Thursday, January 28, 2016

Introducing a "New" Horse to the Herd

Welcome to the Mare Wars.

In Ring One, we have sweet Money Penny, a 21 year old Quarter Horse/Arabian...or in other words, a Quarter Arab.  Penny, it would seem, is made of sugar, because she is sweet, sweet, sweet.

In Ring Two, we have the feisty wild horse, Beautiful Girl.  Beautiful likes herd order, and she likes being second in command to the Alpha Mare.  Beautiful fights to the end, and has even gone butt to butt with the alpha male of the herd and run him off.  Beautiful is made of piss and vinegar.

Three months ago, Money Penny began challenging Beautiful Girl for the #2 spot in the Mare Herd, and Beautiful came down, surprisingly, lame.  A big win in Round One for Money Penny, as it sent Beautiful Girl to the healing stall for some R & R and Money Penny secured her top spot.

Round Two began by placing Beautiful Girl back on the same side of the barn as the turnout, and then Money Penny came up with a mysterious head injury, a win for Beautiful Girl, as it required Money Penny's removal from the herd, raising Leah to the top spot.

For the record, Leah would rather not have the top spot, and by top spot, I mean 2nd to the top, because the top is most certainly Cowgirl--the alpha mare in every herd she's been in since she was 2.

My farrier watched them all interact last week and said, "Boy, you're going to have WWIII when you put these two together."  True words.

But both will have to be released soon, and I don't want either to get hurt, so I'm putting together a list of safety practices when introducing "new" horses to your herd.  This is list is for myself and for others who might be reading the blog and find themselves in the same situation.  Some of these suggestions are ones I've learned from experience and some are from several articles I've read in preparation for the big day.  (Please share your own advice in the comments.)

Introducing a New Horse to Your Herd:

1.  Make sure the ground is solid and not muddy, icey, or slick.

2. Make sure there are no pens or corners that they can get trapped in when they're chased.  Also, make sure there is nothing dangerous they could run into--implements, wood, low branches, etc.

3.  Introduce them AFTER you've already fed the herd, to minimize the dominance issues over feeding.

4. Introduce them to the alpha horses first, then slowly introduce the lower horses who may be more insecure about their place in the herd (ie. Penny and Beautiful Girl).  The alpha horse will help protect the new horse from their challengers and will help them find their place in the hierarchy.)   An alternate to this #11.

5. If the horse is truly brand new (unlike my two), make sure they are turned out alone first so they can learn the boundaries and fence lines.

6. Turn them out during daylight.  (I learned this the hard way once and lost my herd at night when one of the members accidentally went through a wire fence.)

7. Turn them out when you're home so that you are there if intervention is required.

8. Turn them out for a couple of hours the first day and then longer each day.

9. Before turning them out, introduce them through a barrier--in our case, the runs from the barn adjoin the large, shared turnout.  Let them get to know each other that way and work out some of their challenges with the barrier as a safety net. (If this is a new horse, consider quarantine away from your herd first, so that you don't introduce germs, worms, etc.--especially since they will all be under a great deal of stress, lowering their immune systems).

10. If you have a gelding who is confused about his gelding status--mounts mares, challenges the alpha geldings in stallion type fights--consider not introducing them to a mixed herd.

11.  One article suggested having them introduced to a gentle herd member first so they have a "buddy" before the big turnout, but I've done that in the past and didn't find it very helpful.  The alpha still moves the "buddy" to the sidelines and even seems to resent the interference.  But it has probably worked in some situations or else people wouldn't suggest it.

12. Pour yourself a glass of something very strong and try to relax and console yourself with the knowledge that horses have been doing this for thousands of years and it usually turns out just fine.

And, for that matter, you can always do what my farrier suggested to me....

"Let them out, and then go shopping for the whole day!"

Please add your suggestions in the comments.  What have you learned about introducing a new herd member?

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Horse Head Wounds Heal Fast, But They Sure Look Bad

Yesterday, we took Penny to our vet for a little TLC.  My friend and neighbor was kind enough to go with me and take some photos of the big adventure.  Poor Penny.

(Graphic Photo Warning)

I count this as the 9th day toward my 100 Day Challenge because it improved my knowledge of horsemanship.  It was like an equine head injury class.  (Plus, the parking was tight and I had to back up the trailer 4-5 times to get out--hauling class!)

First, the head wound.  It had been three days since I found it.  The blood had sealed it together by the time I first saw it, which made it appear better than it was.  In hindsight, I should have soaked it at that point.  Instead, I waited until Sunday...and the thorough soaking & flushing on Monday.  Sunday's effort was with my husband who thought it was too late to stitch and that it was healing fine.  On Monday, I started to smell something--like infection--which is why I started soaking AND flushing it until the skin flap came apart from the forehead and I could get into it and see what was happening.

For the record, my vet said that anytime you wonder if something should be stitched, it probably should.

Penny had two shots of sedation.  After the second, her head dropped nearly to the ground!  Our vet needed to shave all around it.

After a good shave, she cleaned the wound--sticking her fingers way down into it and all around.  She really got on it!

After a good cleaning, she decided to stitch it up.  The cut was a perfect "L" and looked like it was caused by something sharp.  Note to self: find the something sharp!

 The finished product.

Finished product with a little healing cream on it. (I can't remember the name.  It's prescription only.  I'll update this when my vet texts the info.)

I braided her bangs to keep them out of the wound.  She was still quite groggy. 

We were sent home with Bute and SMZ's, and we're going to put neosporin on the stitches to keep them moist.  I like my vet's method of soaking the SMZ's.  We put the pills in the syringe, push the top down, and then fill the syringe with warm water. 

 Then shake it up and mix it with the grain.

Things I learned about head wounds:
1. They heal fast.
2. They aren't prone to proud flesh development like leg injuries are.
3. It's advisable to have your horse wear a fly mask during the healing process to guard against itching.
4. If you wonder if it should be stitched, it should be.

After giving Penny her meds, I worked with Beautiful on Day 10 of the Challenge.  I wanted to up the ante with the standing tied training by introducing her to new, and possibly scary the empty wood shavings bag I had just emptied into her stall.

 I was proud of her.  She pulled back at first, but she didn't tighten the rope.  She made a mental adjustment and came back to a relaxed standing position.

During this, Penny was charging the stall gate behind her, like she was going to kick her butt, if she could.  Beautiful didn't seem phased, which makes me think she may be better poised to win the WWIII between them.  In my experience, the one who does the most huffing and puffing, when let loose, gives up the fight first.

I could be wrong.  I'm not looking forward to WWIII.  Not one little bit.  For  now, they're both still on stall rest...fighting from afar.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Penny Has a Nasty Head Wound

I looked out the window this morning and saw this.  Yuck.

But, not to sound like a broken record, I had the 100 Day Challenge!

Day 7 and 8.

Yesterday was the 7th day, and I worked with both Beautiful and Leah.  Beautiful stood tied in the barn while I worked with Leah outside the barn.  It was slick, but the sun was out, and it seemed warm at 39 degrees.  

After Leah, I worked with Beautiful on walk, trot and whoa...and directing her feet to the cone, as I'd also done with Leah.

Beautiful actually did better than Leah, believe it or not.  She really wanted to tune into me and get it right.  She just didn't know what I was asking her to do.  Once she got it, she did it fast.  She has been separated from the herd for about two months, and it has brought us much closer together.  

Leah had a lot of energy to release, but once she slowed down, she was able to think about touching the cone.

Today, the 8th day, I got to doctor a wound on Penny, and then I worked Beautiful again on the cone.  

The wound took most of my had been stuck together with crusty blood and I had to soak it with warm water and then rinse it out with warm water.  We noticed the cut on Saturday, but it looked like it was healing.  Then, on Sunday, I saw that it was swelling and, when I pushed on  it, a little pus/blood came out.  My husband looked at it and thought it was fine, but today I went out there and it was still a little swollen and oozy, thus the soaking and flushing.

This is what was exposed.

After it was clean, I sprayed Scarlex on it and put her away in a stall because I had to go to work.  I have an appointment with my vet tomorrow at 12.  It's most likely too late to stitch it (sadly), but she can flush it out and put her on antibiotics.  I texted her a picture of the wound, and she said it was better than she thought it would be after my description on the phone.  

I've had experience with head wounds, and I know they heal fast.  My same vet worked on a real nasty one two years ago when Shadow got kicked by another horse and it went through his nasal cavity.  That was awful because of the germs involved from the nasal cavity, but it still healed up fast.

Rain, shine, or fog, there is never a dull moment out at the barn.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Day 5, 100 Day Challenge: Water Crossing

Day 5 of the 100 Day Challenge

We took advantage of the melting snow to practice crossing water.  (Note to self, when taping with the right hand, have her move to the right.)  At one point in this, she got the rope under her because I was unable to tape and hold the rope up.  She started to go backwards, but then stopped and thought about it and let me approach to fix it.  I was proud of her.

Afterward, we practiced standing tied.  When she started to paw around, (below), I would get after her.  She calmed down pretty quick and I groomed her and did some TTouch exercises.

It was a good day.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Some Things Survive

Beautiful Mustang
Beaty’s Butte, Oregon 2007
Some things survive
Despite capture,
Despite fear.
Like memory,

How it felt
To take those first
Feeble, free steps,
Then stretch your neck
Toward breasts,
And the reward
Of warm milk.

The world was starving,
But some things survived,
Like the smell of sage
When your bodies
Lay down at night
And crushed the stems.
You dreamt of flight,
On strong legs;
You dreamt of rest,
Under the mahogany’s shade.

Some things survived,
Like the smell
Of your dam’s fur in rain,
The smell of her sweat.

The sound of her separation
survived, too,
The calling back and forth
From pen to pen,
Your first real lesson
On what it’s like
To be loved.

That way.

In the way
Of the terrible missing.

Some things survive,
Despite capture,
Despite fear.
Like memory.

For Christmas I got a Big Baby Taylor guitar.  I've played the piano and flute since I was a little girl, but I've always wanted to learn the guitar--it has such a beautiful sound...and it's mobile.

I've learned my first few chords--A, E, Em, and C, and I practice strumming them in 4/4 time.  Hey, it's music!  I like.

(However, the tips of my fingers are numb and goodbye fingernails...or what was left of them.)

As I was playing today, I realized that it was bringing something different out in me--something different than the piano...or the flute brought out.  It taps into a different place and brings something forward.

Then I thought, so do the horses.  Cowboy and Leah and Beautiful Girl, they each bring out something different in me...because they're different.  What they bring to the front is their own unique story and personality...and it somehow mixes with mine...and a different kind of music is made...a spiritual kind of music.

A new part of me awakens.

Then I thought, that's the miracle of the growth mindset that I've been reading about.  Each new thing we do wakes up some dormant part of our brain...our hearts...our spirits.

It's inexhaustible.

We have the ability to love many different souls, the ability to play many different instruments; we have an infinite amount of stories to tell, poems to write, and songs to compose on this limitless journey.

I've been worrying about how I'm going to find time to accomplish all my goals with my horses in my >>limited<< amount of time.

I came up with a plan:

Train Beautiful Girl and Leah with the help of my trainers and my husband...and Cowboy.  After my husband went to Leah's lesson and watched us, he said he'd like to ride her.  At first I was like, No, this is MY horse now, but in reality, I can't do it all.  I'm hoping they'll take a few lessons together, and that will free up some of my time to work with Beautiful, who is more of a one person type horse.  I can also get in some time with Cowboy by using him to pony them around.

I, I will survive, Oh, as long as I know how to love, I know I'll stay alive.  I've got all my life to live, I've got all my love to give, and I'll survive. I will survive, 

Hey Hey.

(Gloria Gaynor)

Monday, January 18, 2016

Happy Trails in Palm Springs, California

What's your level of experience riding a horse?  That is one of the first questions you're going to hear when the staff at Smoke Tree Stables, in Palm Springs, California, gets ready to match you up with your mount.  You can tell they take it seriously.  They have about 90 horses to choose from, and they want to get it right so that your ride is safe and fun.

It doesn't really matter which you are, there don't seem to be any "unsafe" or "green" horses in the string at Smoke Tree.  They've all been carefully worked into the program.  They assess the rider's height, weight and ability, and then match them to their horse.  No matter what your riding level, they have a horse for you. 

They also outfit you with a saddle bag and as much water from their fridge as you'd like to take along for the ride.

And, of course, hats or helmets.  You choose.  My husband chose a hat. (You can see he was pretty happy with it, below)  I travel with my own hat.

My hubby got partnered with Frankie, the big palomino, and I got sweet, sweet Dusty, the little palomino that I wanted to take home with me after our day together. Oh, Dusty, how I love thee.  I got Dusty to turn and acknowledge me on both sides after I mounted up.  He had a big, kind eye and curious nature.

I wasn't used to the saddle; mine is a bit cushier.  But the stirrup length was perfect.

Both the horses were sure-footed--able to walk up and down more rock than I've ever ventured over with my own horses.  One of the hikers even commented that she wondered how horses got over those rocks, but once she watched us, she found out.  I was impressed. 

Our guide was called Buck.  I think it's better to have a guide called Buck than a horse called Buck, don't you?  He was great.  A real cowboy, and a wonderful guide.  He was able to tell us a lot about the area.  We got him on his last weekend there.  Buck is heading to the Grand Canyon to work, but apparently, it'll be with mules.

We trailered the horses about five minutes away from the stables into the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation.   The Agua Caliente is owned by the Cahuilla tribe and was founded in 1896.  It's 31,610 acres, 6,700 acres of which is in the Palm Springs city limits. We rode through the Indian Canyons portion.

"This is a place of contrasts;
It is a place of ancient and new,
A place of peace and turbulence,
It is a place of power.
 Come with the right purpose and a clear mind
To enjoy its beauty and mystery."

There were times, during the ride, where I closed my eyes and tried to get a feel for the area with my other senses.  It was magical.  I thought of how I wanted to take that feeling with me forever, and I hoped that I could.

The mountains in the background, I believe, are the Santa Rosa and possibly also the San Jacinto (below).  You can even see part of the Pacific Coast Trail where there is snow.

Looking toward Palm Springs.

 We saw the creosote bush. (photo credit

Desert lavender. (Photo Credit

And, the Smoke Tree, which used to be all over the place (thus, the name of the stables), but now are scarce. (Photo Credit:

 They say that Pride Rock from The Lion King was inspired here.

And, Cary Grant came to ride at Smoke Tree Stables.  Our guide, Buck, said in the old days, they'd let you rent horses and go out without guides, but times have changed.

Our ride was 3 hours, but I was wishing I had booked it for the whole day.  Buck said the guides love to go on the day rides, but people rarely do them anymore.  I would highly recommend, if you're going to Palm Springs, to take the day trail ride--and, at the very least--the 3 hour ride.  It was my most memorable moment in Palm Springs, bar none.

I hope that Smoke Tree Stables, and others like them, are open for a long time. They provide a rare and priceless experience.  I have my own horses, and beautiful trails, but I doubt I'll ever trailer my horses that far.  I felt so grateful to experience the desert, Agua Caliente, on the back of little Dusty.

I think I'm addicted to riding horses wherever I travel.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Challenge, Day 3: Horse Trailer in Snow & Mozart in the Jungle Review

Day 3 of the 100 Day Challenge.  

If it wasn't for the 100 Day Challenge, I assure you, I would not have dug my trailer out of the snow and hauled my horse on it.  On any normal day, I'd look out there and say, It isn't happening.  But the Challenge held me accountable, and when I saw that it was going to be 34 degrees and the main roads were completely dry, I didn't feel I had a good excuse not to.

I called my friend who lives down the road to go with me for moral support, and she did. Off we went.  Turns out, the driveway from the barn to the road was the scariest part of the trip.  There was a moment my truck started to slide and get stuck, but it was able to correct in 4-wheel drive, very minor, actually.

I hadn't worked with Leah since before Christmas, so she was full of it.  Most of our lesson was on the ground, bringing down her energy.  Lunging her, alone, didn't work.  In fact, it amped her up, even though I was controlling her feet and her direction.

My instructor had me work her on a circle with the intention of lowering her speed.  I would ask her to trot out, but if her speed picked up, I would pull the rope to my belly button and release, pull and release, and so on, until I got the speed I asked for.  If she didn't pay attention, I stopped her and had her square up.  It was gentle, easy work, but it asked so, so much more of her than just trotting in a circle different directions.  At one point, she started to resist and go the opposite direction of what I was asking.  Gentle correction, and that was that.

Another activity we did was touching her nose to the cone.  When I first heard that one, I thought it was going to be easy.  I led her to the cone and parked her right in front of it.  My instructor was like, No, that's not what I'm asking.  I want you to stand about five feet away from the cone and then direct her there, without moving yourself, and have her touch her nose to it.  You have to control her feet and her speed.

At first, she blew right past the cone, so I had to turn her the other direction and bring her speed down.  When her speed picked up, I had to do the same thing I'd done on the big circle or stop her.  Eventually, I was able to hold my arm out and point at the cone and she'd quietly follow the lead, really trying to figure out where I wanted her to put her feet--even by inches.  It took a lot of direction changes, and energy adjustments on my part, to get her to that point.

Alas, we were ready to saddle up.  At first, she was more reactive than usual, so we worked again on bringing her energy down through mine.  I became lighter in the stirrups, sat back, and directed my own energy downward.  I was doing the same thing we'd been doing with the cone.  It made a big difference.

I have to throw in a review here.  If you're a music lover or current (or former) band geek--like myself--you will LOVE this series--Mozart in the Jungle.  I've been watching it for a while and was thrilled to see it won the BEST TV SERIES Musical or Comedy at the Golden Globes.  Yay!!!!   

Where else can you watch television and see drinking games that center around a flute and oboe play off?  Or, hear music jokes?  Like, How do you get a guitarist to stop playing?  Give them sheet music.  How do you get a pianist to stop playing?  Take away their sheet music!   Where else can you go to hear Mozart and Bach played throughout?  Or, see and hear a symphony practicing Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture in the ghetto?

Oh, love, love, love.  I love this show.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Growth Mindset Versus Fixed Mindset

I've started a 100 Day Horse Challenge with a local horse group.  The goal is to improve your horse skills through riding and/or training horses, at least 100 days out of the year.  A day in the saddle always counts towards the challenge, but anything else has to demonstrate that you're working toward an objective, rather than just hanging out.  One hundred days doesn't sound like much, but with the slow start I got this month being sick since New Years, I've only been able to log 2 days.

The timing couldn't have been more perfect to start this because I have been reading the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success , and so much of it can relate to teaching our horses.

The book looks at two different ways we think about learning, with a "growth mindset" or a "fixed mindset."  The fixed mindset says, I was born this way.  There is only so much a person can accomplish.  Some people are more gifted than others.

Whereas, the growth mindset says, I can be anything I want to be.  Talented, successful people are only different in that they continue to push themselves, learn, and grow.  And, there is nothing I can't accomplish, I just have to put the work into it.

I've had the growth mindset for a long time, but most of us don't fall completely into one or the other.  My own saying has long been, "The gift is the desire."  In other words, if you have the love of doing something, the desire, it is the gift--the rest is practice and hard work.  That belief inspired me to start piano lessons again at age 34 and take up the guitar this year.  I don't think there's an expiration date on learning something new.  I bristle when I hear someone say, "Oh, they're just gifted at this or that."  It's not true.  There's always a lot of hard work and dedication behind any talent.

The last couple of days, as I've been working with Beautiful Girl, it occurred to me, I have to approach training/teaching my horses with the same growth mindset.  I can't hold the past against them, and I can't assign concrete attributes to them.  For example, instead of saying, "Beautiful doesn't like to be tied."  I need to say "Beautiful needs more practice at standing tied."  Whether it takes a week or a year, it doesn't matter--the fact remains, she can learn to stand tied, but it will take practice.

I'll be writing more about this in the next few posts, especially as it relates to looking at myself and what I need to change when I'm not seeing the growth and progress in my horses' training.

I'll give another quick example, since I almost got kicked in the head yesterday, and it's fresh in my mind.

Beautiful Girl has been on stall rest for about two months and is ready to be reintroduced to the herd.  Unfortunately, however, it's almost like I've brought in a new horse, and when I switched her to a stall near them yesterday, they were all snorting, running, kicking, striking and trying to bite her through the bars.  During that amped-up time frame, I needed to move her to her permanent stall on the same side.

I grabbed the rope and halter and went in to get her, but she didn't stand for me.  Instead, she ran into the stall.  I went into the stall to get her, but she ran back out into the run.  Then, I cornered her, and even though her ears were back and her eyes were glossed over (she was deep into her reactive mind), I approached to throw the rope over her neck.  She left and, while leaving, threw me a kick that was about 5 inches from my face.  My husband even got to witness it.  He asked if I'd like to exit the stall pronto.  But I thought about it and all the many things I had done wrong in a small space of time, and I knew I had to do it right and finish the job.

If A is getting the rope and halter and Z is getting her safely to the other stall, I had tried to go from A to Z leaving out all the other steps. So, I approached her again--she sent the same signals again.  "Like, how dense are you?  Didn't you get my message last time?  Am I going to have to really kick you now?"  

Aside: I truly believe that when a horse wants to kick you, it will.  There are times they will kick out at a fly, or another horse, and get someone by accident, but when it's just you and them and they send out a kick, if they want to land it, they will.  She didn't land it, therefore, I chalked it up to her being deeply afraid in the situation and unwilling to give up her control to me.

I proceeded with approach and withdraw to get her to pay attention to me and lock on and, that time, I respected her body language (not wanting to get kicked in the head), until I got a soft eye and some connection, then I haltered her and took her out for some work on the basics.

Today, I went out to work on tying and picking up her feet and, for a moment, I thought--what if she kicks me in the face?  I was seriously in the fixed mindset for those moments.

But then I thought, No, she is not the same horse right now.  She's not scared.  In fact, it was never her that did anything wrong yesterday--it was ME.  I had done everything wrong, while she was just being a normal horse.  All horses run, buck, kick, bite, strike, and eat hay.  It's up to us to know how to be around them and safely interact.

I picked up her feet and then spent a long time brushing and braiding her hair.  It was a lovely morning.  (And, I didn't get kicked in the face.)

Beautiful's mane is much lighter than when she was a young filly.  It used to be jet black, but now it's this light gray.

 Very girly.

I went out to see Leah and Cowboy this morning while they were eating, and both of them left the hay bale to come see me.  That was normal for Cowboy, but big progress for Leah.  She has tuned into me!  What a difference.  I feel like we have a relationship now.