Thursday, April 30, 2009

Full Day!

What a fine day I had today! The weather was cool and breezy, so perfect for being active. I decided to have a real horsey kind of day. Since I got a reasonably early start I decided to do tail grooming. This is a major undertaking with Fells, but we got through it with lots of patience and spray stuff.

Poor Iona is covered in mosquito bites. I went out yesterday evening just to see what they were up to, and really to watch them eating, as I wanted to make sure that I was right that they aren't eating bindweed. Happily they seem to be pushing it out of the way to get at the grass, and leaving it alone. However, my neighbor is irrigating, and there wasn't much wind, so the flies and mosquitos were really bothering them. I brought them in and threw together some home-made fly repellent. I was obviously too late, as this morning Iona was covered in lumps in all the tenderest places. She is just one of those horses that insects love to bite. Bruce had a couple of bumps, but nothing dramatic.

I gave them a bit of hay while I grabbed a sandwich, then decided to put a few obstacles in the arena. I managed to drag a good sized log in, and roll a piece of tree trunk in that is big enough for a front feet pedestal. A half sheet of plywood is doing duty as a "tarp". (then, of course, minutes later I found an old tarp.) I also put some pieces of rope up over the gate openings. It all looks frightfull and I will NOT be posting pictures. I'm still hauling cow chips out, too. Did two more wheelbarrows full today. However, I know where I'm going with it, and in the meantime we can use it.

By the time I'd done all this I figured they would appreciate a bite to eat, so I grazed them on line for a little while, let them work on the weeds around the house and driveway a bit. They thought that was an excellent idea. Then we took a walk to the gate, where I re-bungied the trash bin to the gate where it had blown over.

So Bruce and I had a little play session in the arena. He was thrilled to have obtacles. Of course he made a beeline for the pedestal ASAP, but also jumped the log much more often than was actually required, stomped on the plywood at every opportunity. He really makes you feel like putting up obstacles is worth the bother!

We worked on some porcupine game stuff, where I am really asking for some pretty basic yields, but now refining them to quite a high level of precision. I am still having some problems simply getting him to pay attention, He tends to assume that I am asking him the thing that he got a treat for last, rather than paying attention to the task at hand. Sometimes I think treats are almost a distraction for him, and I need to think about better ways to make them meaningful.

His circles were a bit lacklustre, and maybe I am letting the latest Savvy Club DVD with Linda and the LB horse confuse me a little. I have certainly found the stuff about being light and waiting helpful with Iona, but it didn't seem to be working for Bruce's circles. Probably what worked more was variety. Lots of transitions and especially travelling circles.

We also had a little session of pushing the ball around. He lost a bit of confidence with that this winter, as the ball we had was giving him static shocks, which he finds vvvverrrry scarrrrry! So we mixed it up with me pushing the ball and him just following. But he nosed it around a little, and I quit on that.

While I played with Bruce, I actually put Iona back out onto the track. I knew she would just hang around near where we were, and I was right. They really need to be a bit more independent of one another. They have been like Siamese twins ever since their experience of being shipped over, which included a period where they were seperated for a couple of weeks.

So I swapped them over, brought Iona in and saddled her up. I really felt like riding, so just did a quick warm-up and pre-flight checks. She couldn't see Bruce as the arena fence is so high. However, I got her listening to me pretty well. We went out into the pasture. Now she could see Bruce, but OMG! there were two kids riding their bikes down our road. I now had two 15hh black giraffes. Iona now wanted to do her "cow chasing" routine and just run full pelt toward them. I wasn't comfortable with that and hopped off. We had a little discussion about this from the ground and then I felt like riding again. We didn't do a lot, but it was really nice to be riding her, and I hope I managed to keep things nice and light for her most of the time. She was a bit bracey going away from Bruce.

So, got her untacked and turned out. Then I decided I would spend some time picking up glass and wire in the "visitors" yard. I am working my way across this space slowly. I walk (sometimes get down and crawl) a section and pick up what I can see, then I rake the same section, then walk it again. It is pretty effective, although of course the wind reveals a few more bits later.

While I was sitting on the ground filling my pail with these little treasures, Bruce and Iona came cantering along the track headed for somewhere. When I was finished, I realised that they had gone back to the point on the track that was near where we had been grazing along the driveway in hand earlier. They haven't been over there in ages. Had they sort of forgotten about that part of the track? They were finding a lot to eat there, and were still there when I got dark. It's well away from the irrigated area, too, so probably not so many bugs.

Sometimes it seems like the track is still almost too big for them to take in, mentally. Almost as if they appreciate a bit of guidance as to where they might go. Otherwise they just go where they went the day before. I'm sure it will make more sense, and that they will move better when the circle joins up, too. What a learning experience for all of us!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


This is actually Wednesday's post, but I had some technical problems, so it's late...

This morning started off with a strange pickup coming up the drive. Fortunately the palaver of opening and shutting the gate, etc. gave me time to pull on some jeans instead of the pyjamas I was still lounging in!

Couple of nice cowboys got out. Said they'd lost a couple of black calves, and the guy the were working with thought they had jumped my fence and were behind my barns somewhere. I had just been watching Bruce and Iona relaxing, and so I was pretty sure there was no stray stock around, as Iona would have been headed straight for it to have a look. However, we went to see. No calves. Oh, well.

They were admiring Bruce and Iona. Kept saying how pretty they were. "Are they Morgans?" the younger guy asked. I managed to keep a straight face. Explained briefly that they were Fell Ponies. Nice guys, told me where they lived, gave me their card, said get in touch if I ever needed anything (like for them to come get their lost calves??). The card said welding, fencing and excavating (nothing about cattle, everybody's got cattle, don't they?). Excavating, eh? Now that might come in handy when I want to build a big landscaped cross country type obstacle or two.

Later I went up and had a look at the north fence. It's in that interesting state of kind of leaning over, but the posts don't actually feel loose. It hasn't worried me. Now I see that it's a bit of a loitering area for delinquent cattle when they are in that field (they had just put them in this morning). It would be very easy to pop a hot wire along it, so I probably should. Cheaper than a new section of fence.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Great Website I Found

Over the weekend I was doing a little surfing and found this great website about grazing tracks. It's got a number of contributions by real people who have built grazing tracks on all sorts of properties. I am pretty passionate about this, as you have probably noticed, so I decided to join and get involved over there. I have started a page there, and have put up a satellite photo of Springvalley with the track and some of the features mapped out.

Track Developments
Well, it was interesting to see a change of attitude when I called them for their feed yesterday. After being shut out of their grazing cell through the day, they came with quite a bit of enthusiasm. I even saw them eating some (but not all) of the hay that was on the track in nets.

So I will continue to have them just on the track during the day and open the grazing cell in the evenings. However, I will also try feeding the buckets in the morning now. I would rather give them something to encourage them to come onto the track, than just herd them out of their cell and say "too bad"! Perhaps we can arrive at a routine where they will come for the feed. But as long as I have to herd them, at least they are getting something good for coming along. I'll let you know how that works out.

Yesterday I worked on the track fence. I got another section done, but decided not to open it up, as it's at the top (north) end, and by the time I'd finished it I was wanting them to come down for their buckets. I will probably open it up for them tomorrow. I am appalled by the amount of bindweed that is showing up there. I will have to fence them out of some of that. So today I was reading up on the bindweed gall mite, which will supposedly help to get rid of it over time.

Most of today was taken up with hauling cow chips out of what will be my little riding arena, and with raking glass and metal and old weeds out of the small yard where JR fixed the shed, which will be for new or visiting horses.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

I called and whistled, but -

Okay, these darn ponies are turning feral on me! They are obviously getting more than enough to eat, because they aren't really interested in coming for their bucket feed. Most of last week, it was okay, because I had them in the yard to do other things, then fed before turning them back out. However, if I have tried to call them in, they just aren't bothered. For a number of years, they have responded pretty well to being called, but now .... And I do want them to have their supplements. Sigh!

This evening I left it a bit late. It was dusk when I called them. So I walked out to where they were. The first thing I learned was that they have stopped eating their hay now. So I guess Iona and I can shelve the task of carrying hay nets for awhile!

It was getting a bit stormy - wind, some lightning in the distance, and also getting dark. I had my carrot stick with me, and they usually follow me easily and I don't even use the stick. However, they needed quite a bit of encouragement tonight. Nagging is probably what I actually did. I began to realise, as we walked along the track that there are quite a few areas that they consider spooky. That sort of surprised me. But I think it explains a vague feeling I've had that they seem to sort of get "stuck" in certain places. There aren't many trees, but the few we passed were like squeezes for them. (The track is about 25' wide. so not that much of a squeeze, I would have thought.) There are also old irrigation ditches, some now full of weeds and brush, and Iona was giving these sidelong looks, too. So we would go along, and they would start hanging back, so I would let them think about it, go ahead and try to draw them or drive them a little with the stick, then they would squirt forward past whatever, and be okay for a bit. Then we would do it all again. I wasn't dealing with their thresholds as well as I would have liked to. I just wanted to get out of the wind and be finished. I will try going for more walks with them, though, and see what we can work out. Of course, it's really up to them to play approach and retreat with whatever they are worried about, and I'm sure they will feel more confident soon. Everything about this place must look like the planet Mars to them after Scotland!

Bruce likes to walk in front when the three of us go along the track. Occasionally he decides to canter off ahead and Iona goes with him. That's usually when he decides he's thirsty, as we are generally headed in the direction of the water. This evening, when he would go ahead, Iona would keep turning back and waiting for me. I'm not sure whether she was making sure I was okay or needing me to boost her confidence, but it was nice!

Tomorrow, I am going to shut them out of their grazing cell for the day. I hope it will encourage them to move more and use the track, and I suspect that they could be eating a bit less than they are. Although their weight is about right I still don't want them stuffing themselves. It will be interesting to see what they think about that. I'll let you know!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Fun Day

This week I decided that since the fencing was well in hand I would not work on it every day, and so have more time to work on other projects and also more time to play with and ride the ponies. It sort of worked.

The weather turned pretty hot, so I had to limit our sessions to morning and evening, and even ended up limiting my outdoor work a bit in the hottest hours. However, I managed to clean out half of the shed that JR repaired, start cleaning out my little "arena", and picked up a lot of glass and wire and nails from areas I want to start using. I also made some good progress on the fence the days I worked.

By the middle of the week the ponies were certainly looking better groomed, if nothing else. It seemed like everything I planned to do with them required me to prepare an area to do it in - hence the work on the arena and cleaning of some areas. I did wonder a few times whether this was partly me playing approach and retreat with the whole idea of doing stuff with them again. However. by the end of the week it was getting easier. It only left us a little time to actually play, though.

Today was much cooler so I made sure that I had a good play session with each of them. I think we're all a little rusty and getting back into it. However, Iona seems very up for being ridden and really light. Bruce just loves to be doing things, so he's happy. The other day, I was asking Iona to put her back feet on a piece of plywood that was lying in the yard near where I had Bruce tied up. It was funny how involved he got in watching her, and when she got her feet on, he whickered for a treat, as if he'd done it!

I'm still feeding them a little hay, and it's a real trek out to different parts of the track to put it out. I try to put it somewhere different each time, to encourage them to use the whole thing. Today, for the first time, I managed to get organised to get Iona to help me with this. So after we'd played and they'd been fed I slung a couple of haynets on Iona and rode her bareback out to where I wanted to put the hay. She's done this kind of thing in the past, so she knows the job, but she was so busy trying to eat the hay that it was hard to get on and then to keep her going. I'm afraid I probably got my purpose a little before my principles, but I'm sure next time will go smoother.

Got there and let her go, and was putting the hay out when I looked up and saw Bruce going absolutely nuts, galloping around and leaping in the air. He'd headed into their grazing cell, and could now see the hay - and Iona enjoying it - quite close to him, but would need to go the long way round back to the track to actually get to it. So on my way back to the yard I thought I'd cut across to him and sort of direct him to the right gate. He was really high and sticking to me and prancing around. About that time here came Iona streaking around the track whinnying. She came charging into the cell, also leaping around and putting in lots of rears, so now we had the full blown Fell pony circus, with me, of course, encouraging them all I could. When Iona gets like this I can usually get her to rear if I just raise my hands in the air. Managed to do that, and even to give her a treat for it, so that was cool. I'm pretty sure at least one car went down road while we were at this, so no doubt we'll be getting famous in the neighborhood...

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Al fresco all the way

The weather was lovely today and I managed to spend some quality time with the ponies. Most of it spent grooming. We all enjoyed that, and had a bit of a walk together, too. It would be easy to get frustrated: "I want to play now! I want to ride now! I want my arena finished now, and the roundpen set up yesterday!!" I am learning patience. And the value of hard work....

The fencing didn't blow away in the storm the other night. The wind continued pretty strong for a couple of days, and everything's fine. I am reminded, as usual, of how little Bruce and Iona value being indoors. They just aren't interested in the loafing shed, despite me having fed them in there frequently while they were in their small pen. Both the pen, and now the track, had access to it. It is pretty open and airy, but I think they simply view it as a potential trap and feel safer in the open. Iona, in particular, is obviously nervous about it. She will go in to eat hay, but tends to carry mouthfulls out the door so she can look around while she eats. I suspect that Bruce would be willing to spend more time there with a more relaxed companion. It's the best windbreak they have, even if they just stand outside of it, but they spent most of the worst of the wind storm at the far end of the place, out in the open, just putting up with it.

It's funny, too, how easily I could get into the idea that it would be "nice" for them to use the shed. Weird! I have always been very anti-stable. I don't like to see horses locked up, confined, shut in. However, the cave dweller in me must have liked going out and putting hay in that shed, and the fact that I have a nice view of it from my kitchen window. In spite of the fact that Bruce and Iona have lived outdoors without any significant shelter through many a Scottish winter, I felt right out of my comfort zone when they didn't come "home" the past couple of days. I wonder whether they will see it's value for shade when the hot weather comes...


Here are some photos I took in and around the dreaded loafing shed during a storm we had a couple of weeks ago.

Bruce and Iona model their icicles

Iona preferring to be outdoors as usual

Heading in for breakfast

Breakfast in the shed

View from the kitchen. Yes, they are laying down outside in the snow!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A whinny in the dark!!

Oh no! As I was sitting here trying to figure out how to sort out the problems I was having with Blogger's hard return/paragraph system, I heard a couple of fairly desperate whinnys out there in the windy dark. Very unusual for my guys.

So I got off the sofa and pulled on my boots, found the flashlight, headed in the direction of the last yell. Why do the film scripts go through my head at times like this? You know - Lassie/Champion the Wonderhorse/Skippy the Bush Kangaroo come running to tell the star of the show that their help is needed urgently.

It was Bruce. "I can't find Iona!" I whistle a couple of times and Bruce joins in with his girlie soprano. I hear either an answer or an echo, can't be sure. We repeat this a few times and she turns up and they head off together. What was I saying earlier about Bruce and fence mazes?

On Track

Finally! As of today, Bruce and Iona are a little freer to wander (and graze). The track now goes up one side of the drive, cuts over to the loafing shed, around the farm yard and buildings, down the other side of the drive, along the road at the front, around the corner and starts up the west side. Whew! It's not a circle yet, and it won't be for a few weeks, but at least they've got a mile or so to cover. I'll try to keep it interesting, by moving the food around, although there is grass here and there on the track, and it's scattered enough that seeking it out should keep them moving a bit anyway.

Actually, I thought they looked a little bewildered today. "What? You mean we have to go all the way around here to get over there? Why can't we cut across anymore?" However, it'll make them think. Especially Bruce, who I notice is not the best at solving fencing maze puzzles. I could see Iona already getting impatient with him today. "Look, we just have to go this way, hurry up!"

It was certainly great to see them moving a lot more. That's really what it's all about for me. And they're closer to the house, too, a lot of the time, which is fun.

But wait...

Some of you are probably wondering what the heck I'm talking about, so let's back up for a minute. Awhile back a guy called Jaime Jackson came up with a brilliant idea for keeping horses, called a track system. He wrote all about it in a book called Paddock Paradise .

The basic idea is that rather than giving your horses the run of your property, or at least their pasture, you build a track around the perimeter, and give them the run of that. Jackson is a barefoot trimming guru, so he's big on this because it will make the horses' feet healthier. My horses are barefoot, so I'm all for that. However, I also believe that it'll make their minds a lot healthier, which is very important to me. I believe they deserve as stimulating an environment as possible. And since horses travel something like 20 miles a day in the wild, I believe that exercise is very very important to the mental, emotional and physical health.

This isn't our first track. I've been using the idea as much as possible the past few years. When I kept them in pastures I rented from a farmer back in Scotland, I used a track in the summer. The pastures were small, and I was afraid I would tear them up too much doing this during the muddy Scottish winters. Of course for most of the year in Scotland the grass was so lush that grazing was all about limiting their grass intake to prevent laminitis. Strip grazing alone, or shutting them in somewhere for part of the day just doesn't fit with my philosophy of natural. Yes, it might prevent laminitis, but at what cost to the horse in lack of exercise and other stimulation? So I managed to devise a method of combining the track with strip grazing. It was a little labor intensive for me, but worth it to see them fit and happy and slim.

During the times I can't have a track, I still try to "think track". What I mean is that I would never just put all their food in one place. I scatter it around the entire perimeter of their paddock or run. Anything to keep them stimulated and moving. It's not as effective as a track, but better than nothing.

Soooo - today was the big day. Track phase one! However, the fencing materials are getting a real test as the wind is incredibly strong tonight. I don't really like to think about what's happening out there in the dark. Some of the fencing materials I bought were unfamiliar and seem a bit flimsy to me. The wire is good and hot, and Bruce and Iona are ridiculously easy to keep in with electric fencing - even if it's only cool to lukewarm!! However, I hope they are coping out there in the dark and the wind, and that everything is staying put! I would feel awful if they came to any harm! They are pretty sensible, though, and would probably just go eat some nice grass if they somehow get off track. Tommorow's another day.

Monday, April 13, 2009


Thursday afternoon I was able to turn the ponies out. They have been prisoners in the little 2 acre paddock I built for them for ages! They didn't look distressed, but I felt like they were getting a little "shut down" and bored. Of course Iona has coyote watch to keep her busy. Man, she is curious about those little guys! The other day we were all in the loafing shed. They were eating hay when Iona rushed out for a look. Coyote! Running through the grass at least 500 yards away. "How did she know?" I wonder. Surely the sound of hay chomping in the shed would drown out all sounds of a silent little hunter running through the grass at that distance. Guess not! Or maybe she senses it some other way. Anyway, she is on her toes, with her giraffe neck on, trotting as far as the paddock fence will allow, wanting to get at old Wily. "I'll see about this! Just let me get after him!"

Anyway, I let them loose. It was great to see them walk, then start to trot and finally break into a canter. I don't think they could quite believe it at first. Of course, I still worried a bit. I know I haven't cleared every hazard, just fenced them out of the worst. However, I figured they would head for some grass that Sara and I took the trouble to point out to them on a recent walk. They settled to grazing. Now all I had to worry about was whether or not they would come back when I wanted to put them up. Can't leave them out loose on the place day and night yet. I think they might get into trouble once they filled their bellies and really went exploring.

Getting them back in was no problem. Now they get let out every afternoon and come back around supper time when they see me drive the truck over with their hay and water and stuff. How cool is that?

Today when I let them out, instead of heading north, they went to check out a different area of grass. It seemed to be Bruce's decision. He headed off in the lead, anyway, and everything he did, Iona copied. Change of gait, buck, toss head, change direction. They are such good friends.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Joy of Fencing

Today was pretty exciting, as my fences finally began to take shape. Hooray!! By the end of tomorrow I should have the ponies fenced out of the dangerous stuff around the house and barns. Then I can let them out of their small paddock to graze for awhile every day. And I should think that within a week I will have most of my track system up and running. Then hopefully they will be eating less hay, and also I will be able to water them without hauling it in the truck. Boy, that's gonna transform my life!

The big posts have been steadily going in for the past week or so, and I've been surveying lines and putting insulators on the existing perimeter fence, ready to hot wire that.

I have been reluctant to take one pony out of the little paddock to ride or play, because I felt it was pretty unfair to the other, so horsemanship has been seriously curtailed. I've really had to tell myself that the end justifies the means and just push on with fencing, fencing, fencing. Fortunately I do enjoy fencing, so that helps.

Actually I have learned a lot from watching my friend JR, who's been helping me, and I will probably be even more self sufficient with it in future. As of yesterday I am no longer a T post virgin! I can't say driving them is my favourite line of work. However, I did quite a few, and the thought of doing a few now and then is fine. JR was a wonder. He was puttin' them in as fast as I could put the insulators on.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

What's Going On at Springvalley Farm?

My new home is located near Manzanola, Colorado. It consists of 160 acres of dryland pasture, a 2 bedroom house and several outbuildings. I moved in about six weeks ago.

I seem to be dividing my time between trying to be the farmer (working on fencing, feeding the horses, going to the lumberyard, etc.) and trying to be the farmer's wife (hanging curtains, cooking and cleaning, doing the shopping). The trouble is, there's only one of me! I'd love to tell you "Never mind, I always get it done somehow," but it'd be more truthful to say that I get most of the high priority stuff done most of the time.

I have two Fell Ponies, Bruce and Iona. Fells are a breed from Cumbria in northwest England. The ponies are a big part of my life, and a big part of the reason I decided to buy this place, as I really wanted to integrate them into my life in a way that had never been possible when I kept them on other people's land.

As a student of Parelli Natural Horse-Man-Ship I very much want to share Springvalley with other students. I hope that this place will become a haven for people who would like to spend some time working on their Parelli skills in a spacious, friendly and supportive environment.