Saturday, December 31, 2011

Just You Wait

It’s amazing how, when you have time off with very little planned, a small herd of horses can team up to fill your leisure time with grueling work in the worst of weather.

That’s what happened to me this week, and I had a funny feeling it was coming.  I had moved Dee over to stay on Hudson’s half of the stable.  Dee was being a bully to DeCato and Stormkite, so I teamed her with Hudson to let the others get a chance to eat in peace.  However, I was worried that Hudson would trap her and she’d escape out through the electric fence, which has not been very electric since the cold weather set in.
A view of Hudson, through the weeds at the fenceline.

The pair had been housed together amicably for a few days, and I was fairly pleased with the arrangement.  Then, I happened to be gazing at the barn from the house window, when all of a sudden Dee appeared in the entrance to the barn.   So, what I feared had come true.  Unfortunately, something I wasn’t fearing also came true: DeCato, Stormkite and Starlight also appeared in the barn door. 

With my husband recovering from back surgery, I had to try to round up the critters on my own.  He was able to help by keeping the fence up where they had busted through, as I nervously collected them, one by one, and plopped them back where they belonged.  Only my steadfast Hudson had stayed back, too afraid of the fence to dare step over it.

This was one of those times when I was glad to be on friendly terms with all our horses.  If one had been peeved at me, we could have gone on a long and merry chase across the vast expanses of land up in these parts.

This was occurring on our coldest day so far this December, with constant, high winds from the north, their steady blowing interrupted only by an occasional, hurricane-force burst.  

Unfortunately, I had to improve the electric fence, and doing it meant pounding in new grounding rods.  While this has been part of our horse-owning life right along, it’s a part that usually falls to the broad shoulders of my husband.  Well, his broad shoulders are healing at the moment, so it fell to my weenie shoulders.   I also had to clamor around on a ladder in the roof rafters, not being satisfied with the current position of the fence charger.  Wiring the barn is one of my normal pasttimes, but I don’t normally do it at times when the wind could blow the ladder out from under me.

When it was all said and done, that cold night, the charger still wasn’t producing a satisfactory jolt.  I came in, warmed up and did some googling, and was reminded that electric fences often perform poorly in the winter, especially in dry, rocky ground.  We don’t naturally have dry, rocky ground, but after hiring a contractor to make the pad around the barn dry, instead of muddy, we now do have dry, rocky ground where the fence charger is.

So, over the course of the next few days, I drove in more grounding rods and cleared the fence line of all weeds and miscellaneous electricity grabbers, including a small round bale of hay that had rolled against it, a very heavy wooden stump that was pressing on the lowest wire, and even an old, rusty round bale feeder that was intermittently touching the wire from outside the fence.  It’s enlightening to walk the fence line with purpose, I’ll tell you.

I also repaired a few areas where the insulators had broken, allowing the hot wire to rest on the wood posts. 

After all this, and after pouring water over the grounding rods, I finally felt a jolt in the fence.  Not a strong one, not a knock-you-on-your-butt one, but enough to perhaps keep the mares off of it.  Sure enough, I was fiendishly happy to see Dee feel the jolt and jump back quickly, but Stormkite, the little brat, was still reaching over it to nibble loose hay, pressing his neck on it.  I couldn’t believe it.  I tried touching him and the fence at the same time, and the jolt was too annoying for me to keep holding on, but he was oblivious.  Finally, he must have felt it, because he jumped back grumpily. 

Phew!  Between the fence, some barricades and housing them all in one large area again, instead of two smaller areas, they should stay put until my new Horseguard bi-polar, no-ground-rod-required fencing arrives.  I have been wanting to try it, being a big Horseguard fan from way back, and this is exactly the right opportunity.  I will re-tape the stable area with it, and then stand back and watch.

I’m not a mean person, but, just you wait, Stormkite.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Twin Tiers Horse Events, New Year's Weekend, 2012

My first weekly calendar update with "2012" in the title!  We have an event this New Year's weekend!  It sounds rather sinful, but I'm certain it's horse-related, so it must be good!

January 2: Birchtown Stables, Birchtown, PA
Craps in the New Year. Compulsive Gambling
Free “Class” Play! Enter 3 Classes and Get 1 Regular Class FREE! Judge : tba
I would have updated this events entry last night, as I try to do it on Wednesday evenings, but instead, I was out in my barn coveralls in the driving north wind, pounding in new grounding rods and hovering up in the barn rafters, trying to get the fence charger to show some life after a four-horse jail break yesterday.  

No good, so I'll be out there again today.  I need to find that good zap for these cheeky beasts!

Have fun with your horses this New Year's weekend!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Fantasyland, but no Disney

This time of year, for me, riding horses becomes a lot like Fantasyland and includes a series of disconnected attempts at reaching some far-off goal.  The main reason for this is the winter weather.  It is never the same anymore, one year to the next, but whatever it is, it makes riding extremely difficult for those of me who don’t have an indoor arena.
 Winter riding in the Twin Tiers: 50 lbs of clothes and a 3-inch haircoat

If it’s rain, as we have had this winter here in the Northeast, it’s buckets of rain.  It has soaked the ground, and the sun doesn’t shine long enough, often enough or hot enough to dry anything up.  Ergo, any time it’s warmer than 15 degrees, the ground is soft, slippery and sloppy.  

These actually have been our conditions for a couple of months now, so I won’t even bother to illustrate what will happen when the buckets of rain turn into snow, except to say that our footing will, at the base, then become two inches of ice, interspersed with mud and high drifts, until May, when the ice melts and we only have mud again.

Florida is looking better all the time.

So anyway, one has to ride between the weather issues, namely rain and icy winds.  Because rain and icy winds occur most of the time, the horses don’t get ridden enough to start to fall into a routine, so every time out is new, exciting and full of danger. 

The danger is perceived for them and real for me. 

Whatever horse I work with is what you might describe as naturally collected.  You might also describe it as a keg of dynamite.   The latter described Hudson yesterday when I took her out, hoping to find some dry ground.  I didn’t want to take her up the dirt road, because she was so tight I didn’t think it would be a safe choice, so we stuck to the soggy hay fields, leaving deep, water-filled hoof holes wherever we went. 

It was a surreal sort of ride.  My focus was mainly on forward.  Hers appeared to be on backwards and sideways and a little bit of straight up.  At one point she stopped cold and started going backwards, which is her way of evading the path I have told her to follow.  I gave her one sharp smack with a short crop and her hind legs both kicked straight out behind her in response.  Luckily for me, she is so fat and out of shape that’s about all she can do.

Unless I am able to get her out regularly, this is what I will ride every time.  While there is a lot to learn from this type of ride, making actual progress toward any goal is basically Fantasyland.  And to be honest, in taking Hudson out, all I want is a fun ride around the property, since I’m not expecting to work her toward any particular competition or event this coming year.  I just want her to be safe for my niece to ride when she visits in March.
Stormkite, learning to ground tie.

Since my main goal for the winter is getting Dee and Stormkite riding satisfactorily, most of my work is with them, and a lot of it is occurring in the stable.  Stormkite, for instance, is finding that he needs to follow my leadership as he learns to ground tie. 

If you ever want to see if your horse has accepted you as the leader, try teaching him to ground tie.  It’s eye opening and humbling, but at least it doesn't involve mud.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Switcheroo

Yesterday, when I got back from picking up some hay, the horses had managed to get themselves all mixed up.

Her Imperial Muddiness
Normally, Hudson is by herself on the west side of the stable, and the other four are on the east.  And, by the way, even with the hot tape separating them, Hudson is still able to scatter the other four with her imperial and furious body language. 

Anyway, when I got back with the truck stacked with 30 bales, which was as high as I could stack by myself, Dee was in the west where Hudson normally stays; Hudson, DeCato and Stormkite were on the east and Starlight was, most mysteriously, exiled to a fenced-off area that is designed to keep horses out of a marshy, rocky spot.

The cause of the Dee-Hudson switch soon became obvious: a buckle holding the top strand of fence had come apart, probably loosened by some wild winds recently, and they simply found this and crossed over to the other side.  I went up to fix it, followed by all the horses but Starlight, who was trapped in the marshy area.  The fence was still up around her, so how she got in there, I don’t know. 

But my going up to fix the fence, followed by the rest of the herd, caused Starlight to panic, thinking she was missing out on something exciting, and she raced around the hazardous marshy area, whinnying pathetically.
When I got back to her, I found her situation more puzzling.  Since the single strand of tape was still up, she had either gone under or over it to get in there, but she was afraid of it.  She would not walk under the strand when I held it high above her head.   The others were all happy to walk under it, though, so every time I lifted it for her, and she balked, some other horse would cheerfully decide that crossing under was desirable, which would cause me to bring down the tape quickly, as if we were playing some kind of chaotic, cross-species version of London Bridge is Falling Down.   So, then I would hurry to the other side of the fenced area, followed by Starlight, and try to get her to go under the fence on that side, attempting to beat the other three horses, who would hustle around the outside of fence to join us and try to cross into the fenced area when I raised the tape.  Some fun!

Meanwhile Dee, still stuck on Hudson’s side, was panicking, since she was sure that it was SHE, now, who was missing out on something very exciting that the others got to do without her.  She was running up and down the fenceline with her poor, mud-knotted tail flagged up over her back.

Hay. Now!
Eventually, I scooted Starlight down to the other side for the fourth time and took down the fence so she could exit, then quickly replaced it before the others could stream in.

Then it was a quick switch of Dee with Hudson, and everybody was back in place.  All that was required of me at that point, apparently, was to distribute hay and leave them alone.  Which I did.  

It was the day before Christmas Eve, after all, and my list of activities was long enough without playing Musical Horses in the middle of it!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Twin Tiers Horse Event, Christmas Weekend, 2011

There are no formal horse events this Christmas weekend in the Twin Tiers, but take a look at the BIG calendar on the right side of this page and see that the 2012 calendar is starting to grow!

My friend, Trish Pierce, has put the bug in my ear about the Leslie Law eventing clinic in May.  And before that, the Horse World Expo in PA always falls on my birthday weekend, so it might become a fun getaway next year. 

In doing my rounds of the horse events links (listed below the BIG calendar), I noticed the groups are starting to clear away their 2011 events calendars, in preparation for uploading their 2012 events, so stay tuned!

A very merry Christmas to you, your family and your horses!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Breaking an ancient rule

Now, does that not look like a comfy seat?
 Even though I have never technically mounted Stormkite, I have been on his back several times.

That is because I can't resist sitting on a lying horse.  There is something so sweet about the way they fold their legs up under their big bodies, and their tails look so doggone cute, spread daintily on the ground.

Stormkite tolerates it well enough, as they all do.  It's bad horsemanship, and I was ferociously forbidden from doing this as a child.  But once in a while, I admit, I will sit on his broad, fat, supine body.  
Sweet dreams, Sweet Starlight.

It serves no training purpose, I'm sure,  since it likely doesn't translate in a horses' brain to anything remotely like being ridden. And they probably find it mildly annoying.  But it is fun!  

PS: Kids, you are absolutely FORBIDDEN from doing this until you are at least 40.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Pleasant Dreams

I felt a quiet elation the last time I worked Stormkite.  It was the kind of happy excitement that I keep in check, because I have learned not to expect too much when working with a greenie.

Stormkite in August.
In this workout, he wore the saddle for the second time, and again, he did not react at all to the girth tightening, and he did not buck on the longe line.   This is somewhat unusual, in my experience.  In addition, we went for a leadline walk up the road, away from his comfort zone.  He was calm and interested.  A car zipped by, and he barely gave it a glance. 

The only thing that made him a little nervous was a conversation between two men that we could clearly overhear, from my neighbor's.  It was unusually loud, considering how far away they were, and it was definitely odd to hear two men talking, from where we were on the road.  The voices seemed to come from nowhere. 

One of them said, "Hey look, there's a horse rider broke down in the road."

I don't know quite what that meant, since I was just standing there next to the horse, but the comment did elicit a pile of manure from Stormkite.  That was the only way he showed nerves at all.

In the herd, he is the lowest in the pecking order, but he is the lowest with attitude, if there is such a thing.  He'll move off when the mares request it, and he'll do it fast when they really mean it, but a lot of times he'll just move out of reach, instead of completely vacating the premises.  Sometimes, when one of them goes to bite his neck or cheek, he'll just put up his head and seem to say, "Yeah, yeah, I know, I know. Whatever," but he doesn't always leave.  I'm wondering if this combination of submissiveness-as-necessary with a dash of cheekiness are the marks of horse who is willing to take direction, but is also attractively confident and brave.  

Oh, and twice now I have seen him make some fine jumps over obstacles in the pasture, at high speed, much to my delight.  Once he made both my husband and I gasp as he cleared a wooden board that was flat on the ground while being chased by his sister.  It was at least 14 feet long.   The other time was over a drainage ditch.  The fun part about both jumps was how quickly he made the decision to jump and how much air he got.

So, the other day I became interested enough to start imagining my having him going well by next summer, and I started second-guessing myself on his birthdate, wondering if he is actually four.  So I checked his papers and no, May 8, 2008, was his foaling date, so he's still three and so not up for much work under saddle, yet.  I don't start doing real riding on them until they are at least four, but come May, we have a date with some trails.

Confirming his birthdate was encouraging, though, because it still gives him a chance to grow a chest.

As I said, I'm not getting too excited, but I'm quietly optimistic that this boy is going to be a fun and willing riding partner.

No Events this weekend!

I couldn't find any new events for this weekend, but I did find a new barn for you Northern Tier folks, Birchtown Stables down in Susquehanna County.   It's just barely inside the maximum distance I use to identify "local" events.  It's an English barn that has a lot of shows, so check it out!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

When Things Go Wrong, They Go Wrong Fast

Some of the most important keys to self-preservation around big, fast, flight animals are not necessarily intuitive, but they do start to feel that way over time.  In fact, when I got back into horses, some safety practices were so deeply ingrained in me that I pretty much assumed that anyone would do them. But then, I saw that my husband wasn’t automatically doing certain things to protect himself, and I had to teach him.

One that I forgot to teach him was the speed at which one needs to move one’s feet around horses to protect one’s toes, and he ended up with a black toenail because of it.  I have learned to recognize the circumstances that could land a hoof on a toe and my brain reacts in micro-seconds, pulling the toe to safety, just in time.  He just didn’t know that he needed to be alert for this, and I still feel bad that I didn’t think to teach him in time.

Pretty, but I wouldn't hold it that way. (Borrowed photo)
In watching him learn to be around horses, I realize that I could write a book about this type of danger, listing all the common ways that people get hurt by being near horses on the ground.  One of the most critical ones is another of those that is not intuitive.

“When I have a new student,” my friend, Wendy, mentioned one day, “the first thing they want to do is wrap that lead rope around their hand.”

Wrapping any part of the body with something that is attached to a horse is extremely dangerous, yet, just as Wendy noticed, inexperienced people want to do it right away.  Somehow, they think that having that lead roped wrapped around their hand will give them the grip they need to hang onto that horse.  Well, yes, it does.  But they don’t realize that, when trouble comes, you DON’T want to be hanging onto that rope at all, and having it wrapped around your hand is a great way to 1. Get dragged; 2. Break your arm; 3. Lose some fingers; 4. Get stomped on; 5. Take your pick.  Plus, your hanging by the hand from the lead line will panic the horse and make everything that much worse.

What is surprising is how easy it is to get yourself entangled unless you are constantly checking your safety.  For instance, when I use the longe line, I’m careful to make sure the line is folded, not looped.  Yet, as I work the horse, I’ll check and notice a loop that wasn’t there before, the very loop that could get caught on my hand if the horse took off, all of a sudden. 

Likewise, when I’m ground driving: Managing the lines and the whip AND the horse is not easy, and I’m constantly making adjustments to protect my hands from the accursed loops that seem to form on their own.

And now, a true story about when this went wrong for me.   

Ground driving Starlight...safely!
This occurred when I was first working Starlight.  I had been longeing her and working her toward ground driving, and this particular day I was going to ground-drive her for, perhaps, the second time.  We were working in our arena, which was rather too deep in sand (which I was soon grateful for, as you’ll see if you keep reading.)

I had the lines on her and was standing behind her, when she decided to turn and face me.  This caused one of the lines to wrap around her butt.  But worse, somehow, despite my excruciating awareness of line safety, I noticed that one of the lines was under my leg.  

This is probably a good time to mention that, when I first started working Starlight, she had a tendency to rear.

I was trying to stay calm, but I had to get my leg out of that line.  Starlight tossed her head up and started to back up.  The line moved up my leg, so it was behind my hamstring.  I was desperately trying to get untangled when the pony went up.  She reared high.  God only knows why I didn’t get dragged along with her, but the tension on the line, now that she was up, freaked her out.  She tossed her head higher and as I watched, the pony went right over on her back.

Thank god for that deep sand.  I got loose and she stood up.  She seemed shocked, but appeared to be unhurt.  I checked her over, talked to her quietly, rubbed her down gently across the withers and neck, and we started over again.  This time we were successful, and I have to say, the mare has been very hesitant to rear again, so there was a small silver lining to this potentially disastrous situation.

It just goes to show you, that when things go wrong around horses, they go wrong very quickly.  I was lucky not to get flipped over and dragged in this situation, or get tangled up in her legs, and I don’t actually know why that didn’t happen.  It must be my guardian angels (who sometimes have to work overtime for me) were watching out for us that day.

So, no moral to this story, I suppose.  Just a reminder to keep a sharp eye out for your own safety and especially, for those who visit your barns, so they don’t have to learn the hard way.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Twin Tier Horse Events, Dec. 10-11, 2011

We have a few events to check out this weekend.  That Equine Musical Movements competition at the Carriage House looks like a lot of fun!

Have a great time with your horses this week!

Dec. 10: Christmas Time Dressage Show at Chestnut Ridge
Gasport, NY. For more information, contact Sue Williams at (716) 772-2707/2957 or For prize list/entry forms, go to
Dec. 10: Michelle LaBarre Clinics
Held in the Elmira-Horseheads-Bath NY area, 9 to 6, depending on weather. Farms may include: Foxwin Farms, Finger Lakes Morgans, and Foxmor Farms.
For updates:

Dec. 11: Equine Holiday Musical Movements
Carriage House, Trumansberg; Click link below for entry form. Entries due by Dec. 3;; Download File;

Starlight vs. the Tractor

Starlight is fascinated by the tractor and goes out of her way to stand near it.  

She almost seems to be playing a game of "Chicken" with it when I start it.  She tries to stand there as long as possible before getting freaked out and moving away.  

Many times, the tractor moves away first!
High Noon on the Hill.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Yes, We Have No Ya-ya's

I could tell from Stormkite’s calm acceptance of the longeing process that he was ready for a saddle.  So yesterday, even though I hadn’t worked him in a few days, it was time to move him forward.  

"I got this."
I longed him for a few minutes, then had to put him away when we were visited by a local gardener, seeking manure (he returns the favor later in the year with some really good sauerkraut!).  After using the tractor to turn the manure pile over for him to get the good stuff, I collected Stormkite and started longeing again.

All good.  He didn’t want to work much because the footing was sloppy, so I didn’t push it and led him over to the saddle.  He allowed the pad to go on his back without much notice.  Then I hung the girth over his withers and led him around, letting its buckles jingle, just to raise his awareness that something was different, to see what he would do.  He didn't mind.  So then, the saddle. 

I flapped the leathers and moved it back and forth on his back.  He didn’t seem to care.  I girthed it loosely, using my hands to pull it tight under his barrel, but not actually buckling it tight.  This is usually a point where a horse might object a bit, but he was busy watching the manure man leave, so I went ahead and slowly snugged it up.

I sent him out on the longe line.  Most horses I have trained, at this point, have given at least one little objection to the new thing strapped to their backs.  They feel the saddle moving a bit, putting pressure on the girth, and get it in their heads to try to ditch the whole kit and caboodle.  Even the mellowest of them might give a little kick out at this point, some will bolt forward, and the more firey will give a few good bucks before I scold them and request forward movement.

Stormkite, now wearing the saddle, trotted right out.  I waited for the buck or bolt.  It didn’t come.  Pony just kept trotting along, trying to avoid the mucky area, same as before.  When we went the other way, same same.  No buck, no bolt.   

Surprised and satisfied, I stopped work and led him over to do a bit of grazing before bringing him back to the stable.  The mares were all lined up at the fence, ears pricked forward, watching Stormkite, and it was obvious that they noticed the saddle.  So, I stood him sideways to give them a better look.  His sister Dee reached out her nose and touched the saddle.

“Yes, Dee.  Little brother has the saddle on and HE didn’t buck,” I told her.

We’ll repeat the whole thing today, well, maybe not the manure part, and see if he tries to get rid of it.  Sometimes a horse in training waits for the second time he does something to act up.  But I have a feeling he’s going to ace this part of his training and will be ready to move onto the next chapter.