Sunday, October 30, 2011

Abruptly, Winter Came

I am in a new situation this year, when it comes to pasture.   In the past, we carefully metered out pasture time, balancing scant grass with lots of hay.   That was in Bentley Creek, where we just had a few acres of pasture (of course, last year, we finally fenced an additional three acres, which we had been planning on doing for seven years. Then we moved.  The horses never grazed in the new pasture!).
While the mares are distracted, Stormkite closes in on the hay.

This year, we have seven acres of pasture, fenced off in two large, one small and one sacrifice area.   One of the large pastures is still full of long, rich grass.  The grass happens to be snow-covered at the moment, but it’s there.  I have never come to October thirtieth with long grass in the pasture, and the reason it’s there is that it has been so darn wet this year.  I don’t want to put the horses in it for long periods, because they will trash the pasture, turning it into mud and making it that much worse next year. 

So there it sits, in all its long greenness. 

I confess, I did put the herd out in it for a few hours yesterday.  The snow was barreling in and I wanted them to get some grass before it’s totally covered.  

They ate for a while, and they got soaked by the wet snow.  As the wind came up, they were still out there, but then I noticed that they were all gathered in the corner closest to the house.  They were looking over the fence, eating, looking over the fence.

The pastures this morning.
No animal communicator I, but I had a feeling that five little horses were using their collective consciousness to tell me it was time for them to come in, but they didn’t want to admit it.   The gate to their shelter was open, so they could have gone in, but they instead planted themselves where I had to notice them. 

I did notice them.  After a while, they went up toward the gate, still munching, mind you, still not wanting to leave that long grass, but I definitely got the feeling they wanted me to tell them to come in. 

I try not to pretend I understand what horses’ thoughts are, because I notice that when people do that, they often come up with an interpretation that sounds more like the person’s thoughts than what the horses’ thoughts are likely to be.  Which brings out a big word that always starts arguments on the Chronicle of the Horse Forums: anthropomorphism.

However, I think the grass was so good, and those mares were so happy to be in the grass for a change that they didn’t want to leave, and they would decide to stay in the grass, if they were doing the deciding (the gelding doesn’t get a vote).  But the weather was so bad, they were definitely amenable to the idea of coming in for some goodies and hay.
DeCato, alert, chipper and dry this morning.

So I finally broke down, found a dry pair of gloves and my winter boots, and called them in.   I spread out some hay pellets and alfalfa cubes, turned around and there was Stormkite, followed in seconds by Dee, DeCato and Starlight.  No Hudson, but that worked out, since I fence those four separately from my big bully, anyway.  I shut their gates and looked out for Hudson.  I didn’t see her anywhere, so I yelled a booming, “Hudson!”

I turned to refill my goodies scoop, turned back and there she was.  I don’t know how she materialized that fast, but she must have run, full-tilt, from wherever she was when she heard me.  Their quick cooperation to my request that they come in verified my sense that they had been hoping for just such an invitation, though they couldn’t bear to leave that grass without a prompt.

They were soaking wet and it was supposed to drop to 25F by 7 a.m., so I felt a little worried about their warmth.  However, when we met again this morning, they were all dry and warm, a testament to the amazing ability a horse has to keep herself comfy.  I don’t think I would have been able to dry off a set of thick, wet clothes by standing in a stable overnight in below-freezing temperatures.  

But given a pile of hay and a roof, those ponies are dry and toasty as the early winter settles in.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

This Weekend's Horse Events, Oct 28 - 31, 2011

You have a few good choices this weekend.  You might want to see if you can audit Vitor Silva's clinic.  Last time I saw him, he was looking goooood on a big, white, Spanish stallion.  Have a great weekend, all!

Oct. 28-30: Vitor Silva Clinic
Cathy Zappala’s Farm, Cato, NY. For details:

Oct. 29: Twin Tiers Trail Riders
Rain date October 30, 2010 - PA Grand Canyon Day ride. Meet in the parking lot across from the Maintenance Buildings on West Rim Road. This is the parking lot with the bathrooms at the trail head. Contact Jeanne Root 570-596-3653 or

Oct. 30 Irish Draught Horse Society of North America Hunter Pace
10 am to 2 pm at Batzing Farms, 3932 Batzing Road, Caledonia, NY.
For more information, download the

Oct. 30: Stoneybrook Farm Halloween Haunted Open Horse Show
Newfield NY. Classes for all levels of Pleasure and Hunt seat riders; Check out Pairs classes 48 and 49; Compete all day is Costume. Ribbons to 6th place/Division prizes Many best costume prizes!!!! Costumes are optional but: Boots and Helmets with Harnesses are required when mounted anywhere on show grounds. 607) 564- 0063
Rain date October 30, 2010 - PA Grand Canyon Day ride. Meet in the parking lot across from the Maintenance Buildings on West Rim Road. This is the parking lot with the bathrooms at the trail head. Contact Jeanne Root 570-596-3653 or

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Flying Colors

Starlight was a rock star yesterday at the Halloween party and obstacle course.  We were at Wendy and Roger Youmans’ High Country Stables in Hornby, an awesome facility with over 100 acres and a big barn with lots of stalls, heated bathroom and kitchen/eating area and an indoor arena (it’s for sale, by the way). 

The obstacles included an elevated bridge, teeter-totter, poles for bending, a mailbox, ground poles, a tarp curtain, and also involved picking up, carrying and replacing things from barrels and cones.  Oh, and a big ball, lent by yours truly.

The food was potluck and included sandwiches, meatballs, candied apples, donuts and decadent baked beans, the latter also being supplied by yours truly, if you’re wondering.

Starlight, the little cutie-pie, was dressed as a circus pony, and really, nothing fazed her in the course, not even the teeter-totter, which moves under the horse.  The tarp curtain was the only thing that gave her pause at first, but it wasn’t long before she was just pushing right through. 

Here are pictures from the day.  It’s hard to take good pictures in an arena (especially while on a horse), but they give you an idea of the look of things.
The Circus Pony

The Circus Pony, now with Bareback Rider. ( I didn't know my butt does that when I ride! Eek!)

"Luigi and Yoshi" (Amber and Smoke)

Wendy and LT as hippies

Taz is the horse

The Spread

Better get Ghost Hunters up to High Country Stables!

The bridge

The teeter-totter


Another view of the curtain

Wendy's horse, LT (left) tried to kill Starlight.  I think it's half Tasmanian Devil.
The ball and arena.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Twin Tiers Horse Activities, Oct. 21-23, 2011

Holy road apples!  October is more than half over.  But there are still lots of great horse events, you horse enthusiasts!  Hunter paces. anyone?  There are two this weekend.  Shows, clinics, dressage...lots of good stuff, so ignore the rain and go have fun.

Oct. 21-23: Stepping Stone Horse Show
NYS Fairgrounds Coliseum, Syracuse. The Stepping Stone Horse Show is an unrecognized Hunter Show. Friday begins at 4pm with Hunter classes over fences at the 2'3" through 2'9" height and is followed by under saddle classes for these divisions. Saturday starts with Hunter and Equitation classes over fences at the 2'3" through 2'9" height and is followed by corresponding flat classes. Classes for Beginner, Intermediate and Limit riders begins Saturday afternoon and will be completed Sunday afternoon. They will be followed on Sunday by the Walk/Trot and Short Stirrup divisions. For class lists or more info about the show call 315-673-0172 or 315-729-8507

Oct. 22: Big Loop Hunter Pace
640 Artline Rd
Eldred, PA 16731
9:00 AM - 12:30 PM
All riders who intend to ride at a leisurely pace, come early! Ribbons will be presented when all riders are back at the barn!
Big Loop reserves the right to cancel or add dates for the 2011 series
Oct. 22-23 Halloween Happens at Chestnut Ridge 
Jumper Show 10/23, Dressage Show with Costume Classes 10/24, Gasport, NY. For more information, contact Sue Williams at (716) 772-2707/2957 or For prize list/entry forms, go to

Oct. 22-23: Region 8 Adult Dressage Clinic at Sugar Hill Farm 
Victor, NY. For more information or FAQ's about USDF clinics, click on the appropriate link.

Oct. 22-23: USDF announces the Region 8 Adult Clinic with Lilo Fore
WNYDA has announced that they will be presenting the following clinic this fall. Sugarhill Farm, Victor, NY;

Oct. 23: Hunterpace and Trail Ride Series: 
2 to 5 pm - Cohocton, NY. For more information, download flyer

Monday, October 17, 2011

Make the Practice Work for the Horse Brain

I took advantage of the dwindling sun at the end of the day (no rain!) to ride Starlight and practice for our obstacle-course-and-Halloween party, coming up on Saturday.  

At first, she didn’t really understand what I wanted, when I kept walking her up against the big, blue ball that my husband bought to do human exercises on, but which I eventually stole for horse games.  After patience and praise, however, she actually ended up dribbling it ahead of her, repeatedly hitting it with her front hooves.  It was amazing to me when she figured it out!
Starlight and the ball.

She also carried my blue jacket from one barrel to another and even carried the plastic bag full of cans back and forth for me.  She quickly understood the pattern of walking from one barrel to the next and waiting there for me to pick up or drop off the jacket or cans.

Those who know me might remember that I was once bucked off a horse while attempting to carry a bag of cans from one barrel to another.   That horse was my faithful Hudson, and she and I had practiced carrying things for quite a while before the fateful day, when she freaked out under a bag of cans during a trail trial.  We had practiced carrying bags of plastic bottles, tarps, jackets, plastic bottles filled with rocks and hung together on a rope, but NOT CANS.

Ever since then, I include bags of cans among the things I ask my horses to carry.  It’s very practical, you know.  You just never know when you might be out in the wilderness with your horse and you come across a bag of cans that needs rescuing.  

Starlight and I will continue practicing carrying things this week, and I’ll place the things in different locations around the farm, to surprise her a little bit.  If there’s one thing I learned from past mistakes, it’s that horses feel way more threatened by carrying strange things when the things are not where they expect them to be.   So, my having success with Starlight and the barrels does not necessary translate to my having success when asking her to carry things between, say, the truck hood and the baler.    

Horses and people do not think the same way about this kind of activity.   They might come across a bag of cans in a trail competition in a place where they have never ridden before, with a bunch of horses the mare has never ridden with before.  The human thinks (foolishly), “Oh, this will be easy.  My horse has carried all kinds of scary things.”  Whereas the horse might be thinking, well, I don’t know what the horse might be thinking, but I guess it might be something like, “AHHHHHHHHHH!”

This is why people like me get into trouble in new places when they ask the horse to do something they assume the horse understands, just because they have done it successfully at home.

Anyway, I digress.  Starlight did great tonight, and we'll keep kicking it forward this week! 

Saturday, October 15, 2011

New Season, New Plans

On this wet, windy, autumn morning, it’s a good time to plan some next steps for the ponies and me.

First, a moment of assessment: Starlight has come a long, long way this summer.  She has proven herself to be steady and cooperative in any situation I have put her in so far.  Next weekend, she and I will travel to a Halloween-and-obstacle-course party (with horse costumes, of course!), and then I’ll be fairly ready to let her rest for a while.  
Dee photo-bombing Starlight and Stormkite.

 I have to let someone drop off the riding list, because I have others that need starting, and as much as I love riding her, Starlight will get time off.  So, likely, will Hudson, who can barely be considered to have done much work this summer, as is.

Unfortunately, with five of the critters and one of me, someone always gets time off.  DeCato is on kind of a permanent time-off situation, but I’m hoping that will change.  My plan is to decrease to three horses.  AND STAY THERE.

Stormkite feeling Starlight's pressure.  She's subtle.  He's not.
To do that, I want all of them going well under saddle, so each has a chance at finding a job in a good home.  More on the scary concept of finding homes for horses another day.  For now, back to the planning.

My focus this season will turn to Dee and Stormkite.  Dee has had some training under saddle and was going well until she abruptly bucked me off last spring and I landed hard on my shoulder.  I decided to wait until I could get the Point2 Hybrid, an inflatable air vest, before getting back on her.   I have that now, and it’s time to get to work.  In addition to the vest, I’m planning on not letting myself get tricked into thinking she won’t buck, and I’ll be more prepared to ride through the next one (with a crop in hand to get her moving forward).

Look!  A built in diaper.  Could come in handy...
I have, of course, mulled the bucking incident extensively.  She had been going well with no indication of bucking for several rides, then one day I got on, she took a few steps and starting bronco bucking.  What was it?  The combination of hormones and her being herd-bound is my first guess.  She’s one whose personality changes when she’s in heat (in defense of mares, she’s the only one who shows a personality change at that time).  And she is also the most concerned about the herd being split up, as far as I can tell.  When I took Starlight on a trail ride last weekend, she whinnied us off, whinnied us back and, my husband said, whinnied in between.  

When I pulled Stormkite out for some work recently, she whinnied the whole time she couldn’t see him.  When I ride Hudson, I can hear that darn skewbald mare whinnying almost the whole time we’re out.  The only time I can’t hear her is when we’re too far away for the sound to get to us.

The other possibility is saddle fit.  The saddle I was using was too tight.  But, as you can see by how much time I’m devoting to one possibility or the other, I’m thinking the former is to blame.

Stormkite is pretty much a blank slate.  He’s three and ready to start.  He is still growing (though his hindquarters have already reached fairly mammoth proportions.  Vroom, vroom!), so I won’t do anything too strenuous with him, just get him going a bit in preparation for more work come next year.  

Overhead photo by magic, flying husband. That's Dee.
Stormkite is both curious and fearful.   I’ll work on exposure with him in a way that his curiosity is rewarded and his fear is quelled.  He is a bit tightly strung and has the disadvantage of being Dee’s full brother, so I’m a little skeptical in how much I can trust him.  But so far, he has not had the opportunity to deserve my distrust, so I’ll try to be more open-minded with the little booger.

So, lots to do this winter.  Normally, I think of winter as a dead-end when it comes to riding, but this winter, with our good gravel road nearby and a blessed flexibility in my work schedule, I’m thinking of it as the start of a new training period.   

Bring on the snow and tally-ho!
Yeah, they look alike, but do they ACT alike?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

I Have a Little Stormkite Who Goes In and Out with Me.

Tonight I told the horses that the first horse who came down to the run-in would be treated to grooming and a romp in the obstacle course.  Only two of them took me up on it, DeCato and Stormkite, and not surprisingly, Stormkite was first.

Stormkite adores following me around.  I’m not saying he adores ME, necessarily, although he might, but he does adore following me around.  In fact, after the grooming and the training in the obstacle course, I put him back in the run-in, expecting him to go off to the pasture with the mares, but instead he followed me around as I mucked.  

I'll come, too.
So, we did some “carrot stretches” with hay pellets as treats.   I tried to take pictures of this, and got the expected result.  He was in constant motion and always too close to the camera as he walked whereever I walked.   But we had a good time, and he never did join the mares until I turned on the fence, turned off the lights and walked down to the house.

I can get even closer, see?
Me again!