Thursday, April 30, 2009

A second pair of hands

Pony Girl got me thinking tonight - she often does - in her post regarding reinforcing good behavior versus bad. I had to laugh... not at her post, because what she says is very true: every action we take has an effect, and at some point, good or bad, that effect usually becomes apparent.

Every herd has a pecking order. You may have gathered by this point that in the herd of 8 horses at the farm, Sunny is the boss/bully of the group - basically, he gets whatever spot at the hay feeder he wants, and he enforces his position with teeth and threatening heels when he feels he's being encroached upon.

But on the flip side, he's also the horse
that's most respectful of my space.
The one that I can move over
with a gesture if need be.

Because of the way the lot and the gates are configured, the horses that come up to the top lot to be grained must pass through a 10' wide bottleneck/dogleg right closed off by a gate that spans the width of the alley. The main hayfeeder forms the inside of the L's curve, with a right-angle corner of the fence on the other side.

This wouldn't pose a problem, except that I don't want ALL the horses up, just the 4 that get the most grain - they get tied to eat until they've finished, with the bottom four basically getting a skiff of grain and a headstart on the evening's hay. (They think they get more grain than they do, air-ferns that they are!)

Two of the ones that get more grain are definitely on the bottom end of the herd pecking order. The horses all know who gets fed where, and the four that get fed down below don't rush or crowd the gate, but they will block the opening into the L, keeping the ones I DO want from coming through. To get to the gate those two have to run a gauntlet of more dominant horses snaking necks, baring teeth and telling them in no uncertain terms, "Go the other way, stupid, or I will bite you!"

Now, if there was anywhere down there to tie up the horses I don't want, I'd do that. But the big solid railroad tie posts are all above the gate - electric fence doesn't make a very good securing point! And it would mean monkeying with many more halters than I really wanted to deal with in -10' last January.

I usually don't have help when I feed...
except Sunny.

None of the mares will even try to move him. But he does respect me, and he knows what the clicker and "Stand" means. So now we do this: the first two horses (higher in the herd and therefore safe from being picked on) go in.

If the dogleg is clear, the other two are able to come through on their own when I call. If not, by that point Sunny has positioned himself by the closed gate, effectively protecting the space in front of it from any of the others. I can go down and escort one or both mares to the gate past the other mares - they all know better than to make a run at another horse with a person attached(!) - and when I get up to the gate, I just motion Sunny to move over.

He moves out of the way of the gate, I open it, and as each mare passes he gets clicked & treated for being a polite roadblock.

Any laying back of ears
or making faces
at the mares when they're with me
= no click and no treat.

He caught on fast that manners
are a good thing.

After all four are through and tied, the other four get their grain.

I didn't intend to teach him to guard the gate. Initially, I just wanted him to stay put somewhere so that he wasn't following me around, running all the mares in circles while I was trying to sort out the ones I wanted. But at this point, he's effectively my second pair of hands. Now if only I could figure out how to get him to open the gate for me....
On second thought, that would probably be a VERY BAD idea! LOL!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Happy Birthday, Blog!

I just realized last Sunday was officially 365 days from my first post. Huh...

Well, nothing much exciting happened this weekend.

I have my fingers crossed that the horses will be out on grass this week. Otherwise, I need to line up more hay.

I had riding on this evening's agenda - I even have a plan(!). But when I unstuck this week's planner pages (I'd jumped ahead to May 4th - Ooops!) it turns out I have a meeting tonight.

And it's a potluck.
And I volunteered to bring Waldorf salad.
Which means not only do I need to go shopping,
but I need to see if T will feed for me tonight.

Sorry Sunny - no work tonight.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Staying put...

So, it looks as if Sunny and Amyra may be staying put for one more year.

Unfortunately, although my job interview went really well, ultimately the search committee liked one of the other candidate's background and/or experience a bit more. C'est le vie.

Had I gotten the job, it would have meant a weekend commute one way to the other. Neither of us were thrilled with that, but it was doable. And more than likely we'd have relocated the horses up north, too.

Now, unless something changes in the next couple of months, I'll be here, and so will they. Since we'll be functioning on a bit less income, at least for a while, acreage-hunting for pony-friendly places is on hold. In spite of my kvetching over hay & assorted other things, we really do have a good arrangement at the farm. Which means I need to do some thinking about how to make next winter less stressful.

To start with, I think I'm going to volunteer to help line up the hay. That way, if there are bad bales in there, I'll have only myself to blame.

Other thoughts... well, I don't have any at the moment. But I'm going to keep working on it!

Happy trails

Sorting through some old snapshots today I found this one of Sunny's mom.
ASA Sauds Mariah
Doesn't look anything like her, does he?


The summer Sunny turned two my friend C had knee surgery, which meant that she wasn't doing much riding. She and her husband J have been kind enough to allow me to trailer with them on a number of occasions. Prior to her surgery, we'd planned to go on a multi-day ride out in the Badlands, and when she found out she couldn't go, she offered her horse for me to ride, and the extra space in their trailer for Sunny.

Needless to say, I jumped at the chance. The ride was held south of Kadoka on the edge of the Badlands. Camp was way in off the paved road, and the day we arrived there were pop-up showers on and off all day interspersed with beautiful bright sun. The track in was clay, and the campsite was down a fairly steep slope with a curve in the middle. The afternoon's entertainment was watching new arrivals try not to jack-knife while sliding into camp. (There was someone posted at the top to warn all the drivers to take things slowly - still, there were a couple of nail-biting moments.)

It was a big ride, turnout-wise. And being June, it was HOT. The pace was slow, but pretty steady - there were rest stops, planned and accident-caused. (There always seems to be some sort of wreck, although thankfully, we were neither the cause of, nor involved in any of them!)
Sunny learned pretty quickly that when we stopped, it was a good idea to rest. He ponied along next to Sheba or Misty all three days, wasn't concerned about wagons, put-off by the mules, and charged merrily through the water crossings.

We saw some gorgeous country.
And had a great time visiting with "neighbors."

This cute pony team belonged to an elderly gentleman from Nebraska (I think). He'd converted the seating in his wagon so that he could have an easier ride. His team pulled along like champs, and I think they all three finished the day fresher than a lot of the big teams and most of the riders. Camped nearby, he kept us all entertained around the fire in the evening telling stories of rides he'd been on and teams he'd had.
Montana may be Big Sky Country,
but South Dakota has its share.

I had an absolute blast, and if you have the chance to go on one of this sort of organized rides, I'd recommend it. It was (then) about $40 for the two of us to ride for the three days. It was strictly BYO - bring your own food, grain, extra tack, etc., although the I've been on a couple where at least some of the meals were either potluck or partially provided.

It varies, but there's usually a good source of drinking water for the horses, although not necessarily for people. The potty wagon is... an experience. If you're a newbie at the whole trail riding thing, you'll probably have more fun going with at least one other person who's been before - especially on the bigger rides, people tend to group up with others they know, but everyone's pretty friendly, and if there are a few inconsiderate riders along, they're usually easy enough to avoid.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Friday Book Review: back to basics

So last night I had a horrible realization - after finishing the Francome book, I've read absolutely nothing horse-related all week. That's.... unusual, to say the least.
I could blame it on the 5 "inspirational" (a.k.a Christian/faith-based) romances I have to have read & reviewed by May 1st. They're not exactly my usual cup of tea. I've been madly procrastinating on those ever since I started the first one - the writing was awful, and I kept wanting to fling it at something. Thankfully, the second one was marginally better, and the third is the first one I've actually wanted to pick back up when I set it down. Hopefully numbers 4 & 5 continue in the same direction!
But that would be copping out.

What I'm going to do instead is pull a book off the shelf this morning and work on my riding plan for the afternoon. Hopefully it will be nice enough this afternoon to actually put the plan into action, and I'll let you all know how it went.

Beginning Western Exercises by Cherry Hill
It's a skinny little spiral bound book. The pages aren't even numbered, so I can't tell you exactly how long it isn't, but not over 35 of them. And since open it's only about the size of a half sheet if 8 1/2 x 11" paper, it's certainly not exhaustive.

It covers basics such as the halt, walk, jog & lope, and a brief checklist of what you should feel if each gait is being preformed correctly. The exercises themselves are deceptively simple. Walk-Jog-Walk, for instance, contains the following advice:
Beware of doing this exercise before a horse has learned to move actively forward. A horse must know how to reach well underneath himself with his hind legs before he is collected.
Reading through it for the first time I quickly came to the conclusion that the "Beginning" portion of the title is somewhat misleading! I haven't changed my mind after using it for a while. There's an expectation that the reader will know what terms such as aids, collection, bend, flexion and contact mean, and can apply them correctly. Certainly, that's more than a true beginner will be comfortable with, especially on her own.

Hill does suggest working regularly with an instructor or qualified friend, having someone tape you riding the exercises, riding with mirrors, etc. to help make sure you're doing things right. The book ends with a test and a score sheet which Hill recommends photocopying for repeat performances. A high score means horse & rider are ready to move on to Intermediate Western Exercises.

The 1998 publication date makes it not exactly the newest thing on the market, but it is still in print.
Mainly I use this one in conjunction with another of Hill's books, 101 Arena Exercises which I've reviewed previously. Probably not quite as much as that one, but it's a good check at the beginning of the year to see exactly how much both Sunny and I have lost since the previous year.

Day three!

Do you know how long it's been since I've ridden three days in a row?

Me, neither.

Today I remembered the girth extender, and lo and behold, the saddle went on the pony and stayed there. He wasn't terribly pleased. I almost grabbed the longe line, but decided to just go with it. Once again we had wind and turkeys to contend with. And he was still a bit U-shaped on the south end, but nothing like yesterday.

I wasn't quite brave enough to canter, but it probably would have been fine. Still didn't ride him long or hard enough to actually get him to break a working sweat. It was 90' so both of us were a little damp, but nothing like I'd have liked.

Two years ago I did a lot of riding with friends of mine. They'd trailer over and park in the walk-in turnaround on the pheasant place next door - the closest one's right by the end of the driveway, and saddle, and we'd quarter the section over there, or head out down the gravel to see what we could see.
Sunny has a love/hate relationship with their two mares. He loves Sheba, who's indifferent, and hates Misty. She doesn't like him much, either.
Well, even though the pasture gate at that end is closed, Sunny kept heading for it. When he wasn't eying the turkey activity, he was pulling for the gate - I think he actually wanted to go down the road and see if they were there, or was waiting for them to show up. I'm anxious to start some roadwork, too, but not until after a few more rides.

Pluses today:
  • He stood nicely for me to mount.
  • Good whoa.
  • Stood quietly without pulling for grass every time I asked him.
  • Less distracted by the turkeys.
Minus column:
  • Saddling - he knows it means work, and he'd rather try to walk off.
  • Unsaddling - he knows he's going to get grass, and he'd like to eat it RIGHT NOW, thank you very much! Stinker!
So.... I need to come up with a consistent plan and ride it like I mean it every time I ride. I waffle too much. I also need to remember to wear sunblock! Ouch!

I also think I need someone to point out what I'm doing wrong, and what I can work on. Next month I'm heading for my folk's place for a week. If don't know if she's still teaching lessons, but if she is, I'm going to give the lady I used to help out with the Girl Scout summer riding camp a call and see if she can squeeze me in while I'm up there.


Only a short ride last night. I took the saddle along, but didn't think to bring the girth extender, darn it. So the saddle was on the pony only briefly, and I ended up bareback anyway. It was windy, breeches are slippery - way more so than jeans! - and the turkeys were scurrying back and forth in the south tree grove just across the driveway.

We were an entertaining pair. Sunny would track neatly around about half the pasture and as soon as we turned toward the turkeys, up would pop his head and we'd go around that side with him bent into a U around my outside leg, trying to see what they were up to. Turn the corner to the north, and he'd un-kink. Of course, slippery-seated as I was, I kept slipping sideways and wiggling back upright.

T got video, so I guess I have my baseline for the year. Too long to post, thank goodness! But two days in a row actually on top... happiness :)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

RFD Equestrian Nation: Doc Larsen

Okay, I just caught the end of Linda Parelli teaching some poor woman to saddle a fence. Not quite sure what was up with that....

But the next program, Equestrian Nation, was a real heartwarmer of a story about Doc Larsen, a retired vet whose on-going project has been to take on and keep up a set of trails in the Angeles National Forest for riders. It's Episode #113 if you're interested. Quite a project, and much appreciated by the local horse-people, I hope!

I had a look around online to see what I could find out, and the answer was not much. But I did run across the Trail Mapping Project, and industrious undertaking which aims to document the horse trails in Southern California. The trail maps are a work in progress for Randy Hammock. Not sure how current the maps are, but it's neat, nonetheless.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Random stuff and a short ride

The turkeys were back in the north tree grove tonight. I saw them as I drove up and walked down to see if I could get a closer picture. This one was on the inside of the fence - he couldn't figure out how to get through, and ended up running all the way back up the fenceline past the horses and across to the south tree grove.

The horses lined up along the fence to see him speed by.
Notice how brave Sunny is?
He's the last one on the left peering out from behind Thunder. Scary turkey!

It was such a beautiful day, I couldn't resist hopping on for a little while. I rode for probably half an hour - no particular goals in mind, just trotted circles and serpentines and generally fooled around. He was a little resistant here and there, and definitely not as round in the corners as I'd have liked, but for the first ride of the spring, I'll take it. Only one little spook, and I stuck it! :)

I have the day off tomorrow, so I'll take a saddle out with me and do something a bit more ambitious.
A post-ride treat - he's looking a little pumpkin-ish, but he was really good about ignoring the new grass while I was riding so I let him eat for 2o minutes or so while I brushed him.

Mabel has decided T's backpack
is her own personal napping spot.


Monday, April 20, 2009

Follow up to Friday Book Review

Friday I left you all with Inside Track by John Francome only half reviewed. Well, I can now safely say that I'd definitely recommend it.

Plot synopsis: jockey convicted of drunk driving & manslaughter is paroled, returns home to live with his sister, a racehorse trainer. A cheating husband, double murder, suspicious improvements in racehorse performance, and a family out for revenge all add to the mix.

Although there wasn't much mystery to the mystery - the main villain of the piece is pretty clear from the opening pages - the characters grabbed me, and so did the plot twists. By the time I hit the middle I'd been sucked in completely, and I finished the last 30 pages sitting on the footpad of the elliptical machine, too caught up in the action to put the book down even to shower. I definitely wasn't going to wait until the next morning to finish it!

I think I may have mentioned, the narration jumps from character to character rather than following one point of view. From widely divergent aspects and locations, all the individual stories gradually weave together building toward one grand climax. If a few of the discoveries and revelations seem a bit too fortuitious, well, it is fiction, after all.

Interestingly, I think it would be easy enough for Francome to build a series around several of the characters. The most likely choice is probably the DCI in charge of investigating the double murder that kicks off the book, but she certainly wouldn't be his only option. And this could quite easily be a stand-alone.

A good read, in any case!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Opposistes attract... Glorious Galloping

Having vented...

Mrs. Mom is right: it's only right and proper that blessings get counted, too. So...

In spite of minor tackroom annoyances, I'm blessed that I can spend an hour each day with the horses. Most days they truly are my mental health break. It's not that I mind having human company when I tend to spreading hay and measuring grain. At times, I even ask for it - but sometimes? The four-legged critters provide a welcome relief from having to think of something to say. I can mutter or murmur, pat a neck or scratch behind an ear, and they appreciate or wander off - no one gets offended. If ears get laid back or heels get cocked (they'd better not be at ME!) the offending party shifts themself off, and life moves on with no hard feelings. Sometimes it would be really nice to be a horse....

I'm thankful that, although we've had our go-rounds over feeding practices this winter, J & G provide a a place for the horses where they're comfortable and have plenty of space to just be horses. I'm blessed to have a good and supportive friend in J, even though we don't always see eye to eye on everything - and that's part of what makes it a strong friendship.

And I'm doubly thankful to have an understanding spouse who enjoys driving the tractor and is willing to slog and slide through spring mud to help with worming and vaccinations. Yes, I know Amyra is "his" but in reality, only because Sunny is mine, so I'm appreciative.

I'm hopeful that even though the economy is bad, things will look up, and I'm heartened by the stories of people who continue to solider on, doing good things in their own quiet ways. Mikey and Sugarfoot, for example, and let's not forget the news that the Jockey Club is now joining other breed associations in providing free tatto identification services for TBs so that more horses hopefully avoid the packing plants. Even small steps make the world a better place.

Weekend - rain & shots

Saturday it rained, so nothing much got accomplished. Today it looked like rain all morning and was blustery & on the chilly side. About 2 PM the sun popped out and it started to warm up and dry the puddles. Even so, the ground was still pretty greasy when we got to the farm.

T moved in a round bale, and we wormed them all but Sahara (I thought I had four Ivermectin left, so I only picked four up - turns out I only had three and one Strongid... drat!) and vaccinated Sunny and Amyra for West Nile. The vet clinic didn't have the 4-way I wanted, and the tractor supply store was out, so I have a raincheck in for that.

Amazingly, everyone was good. Shots were a complete non-issue for the two that got them - they both had their heads in their grain buckets, and I don't think the pricks even registered.

Sunny's never been a problem to give shots to, other than one memorable occasion right after I bought him. He was a long yearling, and the first thing on my agenda was to have him gelded. The day or so following he had some swelling - only on one side - which was a bit concerning, so I called to see what the vet wanted me to do.

"Hose him down with cold water, and give him some penicillin."

It was, of course, a cold, blustery spring day. Sunny really hadn't been handled all that much at that point, and he wasn't real thrilled to be snubbed to a post away from his friends. He was even less thrilled when I turned the hose on him. But he was fairly good for that portion of the day's agenda.

The shot, however, he was having nothing to do with. After being squashed into the sucker bars repeatedly, stepped on, dropping the needle multiple times, both of us sliding around in the mud, I stood back, looked him over, and told him, "Fine! You win. Just see if I care when you drop dead!" I was just a touch annoyed....

Of course he was fine. Vaccinations (small gauge needle) were no problem. And when he stepped on a nail and developed an abscess as a three-year-old, by that point he'd decided penicillin shots, large needle & all, were no big deal - especially when accompanied by his morning grain ration - LOL!

Other than that, a quiet weekend

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Art to live with

I've been meaning to do this for a while, and cleaning out personal items at at work prompted me to start the ball rolling. I happen to like living with horse-related art, much to T's dismay - oh, not scads of it, but every now and then I happen across something I really like.

I'm not necessarily a fan of one particular style, medium, or whatever, and I'd be the first one to say that I'm not "art educated." But I do know what I like to live with. (The statement that makes the art world collectively cringe - lol!)

In terms of equine artists, several I've stumbled across I've like well enough to purchase - not as investments, but because I felt a connection.

One is a print of a sketch by Heather Rohde titled Desert Treasures. It's a favorite because the three horses pictured greatly resemble three of the mares at the farm. Farthest left is Foxy, middle is Lace, and on the right, Pennie, as least as I see it. I've seen those same expressions on their faces a thousand times.
Not the best shot of it, perhaps...
but it looks much better on the wall!

Another of my favorites is a more recent discovery - artist & author Nancy Bailey. She writes Cliffy's Mom's Blog. I have three of her note cards framed. She does beautiful things with watercolor & pencil, and I'm drooling over a couple of her charcoal studies.
The eyes have it
*Couldn't get the shots to take without a bad glare in their frames, so I had to take them out. Don't you just love the expressive eyes? Her dog prints are great, as well, and she's an author, too.

What else?
I don't know if he's art, but I use this homely little guy for a door stop. Chopped & welded railroad spikes... it's amazing what you can make out of them.
He makes me smile.

I found him in a junk shop - wish they hadn't painted him copper, but he has character, for all that. Whenever I see him I'm reminded of the cartoons my grandfather used to sketch at the bottom of his letters when I was a kid - little stick horses with flat feet, flat heads, and short tails.

This one is a card I found in a hole-in-the-wall stationary shop on a trip. You can't tell it here, but the card is actually embossed. I'd mention the artist, but the signature is tiny and cursive - it looks like Foley...?

And finally, a picture I took and tinkered with on Photoshop. Maybe it's cheating, but I liked the watercolor effect. That's Sahara, Star and Dancer, farm babies all, as weanlings. Solitaire was being shy - she's back behind Star's butt, peering around.
So, there you have it - those, in addition to a bunch of candid photos of family (including the critters) and of course, this one of Sunny....

How about you guys? Do your horses follow you indoors and help you decorate?

Rainy day memories

Rain today. Nice & gentle, but too steady to play with the ponies.

We went for a walk last night. T rode out to the farm with me and went for a run while I fed. He still wasn't back when I was finished, so Sunny and I walked down the rode to meet him. I almost hopped on, but then decided that was probably a recipe for disaster. He was a bit up - storm coming in, and hadn't been out & about since they all took their little jaunt down the road earlier this spring.

But he minded his manners for the most part, got to eat some grass, and seemed happy enough to be out and about.

In the meantime, I'm keeping myself occupied paging through some old notebooks. Back in college I took lessons flat & jumping twice a week. It was a lot of fun, (and I probably rode a lot better then, too). I thought it would be fun to dig out my lesson journal...

Some days went better than others.
Jump Class Day 1 (3/1/95)

It's an elementary jump class, which means 1 step up from beginner [where I probably ought to have been!]. I started on Fame, who was being goofy about the ice on the roof, the twit! Ruth switched Alexandra and me halfway through so I wound up on Cruz. I'm not sure for whose benefity, but I sure did appreciate the change. I got to canter the small vertical on Cruz - he has a nice easy canter, but my legs were slipping a bit.

Short reins. fairly firm contact, and really leaning into him up to the jump helped. It felt good. I think I'm comfortable on him because he reminds me of Mingo. Maybe....
  1. Steady lower leg - it kept sliding
  2. Shoulders back and seat down at canter - look for the jump and then through it.
To be perfectly honest, jump days terrified me. But I persevered. We rode a mix of horses, some of which really were babysitters and would put you in the right spot at the right time without too much effort on our part. Some of them were work, plain & simple. It helped it you had more than one lesson on some of them, though - because after some reflection on what had gone wrong (or, less seldom, gone right), usually the second lesson was better.

Flat class had its own excitement to offer: Darryl for instance. Darryl was a big, awkward looking, no-mane Appaloosa with the homeliest face. (Remember the Bob Newhart show with Larry the neighbor? The one with two brothers named Darryl? Yeah, like that - LOL!)
Flat Class Day 4

Darryl. Ooh boy. We definitely had a better ride than the last time I rode him. Actually, today went pretty well. I just thought "Percy" real hard at him. It worked for the most part, although our canter was pretty ragged. The more uninvolved I got, the better response I got - I think the last time I was really nervous and uptight, and he knew it. I even managed a pretty good turn on the forehand. Yeah me!
  1. Don't get involved - as light contact as possible
  2. he gets strong on the long sides, but the coreners weren't as bad - staying uninvolved helped there, too
  3. He doesn't like the track, so keeping him straight takes a bit of leg - letting him keep to one or the other side and just keeping him straight there worked.
  4. He's not relaly dumber than dirt - sometimes it just seems like it.
I had over half of my flat lessons on Darryl that semester, and we kept improving together. He was a trail horse before they bought him to use for lessons. He had NO bend either direction, and a tendency to just keep going faster if you didn't keep him gathered up - which you had to do without getting in his face.

After a while, I started getting him a lot for jumping lessons, too - I think this was the first one.
Jump Class Day 8

Darryl and I jumped today. Sometimes separately, but we managed to come down together at least. He was really good, and I think it was one of the best jump lessons I've had all year - not that I did so many things right, but that when I was wrong he was off & then we could fix it. The last jump felt wonderful because we were together and I wasn't getting my signals crossed. We also had some of the best canter transitions we've managed this semester.
  1. eyes on the jump - think leg and don't drop him. He quickens, but doesn't take off - just go with him
  2. steady him after - the more off balance he is the more distracted and obnoxious he gets.
Fame & Cecelia had a great day, & so did Ki & Tympani - in fact, I think everyone had a super lesson! :)
Eventually I started asking for him, and had I had the means and place to keep him at the time, I might have tried to buy him.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Friday Book Review: Three for the road...

Well, almost. I really intended to have three for you this week, but it's turned out to be two and 1/2. This week has been mystery week, among other things, because I needed some escapism - but more on that another post.

I don't know about you all, but I'm a Dick Francis fan. Oh sure, there've been a few of his that I've not been really thrilled with. (Field of Thirteen was sort of a run-of-the-mill IMHO....) But on the whole, he's the probalby the gold standard when it comes to writing horse (racing) mysteries.

Unfortunately, he's not going to be around forever, and besides, I think I've read (and re-read) them all at least a time or two apiece: time to explore some alternatives!

Now Laura Crum's Gail McCarthy series is getting plenty of play elsewhere, and although I really like her books, I've read all of those that are out so far, and while I'll probably read them again, I really wanted something new.

So I took advantage of a few LibraryThing recommendations and culled from the list a couple of titles to start out with. Here's what I came up with:

Stalking Horse by Bill Shoemaker
That's right, that Bill Shoemaker. The veteran jockey turned trainer evidently didn't have enough on his plate, so he's added author to his list of credentials. And you know what? I liked it. I'll admit, I was a bit skeptical, but there's talent there.

Plot? ex-jockey Colley Killebrew has made a successful go of it as a part owner of a thriving Las Vegas restaurant. He's even (mostly) over being accused of race-fixing seven years before. So when the race steward who pressed for his disbarment comes to him with a proposition, he's a bit intrigued, but not enough to take the job. It takes the offer of information on his then-girlfriend, the beautiful, scheming Francie Dorn to get his cooperation.

Now Colley's headed for New Orleans and an undercover operation - if he can block a racetrack scam aimed at taking control of the Magnolia Park track, he'll get what he wants... but to do so he'll have to survive a critical lack of information, a devious ex, the mob, and a little-bitty ol' hurricane. Should be simple, right?

Not bad for a first effort. A few weak moments, and the dialogue was maybe a touch stilted. But I'll definitely track down the subsequent installments to see what Colley gets up to next. Maybe not up to Dick Francis standards yet, but definitely promising.
So that's your domestic, home-grown option. Now for something farther afield - and here's where the 1/2 comes in....

I also picked out a book by John Francome. He's French, an ex-National Hunt Champion jockey, according to his bio, and he has a whole pile of books out, so if I like his book there'll be plenty more to keep me busy.

Inside Track by John Francome
It's early goings yet, as I'm not quite through the first third of the book, but I can already tell Francome's a bit more graphic than either Francis or Shoemaker. Not necessarily more violent, but the perspective in his books shifts between characters, rather than keeping to the steady hero's perspective that both the other two maintain.

Plot? A young, promising jockey takes up with the wrong woman, gets drunk, drives, and kills someone. After a stint in prison, he's back at the track and not sure of his future. Meanwhile, an unidentified someone is reclaiming pots of ill-gotten cash with a bit of murder and arson to cover up the evidence.

The jockey's sister is a horse trainer - slightly struggling - and her father-in-law is, as well, but more established. Question is, are his horses a bit too good at times?

There are quite a few plot threads, and I suspect that the good guys and the bad guys may blur a bit, but that remains to be seen. For now, it's keeping me riveted, even on the exercise machine.
In fairness, I hadn't read a Dick Francis in quite a while. To make sure of a good comparison, I also picked up one of Francis' more recent books.

Under Orders by Dick Francis
Featuring Sid Halley, the one-handed ex-jockey turned investigator (previous outings in Whip Hand, Odds Against, etc.), this was a slightly more loggy Francis than I remembered. A race-fixing scheme and a couple of murders, along with an attack on Halley's new girlfriend liven things up, but lengthy segments on internet gambling weren't all that fun to sweat through. (Yes, this was elliptical fodder, as well-lol!)

I almost had the feeling that a few of the passages had been used previously.... I will, of course, have to read back through a few others to find out if it's only writing style that jogged my memory, or if there is a bit of self-cribbing going on.
If I had to make a choice between the three? I'd still grab Francis, but I'd make it one of the older titles - Bonecrack, Straight or Proof, or even the earlier ones featuring Sid Halley. His later stuff just feels a tiny bit stale....

So there you have it. 2 1/2 mystery reviews to end your week with.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Letting the bucks out...

Jennifer invited this - but I'll take the blame, LOL!

Pet peeve #1 (a.k.a tack room etiquette): How do you hang up your halters? Ladies -I think most of my readers are female....
(now there's a poll topic! But I digress... )
Anyway, dear readers, how do you hang your tack?
I really wish I had a picture, not to mention a tape recording of my mom reading us the riot act about this! Our tack "room" growing up, and I'll use "room" loosely, 'cause what it was was a pole in the barn with homemade saddle & bridle racks attached made neatly of cut wood, recycled metal coffee cans, & 2x4s, may not have been fancy or dust free, but it was organized. Bridles were to be hung up correctly by the headstall, not by cheekpieces, knotted reins or otherwise draped improperly.

Saddles were to be placed back on the racks where they belonged, not left laying about in corners with their edges curling up.

And halters & leads were located were you could grab them as needed.

They DID NOT get wadded into a knotted mess and hung willy-nilly on the closest protruding object. Not if we wanted to keep using them, that's for sure.

I've kept the habit. I won't say that the halter rack in the barn is the cleanest I've ever seen (have you seen the mud on those ponies lately!), but I do keep the halters buckled & hung with the leads attached so that I can easily grab the ones I need without having to unsnarl the whole mess.

And woe betide the one who leaves them otherwise! Grrr!!!!

Pet peeve #2: "But I don't feel like it tonight..." Ever met a dairy farmer who took much time off?
Milk cows require feeding & (yup) milking. Every a.m. Ever night. Just like horses require feeding and looking in on. Every day by someone. Okay, so maybe there are horses out there on 40 acre pastures that run pretty much wild & free as they choose. But they have access to food, water, & turnout, now don't they? If you own a horse and you're not providing opportunities for same, shame on you! The horse doesn't care that you don't feel like it. And when you chose to purchase said animal, you accepted the responisibility to feed it or have it fed, or find it another location with someone else to do so. End of story.

Okay, that does feel better!

Next? You're it, BECG & Mrs. Mom.
And anyone else to cares to play along,
feel free to jump right in.

It's where's Waldo...

The barnyard version

Foxy's nail was not alone out there. I've commented before how spring mud means new nails surfacing to be picked up. This year seems to be particularly bad. If I didn't know better I'd swear some evil person was throwing handfuls of the suckers over the fence!

Can you spot the nail in this picture?How about this one?
It's there, it really is.
Maybe a tad closer...


Today's haul:
And these two honkers get their own shot - YIKES!

Just ducky, isn't it?

I never liked Where's Waldo. But I'm not too bad at "find the nail." I'm sure getting lots of practice. I think I need to get myself a big magnet.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

It must have been a slow news day....

Okay, I've seen show ponies with fake tails, but this - also covered here, and on a Today Show pets segment - is too funny! A spa kind of day, indeed - lol!

Here's the Today Show piece:

Photographer Julian Wolkenstein's website.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Quiet night

Last night was gorgeous. I wish I'd though to grab the camera from the truck earlier, but didn't have it when they were all (including the cat playing tag with the dog) looking cute and photogenic. By the time I fetched it the ponies were all ears deep in the hay bunks, the cat was back to barn duty, and the dog was rolling on part of a dead, flat, dried-up snake she'd dragged over from the sheep bale. So not cute!

So you're spared the gratuitous "Awws" this a.m. :)

I did go back up and grab the camera to catch a couple quick shots of Thunder's scrapes from his run-in with the fence Sunday evening. As I'd suspected he'd be, he's a bit puffy where he dragged his leg across the sucker rod, but he's certainly not favoring it at all.

(Pardon the mud!)

As you can see, a bit swollen, but no lumps, bumps or punctures. Both legs were about the same temp; warm, since he'd been standing in the sunshine. He didn't object to my feeling it or flexing it in various directions at the hock or the fetlock, and he didn't mind standing on it while I did the same to the other leg. So... bruised, but nothing too terrible, thank goodness. I'll keep an eye on him, and maybe apply some liniment the next few nights.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Follow-up to PSA

Mrs. Mom commented that something big must have happened to prompt today's earlier post.

Thankfully, not a major catastrophe - not this time. Just a reflection on an on-going annoyance.

Yesterday I arrived at the farm to a group of horses with spring fever and no place to run it off. They were looping the lot, tails flagged, throwing in the occasional buck just because it felt good. Not a problem - pretty to watch, actually.

But in one of their passes around and through the lot gate got knocked partway closed (the chain fastening it open has apparently been appropriated for someplace else again), and before I could fix it, Thunder got himself stuck in the V between the gate and the fence. Of course, backing up on his own wasn't an option (silly horse!) he was determined to go forard OVER the V, and then to complicate things, he stuck a hind foot over the sucker rod on the fence side.... Thank goodness for nice round sucker bar! After a few hairy moments I got him sorted out. Minus a bit of hair, but other than the odd scrape or two he seemed fine. But that excitement was followed closely by the recurring behavior that prompted my PSA.
For whatever reason, some people just aren't motivated to change ingrained habits. So on the odd occasion that I have "help" with the horses, I have to keep an eagle eye out for square knots and assorted other odd methods for attaching the horses to their various spots. It's a wee bit frustrating to hear, "Oh, I just can't seem to get the hang of these silly knots." T is not the culprit, but you all probably guessed that!
Usually, I just shrug to myself, check, and move on.

But hot on the heels of what could
have been a major wreck,
it stuck with me,
and I had to vent.

I'm relatively okay with the "wrap the rope around the post" option - at least that way if one of them panics, they're not going to hang themselves. It does make for easy self-release - not a habit I really want encouraged... but in the grand scheme, it's fairly minor.

But tying with hard knots is just inviting an accident. I don't care how broke your horse is, there's always that freak breeze that picks up that random blowing feed sack, the deer that goes bounding out of the tree lot, or a dog that starts barking at the wrong moment. Not to mention the weird noises cows and sheep make all the time.... And that's at home. New places have even more potentially scary horse-eaters.
Have you ever seen a horse hanging upside down from their halter? I have. It's not pretty. And it's a lot harder to get a halter unbuckled than you'd think. But that's a story for another day.
I do carry a Leatherman multi-tool. It's not exactly ideal for sawing through rope or nylon, but it will do in a pinch.

What's better is something that locks open, with a sawtooth cutting edge - a lot of ropers carry these, in case a horse, cow or person gets hung up in the arena or otherwise. They're even commonly called ropers knives. Not a bad thing to have in your back pocket, especially if you insist on tying with square knots, 'cause it's only gonna be a matter of time before you'll need one!

Monday PSA : knots

For cripes sake! If you're gonna own a horse, learn to tie a good quick release knot!

It's NOT that difficult! (No pun intended.)

There are a multitude of places you can find directions - with pictures, even. Here's one. Here's another. And lots of lovely articles.

There are even videos, believe it or not(!)

This is a decent one, but there are lots more - just hop over to YouTube and search "quick release knot horses" for a wide selection.

And if for some reason you physically can't tie a knot? (You're wearing a cast, only have one hand, whatever....)

Invest in some sort of product that allows you to attach the ponies to things - safely! I haven't used "the Clip" but it would seem to be one fairly simple solution. Or there's the Blocker Tie Ring which looks to be another fairly widely used alternative that's carried by a multitude of equine suppliers. (Note - I'm not endorsing either of these products, I'm simply saying that if you can't tie your horse because of a problem YOU, not the horse has, there are options.

Options other than
the good old
granny style square knot.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Miscellaneous Friday goings-on

Caught this on the odometer the other day

Buzzed around yesterday working on my chore list. Fed the ponies, ran back to town to do some grocery shopping with T and pick up grain & cat food.

Sometimes they even share nicely

Then back to the farm. My horse chore list is a bit shorter - ponies are (somewhat) de-fuzzed and wind-tangle free.
Yes, there's a tiny bit of shedding going on.

Someone has fuzzy ears!

There's a brush under that clump somewhere

I took care of a few more low hanging limbs on the lot tree, and then just hung out for a while.
"Well - are you gonna feed me?"

Friday, April 10, 2009

Friday Book Review: Dan Patch (finally!)

I've been working my way through Dan Patch's story for the last month now. (For those of you who don't know my reading habits, that's a long time for a book to last.) It's certainly not that this wasn't a well written book - or that the topic wasn't interesting. It's been a busy month!

Crazy Good: the true story of Dan Patch, the most famous horse in America by Charles Leerhsen
Dan Patch, for those of you who might be unfamiliar, was a Standardbred pacer who turned the harness rading world on its ear.

Born in 1896 in the small town of Oxford, Indiana, the horse that was to become a cultural icon was almost put down immediately due to a crippled rear leg. The offspring of an obscurely bred, lame mare and nasty-tempered stallion with a decent harness racing record, Dan Patch went on to become the first horse to pace a mile in 1:56 seconds. He eventually lowered that record, albeit under slightly dubious circumstances, to 1:55.

Dan Patch paced naturally, no hobbles required. (If you've ever seen a trotter race, and it's rare to find a track still in operation anymore, you'll likely have seen horses race in hobbles & assorted other paraphenalia intended to keep them from breaking gait.) He was something of fluke in other ways, too - traveling exceedingly well, handling crouds with equanimity, and taking almost every publicity event in stride.

The story Leerhsen writes is at once less and more than the simple biography of a great horse. It's a chatty, sometimes catty, account of a horse's life, of the lives and personalities of the men who surrounded him, and also a window into another time.
I picked the book up in the first place because I remember hearing about Dan Patch in Indiana (my grandparents lived for a while in Bloomington) and the name rang a bell from lyrics in the musical The Music Man, as well. I enjoyed reading it, even as long as it took me to get through.

If you're curious and would like to know more, check out the Dan Patch Historical Society or check out a brief bio courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society. If you're intrigued, track down a copy of Crazy Good - simply put, if you've seen or read Seabiscuit and enjoyed it, or read Old Bones, the Wonder Horse and felt likewise, give Crazy Good a shot.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Almost Friday

Picked up another load of hay today. It's grey and looks a lot like snow. We have a cold 50' but there's nothing forecast. The ponies were happy to see me. Well, happy to see the prospect of grain, anyway - it's always nice to be greeted enthusiastically. :)

No school tomorrow since it's Good Friday. The lot is still fetlock deep in mud in spite of the run-off spots I worked in on Tuesday. Thankfully there's a rise where the horses can get their feet out of the yuck and enjoy the sunshine. If it's decent tomorrow Sunny and I are going for a walk and he's getting a good brushing. I need some horse therapy. It's been a very long week, even if it's only been 4 days worth.

This weekend is worming. Since it's staying cold, I'm going to postpone vaccinations until next weekend. West Nile & annual 4-ways all around - or at very least, for our two and I need to remind J.

Other than that? Well, there's fence to walk again, and a couple wires to get back up so they can be tied back in to the electric before the horses go out on pasture. I should respade the drainage channels I cut through the worst spots in the lot in hopes that some more of the water drains off. There are a couple more limbs on the big tree in the lot that need to be cut out of eye-poking range. And I need to pick up grain, stop at the vet's for vaccine, and work on the wind tangles I didn't get to this afternoon. All of the ponies are shedding like crazy. So that's my horse list. Which of course, trumps the house/yard work for home list - LOL!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

I'll play!

MiKael & BECG have a "getting to know your horse history" quiz up, and it looked like fun... The invite's out, so if you want to reminisce too, feel free!

1. How old were you when you first started riding? Really riding? I probably started steering a bit on my own around 4. That's when my mom commenced the great Pony Hunting Expedition and we acquired Shandar, the chronically fuzzy.

2. First horse ridden? That would be Cricket, I think.

3. First horse trotted on? Shan? Can't remember!
4. First horse cantered on? Either Shan, or one of a family friend's. She had a herd of horses that the grandkids all lived on in the summer.

5. First Horse fallen off of? Probably Shan.

6. Most recent horse fallen off? Sunny. We were working on nice easy lope circles on a really windy day - my hat flew off, hit him in the butt and he spooked. He was headed for the fence and a big rock. I was going to come off anyway, so I baled while I still had a choice of landing pads.

7. Most terrifying fall? Borrowed drill team horse rearing over on top of me. Also the most expensive fall I've ever had.

8. First horse jumped with? Hmmm - I think it was a whippy little Appy-Arab cross when I was taking lessons in College. Fame. But it might have been one of the others.

9. First horse who ran away with you? Shan. Probably. He never ran away very fast, though. He just steered where HE wanted to go, which was usually back to the barn. My first real panicky runaway horse? Pennie -she has one bad eye, and a dog in a yard we were passing on her bad side stood up and headed toward us. He wasn't threatening, she just hadn't seen him until then. She spun around and headed the other way at a dead run faster than you can say "jack rabbit." A quarter mile later I got her slowed down and we went back and took a good look at the dog. Once she knew what it was, no problem.

10. First horse that scared the crap out of you? As in I think I'm gonna die? Yeah... that would be the silly little bugger that tried to jump sideways off a 15' river embankment to get down to where the other two riders already were. Silly twit. Don't know what his name was. We slid sideways 4 or 5 ' down the hill before I got him pointed in the right direction.

11. First horse shown? Does leadline count? Either "Fat Sally" or "Trigger" two QHs belonging to a family that showed. On my own? Shan, I think.

12. First horse to win a class with? I got a ribbon in leadline.... I don't remember if I ever came in first in 4-H with Shan or not. Sunny and I took home Grand Champion Half-Arab Gelding at the South Dakota State Fair a couple years ago....

13. Do you/have you taken lessons? Yep. English. The only way I could ride at college was to take lessons, since I didn't have the extra 15K a year it would have cost to transport a horse out east & board it. It was a lot of fun, although jumping scared the heck out of me!

14. First horse you ever rode bareback? I couldn't saddle Shan by myself, so we spent most of our time bareback. And riding with friends we almost never bothered with saddles. In fact, one year at the 4-H show the judge commented that the best riding he'd seen all day was in the bareback equitation class - otherwise we were all pretty uncoordinated! :)

15. First horse trail ridden with? Formal trail ride with organization & everything? Borrowed 3-year-old palamino gelding named Pal out in the Badlands after I moved to SD. Informally? Shan - our whole riding experience was pretty much one big trail excursion.

16. Current Barn name? J's farm name is Flaming Star Arabians. It's part of Sunny's registered name, as well.

17. Do you ride English or western? Mostly western, although I started using the English saddle with Sunny last year because he's more comfortable in it.

18. First Horse to place at a show with? Shan.

19. Ever been to horse camp? I helped out for a couple of summers with a Girl Scout riding camp - it was a lot of fun.

20. Ever been to a riding clinic? Only as an observer.

21. Ridden sidesaddle? Nope.

22. First horse leased? I've never leased a horse. Borrowed a bunch, and ridden other peoples a lot, but I've never leased one.

23. Last Horse Leased? See above.

24. Highest ribbon in a show? Champion with Sunny. Oh yeah, and we also took the blue in Liberty. He was a star - lol!

25. Ever been to an 'A' rated show? Only as part of the audience. Maybe someday - if I ever win the lottery. It's a bit $$$ and a bit too intense. I have more fun fooling around.

26. Ever competed in pony games/relay races? Yes.

27. Ever fallen off at a show? Not to date, but I expect it's only a matter of time.

28. Do you ride Hunter/Jumpers? I'd like to - well, the jumper part still scares me, but....

29. Have you ever barrel raced? Yes - but only at playdays & 4-H events. Nothing serious.

30. Ever done pole bending? Yes

31. Favorite gait? Depends - I really love that BIG traveling extended trot that feels like you're floating, but it depends on the horse.

32. Ever cantered bareback? Oh yeah!
33. Have you ever done dressage? Nope, but I'd love to learn.

34. Have you ever evented? No. Fun to watch, terrifying to think about doing.

35. Have you ever mucked a stall? Yep.

36. Ever been bucked off? Yes

37. Ever been on a horse that reared? Yes - and it's not an experience I'd appreciate repeating, either.

38. Horses or ponies? Both - I've been around good ones & bad ones of each. Someday I'd really like to have a Welsh pony again. Shan was a doll.

39. Do you wear a helmet? Jumping or taking lessons, and occasionally when I'm working with one I know may launch me. But as a regular thing - no.

40. What's the highest you've jumped? 3' give or take.

41. Have you ever ridden at night? Yes - moonlight on snow is almost like daylight. It's beautiful.

42. Do you watch horsey television shows? I prefer horse TV non-fiction (RFD, etc) - movies & TV shows with horse themes annoy me.

43. Have you ever been seriously hurt/injured from a fall? Seriously? I've never broken anything major. Seperated a couple of ribs, and my back has been messed up a couple of times (at least according to the guy who read the x-rays), but nothing that's kept me on the ground for longer than a week or two. Knock on wood.

44. Most falls in one lesson? Never more than once per ride, I don't think....

45. Do you ride in an arena/ring? Not on a regular basis. The closest arena requires hauling, and since I'm currently sans-trailer....

46. Have you ever been trampled by a horse? Yes.

47. Have you ever been bitten? Yes.

48. Ever had your foot stepped on by a horse? You're kidding, right?

49: Favorite riding moment? First time I loped bareback on Sunny is right up there, but any good day riding is a favorite moment.

50. Most fun horse you've ridden? I can't name just one - when it's going well, I just plain enjoy the horse I'm riding, and how does it get better than that! But if I have to pick on, probably Shan, because I spent so much time doing all sorts of things on him, and I was too young to know how rare being that relaxed & carefree was.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Off to the races, it's... Barbie?

So in case you didn't catch it on Fox News or - no, I guess it wasn't a big enough story for CNN - last week, Barbie is hitting the track. Not track as in track & field. The big track: Churchill Downs.

That's right, Barbie is going to the Derby.

Now I don't know about you, but I was a Barbie girl growing up. And of course, my dolls stayed primly posed in their pretty pink boxes, pristine and perfect - NOT!

Unfortunately for them and whatever future collectability they possessed, my Barbies went spelunking in muddy sand caves down by the river, had their toes and other appendages nibbled by sharp puppy teeth, sailed through the air arms out-stretched like Superman on the end of dog leashes - occasionally biting the dirt or the odd tree limb in passing, and of course, galloped around on spectacularly robed plastic horses. (Of course I had Barbie's horses!)

My Barbies have long since gone to the giant landf- er, toy box in the sky. (Although I have a lot of plastic horses, broken legs & all in a padded box in the closet, much to T's dismay.) And of course I always watch the Derby if I can, so when I heard Barbie & Derby in the same sentence, my ears pricked up. IMHO, it's cool she's going to be making an appearance - it's just too bad she's only a spectator.

Fran Jurga over at the Jurga Report ponders that interesting question - which would you rather see little girls playing with: Kentucky Derby Barbie in all her hatted glory, or Backstrech Barbie sleek & lean on glossy pony? I'm pretty sure I know which one I'd have gravitated to as a kid, and she wouldn't have been wearing high heels and a fru-fru hat - well not for long, anyway! But the mint juleps and sexy heels? Yeah, I'd probably take those, and a Derby ticket, too! :) How about you?

Cats - off topic

Couldn't resist grabbing the camera -
Mabel "helping" T grade last night.

Hay drama

The subject of hay has come up once or twice this winter. Basically, the horses, including mine, have ended up in the middle of a husband/wife debate between G & J over what type of hay gets purchased & how much and where it gets fed. Since I'm doing the feeding (and of course, have my own opinions on all of those topics), I'm catching the fallout along with the ponies.

So last weekend we hit the second bad round bale of the year - not so terrible, two bales out of 25+ they've gone through this winter. It really wasn't that big a deal, the cows were still very happy to eat it, so it wasn't as if it was wasted....

Except that we just had two feet of new snow, which makes pasture out of the question until things dry out and the grass has a chance to come in well.

G took the opportunity to inform J that he was down to the last few grass rounds, and since she's complaining about quality, etc., she could just find her own hay this time.

So I did some calling and managed to line up some really lovely small squares. T and I picked up the first load Sunday. (Can I say I've very seldom been happier for 4 wheel drive? The roads were awful!)
Mostly unloaded

It's currently stacked nice and dry in the garage since it was too muddy to unload and transfer easily into the barn.
I will be ever so happy
to be DONE

with all of this drama!

In other news - it must be spring - the turkeys are back.
A whole mess of toms - not sure where the hens are, but the guys are waiting!