Sunday, February 28, 2010

Bits & pieces from the classics

Discovered while browsing my bookshelf this morning:
A jumping competition which tests the training of the horse. The jumps are not high but are peculiar. They may be such things as a wheelbarrow, a pair of chairs set seat to sear, a baby's bathtub filled with water, a bassinet, a row of pails hung on a rod which are rattled as the horse approaches, etc. One way of scoring this competition is as in golf. Each time a horse approaches a jump it is one "stroke," if he shies out or refuses it will cost him another "stroke." Thus the par of a ten jump course would be ten.
from the Horseman's Encyclopedia by Margaret Cabot Self (1946)

We once had to move crates of (highly agitated) live chickens from one barrel to another in trail class. I can vouch for the fact it was a LOT more entertaining for the spectators.

I also like this one:
The mallenders are the chestnuts or small callosities appearing on the insides of the horses' legs. There is some disagreement as to exactly what these are, though some authorities feel that they are all that remains of the fifth toe of the prehistoric horse.
Never heard that name for them before.

Sunny it was not

But we did at least have mid-20's yesterday, so there were patches of melt water in the road and here and there in the lot. The horses' coats are noticeably starting to loosen as the days get longer. But on the news last night they predicted a cold and snowy March with below-average temps lasting through mid-April. Brrr! The Farmers' Almanac sure had it right.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

It's not a Friday, but it's a Book Review

I haven't read a horse-related book in a while (although if you need some YA recommendations, I have a new batch of those...), but someone recommended this one to me and it sounded intriguing.

Actually, what I heard - although in hindsight, I don't think it's what the recommender said - was that this is a true story. While it seems fairly probable that some of the events, particularly the racetrack-related bits, may be based on events that may have happened somewhere to someone, 12 Miles to Paradise is definitely NOT non-fiction. Still...

12 Miles to Paradise: a people story about horses & horseracing by Ted Simendinger
Briefly, this is the story of a race horse that refused to run and what happened next. And it's what happens next, both to a not very fast, but very stubborn Whodathunkit, that kept me turning pages.

Like Ferdinand the bull, who only wanted to smell the flowers and ended up affecting far more lives than he knew, a grey gelding re-dubbed Bonefish changes the course of events for the residents of one whole island and several more people on two different continents.

The premise is absurd, the action is flatly unbelievable... and yet there's a ring to the events surrounding Bonefish particularly that shines 24 carat. (My own family has tales of the backstretch that at first hearing are as oddly unlikely, so who am I to cast doubt.)

In spite of the somewhat rough and ready delivery and a choppy narration (peppered with numerous trivial details and off plot meanderings), it's oddly charming and pleasantly memorable.
Simendinger is a motivational speaker who's written one other book (humorous short stories about people & animals, based on the description). He doesn't claim horse-expertise, and his bio makes no reference to horses at all, so if there are a few gaffs perhaps it's not surprising. Is this the best horse book I've ever read? No. But it's entertaining in an offbeat, oddball way.

My recommendation: don't run right out and buy a copy, but if you happen across it at your local library or swap-shop, give it a chance. You may find yourself smiling.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Warm weekend and worming accomplished

Small puddles on the sidewalks and sloppy country roads - yeah!

Not much sun to enjoy, but still the warmer temps and no wind makes a welcome change from the deep freeze. We got everybody wormed on Friday (except Rufus - I forgot the weight tape). They were, of course, thrilled.
They're all staying pretty much in line weight-wise with the notable exception being Sunny, who I think could gain weight on air. He's a tub.

Remember that children's picture book about the pigeon and the bus? Here it's cats that shouldn't drive tractors - lol!

Saturday I remembered the weight tape and the wormer, and Rufus took his medicine with minimal fuss. He's gained just over 100 lbs since we bought him. He's a little round now, but some of that will come off this spring when he's getting ridden again.
Speaking of round - there's enough burro there for two! Eeyore is definitely NOT going hungry.
J has new calves on the ground. New enough they still look like they're covered in crushed velvet. Very cute hopping around attempting to play king of the hill in the snowdrifts.

Not much else to report - and unexciting is just fine, thank you very much!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Safety first

Reading everyone's blog entries about riding has me feeling both jealous and guilty. Jealous because I can't wait for spring, guilty because I know even then I probably won't be riding as much as I should. Count me in on the whole "Shut up and ride" movement! (I really need that mug-lol)

But I'm consoling myself with the fact that even in the winter there's plenty to address on the learning and safe behavior front.

Mrs. Mom just posted on why
proper hoof-handling is critical
and how she prefers it to be taught,
- definitely worth reading.

I've been thinking about what and how I do things for a while now, and it seems to me that feeding time is another opportunity for reinforcing groundwork on plenty of levels.

Case in point: we move hay to the horses every day. They're loose. There are eight of them, and sometimes we feed in the dark with head lamps. Eight horses, darkness, slippery snow and a pitchfork could be very nasty very quickly.

Just as a basic rule,
horses need to respect people-space
even in the presence
of something desirable
like hay or (even more yummy) grain.

And for the most part the herd was pretty good about respecting us already. The real kicker - sometimes literally - was horse on horse action, not so much horse on human action. The first winter we fed daily (in previous years they had a round bale feeder, 24/7 access to hay and they did their own sorting out of who ate where) it took a number of days to reinforce the "thou shalt nots" of feeding time.

These are the rules:
  • You will not run me (or anyone else) over when I'm moving hay.
  • You will not run someone else over me when I'm moving hay.
  • You will shift over if I need you to, even if there are four of you in my way.
  • You all look horse-shaped in the dark, therefore you can all stand still while I use your shoulder, neck, butt as a prop to climb in and out of the feeder, (whether or not I'm balancing a pitchfork and wearing a headlamp) regardless of whether you've ever been ridden. In return I will try not to poke you with the pitchfork or shine the light in your eyes or fall down underneath you (but I can't promise anything).
How did we manage? Well, first of all, these particular eight horses are all relatively mature, have an established pecking order, and as I already said, on the whole they're pretty respectful of human space. All of those are important points, and if any of them weren't the case I 'd probably do things a bit differently at least to start with.

Some rules came with time - the headlamps, for example, we didn't end up introducing until the feeding routine was already well-established. The days simply got shorter and carrying a flashlight wasn't really workable. Had we shown up the first night in the dark and started roaming around with headlamps - even bearing food, they probably would have freaked. As it was, one night the feeders just showed up with lights on their heads. And it was no big deal.

The thou-shalt-not run over me or run anyone else over me rules took longer, and they still need reinforcing on occasion. I reinforce the same way I established them: when somebody forgets and needs a reminder that nastiness with people underfoot is not tolerated (usually Sunny or one of the middle mares), the reminder consists of me moving them.

I'm not loud, dramatic, angry-sounding or violent about it. I just emphasize what they elected to forget - that I, as the human, get to determine what space they get to occupy.

Here's how.

I stop what I'm doing, single that horse - let's call him Sunny - out and make him move for a minute or so. I don't run. I stay on the inside of the loose "circle" the herd forms around the feeders and insist Sunny stay outside it. He doesn't get to stop and eat, he doesn't get to hide among the other horses. He gets to travel, generally at a trot, but a good brisk walk is acceptable. I don't run or yell, I don't try to direct where he goes, I just keep him from stopping.

What are the rest of the horses doing?
Usually, ignoring the byplay completely.

After a minute or two depending - if he still has his ears cocked back and a snarky expression (that would mainly be Star) he gets to keep going - when he pauses and faces me, I'll stop too. If he stands, I'll walk up to his shoulder. If he moves off again as I walk up or makes nasty faces (Star), I go right back to keeping him moving. If he stands, I'll rub his withers and then walk away to whatever I was doing before. Initially it might take a couple of times a night, sometimes with the same horse, sometimes with several of them. As time went on I needed to remind them less and less and I was also using less pressure to send them off.

Now that the behavior pattern for feeding time is set, if they're all really antsy I can assume one of two things: either the weather is changing (easy enough to determine), or that I need to feed a bit heavier because they're hungrier than I'd like them to be.

It isn't a hard and fast cure-all: they still have preferred eating arrangements, favorite spots, and lunch buddies. Ears still get laid back and the occasional foot gets cocked when someone lower on the pecking order sticks their nose in where it's not welcome. And Sunny still migrates from feeder to feeder to see which one is best situated, out of the wind, or tastiest on any given day, moving the other horses as he does it because he is the "boss"(iest) horse.

But he (mostly) doesn't do it when I'm nearby.

As an overall strategy initially, the move-their-feet worked best with the horses that had some experience either on a longe line or in a round pen - they already knew how to move away from pressure. Those horses moved off more easily and faced up more readily. But regardless of past experience, they all learned. And I think if/when we get the others started with formal groundwork it will help us out there, too.

I don't presume to be a trainer or an expert horse-anything - this is simply what works for me with these eight horses. Reading Mrs. Mom's post I found plenty of food for thought, and not just on hoof handling. I'd love to hear other strategies for feeding groups - do you tie? Separate to feed? What's worked for you (or not) and why?

Sad news...

British novelist and jockey Dick Francis dies on Valentine's Day

Francis has been one of my favorite horse/mystery authors since I first picked up one of his books many years ago. A precocious reader at an early age, I devoured books at a steady pace, zipping through whatever happened to catch my eye on the bookshelves (the insulation, as my father sometimes referred to them) lining the walls of our house.

Francis books offered multiple points of goodness: first of course, they're horse-related. They describe exotic locations like Newmarket and various racecourses around England (I grew up in the UP of Michigan... many places were pretty exotic - lol). Well-stocked with main characters of strong, if sometimes slightly bent, moral compasses and great determination, they're also interesting, easily portable (at least in paperback), and highly entertaining. Best of all, they were something my mother deemed appropriate reading material and I didn't have to hide them - not that I'd ever have dreamed of doing that with anything I read, Mom (grin) - except maybe late at night when I wanted to read just one more chapter after lights-out.

As an adult I've continued to enjoy Francis books, even reviewing his latest here, although I'm a bit more fond of some of his earlier efforts. Bonecrack, Nerve, Flying Finish and so many more kept me company on numerous bus trips and family vacations. I even found a few Francis novels, welcome old friends, on the shelves in the Norwegian library I frequented when I spent a summer working overseas.

Along with several others, Robert B. Parker (the Spencer for Hire series), J. D. Salinger (Catcher in the Rye), Erich Segal (Love Story) have all passed this year, Francis will be greatly missed.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day

Guess what we got? More snow and lots of wind...
The howling outside had the cats freaking out. But at least there was some sun, and with enough layers it even felt sort of warm. Or at least not too terrible if you could manage to stay out of the wind.

When we got to the farm the driveway was drifted in badly enough that even 4-wheel wasn't going to get us up the driveway. We hiked up. I headed out to hay the horses. G was hooking up the trailer to deliver a load of sheep, so T hopped in the tractor to get the drive cleared.

Which, of course, had to be just a tiny bit exciting.See the trailer? It was sitting half into the ditch. The driveway's glassy-ice under the snow. G turned and the trailer just started sliding. The pick-up's white, so you can't really see it, but I think it may have a new dent or two from the mailbox.

The horses found the un-sticking process must-see TV. Me? I stayed busy with the hay. It was much more entertaining from a distance - LOL! They eventually unhitched the truck and used the tractor to push the trailer back on to the road, and G headed out. I fussed with the horses and played with the dog while T finished cleaning up the driveway.

My camera has decided to do weird things in the cold. See the lower right edge of the middle picture up above where it looks sort of spliced? Well I didn't Photoshop it - and I also ended up with this one. Both of them look perfect in the previews, but when I open them...
Not sure what's up with that. Hopefully something a change of batteries and/or a new disc will fix.

Let it snow...

I hate to keep writing about the weather
but given the season,
there doesn't seem to be much else to write about!

Friday almost looked pretty - sunny, shiny....
See the cloud bank off there to the west?
It was a real low cloud.
Still, not too bad.
The drifts on the road out to the farm
are really piling up.
And the fog was moving in.
Half a mile later, no more sunshine.
At that it still looked better than yesterday.
New snow and a good strong north wind.
That's road there in front of us -
don'tcha just LOVE winter?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The birds

When I got to the farm on Friday the starlings were thick in the tress. Not sure if they migrate or not, but they were all flocked together and chattering away like crazy.

I scraped up the last of the bale to distribute. I'm pretty sure this particular bale was made up of hay from along the road edge, as T said he's pulled a bunch of flattened pop cans out of it. I found a toothpaste tube, which confirms my road-edge theory. The hay itself is lovely, but odds and ends of things (and dust removal) is one reason why we shake the hay out before feeding. T said when he was farming he knew guys that would eat their lunch on the tractor and just toss the wrappers back into the baler. Bleh.

The horses got a new bale yesterday - no signs of trash in this one. I'm always amazed by how how bad a round bale can look on the outside, and how beautiful and sweet smelling the hay is once you peel off the strings & outer leaf.
The feeder calves & replacement heifers that G's keeping in the grain bin lot all clustered close - they've learned that when we feed we always throw anything the horses leave in the tire feeders as well as the outside & bottoms of the bales over to them. They aren't as fussy as the horses - they actually like the "caramelized" stuff, and they sleep on whatever they don't eat.

Not much news this week. It continues to snow and next week they're saying cold. I don't know if the flocking starlings are a sign of spring, but it's quite definitely still winter!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

"How to ride a pony"

How to Ride a Pony
~Warning, possibly offensive~

poster from The Oatmeal

I thought it was funny... not sure what that says about me.

For what it's worth, the
17 Things Worth Knowing About Your Cat
poster is also entertaining,
appears to be more accurate*,
and is probably less offensive.

*no sources cited for any of these facts, so quote at your own risk.**
**Sorry, it's a librarian thing.
We like our facts verified by more than one source - LOL.