Sunday, January 29, 2012

Man vs. Wind vs. Canvas vs. Horse

A wild race through the mud
I mentioned in a previous post that we needed to add a wall in our barn so the fairly open building would do a better job blocking the north wind.
Round the far turn.
Contradicting this notion is the one that I don’t want to build anything permanent in the barn at this time, since this farm is definitely a work-in-progress and we have not finalized our building design yet. 

My husband and I were kicking around ideas, when I happened to notice a mention of a canvas wind-block in this blog post (link here), from “I Am Boyfriend.”   This seemed like the perfect solution, so we hung one up yesterday, anchoring it all round to posts and weights.

Even though the pastures are slick with mud, I put the horses out before we started working on the ladder, and this caused a happy race around the pasture that continued for several laps.
Dee wins by a length.

When our work was done and we brought them back in, the new canvas caused  high anxiety throughout them, resulting in several, panicked flights out of the barn, especially when the canvas gave a nice, flappy pop in the wind.   Having a meal of hay spread inside helped convince them to come back in, but what sealed the deal was when I planted my butt on one of the tires we are using as weights for the canvas.  I guess my calmly sitting next  to the new, scary thing gave them the chance to observe that I was not eaten by it, so maybe it wasn’t as dangerous as they first suspected.

This morning, they were all inside and ready for some more hay, and the canvas had lasted through its first, blustery night here on the hill. Just this piece of canvas makes a noticeable upgrade in the snugness factor inside their run-in.

He's back on the ladder, recovered from surgery.

Highly suspicious

Intense scrutiny

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Pony Up, Cowgirl!

It’s time I put on my big girl panties and start ponying my ponies.

"Ponying."  Pic borrowed from
In case you haven’t heard the term, when you “pony” a horse, it means you ride one horse and lead another at your side.  It has many advantages. 

For one, it’s a good way to train a green horse to become accustomed to a rider being “up there,” not on his back, but on his buddy’s back.   It also teaches him to control himself at different paces, based on a rider’s direction.  He also learns to be good while walking next to another horse, a great preparation for shows, drill teams, group trail rides.   

This latter advantage also applies to the lead horse.  Since I ride alone so often, my horses don’t get to learn how to behave themselves while riding with other horses, and I’m always surprised when I first bring them out into a group ride.

It's time Her Royal Highness learned to behave herself when riding with others.
For instance, Hudson takes offense to horses being too near to her personage, and has been known to throw a kick.  She needs lots more experience with having horses nearby, and hearing from me that kicking is not a response she should be choosing.    

Starlight, on the other hand, decided she might like to bite the horse nearest to her during her first trail ride and stretched out her lips sooooo lonnnnng to do so that I was able to stop her before it happened.   Then, when the horse behind her trotted, she would trot and bite the butt of the horse in front of her, as if to say, “Hey, stupid, get going.  Don’t you know it’s time to trot?”  Luckily, the object of her poor manners was totally unflappable, and used to riding with newbies.

And finally, ponying also lets a single rider exercise two horses at once, and this is something I’m very motivated to do, during these short, blustery days.

So now I’m contemplating my matches – who will lead whom, and where to do it, how to start it.  It’s not a quick process, but one that I have always planned to master, and to have my horses master.  

It’s go time!

The Working Me

Since I recently posted a horrible picture of my past self, I thought I would post a couple contrasting pictures of my current self. 

They both show me at work, but doing different jobs.  The first is a shot of me doing my day job.  The second shows me doing my weekend job.  The former involves a fun occupation that pays the bills, and the latter includes anything that, this time of year, involves putting on ten layers of clothes, dragging tools around and usually spending money brought in from the first job.
Cute and girl-shaped during the week.
Indeterminate shape and gender on the weekend (but warm).

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Twin Tiers Horse Activities, Jan. 28 - 30, 2012

This week brings us two horse activities, on the weekend and early next week.  Both entries contain links for further information, offset in blue text, so click away!

These bring a good chance to brush up on your dressage skills in advance of the competition season, so you might want to check them out.  

Have a fun weekend, horse peeps!

Jan. 28-29: Michelle LaBarre Dressage Clinic
Black Points Farm, Honeoye Falls, NY. 
For info about Michelle,; To ride in the clinic, contact Mary Delton at Auditors welcome.  

Jan. 30: GVRDC sponsored Seminar: "Dressage from the Judges Perspective: How to improve you skills in the dressage ring"
Given by Gale D'Amanda-Fox, Rush Public Library, 6-8 pm, Rush, NY. 
Please contact Liz if you plan to come so she has a head count. Download a flyer.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Mare Remaking Herself

Have you ever thought about horse personalities in terms of complexity?  As in, you take a given group of horses and consider who among them is fairly straight-forward, simple, offering few surprises vs...the other extreme?

DeCato as I first saw her.
Another angle, with the stallion behind her.
In my little band, a plain, red, coat covers the most complex brain of the bunch.  DeCato Copper, the BLM mustang, is different from the others in so many ways, and, although she and I have shared a living space, in a sense, for several years, I know her less well than I do the newer addition, Stormkite (who is an in-your-face, “here I am!” type boy).

I mention this because DeCato has recently changed so surprisingly that I am paying more attention to her and also thinking about her more often in my non-stable time.

A brief history: DeCato Copper was born in the Ely, Nevada area about 7 years ago.  At two months, she was captured with her dam in a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) round-up.  As you may know, the BLM rounds up mustangs, periodically, to control the herd sizes, and sells them at auction or keeps them indefinitely in holding facilities.
Already putting on weight at her new home.
I don’t know what happened to her during the following months, but when she was around two, she was shipped across country to be auctioned in a BLM auction at Cornell University.  Cornell has held at least one more such event in the past few years, last year, in fact. 

Coincidentally, I was at the very BLM event at which DeCato was sold.  I was there with my husband and friend, Trish, but we were not buying, just observing.  I certainly didn’t pick out the rangy little chestnut mare from all the other rangy little mares and geldings in the pens in the arena.  And actually, when we were there, the auction was over and the horses and donkeys were in the process of being loaded to go to their new homes.

It was quite a wild event, and the donkeys’ hiccupping brays added both a plaintive and humorous tone to the whole scene.

Still in isolation from the others, but safe from the bombers.
DeCato and another mustang mare spent the next year or two with a couple in the Southern Tier, not being fed very well and never having her feet trimmed.  She also lived with a grade, pinto-quarter-horsey type colt who grew to a stallion, but somehow, she avoided pregnancy.  Her double-barrel response to my band when she first arrived at my place was, no doubt, her birth control method.

Her previous owner advertised her on Craig’s List, and when I saw her picture, a horse in danger of starvation, a transaction was made and the red mare was again loaded on a trailer, this time to my stables.

Her previous owner said he had been successful in gentling the other mustang, but this one had flummoxed him.   As I got to know her, I could see why.  She is not the kind of horse an inexperienced person could train easily.
"Can I have it?"

However, within a few weeks, I was able to trim her feet (something the previous owner said no farriers would attempt, which was probably true, but a complete “fail” on the part of the previous owner).  She put on weight quickly and started to look healthy and sleek.  I taught her groundwork in the round pen and eventually rode her, but she has not had much riding since our first rides, so I will restart when the time comes.
"Got it.  Thanks." (Yeah, that's me, 40 pounds ago).

As a trainee, she is not worried about anything I do to her.  Tarps, bridges, plastic bottles full of rocks, no problem.  Eventually, she could probably be great horse for cowboy shooting competitions or anything else where the rider does crazy things from the horse’s back, because she is not fazed by anything like this.  Get her away from the herd, however, and she will spook at the reflection on a puddle.  No kidding.   She is very herdbound and afraid away from the others.

When I first started working her, she was the only horse I have worked with that struck with her front feet.  If you have never had a horse do this, it happens so fast that you could very well feel a pain in your shin and just stand there saying, “Wha’ happened?”

We got past that point, of course, but she was a difficult mare to train.  I’m not blaming mustangs for this, but this is just DeCato’s personality.

So, what has changed recently?  Well, DeCato has always been low in the pecking order. She was the lowest until Stormkite was mingled in with the bunch last April.   She is the self-appointed sentry of the group, often staying on the outer edge and keeping her eye trained in the distance, listening and looking.  The edge of the group has also been the safest spot for her, because it gives her plenty of room to run if someone decides to move her, which often happens.

Lately, I noticed her pushing back a little bit.  If another horse tried to move her, she started pinning her ears and pushing back.  However, she would usually end up moving away.

However, in the last couple of weeks, she has just walked right into where the hay is being served up and started munching away, right next to Hudson.  This is unheard of behavior.  Hudson is the Supreme Queen of the stable and suffers no lesser equine in her vicinity when food is doled out.  The fact that she lets others eat at all is only due to my spreading the hay piles far enough apart that she can’t physically straddle them all at once.

Fat and sleek.
But all of a sudden, DeCato has decided it’s OK to just walk up to the bale that Hudson is hovering over, before I get a chance to get the strings off and spread it, and she just starts eating.   And yes, Hudson does usually move her off, but sometimes DeCato  moves off herself as I spread the hay in safer locals.

And the other night, I dressed Hudson in her new blanket, an activity that caused intense interest from the three paints, who gathered round.  DeCato was off at the edges, doing something else.  But then, all of a sudden, DeCato came in, thread her way through the other horses and planted herself in what I would consider to be a dangerous spot: between Hudson and the hot wire, with little room to spare.  I can’t  fathom DeCato ever putting herself in a dangerous spot, even by accident.  One shift from Hudson’s huge, white arse and DeCato would hit the hot wire.  Yet, here she was, making her way through the others like a shopper in a street market, landing deliberately in this very spot.  And yes, Hudson did take issue with this, having to tell DeCato not once, but twice, that she should remove herself from Hudson’s presence, and DeCato did move away after the second request.

If you have stuck with this long story to this point, you are likely someone who is interested in the complexities of horse herd dynamics (or my Mom.  Hi, Mom!).  So, this is where we are today.  DeCato has, apparently, purposely changed her behavior, and it’s not to pressure the next-highest up from her, who would be Dee, as you would expect. Instead, she has simply decided that, if there is hay to be had, she wants it now and she is no longer waiting for it, but will just go eat it next to the baddest boss mare in the place.  Or, if there is a new blanket to admire, she will just come ahead and take a look and a sniff, even if she has to work her way through all the other horses and pretty much touch Her Highness, to do it.
A good girl under saddle,.

What is up with this crazy red mare?  Her own personal safety has always been a high priority to her, and her way of staying safe was to stay at the edge and count on my getting food out to her.  Now, all of a sudden, she seems to have little regard about the teeth and hooves of the others and is in a “damn the torpedos. Full speed ahead!” mindset.

Seriously, this change is so odd to me, that I’m wondering if she doesn’t have a screw loose up there somewhere.  I’ll be keeping my eye on this little red mystery mare as we go ahead with her training.

And next time I call an animal communicator, I know who I want to talk to.  DeCato, you have some ‘splaining to do!   
One of the prettiest faces in my stable

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Twin Tiers Horse Events, Jan. 21 - 22, 2012

During these short, cold, January days, we're not seeing too many horse activities in the Twin Tiers.  However, have heart!  There are mucho new activities added to the BIG calendar.  This is mainly due to the Genesee Valley Riding and Driving Club posting its 2012 calendar, which covers the club's activities and other activities happening within a two hour drive to the north. So I have added them to the BIG calendar.

The Twin TIers Horse is the one place you should go when you want to find horse activities in our area.  If you hear of new events that I do not have posted, please let me know, and I'll get them up.

Have a fun weekend with your ponies!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Winds of Change

Can anything look as huge as Hudson in double blankets?

These cold winds have introduced a major change in my horsekeeping methods.

If you’re a horse owner, you probably know that the question is always floating out there: Is it better to blanket or not to blanket?   Well, everyone agrees that a clipped horse needs a blanket in the cold, because he doesn’t have enough hair to keep himself warm, so that’s not even part of the question.  The question revolves around horses who have their full, winter coats.

And there are two, basic camps: the camp that blankets because it seems better and the camp that doesn’t ever blanket because nature provides exactly what the horse needs in the winter in terms of a thick, insulating hair coat. 

Stormkite, lost in a heavy winter blanket
So, while people are usually comfortable in their camps, there are always questions and controversies, particularly the concept that blankets actually make a horse colder, because it flattens the horse’s natural fluffiness which creates the insulation.  No matter how many times I read this one, I can’t believe it because it sounds like nonsense.

That being said, I have always been in the non-blanketing camp, but decided to go with the concept that I have read many times and that made sense to me: If the horse is shivering, he needs a blanket. 

For the past eight years, living in the Twin Tiers of New York and Pennsylvania, where winters get below zero, sometimes for extended periods, I never saw a shivering horse until Hurricane Irene blew through last September. At that time, the horses didn’t have their winter coats yet, and Irene brought a lot of rain and near-freezing winds, and I found them shivering, so they got blankets.  I saw immediately what a difference in made in their comfort, and this was so noted in the horse-keeping annals of my brain.
Sorry, DeCato!  I know it clashes with your pretty coat.

A couple of weeks ago, before the weather turned cold, I was fretting because their coats did not seem to be as thick and fluffy as in past years.  I’m pretty sure this wasn’t an illusion, and I think it’s because the weather has been so unseasonably warm all fall and early winter.    

And then, as soon as the cold weather blew through again, accompanied by strong north winds, I found them shivering.  So I blanketed them and gave them plenty of hay.  When I checked on them later, they were all dozing on their feet, exhausted, but warm and comfy for the first time that day.

Since then, the weather turned warm and off came the blankets, but now it is uber-cold and, folks, I have switched camps.  My horses are, at this moment, bundled in the crazy array of end-of-winter sale blankets I have accumulated over the years, the same ones I had been planning to sell because they take up so much space and I never used them. 

And this time, I put them on without seeing a shiver.  I have observed with my own eyes the difference it has made in their comfort.

Patty Duke and her identical cousin.
The two reasons for my switching camps are that, one, the wind on this hill where we now live makes it significantly colder than in our old place.  And two, I have realized, the horses’ shelter doesn’t fully block the wind.   

We will be adding a wall, in short order, but until then, and maybe even afterward, they are going to be snuggly bundled in their colorful pajamas.


Thursday, January 12, 2012

Twin Tiers Horse Activities, Jan. 14-15, 2012

I'm not seeing any new activities for January, but I have added several to the BIG calendar, including some at Houghton College and a couple of barrel racing dates. 

Hang in there and keep setting your goals, schedule your rabies shots, other vaccines and Coggins tests, so your ponies are ready to go when you are!  Get those trailer brakes and tires checked. 

In a wink, spring will be here, and you'll be ready!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

A Great Performance by a Round Mare

I’m a total sap when it comes to hearing stories about great horses, especially mares, and so this week I found myself tearing up, not once, but twice, over a chestnut mare named Brentina.

Debbie McDonald and Brentina (borrowed from the web).
Brentina is very famous, so you probably have already heard of her, or maybe even collected her likeness in a Breyer model, but if not, there is a lot of information out there about her. 

My emotional encounter with her came through the Horse Radio Network podcast, the Dressage Radio Show, hosted by Chris Stafford.   If you love horses and have an MP3 player, such as an iPod, you probably have already found your way to the Horse Radio Network (HRN).  If not, here’s a link, and you can find all the HRN podcasts on iTunes.   

HRN offers nine horse-themed podcasts every week covering the major equestrian disciplines, and other horsie matters, and they are well done.

The duo in action (borrowed from
In this episode, Brentina’s rider, Olympian Debbie McDonald, talks about her experiences and relationship with the big, round mare she nicknamed “Mama."  The description of her 2008 freestyle performance, to Aretha Franklin’s rendition of “Respect,” got me all choked up.  Then, of course, I had to google the video of their performance this morning and got teary again.

Links to the podcast webpage and the youtube video are here and here.
Take a listen and a look!  Even if you’re not a huge dressage fan, you’ll like hearing Debbie’s and Brentina’s story.

And speaking of big, round mares, I have one out there that needs exercise today, so I have to get moving.   Oh, Hudson!
Brentina's got nothing on this girthline!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Twin Tiers Horse Events, Jan. 7-8, 2012

Alas, there are no Twin Tiers horse events to tell you about for this weekend, horse lovers.  However, I have added several new events to the BIG calendar, including Cayuga Dressage's tentative schedule for the Chemung County Fairground shows. So exciting!

Foxtale Farm in Horseheads has some shows scheduled and they are also listed in the BIG calendar and the National Barrel Horse Association has slipped in a tour event in Syracuse. 

Soon, the BIG calendar is going to be TOO big, but I'm glad to see the events starting to appear.

I'll be looking for a three-phase event in August or September, and some hunter paces and trail competitions for myself and the ponies.  I'm sure we will start to see these events appearing in the calendar.

Have a great weekend with your ponies and stay warm!

Monday, January 2, 2012


The horses haven't been turned out in the big pasture for a few days.  It has just been too wet and mucky.  They have a good sized "sacrifice" area, but it, too, is so muddy that they choose to just hang out in the small, dry area.

This leads to a lot of bored horses who appear glad for a diversion when their favorite human shows up to do chores.

"We have you surrounded.  Release the peppermints and no one gets hurt."

"What's that little flashing box?  Can we eat it?"