Saturday, April 29, 2017

More Herd Dynamics

At  no time are herd dynamics more on brilliant display than when you release a new horse into the herd. (Or, when one escapes into the herd. See previous post.)  For fun, tell me what you see in these sequential photos.  Don't worry about names, colors will do. 

Friday, April 28, 2017

Concussion, New Poultice for Hoof Abscess, & An Escape Artist

Word of advice, if you suspect a concussion, don't take Advil, take Tylenol. I found this out after I took Advil. Apparently, if there's a bleed, Advil can make it worse. I probably don't have a bleed, but I did get a rock solid concussive hit to the right forehead that knocked me from the crouching position to my butt.

I was administering a new poultice to Little Joe's front right hoof abscess this morning, when the dog started barking and two goats ran under him. The next thing I knew, I was laid out.  Another word of advice: never let your guard down. When something happens, it can happen in an instant. 

Too late for me. But I did have a long session with Little Joe after that so he learns to respect my space.  He'll need a few more. 

The poultice I made for him consists of an air-activated heat pad, Nitrofurazone, Epsom salts, a wash cloth, diaper and duct tape. I do have a boot for him, but this is so thick, it doesn't fit in the boot.

I cut the wash cloth and diaper to the size of the heating pad and then stirred the Nitrofurazone and Epsom salts together to make a paste. I packed the sole with the paste and covered it with the wash cloth, then the heating pad, then the diaper, and finally covered it all in duct tape. 

The reasoning behind this poultice is it's difficult to keep a horse's hoof in warm water and salt for long enough to draw out the infection. This particular poultice, however, keeps the heat applied for approximately 8 hours. 

Little Joe has been very worried about losing his girlfriend, Foxy, and that is why he wasn't thinking when he overreacted to the goats. He has also been dropping weight with his anxiety and pacing. Since he has foundered, putting that weight back on posed a challenge, so I turned to Rebecca for advice. She recommended an Equine Senior that uses beet pulp as its main forage and a product called Super Weight Gain.

The Equine Senior is one I've always used by Aslin Finch. 

**Update: I just now looked out the window and saw Little Joe had found a way to open the gate and get out with the herd. They all look peaceful, so I'm going to let them be. What an escape artist. There's no end of surprises today. 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

DIY Hoof Poultice & a Few Miscellaneous Photos & Thoughts

Here's a trail blooper from a ride yesterday morning, the photos I don't usually share, but probably should. Something is wrong.  Can you see it?

Here's the photo you usually see.  Cowboy's eye seems to say, I like the other photo better, mom.

More pictures from the 1st day releasing Foxy.  Can you tell what's happening in this photo?

Here is the same scene with a little more close-up view.

And a ride with Cowboy from last week.  Riverside State Park--the same park where I rode with Leah in the Heaven, I'm in Heaven post.

This is the same spot I took the photo with Leah.

My herd is still sorting it out with Foxy.  We have a very strong mare herd dynamic--they can hear each other think--and it takes a bit to get a new mare synchronized.

I'm also nursing an abscess with Little Joe.  It popped in his frog this week.  I used the Animalintex poultice pads, wrapped in duct tape, to draw it out. They're kind of spendy, especially when they just fall off from bad wrapping.  I lost 3 of the 6 pads!  My trainer uses a diaper (cut to fit), with nitrofurazone and epsom salts, duct taped onto the hoof.  A little DIY poultice idea.

Today, since it has popped, I'm going to soak it in warm water and epsom salts and pack it with sugardine (sugar and iodine).  He's been getting my wraps off pretty easily, so I'm going to vet wrap it up and over his ankle and then reinforce it with duct tape around the hoof area, to keep it dry.

My neighbor delivered a truck load of cedar chips to me last weekend, out of the blue, no charge.  Can you believe it?  I was in need of wood chips, too.

The weather is cold, wet and blustery up here in the Northwest, and I feel like I'm always cold, but I'm going to bundle up and go out to ride Leah today.  I have a new obstacle I'm going to work on and that I'll share with you in a later post.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Bye, Sweet Horses! Make Good Choices!

No matter how much you do to prepare your horses, introducing them through panels and rides, for example, in the end, it comes down to letting them sort it out and hope they make good choices.

We released Foxy on Sunday, and everyone survived. A few slips and falls (Beautiful Girl) a little bleeding (Cowgirl) and a new leader (Foxy).

It appears Foxy may take the place of Red in Cowgirl's life, a strong, smart leader that gets along with the whole herd.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

From Faith to Fulfillment: The Making of a Trail Horse

Day 50: 2016 Blog Entry

"In truth, I would rather that our 50th ride had been better, so that I could sit here and write about how wonderful it was and how hard work really pays off. Instead, I'm trying to talk myself out of discouragement, if you couldn't tell.

I guess you've gotta have the faith."

For fun, I clicked on the "Day 50" keyword to compare Day 50, "Heaven, I'm in Heaven," of 2017 to the corresponding Day 50 of 2016.  The quote above was taken from that entry.

What a difference a year makes.


How we got here.

The huge leap in Leah's trail abilities got me thinking about what it was that made a difference, and I want to quickly write about that today.

1st, I spent many hours with trainers helping me with Leah's first rides.  Regina was my first mentor, and she was there with me when Leah had no steering or understanding of any cues--no practice carrying a rider--in other words, completely "green  horse."  She gave me several tactics to stop her when she'd run away and to stay safe in those first few rides.  We started on the ground and worked our way into saddle.  She never got in the saddle for me.  (Rachel, another trainer, did on three occasions.) I had to dig deep and overcome a lot of fear in those days, but something in me was determined to finally get Leah trained and on the trails.  After all, I'd had her since she was two, and time was ticking--she was 9 when we started.  But doing it with Regina and Rachel by my side, and only doing what I was comfortable with--made all the difference in Leah getting a positive start.

After 9 months of lessons with Regina, I had Leah going pretty well, and I was ready to start the trails, but I made the mistake of letting her get obese, and she developed mild laminitis, which ended our trail riding season before it began.

Enter my new trainer, Rebecca, who helped me keep Leah going at home and through monthly trail clinics at the barn next door.  Those clinics culminated in last month's trail obstacles and a private lesson in crossing water--which brought us to "Heaven, I'm in Heaven" last Friday.

Those of you have followed this journey know all the ups and downs I've encountered, and I'm sure they will not be the last.  That's life with horses.


The day of the trail ride.

The day of the ride, I was meeting 4 other friends at the trail head at our large state park.  I fully expected that I would have to let them ride on without me so that I could help Leah get through it, and I let them all know that they should be prepared to leave me behind.  

The ride was about Leah and me.  Period.  

I made sure to arrive at the trail head 45 minutes before the others so that I could work with Leah in the 60' roundpen.  I did the exercises Regina (1st trainer) had taught me with a little bit of Rebecca's "at liberty" sprinkled in.  

Round-pen exercise: I asked Leah to move out at walk, trot, and canter, and had her switch directions intermittently. (No lead line).  To switch directions, I would scoot backwards really fast and block her path, while opening up a door for her to face me.  At first, she didn't want to face me, she wanted to look over the round-pen into the woods, so I'd push her on, but eventually, she tuned in and faced up.  When she'd face up, I'd ask her to turn in and switch directions. Eventually, I had her come to me and walk, and back up, at liberty by my side.

Obstacle Course:  After the round-pen work, Leah was listening and using the thinking side of her brain.  I saddled her and walked her through all the trail obstacles.  She did fabulous on all of them.  (The ladder, bridge, tire mount, and all the rest.)  After in-hand, I mounted up and did them all in saddle.  

Trail Ride:


The actual trail ride had me worried.  She had been bolting, on the previous ride, even at the sight of water in the distance.  I didn't expect it to go well, and I told everyone that to prepare them.  She quickly made a liar out of me, though, because the first puddle we came to, she crossed.  Then the second, and then the larger third puddle.  She balked at four and five, but followed another horse through.  Remember, my plan was to stay at the puddle until she crossed, but once she crossed, to ride on.  On one of the puddles, she started to balk, but when she saw the other horses moving on without her, she made a mental determination to cross and follow them. (Smart girl!)  I rode with a crop to block her if she started to bolt.  I did have to wave that in front of her left eye a couple of times.

Walking Out Fast:

After the water, Leah gained confidence and wanted to take the lead.  I let her, as long as she stayed at the walk.  She had a fast walk and quickly outpaced the rest of the group.  We were so far ahead, I could barely hear them anymore, but Leah seemed unfazed.  She was completely tuned in to me--both ears constantly checking in with me--so much so, we couldn't even get a picture of her without both ears back listening for direction.  (My friends clucked, called, whistled, but she wouldn't give them a single ear.  Makes for bad pictures, but good horses.)

Cliff Side:

I hadn't planned on going cliff side with Leah, I had planned to stay on interior trails, but she was doing so well, I felt like it was the day.

We had a few issues.  

First, we encountered standing water at a narrow, steep point, and her first inclination was to find a way around it.  I tried to hold her in the center, though, and keep her going forward.  She did.  

Second, I could feel her getting disconnected at times and building up increasing fear (we were cliff side, after all, right next to a rushing river.)  Regina had taught me this gentle back and forth with the bit to remind her I'm there and to keep her from looking too long in one direction.  I took the reins up a big (she had been on a loose rein) and started to tweek it with my pinky--gently--a little, "I'm here, Leah. Look this way. Now, look that way."  It worked and she regained confidence and connection.

Third, at the steepest and highest part (right before we ascended to the bluff pictured above) she tuned into the trees and shrubs on our left and wasn't looking at all at the extremely narrow path (any misplaced foot would be a drop) or the right side drop off itself.  It was almost as if she was too scared to look at it.  In that minute or so, I actually had a very crazy thought, "If I die now, I won't get to enjoy my new tack room!!"  So, I used my pinky to gently tug on Leah's bit to the right--as if to say, "Hey Leah, looky over here, girl, there's a big, big drop off.  We don't want to go there!"   When we got to the top, my friends said they didn't notice anything, but it was very obvious as the rider.  I think she will get better with more confidence and trail miles.  

When we did get to the top, I was ecstatic, and I asked them to take our picture to commemorate.  It was a mixture of feeling lucky to have survived those last scary moments on the trail and pride in Leah for having carried us through.  (Cowboy was a much more seasoned trail horse when he first rode that trail, and he was worse his first time over it.  So much so, that I avoided that section with him for over a year.)

I know that Leah and I have many fears to overcome as we continue to get our trail miles together, but I plan to stick to the foundation and the training regimen that has carried us this far, and I expect it to get easier and easier, and our partnership, deeper and deeper.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Heaven, I'm In Heaven

..and my heart beats so that I can hardly speak
and I seem to find the happiness I seek
When we're out together dancing cheek to cheek.

Heaven, I'm in heaven
And the cares that hung around me through the week
Seem to vanish like a gambler's lucky streak
When we're out together dancing cheek to cheek.

Oh I love to climb a mountain
And reach the highest peak
But it doesn't boot me half as much
As dancing cheek to cheek.

This song is dedicated to....

Sweet Leah.

Yes, we got the dance right today.  We did every obstacle at the trail course, and we crossed water. The first few water obstacles, she went through by herself, but needed to walk behind another horse for a couple of them.  Still, it was WAY better than before.  A success! We also rode along the river, cliff side, and climbed the mountain.  Leah led the group of five with a nice, but vigorous, walking pace.  She was out far ahead of them, but didn't seem to care at all.  She was tuned and listening--a real partner.

I didn't think it was going to go so well, but boy was I surprised.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Walking Through Water: An Easter Miracle

On Easter, we had my two sons, and my brother and his family, over for dinner and an Easter egg hunt.  Every year, we have a hunt for kids and adults where many of the eggs contain vast sums of money  a few dollars.  To be exact, I  hide $60-$80 in 1's & 5's.  This tradition has served me well to lure my adult kids back to their mommy's house. 😆

Leah, I Brought the Posse!

After Easter dinner & egg hunt, I had  a date with my trainer, Rebecca, to take Leah to the state park and practice water crossings.  Like Superman, I ducked into the bathroom and changed wardrobe from Easter mommy to bad-ass trail boss. 😂  I texted Rebecca--"done early--ready anytime." And, she texted back, "putting up my trailer and will be right over."

Soon, we were loaded up and hauling Cowgirl (Shiloh's palomino horse) and Leah down to the trail head.  There was a significance in Rebecca riding Cowgirl--our alpha mare--which you will soon discover if you choose to read further.

The big, bad water puddles.

Saddled up and heading down the trail, Leah saw a long, skinny bit of standing water, aka teeny puddle, in the far-off eastern distance.  Leah began to veer off the path and drift southward, through the stands of trees, to avoid it. I directed her back.  Here is what we did.

1.  Approach water. (Leah wanted to bolt away.)
2. Approach long, skinny puddle from the side and try to go over. (Leah would bolt away.)
3. Approach long skinny puddle from side, crop in hand, Cowgirl (alpha horse) blocking her bolting path. (Leah bolts other way.)
4. Repeat above items. (Leah finally steps through.)
5. Immediately praise and move forward.

Quite quickly, we were upon the 2nd and much bigger puddle.  This one was wide and long and, apparently, an incubator for viscous little bugs.  Here is what went down at puddle #2.

1. Approach water (Leah veers away.)
2. Approach water from side with two trees in order to block her in. (Leah makes way around trees.)
3. Park alpha mare to the side of Leah, hold crop in other hand, ask Leah to approach and stand at puddle's edge. (Leah approaches and stands. Tries to bolt, but can't.  I praise her. She starts to relax.)
4. Approach and stand again. (Leah is happy and relaxed again.)
5. Ask for a step into the water. (Leah gives it.)
6. Ask her to cross water. (Leah bolts to the left again.)

At this point, we're starting to get the picture that Leah won't be pressured across the water.  The only clear success we had was getting her to approach it and rest--which was a big step up from seeing water in the distance and trying to avoid it.  The approach and rest became our main goal.

1.  Approach and rest. (Cowgirl--alpha mare-- is sick of the bugs and Leah not going over the water.  By this time, she has shown her how it's done a million times (Leah doesn't care) and she has blocked her path about the same amount of times.  Cowgirl is at the end of her rope. Leah, however, is perfectly content to rest at the puddle's edge with bugs swarming her legs and belly.)
2. I stand up a bit in my saddle and free up Leah's back, then ask her for a step.  (Leah, for some reason, decides it is time, and she crosses the water. (Yay, Leah!  I praise her to high-heaven, not knowing what encouraged her to finally make that decision for herself.)
3. We move on to next puddle.

The last few puddles, one rather large, were much easier to cross.  In fact, Leah crossed the largest one immediately.  The last couple were small puddles and she gave me a bit of guff--but not near as much as when we started out.

We have a plan.

Leah learned an important lesson last night.  She learned that she cannot avoid puddles and, if she wants to save time and get back home to her food, she needs to confront them sooner rather than later.  If she doesn't confront the puddles, her partner (me) will stay at the puddle until it's done.

And that is my plan for the future.  I don't believe Leah is scared of water, I think she has chosen it as the newest thing on which to disagree.  She has to learn that if she does a good job, that is the surest way to end the trail ride.  I have to always be prepared to spend the time to get her through it.  I will not use high pressure, I will use patience, and I will wait for Leah to make the choice to cross.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Learning to Hear My Horse Whisper: New Obstacles

"A good rider can hear their horse talk. A bad rider can't hear their horse even when she screams. But a great rider can hear their horse whisper."

I am trying so hard to hear my horse whisper. It's not easy.  You listen, go lightly--then, for some reason, they explode--you pull back hard, trying to get them to slow down--you reprimand yourself for overreacting, you try again. 

The labyrinth requires demands whispering to one another.  So, I set up a labyrinth in my arena.  (Here's a post I wrote in 2012 about the concept behind "The Labyrinth" and what this will eventually look like.)

This is a very simple design.  I'll enlarge it when we can do this with no issues.  We had issues, so I may be taking one section off tomorrow.

Here are my thoughts about this exercise.

1. Going forward, they see it as an easy deal and they may plod right through it--pretty much on auto-pilot.  That is not good.  We should direct each and every step they take and be able to halt them several times through out.  Leah rushed it going forward.

2. If they rush going forward, do not proceed to back them through it.  Of course, I found this out the hard way--I backed her through it.  She did okay until the second bend, then she got flustered about her feet and stepped out of the maze.  We lost our connectedness.  Leah was very anxious.

3. Get connected.  Once we lost our connectedness, I had to try and find it again.  I stood outside the labyrinth and worked on gentle rein lifts--whispers--to get her attention.  When we started working "together" again, we went back into it.  Eventually, I realized we should be working on the forward--ONLY--and so, we spoke in whispers to one another: "One step, Leah. Halt. Good girl. Next foot, Leah. Halt. Good girl."  And we ended it.

4.  Do this in-hand first.  (Should have been #1)  We did.  I used her reins to guide her from the ground.

Next exercise: the chasey polls.

I purchased 5 pvc poles--4" in diameter for this obstacle.  They have to raise their feet up and be careful not to nick the pipes.  If they do hit the pipes, they will roll under them.  I arranged them in a row, but you can mix them up several different ways and also move them onto different types of ground.  Leah has worked with these quite a bit, so they're more of a confidence builder and a reminder to watch where she puts all four feet. Here's a 5 second video. 

I'm riding in my new saddle.  It is so different than my western.  Unlike the western saddle with its rigid fenders, on this one, you really have to work to keep your legs under you.  Also, I find that I really miss the horn for all the things I used to pile onto it.  Now, I have to walk back and forth and get things or carry them on me.  But it's light, and that's a big plus.

My Cowgirl Cave is almost entirely done.  My husband finished running the electric out today and when he flipped on the light switch, it all worked!  I did make a few changes though, and some of the things I've ordered haven't arrived.  When everything is in place, I'll share the pictures.  I can't tell you how much I love having it.  How did I ever live without one?

Thursday, April 13, 2017

When I Am An Old Horsewoman: In the Saddle at 50

"And I will be an embarrassment to all who will not yet have found the peace in being free to have a horse as a best friend."
For the record, best friends do fight.  If  you haven't ever fought, you're not truly best friends.  After all, isn't that what tests your friendship?  Anyone can be friends with a person who is always, 100% agreeable, but who will remain friends after a fight?  That is where friendships are tested.  That is where they are sifted out.  That is also where many people part ways.

Leah is my friend, and it was Leah who I took out on my 50th birthday.

We spent time in-hand on the trail obstacles:

And in saddle:

Leah did wonderful, as you can see, except on two obstacles: the mailbox & the labyrinth or maze.  Backing through the maze made her nervous.  It's a delicate placing of each of her feet, and a great deal of concentration, as our bodies communicate with one another in this fine, intricate dance.  Backing up, she can't see where her feet are going--which takes a great deal of trust in the rider.  She was trying, and she did it, but it heightened her anxiety.  She was giving up control---really having to think hard about bit, and leg, and seat, and feet, and hind, and front--you get the picture.

The mailbox aversion is strange, but I think it reminds her of the gate incident last year and that feeling of being pinned in.  I had her get as close to it as she could comfortably handle--several times--and praised her.

After the obstacles, we went out on the trail. She is barefoot, and it is extremely rocky, but she tore up ground like it was nobody's business.  So much for her laminitis.  I think we can safely say that has resolved.  I rode on a loose rein as much as possible, but there were times she thought about taking advantage of it.  Luckily for me, Leah gives a little warning before she bolts.  I can read her mind through her body.  So, I closed her exit and took away her rein before she could accomplish it.  I think trail miles and consistency will solve that issue, but this was her first ride out.  When she wants to bolt--always to the left, btw, it is pretty tough to stop her, so she must have been 50/50 on that to begin with.

When we got toward the end of the ride, I asked her to go through some large puddles--fairly wide, not deep--and she would have none of it.  She started to bolt to the left through the trees--I'd say she was about 90% committed at that point--maybe 95%.  I say that because she was going to fight any restriction I placed upon her, but a better rider may have been able to work with that small crack of possibility--that 5 or 10% she hadn't committed to bolting.  It was not in my ability to do so, and I knew it, so I released the pressure before she slammed me into the trees.

After that, I lost our connectedness.  She tuned into the gorgeous Fresian yearling who was being ponied along the ride.  She has baby fever in the worst way and would steal that baby right away from its mama if she could. 😂  Since I'm using percentages, I'd say our togetherness started out at 80% on the obstacles, dropped to 75% at the start of the ride, and dipped to 30-40% after the water crossing.

I'm going to ride with my trainer next time and prepare to spend a lot of time at the water--whatever it takes.

But my 50th birthday ride wasn't the time or place for that degree of lesson.

Instead, it was a time to hang out with some of my horse friends--both human and equine.  And yes, that is the yearling standing between us.  Can you blame Leah for wanting to steal her?

**Another successful day in the trailer, too***
**Pictures coming soon of the Cowgirl Cave!***

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Making of My Tack Room

My husband is working fast and furious to complete my tack room by my 50th birthday.  It was exciting to plan it and now to watch it come together.

The original idea for the tack room came from one of my trainers who used a large shed to store her saddles, bridles, blankets, medicine & grooming supplies.  I have a barn with an unenclosed tack room, but I don't feel comfortable storing my saddles in there--dust, mice, spiders--no thank you.  I wanted an enclosed room nearer to my riding area.  (The old area will still be used to store supplemental feed, vitamins, barn cat's house, & halters & leads.)

First, we bought and had the shed delivered.  It's a 16'x10' Old Hickory with extra high sides which accommodate two upper storage areas.

Before I picked out the Old Hickory shed, I'd already combed Pinterest for storage ideas: saddle, bridle, and helmet racks, shelves, etc.  The inside, however, we planned on a trip to Lowes.  I knew I wanted to have paneling on the inside, electricity, lighting, some sort of chandelier, and an area rug.

The wall panels:

The plate covers.

The Chandelier.

I chose this one because I like the simplicity, and the bronze matches the other items. It also had the most lights--I want as much light as possible when I need it--and the least amount of cleaning if it gets dusty.   All the lights will be controlled from one switch and be on a dimmer.

The wall sconces. (4)  Also bronze.

Here's my husband marking off the placement of saddle & pad racks.  There will be 8.  ($24.99/$19.99 for  more than 4, from

Here's what they look like mounted (store photo).
The plywood, on the ceiling of the shed, will be painted the color "Buckskin Pony."  We looked at 40-50 samples, but not the names, and chose that one.  When I did look at the name to tell my husband what we chose, we both laughed.  Of course, Buckskin Pony would be THE ONE.  We bought the paint at Lowes, too, and got the one with  primer already mixed in.  My husband has just gone out to rent a sprayer, and I taped up the two windows.

Here are the bridle racks.

I would have rather had these...

But they were too expensive.  😭  So, I went with the brass.

Each saddle rack (above) will be a station that contains: saddle & pad rack, bridle rack, & helmet rack. This photo (from Pinterest) is the way I plan to organize them in their stations, but they will be stacked in 2's with no halter/lead rope hook.

The carpet you see  hanging off one of the storage areas is an indoor-outdoor rug we found at Costco, on sale for $99.99.  I liked it because it's less likely to show dirt than a darker one.  If I had my choice, I'd choose something like a burnt orange or red--and I still may in the future--but this is a good start.

I have to have electricity for running clippers (and vacuuming) and also a small fridge to keep my vaccinations, penicillin and worming supplies.  He's installing 2 outlets.

We also installed 2" thick wood braces where the saddle racks will anchor into the wall.   The wood paneling will be installed over all of this, then the racks.

I'm on the lookout for a vintage bookshelf or old hutch that can store my medical supplies.  For grooming, I'll probably purchase a shower rack of some sort that I can hang on a bar in the tack room and transport easily to the wash rack.

There will be other storage needs, but I'm not sure what they'll be yet.  I want to organize my main tack items first and then see what is needed next.

Oh, and I also asked my husband to build a small deck off the tack room so I can have a couple of old rocking chairs.  It'll be my tack house!

I rode Leah in the new saddle yesterday.  I love it.  It's going to make the perfect trail saddle!!  She seemed to like it, too.  She moved out great in it.  I'm surprised at the freedom it gives my legs, I'm so used to thick, solid fenders on my western saddle.

Oh, and I must report, as a follow-up to the last post, she was an ANGEL in the trailer. That couple days of being in there, resting and eating, paid off in spades.

The next time I post I'll be 50, and I may even have the final pictures of the tack house.

If you have organization ideas, please share them!