Monday, October 26, 2009


Down the Drive
(Sorry about the awful hat!)
That's right! We've finally done it. Yesterday we got the track fully open. It's that simple really and there's not much to write, except that I am sooooo happy that it's done. Not just in the sense of not having to work on it, but happy for the horses, that they will now be able to go all the way around without finding a dead end. Of course there are many improvements that I want to make, and with so much fencing, constant checking and upkeep is required.

Linda with Dakota and Hunter
So yesterday Linda and I took the four of the down the drive and showed them that they could now get through to go along the front going east. Of course, they didn't really know why we were taking them that way in the middle of the afternoon, but they were pretty impressed with the amount of grass they found along the way. Then we walked them up the east side where all the brush and dead trees are. (This area is wide, as further up I want to create a second playground to take advantage of a bit of a bank that has some landscaping potential for drop jumps, etc.) Then the track narrows and continues to follow the old county road along the east side of the property. It was along here that the track has had to be blocked for so long to deny them access to the problem area from the northeast.

Turning the Corner into New Territory

Taking a Break to Check Things Out

Fells Checking the Grass Quality

Hunter Leads the Way
Hunter did a great job of being an enthusiastic four year old and led most of the way. He was the only one we didn't have on line, as I felt he would just get us all tangled and I knew he would come with the group. At one point he took off, a little excited and right-brained and so I lost Bruce and Iona. Predictably, the all stopped and grazed soon and order was restored.

Here We Go...

"I Now Declare this Track Open"
Once we got them unhaltered, we headed in for a celebratory dinner for everybody that has helped with this massive project over the past year. Linda, Sara, JR (Sorry you couldn't make it, Buddy! Hope you enjoyed the food I sent home with Sara.), Mark's boys Justin and Clay, and of course Mark.

I wondered where I would find the horses this morning. Maybe down on the new part of the track where there is lots of grass. But they were in their usual place in this month's grazing cell, which we are still only opening at night. They came in and ate their breakfast, and so far I haven't seen them using any new areas. I suspect they may need a little time and encouragement to break old habits. I'm sure the grass will help. I will keep you posted on developments.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Almost there...

I'm starting to get a little bit excited. It looks like we will get the last stretch of the track opened today or tomorrow! There were so many things that got in the way of that: trees that needed to be felled, tumbleweeds, mowing took precedence, I got sick, there was so much brush and weeds in the barbed wire fence that I couldn't run the hot wire, old fencing had to be hauled out and cut away by hand where trees had grown through it... However, there are just a couple of little jobs left. Hooray! Watch this space!

Some of the brushy mess waiting to be removed.
The black posts are part of a "safety fence" we put up to seperate this area from the track. The perimeter barbed wire lies behind the trees and brush - somewhere!!

That gray mass at the base of the trees is an accumulation of old tumbleweeds.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Meet Hunter!

Hunter joined us a couple of months ago. He is a four year old gelding that we bought at a local sale. He is a lovely guy, and Mark hopes he will be a good horse for him to have fun with and maybe take elk hunting in the future.

I have played with him a number of times, and he is a fast learner, but so far he flips between right and left brained behaviour pretty frequently and we don't really feel sure about what his innate horsenality will turn out to be. He is certainly a lovely mover, though, and has a nice nature, so that's a great start.

Although we saw him ridden in the sale ring, we have not been on him yet. I feel that he lacks a little bit of confidence (quite a lot of confidence, actually) and that both horse and human will have a happier experience when we have the communication better established. I would like to treat it as a "re-start" when the time comes, even though I think that he will be pretty quiet. However, if it suddenly feels right to hop on, then we won't make a big deal out of it. Right now he loses it pretty easily over certain kinds of commotion. Tossing the rope over his head or swinging it like a helecopter are enough to set him off, and his default it to run.

He is certainly making herd life more interesting, though. All the horses here are in their early to mid teens. Hunter isn't too impressed with their daily agenda of just hanging out. It's been funny seeing him trying to stir up a little action, and I'm hoping that he and Bruce will eventually play, but so far I haven't seen much of that. Perhaps now that the weather is cooling off things will change. Ducky has been staying at Linda's house while she concentrates on her L2 and has frequent classes with Kime Conkright, so it's worked out well for Dakota, who now tends to pair up with Hunter.


Let's see if I can start this thing off again with a couple of happy stories. The first one doesn't start off sounding that happy. A few weeks ago something was bothering me about Iona. She looked really grumpy. In my usual busy-busy state it took a few days for the penny to drop that she wasn't actually grumpy, her ears were just wonky. She looked like a flop eared mule. "Oh, no" I thought, "she must have some kind of bugs or maybe an infection." Really bad news, as she is pretty funny about her ears - particularly the right one.

I know, I know - as a diligent Parelli student I should have been dealing with this! To be fair to myself, I have tried. Spent lots of time touching them with hands (okay 'til I get too invasive), carrot sticks (string okay, handle okay, tip okay, orange part NOT OKAY!!!!...unless your hand is touching the same part of the orange part that is touching her ear - go figure!) plastic bag/flag also seriously not okay. Spent over an hour on this with an instructor a few years ago, and it still wasn't okay. Aaaargh. So I just got on with life, y'know?

The day of reckoning was now upon me. Iona is a lovely pony and I love her dearly, but she is very dominant, and when she gets scared or simply doesn't want to accept something she can get defensive, pushy and dangerous in an up-close situation. However, now I really couldn't put this off. I was pretty sure it was only something like gnats, and anyway, there was no way I was going to inflict a vet on her, or her on a vet, for that matter! That seemed like a recipe for a fight or a setback.

The thing that was in our favour to sort this out, however, was the sheer amount of PNH we have under our belts as a partneship. I know about approach and retreat, and so does Iona. I know how to time the release when the horse pauses in it's resistance, and Iona has learned to look for and recognise that release. That was something that the Hold the Tongue task really taught us, and I am grateful for that task and the help I had from an instructor when I was struggling with it. Quitting when the horse gives a little is such a powerful teaching tool.

Day 1 - I kept Iona in a pen near the house, which she seems to enjoy, and went out for several sessions. I made a little progress, and think I avoided being too direct line, but I still felt a long way from actually getting my finger in her ear. She always managed to either evade me or got agressive. This was mostly trying to bite, and I must have dealt with it right - backing her up and also making her soften her ribs and pushing her shoulder away very firmly when she tried to barge at me. I began to see that she was only half serious, and I think she knew I saw it. That realisation might have been the biggest breakthrough of the day. It subtly changed my attitude, and Iona's response. I wish I could explain this part better, but it's probably more down to knowing the horse. I finished each session on a good note and hoped that I would be able to get into her ears before it turned into something really nasty. Poor girl, she looked really uncomfortable.

I spent some time thinking about how often Iona has turned out to be a bit of a paper tiger, as far as her agressive behaviour is concerned. I know that she has scared me more than once when she wasn't really serious. I know that this is an important piece of information that I need to hang onto!
Day 2 looked like being a bit easier, but I was struggling with the timing of my release. It wasn't easy to quit at the right moment, and only at the right moment, while she was throwing her head in the air one minute and swinging it like a baseball bat at me the next. I thought back to learning the Hold the Tongue task, where I was taught to hold onto the halter - not to control to movement of the head, but in order to make it easier to follow the movement.

The way Iona's halter fits, there is quite a bit of spare rope hanging from the knot, so I wrapped that around my hand. That worked great on the left side, and before I knew it I was in and out of her ear, just because I could stay with her when she moved, and release when she relaxed. She even discovered that it might feel nice getting a scratch way down in there. Okay, so the left ear was the easier one, anyway, but at least it was a start. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a way to get hold of the halter on the right side and got a bit stuck. Finished on a good note on the left ear and went away to think. Aha!! Tied a piece of heavy twine to the right side of her halter, and we got the right ear, too.

It wasn't long untl I could get her ears doctored after that, and did it a couple of times over the next days. The problem turned out to be a minor one, but I'm thinking about what I learned. Pat says "I never saw it take longer than 2 days." I could whine and say "But it took me 12 years!!" but actually it only took 2 days. Two days of having the right attitude, savvy, imagination, tools, taking the time, etc. Should I beat myself up for not having all those things in place before. Heck no!

The other happy story is a short one. I easily trailer loaded Iona several times recently from the fender. That means I just stood back by the fender and casually sent her in. No big deal.
It used to be a huge deal to get her in a trailer at all. Those days are mostly gone, I'm sure, but I sure was proud!