Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A Ruckus in the Pasture

Tex has been doing great.  Honestly, he's a different horse.

We were outside his pasture the other day, way down by the road, talking about replacing that section of fence.  We were engrossed in our discussion of how to get through the blackberry bushes, and what line to take, when we noticed that Tex had arrived.  He was standing on his side of the fence, close by, watching us.  Fortunately, Brett had a cookie in his pocket (he usually does) so I quickly rewarded him for joining us.

In the pasture, I can walk out to Tex when he is in "his corner" grazing with Flash.  He will leave Flash and follow me, all the way back to the gate.  I don't have treats on me.  He only gets a treat after we get to the gate -- I have them in a bucket outside the pasture.  I can even draw him in while we walk, so he is walking close to me.  How cool is that??? The first time it happened, it was all I could do to keep from jumping up and down, throwing my arms around his big red neck, and covering his mane in kisses.

And then there are the occasional small steps backwards.

One morning, when I took Tex his morning vitamins, the goats were out.  We usually keep them in until after the horses finish their vitamins because the goats looooooove horse vitamins.  Tex doesn't like the goats and will retreat from his bin, leaving the vitamins for the goats.  So, the goats mobbed me and Brett when we went in the gate.  They backed off of Brett and Flash pretty quick, because Flash will bite the goats on their backs if they get too close to his food.  But Tex retreated.  We tried to push away the goats and banged our buckets on their backs.  It didn't phase the goats, but Tex was alarmed and moved further away.

Then, Lucy in the next pasture started pitching a fit because it was taking too long for us to deliver her vitamins.  She began galloping along the pasture fence.  Normally, she canters and bucks and farts -- I don't know that I've ever seen her gallop before.  ...she's pretty fit at the moment and it shows.  Her energy added to Tex's alarm.  Brett headed over to feed the girls so the drama queen behavior would stop.

Meanwhile, I dragged the feed bin out of the pasture and left it on the grass outside the gate.  Then, I went back in with Tex's halter.  I approached him with no problem, but as I was slipping on the halter, a goat approached and he jumped backwards.  He came back to me, but he didn't want anything to do with the halter.  Not with goats around.  No way, uh uh.

I left.  I went to the round pen and picked up Jackson's manure.  I checked on the chicks.  When I went back to the pasture, Tex immediately came to the gate.  I slipped on the halter and led him out, so he could eat his vitamins from his bin in peace.

Even though he initially pulled back from the halter, I'm calling it a win.  He thought about it and when I came back, he was happy to be haltered.  In fact, when he finished his vitamins, he wanted to go on a treasure hunt and was not happy about going back to the pasture.  Normally, I would have loved wandering around with him looking for great grazing spots but I was already late for work.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Tex Graduates

...from kindergarten.  He has demonstrated that he can tie his own shoes.

When we got home from the clinic a week ago, I put Tex in the small arena instead of back out in the boys' pasture with Flash.  The small arena is next to the barn.  There is a walkway, about a tractor's width wide, between the arena and the goat area fence line and the boys pasture.  He wasn't isolated, but he was alone.  The sand is very thin in that arena because we don't use it for riding much, preferring the large, open dressage court. Grass struggles to grow through the sand but isn't very successful.  The arena is a decent size -- larger than a small dressage court -- so he had plenty of room to roam.  It's also perfect for rolling.  So, it isn't like he was in jail or anything.

Being isolated meant it was easy for me to control how much hay he was eating.  It also meant he was a bit bored.  As a result, Tex was always happy to see me.  When I took him out, to hand graze and treasure hunt, he was reluctant to go back to the safety of his paddock/arena.  As we got closer to the gate, he would slow and then stop and I had to encourage him to go back in.  Being with me was preferable.  Yes!

Wednesday after work we went on another treasure hunt.  I love treasure hunts.  I put treats in areas that are a bit hidden, or unpopular.  There were carrots on the stall mat in front of the tie rail -- and there was a bucket with all sorts of goodies inside the trailer door.  We grazed in a few spots, rich with dandelion leaves and grass, before going to the tie rail.  Initially he stopped and almost balked (which is the usual response) -- then I walked onto the mat and said, "Oh, look, Tex!  Carrots!"  He inched his nose out and took a closer look -- then walked onto the mat and ate them.  We continued on.

Another one of the things I learned is to approach the scary place/thing, reward, and then leave.  In the past, I've always tried to keep the worried horse in the scary environment until they realize its safe (which doesn't work very well).  Robin taught me that it is better to go in, have a very positive experience and leave.  That way, the horse develops a desire to go to that place.

After the stall mat and another grass interlude, we approached the back of the horse trailer.  It isn't hooked up to the truck so I didn't want to load him, in case it shifted.  The back doors were shut.  With Tex on a loose line, I opened the back of the trailer.  I wasn't careful or quiet about the whole deal.  Tex blinked when I swung the door around and latched it open.  And he braced.  I looked in the trailer and said --"Wow!  Look what's in here!" -- Tex knows that particular bucket and what it holds.  He came right over.

I decided to put him back in the boys pasture after that.  Sure, he still flinches once in awhile.  He's been known to step back after snatching a bite from a bucket.  When he does, I step back and before I can turn, he has stepped back forward.  "Please don't go.  I didn't leave.  See, I'm right here."

I think that qualifies as tying his shoelaces.  I think he's ready for elementary school.

When I removed his halter in the boys pasture, I expected him to turn and go to Flash.  If not that, then to wander out to his favorite back corner and graze.  But, no, he stayed with me and even followed me back to the gate.

Thursday morning, I was in the house getting ready to leave for work after doing the morning chores.  Brett opened the back door and said, "Come here.  I need to tell you something."

He told me he was in the boys pasture mucking.  Flash and Tex were grazing or eating hay or otherwise occupied.  He left the manure cart and went to the goat area to open their gate and let them into the pasture.  He removed the barrier so the horses could get in and help eat the grass, that has once again grown high.  Goats do not eat grass.  sigh.  He went back to picking up manure and then realized that Tex had come over and was standing behind him.  He asked Tex to follow him.  Tex took a couple steps and paused.  Brett thought, "oh, well.  It was worth a shot."  But, then Tex continued on and followed Brett all the way over to the goat area, where he was rewarded with access to the thick grass in their area.

I don't know; maybe Tex is ready for middle school...

Friday, May 26, 2017

Another Jackson Update

Jackson's lab results came back and they weren't good.

He has Cushings, although it must be in the early stages because he shed out his winter coat well.  It did seem extra thick to me this year, but I figured that was just him adjusting to our Sierra climate (which is significantly colder than where we came from in Southern California).  Other symptoms of Cushings include frequent abscesses, drinking copious amounts of water and laminitis.  Although he isn't currently laminitic, he has a history of that in the past.  And he has more pee piles in his round pen than are normal so he is drinking a lot.

He also has abnormal thyroid levels.

His insulin levels are normal, though.

So, Jackson is now a highly managed horse.

He's on multiple medications; five in  total:  thyroid (2 meds), Cushings (1 - pergolide), and circulatory for his feet/navicular (2 meds).
He is wearing special boots at night to increase circulation in his feet for the navicular.

He will be wearing special shoes and hard pads to protect his thin soles.  My fingers are crossed that the shoes stay on.  His hoof walls are thin and weak.  Maybe our farrier can use glue on shoes, if traditional ones don't work.  I'm still hopeful we can get him comfortable, but it may be more challenging than I anticipated.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Walking at Liberty: Last Clinic Post

The very cool thing about being at Robin's ranch was that I got to work with her horses.  We worked with Tex throughout the day, in short sessions (sometimes very short if he didn't want to come over to me).  In between, Robin demonstrated more advanced liberty work and gave me the opportunity to play as well.

Of course, the thing I most wanted to do was to walk with a horse.  But I had to learn a few skills first.

How do you keep a horse from wandering away while you are walking?  How do you create the desire in them to stay with you?  You use draw.  Its an energy pull, coming from your core.

There are three energies that are used in liberty work: Push, pause and draw.

Think about push like this.  Have you ever been in a group of people, large or small, and there was someone that never said anything to you but you knew that they didn't like you.  Maybe they resented you, maybe they were jealous, maybe they thought your taste in clothes was appalling.  You didn't know why, but you could feel them pushing you away.  Maybe when you left, you turned to a friend and said "what's up with her/him?"

Contrast that with: If you catch a close friend's eye across a crowded room and they light up; you can see that they are excited to see you, that they want you to cross that room and join them -- you would go, right?  That's draw.
Working on draw with Red
 In liberty work, I learned to go to the still quiet place at my core and, from that place, use energy to pull the horse closer to me.

After learning some of the building block skills, Robin asked me to practice walking with Red in the arena.

The next day, we practiced in the large pasture.  The pasture is vast, covering the top of the hill and sliding down to vineyards.  There were other horses in the pasture and they were all standing with us.
I called Red to my side and off we went.  It was beyond amazing.  Red stuck with me.  A few times, he started to drift off and I used draw to bring him back, close to me.  If my energy level dropped, he lost interest so I had to stay engaged, confident and positive.

Later, we did it again in a different pasture, a distance from the barn.
 We would walk a bit and then I would invite him to graze.  Then we walked some more.  I made a point of walking to places where the grass looked especially tasty.  He stayed with me and I found him good things.

After walking around for awhile, Robin opened the gate and said, "walk with him back to the barn."  We went out the gate.  I turned left for the barn, and Red turned right for more grass.  In fact, he took off trotting for another pasture.  Robin walked after him and he came to her, then they walked together, at liberty, to the barn.  So, it takes practice and they don't always say yes -- but what a cool experience it is to connect in that way.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Its not all Sweetness and Light

I don't want you to think that this liberty work/relationship focused interaction with horses is all tootie-fruity fluffy marshmallow stuff.  Tex is getting a heck of a lot of treats right now -- because he is tentative and still learning to trust.

Take, on the other hand, my brave and independent heart horse: Jackson.

He's been retired for a number of years now.  And we all know what happens when you retire a horse.  They gradually become rude and pushy.  Jackson is no exception.  And because my heart aches when I think about the pain he lives with everyday, I haven't been as, um, firm as I should be.

One of the things I learned at the clinic -- well, I knew it, but it never stuck before -- was making sure that my horses fully understand that I am the one in charge.  I am the alpha mare and you don't move me around; I move you.  The next morning after we got home from the clinic, when I brought Jackson his morning vitamins, I noticed that he was crowding into my space and trying to herd me to his feed bin.  I told him to back up.  He bumped me with his head; kind of a side-ways friendly punch to my arm.  Except that it wasn't acceptable.  I asked him to back up; to cede me ground; to acknowledge my rank -- and he pushed back.  I stung him across his lower front legs and said "I told you to move."

He hobbled backwards and then circled around me, snaking his head in a belligerent way.  I ordered him to whoa in my best I-mean-it mom voice.  He stopped; looking a bit shocked.

I continued walking to his feed bin.  He started out walking next to me, and gradually was drifting sideways towards me.  I stepped into him, and he moved away.  He tried again.  I held my ground and gave him the stink-eye.  His head went up and he stopped.

When he dropped his head, I walked over to him with the bucket.

"Wait," I said.  He paused.  I held the bucket to him and said "Have some."

"Thank you." he meekly said.  "I'll be respectful.  I promise."

And he has (pretty much) kept that promise.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

A Different Kind of Liberty Work

What makes Robin Gate's liberty work different is intent.  It's liberty relationship and liberty play. Its relationship.

Let me try to explain.

I'm an American rider, living in the Western United States so that frames my experience.  And there are exceptions to every rule as well as differences in experience, so you may see things a bit differently.  This is my view of what has framed my journey.

In the beginning... there were cowboys who needed broke horses real fast.  So they rode green horses into the ground, or tied them to posts, or beat them into submission (yes, yes, not all cowboys; I know that; stay with me).  These horses did their job, but they were broken, and didn't think humans were all that great.

(actually, before that you had some Native American tribes who had amazing relationships with their horses and did everything bareback and at liberty -- but it takes time to build those sorts of bonds and cowboys didn't have the time, or inclination, so they ignored the golden opportunity to learn true horsemanship).
Source: nativeamericanimages.net

More recently, there has been the Natural Horsemanship movement.  When Brett and I first brought our horses home to live with us fifteen years ago, we were intrigued.  We bought the stuff: the books, videos and special tack (halters, etc).  The exercises were called games, but they were dominance games, and they just didn't appeal to us.  If you read the books or watch the videos, there is a lot of talk about pressure and the horses are worked in a round pen until they give.  So, we gave away all our stuff and followed our own path.  (Again, there are exceptions -- Mark Rashid, for one).  For me, it was the path of dressage and achieving harmony through thought.  For Brett, it was building a bond through the sharing of new experiences in mounted patrol training and trail trials.

But, still I longed for that connection and bond that, I thought, maybe only exists in movies -- you know, the Black Stallion running on the beach, or the wild mustang who chooses to leave his herd because his bond is so strong with his human.  I wanted that.

And then I came across Robin.  She never uses a round pen.  She doesn't use pressure -- she uses push, yes -- but not pressure.  The horse can always choose to leave; can choose not to play.

When Robin works with a horse at liberty, she encourages them to express themselves.  She invites them to express their exuberance.  Here's a video of her working with some of her horses.  You can see the give and take, the conversation, the joy, and the bond.

This is what I want.  This is my dream and my deepest desire.  (besides Brett, of course)

Monday, May 22, 2017

Weighting the Scale

How do you get a horse like Tex, who is so distrustful of the human race, to put his protective coping behaviors behind him and joyfully join you in relationship?  Why would he want to leave the safe corner of his pasture, the company of his friends, or his hay to come to me?
At the clinic, first day

Because I pay a commission.  And my commissions are good.  Very good.

Eventually, I won't need to pay as much because he will look at me and be filled with positive thoughts and happy anticipation.

Robin explained it as a scale, the old fashioned kind with two buckets and a pendulum.  On one side, the horse has his herd, his comfortable place, and his coping behaviors.  In Tex's case, those behaviors involve flight if people are close by, and indifference if they are far away.  That is the heavier side of the scale.  In Tex's case, that side is very heavy.  On the other side is me.  I haven't hurt him; I'm kind; but I'm a human so I can't be trusted completely (based on Tex's history of abuse).  My side of the scale is way up in the air.

What I need to do is add weight to my side of the scale with the goal of getting it, eventually, to be heavier than his status quo side.  I need to fill my side of the bucket with desirable things -- different sorts of snacks (if your horse is motivated by food like Tex is), interesting games (going out to hand graze, at this point), massages (Lucy lives for neck and wither rubs), or just companionable hanging out together time.

The first two days of the clinic, Tex was reluctant to leave his friends or his corner to come see me -- even when I had a bucket of carrots (or senior feed or alfalfa) in my hand.  So, we only gave him half a flake of hay instead of a full one to ensure that the goodies in my bucket were exceptionally enticing. By the third day, he was a lot more interested and when we got home -- he came every single time I approached the arena (okay, except for the one time he was hanging out with Flash who was across the fence).

The food didn't come free, of course.  He had to walk over to me and stay.  If he flinched, or pulled back, I left.  "Oh, Tex, you're scared.  It must be scary here.  I'd better leave."  -- and I'd take my bucket out of the gate.  The first day of the clinic, he was like "whatever."  This morning, he was eating his vitamins from a small bin I was holding (standing on his right side, I only pay from his right because that is his nervous side).  He was being a bit tentative and then something in the universe (I saw and heard nothing) caused him to take a quick "oh, no!" step backwards.  I looked at him and immediately left, marching at a quick clip back to the pasture gate.  ...and he came running after me.  I said, "Tex, are you following me?"  He put himself in position and dove into his bucket.  Because he is so tentative, I want him to be a bit pushy about it right now.  So, I was happy -- both with him following, and with the gusto he had for eating from a bucket wrapped in my arms.
Here, I'm paying commission from the left side.  By the end of the first day, I was only paying from his right.

Plink, plink.  My side of the scale is slowly getting heavier.  One day it will weigh more than the other side.  It may take a while with Tex.  That's fine.  I'm not in a hurry.

As of Monday morning, my side was already heavy enough that Tex will come to me when I am carrying his fly mask and let me put it on, at liberty, without moving a muscle.  I pay pretty well for that and he knows it.
Back home Sunday afternoon.
This evening, he was back to flinching and nervous.  He stood by the gate but he was looking for Brett and the hay cart; not for me.  So, I told Brett not to feed him until later and I did the rest of my chores.  Then I put some senior feed in a bucket, added some water, and brought the slushy cold mixture into the pasture.  Robin introduced him to "LMF tea" at the clinic -- its his favorite treat.  He immediately came to me.  I gave him a sip and walked further into the arena.  He followed; another sip.  I took off his fly mask and he jumped backwards -- so I left.  We'll get there but it won't be a straight line.  However, when we do get there it will be because he has freely chosen to be bonded to me.  Its worth the wait.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Liberty Training with Robin Gates

I learned so much over the past four days, its hard to know where to start.

We worked with Tex, of course.  He made huge progress and we were able to create some fissures in the layers of emotional scar tissue he has layered over his true self.  He uses indifference and reactivity to protect himself.  He stands in a corner of his pasture or paddock and ignores people, and he startles at the slightest touch.

The only way to get the alfalfa in that blue bucket, was to stick his head in the feed bin where I was sitting.  I did lots of silly things.  
The work I've done with him over the past year has been good.  My intuition about how to approach him was spot on.  But now, its time to up the game.  He's been working with me long enough to know that I am safe; that I will not harm him; and that I want a bond with him.  So, indifference and reactivity are no longer acceptable.  They won't be punished, but they won't be rewarded.  As Robin said, its time for him to tie his own shoe laces.
Robin working with Tex
We are teaching him that its okay to have me standing on the right side of his face, that its okay for me to touch him and hang on him and be silly; that I'm a bit unpredictable, in an interesting sort of way. We worked a lot with treats -- senior feed, cookies, carrots, and alfalfa.  Robin refers to the treats as real estate.  Anything I have that he wants, is real estate.  And he has to pay for it by coming to me, by sticking his head in a bucket, or by not leaving when I'm touching him.  He's done well; he's eating lots of good stuff.

Secondly, we are working on getting him to enthusiastically come to his name.  All of Robin's horses come flying out of the back of their pastures when they hear their names.  Tex knows his name and will amble over to me, but we want him to be thinking, "Hot dog!  She's calling me!  Here I come!"  This was a tough one for Tex.  There were many times that I went into the paddock, he ignored me, and I left without giving him anything.  He started coming over more yesterday afternoon.  Today, when we got home, I put him in the arena (rather than the boys pasture with Flash) -- so I am his only entertainment, at the moment.  He was very enthusiastic about me this afternoon; he even went so far as to trot all the way across the arena when he saw me opening the gate.  (talk about melting my heart).

In between sessions with Tex, Robin taught me the games that build the bond, and I was able to practice liberty skills using her horses.   There are three components to establishing, and strengthening, the bond: draw, pause and push.  I was able to experience all of them.  I even worked on walking at liberty with Red, her Dutch warmblood.  Each horse was different, and each taught me something that I can use with a member of our herd.
Walking with Red at liberty

There will be a shift in the posts on the this blog, I'm pretty sure.  There is so much I want to do and I want to share it all with you.  Lucy and Pistol have already had a lesson in "push," and Jackson and I worked on "pause."

The clinic was a game changer for me.  -- if you are interested in learning how to work with horses as willing partners and participants, I highly recommend spending a few days at her ranch.  She has horses that are star teachers and the setting -- on a hill above the vineyards in Sonoma, couldn't be better.  Here's a link to her website: Liberty Horse Training.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Good News for Jackson

Yesterday, we drove Jackson down to Clements for his visit with Dr. Linda.  The magical wonder vet; sport horse specialist and competitive eventer.  Her husband is a stadium jumper -- you know the ones who jump those wicked high jumps.  The exam room and office are papered with fancy ribbons and pictures.  She isn't a large person; she's a petite bundle of lean muscle and energy.

She liked Jackson.  She thought he was cute.  Everybody loves Jackson.  Especially me.

Jackson got a full work up: x-rays, lab work (some of which she sent to Cornell), and hoof testers.  First, she had him trot walk on the lunge line.  He painfully picked his way around the circle.  When she touched the back of his heel with the tester, not even squeezing yet, he leaned all the way back and pulled. "I believe you." She said.

She blocked the nerve in his navicular to confirm the location of the pain.  And then he trotted sound.

X-rays revealed slight rotation of the coffin bone but nothing horrible.  His navicular are a mess, he has practically no sole and is... complicated.  She injected his coffin bone joint to see if that brings relief.

She can also inject his navicular if this doesn't work, but we are starting conservative.  Injecting the navicular is complicated.  He's on some anti-inflammatory medications and may be put on more meds, pending the results of his metabolic and insulin tests.  He had those panels done a number of years ago, and they were negative, but we are going to see if there are changes.  He might be borderline on the tests; she suspects that he is.

She also gave us very specific directions for shoes on his fronts; to relief the pressure on his heels and navicular.

She believes we can get him comfortable and, if the shoes stay on (he has thin hooves that don't hold a nail well), he might even be sound enough for light work.  All the stars have to align for that: the injections, the medications and the shoeing.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

There It Is

This morning Brett and I rode together again.  But, this time he rode Pistol while I rode Lucy.  It was a whole different ballgame.  Both horses were happy and relaxed -- and focused.

Lucy and I had the best ride we've had in years.  Seriously, the best ride since before I was injured.  Probably the best ride since fall of 2015.  She had her forward floaty trot going; with only a couple minor spooks.  She felt so good, that I decided to ask for canter.  She pushed into it like a Porsche changing gears.  She was round and smooth; relaxed and comfortable.  We came back to trot, changed directions, and did it the other way.  Same story.  And then, that was all she wanted to do.  I picked her back up after a nice stretchy trot break and she said, "Canter?  Please canter?"  ...so we did.

Later, I groomed Jackson and put him out in the arena for the afternoon.  It did wonders for his feet -- well, other than the part where he was so happy that he tried to rear and couldn't.  But, the sand was very dry and warm (despite the air being a bit chilly in the breeze).  When I picked up his feet tonight to put on the antibiotic, I was amazed at how much better they looked.  I think the dry warmth helped suck out all the moisture.

We put Tex and Flash up in the top pasture for a few hours.  They were in heaven and Tex was easy to catch afterward.  He watched Brett halter Flash, and then followed them down to where I was standing.

We leave on Wednesday (after Jackson's vet appointment) for our liberty training clinic.  I'm so excited!  Isn't it funny how one part of your heart can be heavy with worry and another part can be excited?  I feel like a ping pong ball.  I was bouncing around all day emotionally: worried about Jackson, excited for the clinic, missing my mom (Mothers Day has been hard for me since she died), laughing when Jackson groomed me back, loving the way Tex looks at me, and happy about my ride on Lucy.

Lucy and Pistol had a turn in the back 40, as well.  I think everyone had a good day.

Brett complained because I wouldn't let him weed whack or mow.  I said that I wanted to hear the birds singing while I was gardening, not the mower.  He grumbled and went back in the house to watch some golf tournament on TV.  And I enjoyed my peaceful afternoon filled with sunshine and birdsong, and an occasional cold breeze.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Not What We Expected

Friday I managed to leave work a tad earlier than usual.  As I drove home, I thought about riding Lucy with happy anticipation.  She has been so forward and happy to work since her stifle injections, and, when we work, she is starting to look strong and muscular with her veins popping out of her shiny coat like a true equine athlete.

Brett was busy moving compost from the bins into my garden with his tractor, but he hopped off when he saw me come out of the house wearing my breeches.  He wanted to ride Flash.  We both mentally thought about their history together, which wasn't pretty, and agreed to work at separate ends of the arena.

We tried putting the horses all together once, when one of the pastures was out of commission.  This was a few years ago.  Everyone got along fine except Lucy and Flash.  They are both alphas; and neither was willing to concede to the other.  There was a lot of ear pinning, charging and kicking.  There was some blood but fortunately nothing serious.  We separated them immediately.

Flash was a bit of a pill while we were tacking up.  He reached over, picked up his bridle, and started shaking it.  He tried to untie himself.  Lucy was an angel.

We walked up to the dressage court, keeping a good amount of distance between the two, and it was drama free.  Lucy lined herself up at the mounting block and stood quietly while I mounted.  I could hear Brett telling Flash to stand still.  Lucy and I walked to the top of the arena, while Brett mounted.

Meanwhile, Pistol was pitching a fit.  When Brett and I ride together, it is always with Lucy and Pistol.  The few times Brett has ridden Flash, I have ridden (or worked with) Tex.  Pistol was not happy.  The far end of the girls' pasture, the area we call the bedroom, is close to the dressage court.  Pistol was in the bedroom bucking, squealing, and spinning.

I watched Brett and Flash walk into the court from the mounting area.  Flash was bunched up and crow-hopping without leaving the ground.  I called over to Brett,
"Maybe you should get off."
"Maybe you should get off.  He looks like he is going to explode."
"I can't hear you.  What?"
"I think I'll be okay."

Brett hand walked Flash until he settled (and Pistol settled) and then got back on.

Meanwhile, Lucy was not jumping around but she was very resistant.  She was distracted.  What she really wanted to do was pin her ears and charge Flash and teach him his place.  She didn't, but she also didn't relax or pay attention to me very well.  It took twenty minutes to get a stretchy trot from her -- something I can pretty much get immediately these days.

I can't say it was the most productive ride we've had; but it was certainly interesting.

Friday, May 12, 2017


...about Jackson.

Remember, we have a new farrier who came out and did a bit of work on Jackson three weeks ago.  He didn't get too aggressive because Jackson was clearly uncomfortable.  So, he scheduled a return visit a few weeks later to finish up the trim.

That few weeks later visit was Wednesday.  And it didn't go well.

Since the last visit, Jackson spent some sunny days in the arena, on dry sand, with Lucy and Pistol and then we moved him into the pasture with them, when Brett finished repairing/replacing their fence.  The pasture is 99% dry, with one patch of wet ground in the bottom corner.  Jackson has spent months -- since last November -- living in the covered round pen.  He was stoic about it; but he doesn't like it.  He wants to be out with the rest of the herd, to be out in the sunshine and the wind, to live like a horse.  I couldn't deny him that.  If you don't have quality of life, what's life worth?  Not a whole heck of a lot.

So, Wednesday.  The farrier found thrush in three of four hooves; laminitic flare up; possible white line; some blood at the toe; an abscess (that the farrier burst and now Jackson thinks this farrier is the best thing ever).  And, the front hooves (where he is most laminitic) are just growing really funky.  He didn't want to trim much with out the benefit of a vet exam and x-rays.

Jackson has an appointment next week with our favorite vet.  I trust her completely and I don't want to take him to someone with whom I don't have full faith on this situation.  If the prognosis is grim... well, I don't want to be second guessing the source.  Last night I wrote up his entire medical history for her.  It was a depressing exercise.

Between now and then, I am treating the thrush with this stuff called Dry Cow.  It's an antibiotic.  The farrier cleaned out the frogs and gave them a thorough treatment with thrush meds; now I'm flushing with the antibiotic twice a day.

And I'm trying to stay positive.  But, deep down, I'm very worried and my heart feels like a sack of stones is pulling it down.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Chicks are Here

After the bobcat decimated our flock, I ordered chicks online from the company we have been using for many years.  Breed selection is limited before April so I ordered chicks who would be available after that date.  A couple of the breeds I wanted were sold out until May -- so we didn't receive our order until yesterday.

Yes, they come in the mail.  They are shipped from Minnesota, priority mail.  They left the hatchery Monday night and arrived at our post office Wednesday morning, early.  Brett jumped in the car and went down to fetch them while I put the finishing, welcoming touches on their brooder and turned on the heat lamp.

Brett returned home with our box of chicks.

They were smushed together in the small box, but all alive and chirping like mad.

We put them in their brooder, in Lucy's stall, after dipping their little beaks in water to encourage them to drink.

I also mixed up some bright green goo -- a mix that provided hydration and an energy boost to help with recovery after their journey.

So far, they are all doing great.  All 17 of them.  Brett and I negotiated on the number of chickens; I wanted fewer, he wanted more.  He won that negotiation -- which is funny because I am a contract negotiator.  You can't deny a man his chicks, though.  And Brett does love chicks.

We have a mixed group of our favorite breeds: Rhode Island Red, Aracaunas, Cuckoo Marans, Buff Orpingtons -- and a new one: Delawares.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

She's Back

Lucy, that is.  The stifle injections were exactly what she needed.

We have had a couple of "different" Pessoa sessions since we got back to work, following her latest injections.

For the first session, I brought a shiny new lunge whip with me up to the dressage court.  She looked at it while we were walking up, but didn't seem concerned.  I'm not a big fan of lunging, in general, since all those circles put stress on the horse's joints (and its boring, sometime dizzyingly boring, for both horse and person).  Besides, Lucy doesn't typically need to be lunged; she's never pulled an exuberant bucking episode on me.  And, with the Pessoa work, it isn't hard to keep her going.  Lucy is a forward equine citizen so all I need to keep her going is my voice.  But, she was cutting her circles too small (especially on the side of the arena she doesn't trust) and I wanted to push her back out; to keep the circles as large as possible, so the strain was reduced on her joints.  I wanted to use the lunge whip like an extension of my arm, pushing her back out.

I learned that Lucy hates lunge whips.  Who knew?  I got her all clipped into the Pessoa and asked her to walk on.  I picked up the lunge whip and she exploded.  She didn't settle until I dropped the whip on the ground.  Every time I held it, or even bent over to pick it up, she erupted -- bucking, kicking and racing around me so fast that she was almost laying sideways.  She never fully relaxed; and she was a sweaty lathered mess when we finished.  It was not our best session.

I hung the lunge whip on the whip rack in the tack room.  I won't use it again with her.

I worked her again a few days later.  I didn't bring the lunge whip.  I can swing the end of the lunge line at her, or walk towards her, or both, and that works to push her out.  Not as easy, but still effective.

This time, she was relaxed.  During her warm-up jog, there was some very slight toe-dragging.  But, when we started our work on canter and canter-trot-canter transitions, all toe-dragging disappeared.  Before the injections, she could not canter for 30 seconds so we were stuck at that level for weeks. This level of work (30 seconds of canter, 30 seconds of trot, repeat for five minutes, each direction) falls about half way through the conditioning program we were given by her vet.  This time, she cantered easily and wasn't always ready to come back to trot at 30 seconds.  She looked comfortable.  There was a lovely, cadenced jump to her stride and she even gave me a lovely rounded frame for a few strides here and there.  When she did trot, it was full of push and lift, her hind legs reaching forward and landing well in front of her front hoof prints.

I think my mouth was hanging open.

I didn't get a chance to ride her on the weekend, although that had been my plan.  We were busy working on ranch projects from dawn to dusk on Saturday -- and on Sunday I could hardly move.  I didn't think aggravating my back further was a good idea.  Lucy requires core muscle to ride effectively, and mine were not available.

Next weekend, for sure, I will ride.  In the meantime, we are moving it up a notch with the Pessoa.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Stupidly Happy, Tired and Sore

As Brett and I drove out the front gate this morning, on our way to the corner market so he could get mushrooms for his scrambled eggs, I looked over at Lucy, Pistol and Jackson contentedly grazing and said, "Is it stupid that I am so happy that they are back in their pasture?"
Brett has been working on replacing the fence that came down under the weigh of the falling oak tree.  It's been slow and difficult work for him -- getting the holes dug, the posts set (perfectly straight), and the rails up -- all by himself.  He had about half of it done, including a new gate to go with the new pedestrian bridge (made from the oak tree), at the start of this week.

Thursday, his friend Marty came up to help put up the rest.  It looks awesome.

Saturday morning, I helped Brett clean up the piles of old fencing, old bent and rusty wire, and the pieces of left over wood.  It took us a couple hours to get the pasture horse ready.

And then we brought them over, out of the confines of the small arena.
Lucy and Jackson
We brought Jackson over too.  The weather is warming, and the ground is dry in most places.  I did find him, this morning, standing in the one marshy area eating away.
The water in their water trough had turned a lovely shade of green in the three months since the tree fell and we moved the girls out.  All the gold fish had died, and the water looked disgusting.  I emptied it, throwing bucket after bucket of water over the fence since the drain doesn't work.  We refilled it with fresh water and bought some goldfish.
I think we're set.