him check it out, as much as he wanted to, because we haven’t been able to use a metal detector on the arena base yet. I’d hate for a horse to get anything in their hoof. Other than the covered equipment, Dude seemed very keen to go for a walk, and I thought we’d make a trip around the field, but we’d no sooner gotten all the way down, than he too, exploded. For Dude it was no aerial theatrics but moving forward. So I fed out the line and let him trot around me. I could tell he was not happy (those nostrils you see), so I made the executive decision to not push it today. He did ‘stay’ with me, he was aware of where he was, where I was, but he was past his comfort zone. Once he had settled, I moved to walk back up out of the field and he felt he was most comfortable with his head towards me, and his butt away, side-passing up the hill. We did about 10 feet that way and he decided it was too hard. So, he turned head first next to me, but then thought I wasn’t going fast enough. I tend to go slower when that happens and it didn't take long for him to realize that he needed to not pull and walk beside me. Of course, I used C/T to tell him when he was “correct” and “correct” he stayed, until we got to the equipment. Then it was a discussion, “I want to see!” “Sorry, Dude, too dangerous” (and repeat for the number of steps it took us to pass by). Once past, he thought about exploding again, but decided against it, and he was very ready to go back into his paddock.

So, I’m left with thoughts: Was it because of the wind? (Could be) Was it their lack of trust in me? (Could be) Perhaps they are herd-bound? (Could be) I’m thinking it was all of the above and all that means is that I have to keep working at it little by little.

I can say though, that wind is whipping pretty powerfully.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The long drought

It’s been two years since I could think about seriously working with the horses. Two years is a long time in which to lose confidence, and a long time for them to forget that you really DO know what you know.

It all comes down to establishing leadership once again. If I make the commitment to talk with you, my readers, about what I’m doing, as well as, actually begin to accrue RAC** points, I believe it will not take long in their eyes to once again be the leader I was, rather than simply the food-bearer.

Today, I began my NEW job. The job I’m happiest at doing, even if I make no money at it. Thankfully, I have a loving and wonderful husband who is extremely supportive. And today, *Beau, *Red, and *Jack were reminded that I really did know what I know, and they honestly needed to listen to me as much as I will listen to them.

Amazingly, neither *Beau nor *Red, who are much older than *Jack, could pass their thresholds. My job, of course is to bring them to that threshold and encourage them through it. For *Beau, it was the top of the hill over looking the lower pastures. “Nope, too far!” he said. I encouraged him again, “Can’t do it!” So I suggested side-stepping and eating some grass. “I can do that”, he said. After relaxing, I asked again, “Go down?” “NOPE!”. “Okay, what if we go over here.?” And off we went. So then we worked our way back up toward his paddock, maintaining attention to me.

*Red was funny. All excited to get out of the paddock and then lost. “Where we going?” “Let’s walk down the drive. Can you ‘whoa’?” Yep! Walking and whoaing established. “Turn left” “Sure!” “Turn right” “Sure!” “Whoa” “YEP!” “Walk beyond the arena” SCREECH “I halt good don’t I?” So we worked on approach and retreat and relax, then into the arena and back to the paddock.

Last out was *Jack. He and I have been buds since he was born, and he naturally accepts my leadership, but I pushed his boundaries today, and we came out winners on the other end. “Where we going?” he asked. “To the lower pastures.” “Okay….OMgoodness look at all those turkeys….I dunno…..” “Oh Jack, come on, you know turkeys, they always run away.” “Okay, if you say so…..” “Um, Adria, did you notice there is grass?” “Yes, and let’s see if you can listen, I’ll tell you when to eat as long as you don’t dive for the grass.” So around the large 12 acre field we walked…going, whoaing, and eating grass. As we began to make our way back toward the way up, Jack got a bit faster, so I went slower. “Why are we going so slow?” “Because I only have 2 legs, you have to stay with me.” “Oh, okay” Relaxing himself, he kept pace with me and we slowly worked out way back up to the winter paddocks. We walked past his, then back to his gate, just to make sure he was still with me.

All in all, about an hour and a half’s work. I expect that as time goes by, each horse will get more time, but I believe in taking the time it takes with them, so sometimes more, and sometimes less will be taken. I have 6 boys to work with and hope to work with each of them twice a week. I have one mare to work with, and will work with her at least twice, if not three times each week. Feel free to bug me if I don’t tell you what we’ve done .

**RAC=Ride a Curly Contest; read about that on Curly Horse

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

And a new day dawns.

As those of you who are members of the ICHO, and who have read the latest gazette, know, in 2004 when our dearly missed past-president visited our farm in Vermont her parting words were: “When I die I want to come back and be one of your horses.” This statement, which would so easily roll off of the tongue of others, would not have easily parted from the lips of Andrea Schaap. Andrea, veterinarian, science-lover, and highly knowledgeable horsewoman would have only said this if she had meant it. We have continued to try and keep our horses as healthy and happy as Andrea would have expected us to.

And, as those of you who inhabit the Curly Haven list on Yahoogroups know, last winter I said that we had no intention of breeding this year; neither had we bred last year, due to the economy. (Yes, you know what’s coming don’t you?). However, the best laid plans of mice and men oft go astray, and last October, while I was still recovering from my broken leg and after Guinevive had lifted her wings to soar through the sky on her own, *Beau decided to test the fences. As he found them somewhat lacking, he paid a nocturnal visit to the ladies. Once we separated them the next morning, we carefully checked all the ladies, and it did not seem that any had enjoyed a tryst.

By late May it became obvious we had been fooled. *Babe had entertained *Beau that evening and had harbored a secret all throughout the winter. As I thought about this future foal, unplanned, but never unwanted, I knew it would be a filly and the moment I realized that, tears sprang to my eyes and the further realization hit that this was Andrea’s desire come true.

Without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, I introduce to you the latest Green Mountain Curlies’ foal to hit the ground. Born early this morning, 9/8/10, a lovely Buckskin Filly….and for Andrea we break our naming tradition… is:

GMC Andrea’s Ankti

Ankti is Hopi for “repeat dance”.  More pictures will be available later this evening.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Those of you who have popped in to read this blog from time to time, know that in the past two years we have faced a number of challenges, both as a couple and I, as an individual. The largest challenge was the collapse of the arena that we had built in 2007 after it had only been up for six months. We were forced to bring suit both against the company that designed and supplied the building, as well as, the builder who that company told us to hire. This past February, we agreed to try to reach settlement. We did come to an agreement, and even though like in any loss, no amount of money can ever really make everything right, at least a chapter is closed and we can begin to move forward.

Additional challenges have been my health, but again, I am facing those challenges and moving forward, and the final challenge for us as a couple has been learning to run the farm by ourselves. Our lovely daughter, Guine, has moved out, as is the way with youngsters, to find herself, and establish her own life.

The only way to really face this last challenge has been to dive right in and start working. This spring we have already accomplished a few things around the farm: built a new double gate for the ladies’ pasture, popped in a few cedar corner posts for fences to make them stronger, and today I finished a sorely needed round-pen that Chuck helped me start yesterday. We chose to go simply, using materials we already had on hand. We measured out a 60 foot circle and Chuck pounded in the t-posts and I placed the safety-caps on. Today, I strung four rounds of electric roping, using some older roping we had. It will not be electrified at all so it was easy to tie the rounds at the ‘gate’. Then I strung a 3 handle gate.

Of course, I needed to inaugurate it! I chose our stallion, *Beau, as it had been almost two years since I had last worked with him, other than during basic leading and foot-trimming. I have been following a clicker page on Facebook, called “Clicker Training Horses” with Peggy Hogan as the leader. While reading through I learned about teaching a horse to stand on objects or “station”. As *Beau is already trained for driving and used to word commands, I thought today I would introduce him to this new word “station”. I brought down everything I would need: a large square of plywood, a traffic cone, treats….what’s CT without treats right? Then I went to get *Beau. He and *Red were way at the other end of their pasture when I started toward their gate. As I approached the solar charger to turn it off, I gave a whistle. *Beau looked up and I yelled, “Come Beau!” He immediately stopped eating and headed toward me. “Good boy!” I shouted.

Once he was underway, *Red decided he needed to come too, which is typical. They both arrived at the gate, and I put the rope halter on *Beau. As I always do, I clicked and treated him, and then offered some treats to *Red, thanking him for staying behind. This is the routine I have always used, and even though it has been two years, they remember it. Consistency is always my goal. *Beau and I went through the gate and after stopping to turn the power back on, away we went to the round pen.

Because it was new to him, I walked *Beau around both ways, allowing him to see the fencing with each eye. I incorporated some Tellington-Jones wand work, as he knows that, and we walked and whoa-ed several times. Once that was done, I went into the middle and asked him to circle me at a walk. Again, we worked on walk and whoa. *Beau is very sensitive to my energy, and we both need time to learn to properly communicate again, so we had a couple of bobbles in our work together; however, once it felt right I asked for and got walk-trot-walk transitions in both directions. All of this was done on my 12 foot line and all was done with a loop in it. That’s my boy!

After that, I gave him a bit of relax time, he nibbled on the grass in there (like he hadn’t been doing that all morning ), and asked for and got face scratches. This gave me time to bring out the plywood and lay it down. I picked up his lead and guided him toward the board. As he approached, I said ‘station’, and he stepped on it with both front hooves. I immediately clicked and treated. I backed him up, relaxed, then brought my energy up once again and asked him forward. Right before he stepped onto the board, I said ‘station’ again. He stepped, I C/T’d. We did this several times, and then I backed him off, and tied the lead up so he could move without tripping on it. I let him go to relax a bit, and went and got a traffic cone.

He knows the cone, he also knows ‘target’. The moment I got his attention and said ‘target’ he looked at the cone, and headed right for it to touch it with his nose. C/T!! We then spent time bouncing between rests, ‘target’ and ‘station’. After half a dozen times, and ending with a ‘station’, I told him what a fabulous guy he was, scratched his face for him, and untied the lead. We sauntered out of the round-pen and around to the truck where I grabbed a couple of large treats. Back we went to the pasture, turned off the power, and there was *Red waiting for us. In we went, I dropped the lead to hook up the gate and *Beau stood there politely waiting for me. I then took off the halter, tossed it out of the fence, stripped my gloves, tossed them out, and turned to the two boys, who had been standing there waiting and watching. I pulled the ‘cookies’ from my bag and asked them both for a back-up, gave them each their treat, a rub and a “What great boys you are!”

I had a fantastic time!

Monday, February 08, 2010

The Bad and the Good

As everyone who has, or has been around horses, knows, the good and the bad often go hand-in-hand. For me, the bad is more typically “not enough time” because I work away from home full-time. Coupled with winter weather it isn’t often conducive to getting out there and working when you do have the time.

A huge problem for me during this past year was that in August I broke one ankle and had a class 3 sprain of the other (I *am* talented!). It was really mid-November before I felt steady enough to spend more than just feed time with a horse, and then in mid-January I developed something called “Synovitis” in my left knee. All it is, is an inflammation of the Synovial fluid sack, but it is excruciatingly painful and requires time OFF your feet to get better. We suspect that it happened because I was still favoring one ankle over the other, and the brunt of slipping and sliding was taken by the other knee. So, I am just now beginning to get out and about with the horses. Of course, I am still time crunched, but I do what I can.

However, sometimes something comes along that MAKES you spend a bit more time than just “upkeep”. Tonight was one of them. Our normal duty-roster for evening chores is: Chuck hays, I mix grain and chop ice/water, we both feed. Tonight, Chuck got done the hay before I was done the watering so he began feeding the boys. Once I was done, we gathered the buckets for the ladies. I had just set the buckets down for *Babe and *Glory when Chuck said, “Hon, would you come over here?”

You know that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach when someone uses that tone of voice? The one that says: there’s trouble a brewin’? That was his tone; that was my stomach. As *Love was standing in front of him, I was very concerned. As I got closer he said, “She doesn’t want to eat.” I took one look at her and knew there was a problem. At one week shy of a year old, *Love is never quiet. She is full of energy, spunk, curiosity….just a vivacious filly; but not tonight. Tonight she stood in front of Chuck dead quiet, with her nose in his hand. I immediately headed for the stethoscope. On the way back, I was pulling back my head-covering (we had a breeze and about 10 degrees, so I knew I’d get cold, but that didn’t matter). Once there I listened in all 4 quadrants: Silence…no burbles, no bubbles….dead silence. This was NOT good.

I stood there with her and Chuck went to grab a halter, I popped it on and she never once tried to put her mouth onto it, definitely not a good sign. It had been some time since we had worked with her on leading, and it showed. She didn’t want to come out of the gate, so Chuck ‘encouraged’ her from behind a bit, and out she went. As we got further from the others and the paddock she did become more animated, but still she was off. She willingly followed me into the arena where I turned on all the lights. By the time the lights had charged all the way up, she was spronging around a bit, and whinnying to everyone who would call to her.

We decided that since we needed her to move, to help her intestines to begin working again, the spronging was a good thing! She has not been out of sight of other horses in a long time, if ever, so it was a real learning experience in many ways for her tonight. We took the opportunity that we were presented, and while encouraging her to move, we also encouraged her to explore.

*Love walked on tarp, not just once but many times; she walked on plywood, and stood on it to have a measuring stick brought to her whithers; she followed a rolling ball and even offered a “kick” with her front hoof. All new experiences, all good experiences for her. She calmed down, stopped calling, passed gas and (drum roll) pooped! When she was ready to be still, I listened to her gut again and was rewarded with burbles and bubbles…music to every horseperson’s ears!

As we walked her back to the paddock, she was leading like a good ole Dobbin, loose lead and all. She’s a quick study, that one.

The bad and the good; we learn to take them together, and make the best of each circumstance presented to us.

p.s. I checked her tonight before heading to bed myself and she's perky and full of herself again. We're very glad.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Today I made my commitment to RAC 2010 start off with a bang (thankfully only figuratively) rather than a whimper. I have not ridden since I came off a horse in August 2008 and badly dislocated a finger. I have allowed many things to get in my way – starting a new full-time job, marriage of one daughter, birth of a grand-daughter, and then breaking one & spraining the other ankle. When I am so long off a horse my fear increases, as I’m sure is the same for everyone. Before I came off in 2008 I had managed to get myself riding a few short minutes each day: 15-30, for almost a month, and my confidence was increasing, my fear decreasing. But, as I think we all know, once that crack in our armor is there, it is easy to allow things to “get in our way” and that crack widens. There is only one cure for it, and that is to break everything down into short bits, be with someone you trust, and take it little by little.

Today, I began mixing the glue to help patch that crack in my armor. I knew that many of us Curly lovers would be out there enjoying a Curly at the same time, so I prepared myself. Chuck went with me, as I need his quietness, his support right now. I selected *Walker, who is his lady because I knew that if she didn’t listen to me, she would listen to him, and seek him out if my fears got the better of her. I also chose her because she genuinely cares about not hurting a human, and has HUGE understanding of our spoken language, even if her training is not “top notch”.

Once down in our field of snow, I mounted and discovered that the sprained ankle hurt far more than I had anticipated. Obviously, I will need to stretch that out in ways I had not worked on! I sat for a few moments and just soaked in the position; I’m definitely out of shape, and coupled with increasing age and, I admit, weight gain due to being more sedentary with my job, I know I have my personal work cut out for me. We have always ridden *Walker in a rope hackamore as she is sensitive to pressure and generally listens well. I had Chuck tie the lead as a rein. Then I had him lead us around a bit. Once I felt a wee bit more confident, I asked him to step away. I knew that *Walker would follow him and so I tried to just go with her flow; being more a passenger and less a leader. Then we stopped and I asked her to stand, while Chuck stepped back to take photos of us. She typically poses when asked, lol. Then we walked to him when I said, “Go to Chuck.” Again, I had him move away; again after a few moments, I had her follow him. At that pointed, he backed-up further and motioned her away. She turned left and we circled around, going a short distance before coming back to him.

That was all my confidence could take and I was ready to get down. Unfortunately, I did not have a graceful dismount as my energy went up while I worried about how my ankles would take to the shock of dropping off of her. It was obvious that I communicated this to her as she got a bit antsy. There was nothing to do but drop off her anyway, so I dismounted as I have always, kind of a modified Squirrel (Centered-riding “emergency dismount”). I was surprised that my ankles did not hurt as much as I had been worried they would, and of course she calmed down.

I was only on for perhaps 10 minutes, but it was 10 minutes more than yesterday. Of course, I will need to keep going to do better, but it is a start.