Tuesday, January 25, 2011

training trash

Last night as I squeezed the last drop of vodka out of the plastic, recyclable, and soon to be multitasking, bottle into the stainless shaker, I remarked “oh boy, another horse training tool.” That, perhaps, would not have been everyone’s thought as they prepare a martini, but it was for me as I am just beginning the long road with another young horse, towards its getting to be a useful citizen. To that end I use any, and everything, to desensitize the beast before I step into the stirrup for a first ride, and that definitely includes, but is not limited to, plastic vodka bottles.

The approach is to systematically introduce all sorts of potentially scary stuff to the horse and have it react, find no real danger, and then learn to quickly shrug off stimuli without hysterics, i.e., not run away, buck, kick, rear etc. Some folks might regard my tools as trash, but I call them training materials. When I start new youngsters to all of this, my barn is cluttered with plastic vodka bottles, some filled with water and some with pebbles in them, plastic sacks, towels, feed bags, whatever will make noise, flap unexpectedly, and startle the horse when it moves.

These items are hung off of the surcingle with hay ropes, and they hang passively until moved. When the horse moves off, and these things do their job, either by visual or aural stimulation combined with these things physically bumping the horse, it learns, gradually, that if it stops, then these scary things also stop. This is a critical lesson for the fright and flight mentality that horses are inherent to, and this can potentially save a dangerous situation later on when under saddle. So I collect all sorts of trash and use it creatively to this end. The fact that the vodka requires being consumed before the bottle can become a useful item for the barn, demands a diligence to a worthy cause.

With the leaving of two of my herd last week, to new owners’ homes far away, the barn has quieted in its feeding routine, and yesterday I actually enjoyed this new gap in my responsibilities, and found time to work the two older mares and the young filly, Cistine. It was a nice soft day in January, and a skim of clouds kept the light a bit hazy with no shadows, and let in just enough sunshine to warm it to a fairly comfortable temperature. As I rode the horses in the dressage arena, the dog pack all laid motionless in the brown grass in front of the barn, inanimate basking lumps of fur.

Mark had chuckled at my comment the other day that I am now down to, an almost all time low number, in the herd, to only seven horses. In the past years of my breeding, training, and running this farm the herd size has usually ranged from 9 to 12 horses at a time here, keeping me quite busy. This amount of work was fine a few decades and a few injuries ago, but both have left me with a whole lot less enthusiasm for keeping the pace up. Right now I feel the release from a lot of it and it does feel like a lighter load, even at the herd’s number being seven of them still.

Rain moved into the area last night and was falling steadily this morning when I woke. Getting the motivation to get out of bed was a bit hard, but I could smell the coffee in the kitchen and finally I roused to see what the day would bring. I had been waiting on such a rainy day to attack something in the house as I had been feeling the need to purge this overstuffed house, and that included my closet, the pantry, the attic, and the whole place in general. There was just too much stuff, everywhere. Undecided where to begin, I opened the door to the pantry to get something and the entire stash of tea bags and boxes all fell out onto the floor, and so there it was, my first victim, the pantry.

My pantry is a large set of cabinets with many deep shelves, which tend over time, like a decade or two, to hide things in its deep recesses. Things migrate too, from their designated area, leading me to believe that I am actually out of said item, and I buy another to replace it. The things that are hiding tend to stay there for many years without notice, until I finally can’t stand not knowing what is in there past the first few inches of viewable canned goods. I began at the bottom shelf on the left, pulling everything out and I began to take back my pantry.

After it was all said and done, tidy and well organized again, I drew several conclusions. First there is no amount of pantry space that will remain empty for long. There is a phenomenon just like with coat hangers, that sets certain items to replicating. I will not ever, ever, need to buy any more Progressive bread crumbs, Old Bay seasoning, Lipton tea bags, Worcestershire sauce, and no more bags of dried beans. My supply is well loaded there. The second conclusion was that on my next life I will build a walk in pantry with shallower shelves so that I can see what the heck is in there.

It was nice to get an idea of the inventory again tho, and it felt good to see such organization again. The garbage can was full of food items from the last century, and the stuff that I knew I was never going to use or eat, like the starter mix for some weird soup that was in there, that I have no idea where it came from, and the fusion/raspberry sauce that made my nose gag when I smelled it. The better news was a few items actually made it to the training trash status, and no doubt will come in quite handy in barn world.

The rain has gone for a while and the humidity is turning the afternoon into a soft gray fog. Red Shoulder hawks are screaming outside in the swamp area below the house and my dog pack is giving a good impression of being tired and sleepy critters, all laying around my chair here. I know that in a few minutes, however, when I get up and make the slightest move towards my barn shoes, they will instantly, once again, spring to full life and begin the barking and howling that begins our ritual walk to the barn for afternoon feeding.

And, ready, set, here goes…tomorrow the closet gets it.

below is another of my poor bewildered horses going thru training trash 101:

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Fond Farewell to Robijn and Cupcake

At some point back in the summer, when I was sweating my guts out doing my daily routine of leading and feeding, riding four horses, and such,  I realized that the amount of work I was doing each day to keep the horses all fed and worked was not in proportion to the amount of enjoyment I was receiving for the effort. Horses had become my albatross instead of my freedom, and that equation was just wrong. It took some doing but finally I got photos and videos together in some ads posted onto a few places in cyber world and started to get hits from folks wanting more info about the ones on the market.

That opened the gate and unleashed the parade of the tire kickers. There were the ones looking at a four or five digit price tag wanting to know if the mare would be good with children, or good on trail rides. There was the one who said he was an agent for a woman in New Zealand who wanted to pay me immediately with his credit card, never asked anything about the horse, and sent me to a shipper to find shipping costs, which were suspiciously very low, and whose English was a bit sketchy. For the past two weeks I have done little but answer emails to folks telling them all more about which particular horse and fielding out the ones who sounded like total and absolute, idiots, and there were many. Finally though, for two to my horses, I managed to find the right buyers, or they found, me.

Robijn was the first to sell. I had bought Robijn as a yearling from a breeder in California eleven years ago, sight unseen because I knew the bloodlines well and I knew the breeder and trusted her to send me a nice horse. She did. Robijn was awarded her First Premium when I presented her to the breed jury, and went on to produce four super foals during the time on my farm. I backed her as a three year old and rode her intermittently between her being a baby hotel or mommy. She was a gentle giant at 17h, a bright red bay with a wide blaze, a generous supply of chrome on the legs, and enormous dark brown eyes. In recent times though, she had begun having trouble holding onto a pregnancy, and this coincided with my becoming a bit unenchanted with the whole breeding business, and so I made the decision to sell her. This was not going to be easy as what I had was a very big sweet and pretty mare, with big super fancy gaits, but who was middle aged, very green broke, and who was questionably breeding sound. Finally the right buyer popped into the scene and suddenly the shipper appeared and off Robijn went to Illinois.

To make a decision to sell a horse is a deliberate one, not unlike the breakup of any relationship, and the follow thru of actions until the mission is accomplished is often complicated by conflicting emotions. This mare had been part of my life and daily routine for eleven years and in that time we have shared many things. I have helped each of her foals into this life, and guided them to her waiting udder, and watched her lick their wet skins as they swayed on their new legs. I have stood in the dark and cried with her after she lost one of her best foals, a bay colt that had more athletic talent than all combined and who just died for unknown reasons one day. The mare and I stood that night, with her eyes locked onto me, questioning me, seeking answers I could not give her. I was the first to sit on her back and then teach her the next steps to being a riding horse. She knew me, and I, her.

There is a blank spot in the herd just now and I miss her sweet face that always welcomed me to the barn. With her sale however, there is a release from just a bit of my responsibility to maintaining this herd. I mentioned a bit of my sadness in a text message to the very excited buyer when the mare was in transit to this lady, and she replied a very saving thing, “She is not gone. She is just not there.” My relationship with Robijn is over and she will begin one with someone else, but in this process I have gained an ounce more freedom and that, I keep reminding myself of, is my goal.

Cupcake, Robijn’s last foal here, a young mare, also a red bay is to be picked up by her new owner on Saturday. Last Friday, Mark and I loaded the mare into the trailer for her first trailer ride ever, to go across town to a veterinarian who was to do a prepurchase exam on her for the potential buyer. The whole idea was terrifying to me. The unknowns of taking a young horse on their first ride for something like this are huge, and the risk of a panic attack on her part were looming in my brain. Off we drove with the sounds of her scrambling hooves blam, blam, blaming the walls of the trailer. Finally she found her sea legs and there was silence for the rest of the ride across town.

Once there, we readied to take her out of the trailer and opened the ramp for her to back down. A misplaced foot that was wet from dropping on the floor, slipped down the ramp and she suddenly found herself with all four legs stretched in very awkward directions. No panic, she managed to regroup and got out unscathed, and we walked over to the clinic to begin the exam. The mare was an angel, standing still when needed for x-rays, and happily trotting along when the flexion tests were done. Her x-rays showed a flawless set of legs, and so she passed with flying colors, impressing the examining vet with both her quality and her character. I was impressed as well. After a bit of apprehension about reloading into the trailer, she stepped back on board and home again we drove.

One really doesn’t know what you have with a young horse until they are tested with sensory overload, and on this day she was tested in many ways, above and beyond, and justified her value. She will soon have a good home with the enthusiastic young lady who came to see her after New Years day. I will miss Cupcake, too, like Robijn, but perhaps not as much as her half sister Cistine, who has been pastured with her since they were both born. Theirs is a tight bond that only siblings know and that will be a sad one to break. Life changes for all, and with these two fillies coming of riding age it is now time for their lazy days to give way to the beginning of their work as the dressage horses they were bred to become.

Cistine will remain on the farm for now, as quite possibly be the last young horse I will start down the path of learning to carry a rider and all the other many things she will have to learn as she grows up. It is by reducing the size of my herd that I will have time to devote to her, and it will give me time to focus more on the two older mares further along. It will more importantly though, give me time, just plain time, for whatever I might want to do that doesn't involve a horse. That is my goal, and to that end I say a fond farewell to the ones I will sell or sold, and look forward to enjoying the lighter load in the barn world and beyond.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Jack and his continuam of culinary misadventures

I was not amused to be awoken the other morning to the sounds of a small dog wandering around my bed, retching in most earnest attempt to unload whatever was in its gut. Sure enough, it was Jack. There are few things that can bring me to full alert faster than the sound of a dog in the process of throwing up, knowing that if they are successful, that the cleanup will not be pretty and will probably invoke more retching, from me. So once my brain registered what was going on and functioned well enough to prompt my body to start moving, I got out of bed and chased the heaving puppy to the back door. It was there the clues began to reveal themselves. I booted the boy out to finish his business and turned to follow the trail.

The first clue was the tattered remains of the bag of dog food that I had placed on the floor after having poured the majority of it into the dog food can, which mysteriously only holds 40 lbs. and this bag holding 50 lbs, had a leftover amount in it. When I had placed the bag there I had even said to my self, “Self, don’t leave that there cause Jack will get in trouble with it.” Distractions being what they were for the evening, of course, I forgot and left it there.

The helpless bag had not just been broken into. Shards of paper lay around it, evidence that the poor bag had obviously been ripped into with a maniacal ferocity. The glossy picture of the Labrador retriever on the cover of the sack had been torn with a demonic energy and the portrait of the once peaceful lab now looked quite sad. The bad part was, that the dog food that had been inside the night before, was now about half of what had been in there before the attack. Jack had consumed, along with the shredded paper he must have taken in, somewhere close to 4 to 5 lbs of dog food. This was the beginning of yet another chaotic tale of my overeating, diabetic, pancreatic (from having eaten a ½ gal or so of cooking oil), and wooden plank eating poor puppy. Here we go again, I thought, back to the vet, again.

When a diabetic gets too much food, like nearly 5 lbs of dog food for instance, or too much sugar, they become thirsty beyond belief and will drink any water, and all water available. Jack had followed this course of relieving his thirst, after eating his fill and then some, and the evidence of his action led to consequences of relieving himself, all, over the house. Puddles lay in various stages of evaporation everywhere. The question loomed as to just how serious this bout was going to become, with the frightening possibility of our making yet another installment on my vet’s addition to his clinic.

I let all of the dogs back into the house for breakfast and I offered Jack a small amount in a bowl to assess his situation. He didn’t even sniff at it which is totally against anything Jack ascribes to. He is a professional eater, and takes that job very seriously. The vet had told me when Jack was first diagnosed with diabetes, that if he refused food, then to not give the insulin shot that would normally follow a meal, but he had not told me what to do instead. I was in a quandary here because this puppy was stuffed full of food and no way to process it without the insulin. So I decided to risk a breach of the vet’s advice and I pulled a syringe out to give him his dosage. It was then that I realized just exactly how really full this dog was.

To give a shot subcutaneously to a pup, one grabs a pinch of skin right behind the shoulders, and injects under the skin but not into a muscle. Jack was so full that there was no skin to pull. His belly had swollen to uncharted diameters and his skin was stretched to the max. I managed to squeeze the tiny needle into a miniscule recess under the skin and waited to see if my action was going to make him better, or kill him. While I anxiously waited for the results, I walked the house with a roll of paper towels and mopped up the gallons of puddles.

Gladly the poor puppy did not die from the dose of insulin, or this new overeating misadventure, and gradually Jack’s belly began to deflate in circumference over the course of the day and by late afternoon he was once again happily chowing down on horse droppings, and whatever horse feed had been dropped by the herd. At dinner time he got his carefully allotted ½ cup of prescription dog food, followed by another dose of insulin, and things were back in the groove for Jack, again.

‘Til next time…

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Tick, Tock

As the blank screen stares at me, behind me the clock continually ticks and tocks and the dogs wander around the house searching for the right place to nap after their morning trip to the barn. Horses were fed but there will be no riding today as a light mist is falling and my hair is growing in exponential proportions and would not possibly fit under a hat or under a helmet with chin strap. It is chilly, damp, and just right for doing what I am doing now, writing. A nice cup of tea helps soothe the anxiety of not getting horses worked but I think I will make it.

This year’s now retired Christmas tree sits waiting at the edge of the pond, like many before it, ready to become a fish house once it’s weighted enough to sink into a deep spot. Holidays have come and gone again. This New Year marked the end of a decade, the first of the 21st. It was not my favorite and I can’t say I am sorry to see it go. I remember at the end of 1999 how everyone was freaked about Y2K and how the bottom was going to fall out when the clock struck midnight and it became a new century. All the doom and gloomers were wrong about the day after being the apocalypse. No, it was the entire next decade that had so many dismal things occur in it. So in its passing I say good riddance and have hope that this next one will be more balanced and pleasant for all.

There have been many birthdays recently, of both friends and family, also markers that delineate passing of time. Time is linear and its passing is one direction and the future another. Our marking of birthdays, centuries, and years give us scope to our lives and a way to assess what to make of what we have done and what we want to do, given the uncharted amount of time left.

It came up the other day, the idea, that what would it be like if we all had no idea how old we were. If the passing of the annual celebration of our births were suddenly deleted, and no reference to it existed, how then would it change things? How does the knowledge of our age shape what we think, act, and live? If we had no calendar, no clocks, would we flounder in the lack of these markers that give pattern to our days or, would we live a freer existence in a sublime ignorance of the number of the passing days of our lives?

It is usually only in hindsight that one can see, oh, that was the last time we did that. Unless it is a conscious decision to never do something again, the things we think sometimes will go on forever, and we take for granted, one day stops, and we don’t even think about it until some point down the line and then realize it ceased to be. When was the last time I played tennis, held my young daughters in my lap, or kissed my grandmother on the cheek? These events passed silently, without my awareness, and so I wonder what events will I not recognize as being the last, until they too become the last. Will I know I am taking my last breath? Ah the questions that these markers of time bring forth.

Here on the farm the repetition of the season has its markers, by the repetition of visitors. Ducks that spend summer time in the north now find refuge here and so our pond is temporary home for various types. A Pied Billed Grebe has been hanging around as has been a group of Harlequin ducks. The males of these ducks are spectacular creatures of stunning black and white markings with a distinct silhouette and, regrettably, the females are drab and merely follow the males around the water, dabbling and diving under the surface to find dinner. Together they make for a splendid show and I wish they would visit longer but I enjoy them for the time here.

Canadian geese flocks have also returned and one pair in particular have staked out the feeding places of my two fillies. They float close by in the pond and wait for me to throw feed and hay, and then leave the water and waddle up closer and closer to see what scraps they can pick up. Cistine chases them off with a shake of her head until she is finished with hers and then they are allowed to glean the leftovers.

Many birds, mostly finches, have converged on the feeders hanging off the back porch today, especially since the weather is so yucky. They don’t seem to feel a threat from the two Red Shouldered Hawks that just landed in the dead tree close by, and remain focused on the free sunflower seeds, flitting and chirping as they fight over the kernels. Maybe they know these hawks would rather have bugs or frog than feather covered grub. They won’t last long doing that if a Sharp Shinned Hawk cruises thru and takes a stoop at them.

Years ago, I never jotted down the first time so I have no reference for knowing how long now, a black brindled calico cat started hanging around the barn area. She comes in the winter and then leaves in summer and fall. She too is a horse feed leftover scavenger. It has been at least 6 or 7 years now I know, but always somehow she manages to survive being a victim of all my silly dogs who think chasing fur is good sport. Yesterday as I went about my afternoon feeding I happened to finally notice that she sat, motionless, on the box seat of my parked carriage, only a few feet from the dogs who were right under her, apparently oblivious to her presence, but perhaps they knew and just weren’t in the mood at the time. She sat and glanced at me revealing nothing.

And so begins another year, another decade, another day. Time flows an uncharted course for all and it just keeps ticking. This year I make no resolutions because I don’t want any guilt if I change my mind or can’t comply but I do hope that I get the several projects lurking in my brain done. They are shadows at this point and I am hoping to find a way to find a beginning to their form. I think it will come, in its own sweet time.