Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Slowing Down to Spell It Out

I've spent most of this week just dealing with rain, mud, dog behavior problems, horse behavior problems, and neighbor behavior problems.  I'm normally in a one-track mindset and all I want to do is ride my horses, so each time someone or something performs some obnoxious behavior that distracts me from riding, I tend to ignore it and just ride, figuring I'll deal with the problems later.  However, since the sand in the arena is as hard as concrete, the footing in the round pen is muddy and slippery, and who knew what condition the trails were in, I decided to focus on all those behavior problems for once and stop letting it just happen until I reach my boiling point.

Midge is learning that it is no longer acceptable for her to block me from where I need to go, nor is it acceptable to run behind my legs, then run in front of me and pull the leash taut so that I lose my balance and nearly fall.  She is also no longer allowed to lay across doorways, or hover under me and get between my feet while I prepare food in the kitchen.  I remember some lady in a veterinary office waiting area asking me if Midge is a problem for me because she gets under my feet and herds me.  I guess she knew her stuff about herding dogs, or perhaps Corgis in particular, because at the time she asked me, Midge wasn't doing any of that.  She was just hiding under the chair.

The neighbors are just driving me nuts with their endless construction projects.  I've got one neighbor to the north and one to the south who have both been bringing in dozens of loads of fill dirt in dump trucks every week, so I'm totally sick of listening to the roar of dump trucks.  The neighbor to the south has been bringing dump trucks in every other day for several months now.  The neighbor to the north has been bringing dump trucks in every other day for at least ten years according to other people who have lived here longer than us.  I scream, "How much fill dirt do you need?" knowing they can't hear me over the roar, but it makes me feel better to scream.

I just find all of this to be baffling, because it cost me over a thousand dollars just to get six loads of sand dumped in my arena.  These neighbors must be paying someone hundreds of thousands of dollars every year for that service.  And again, how much fill dirt does one person need?  I find that the people who live around me take things to extremes.  This whole car hoarding thing that goes on in today's society is just plain out of control.  The area I live in is like one huge scrap yard.  I figure half these men who collect junk cars are probably spending their kids' college tuition and inheritance on all the crap, and who wants to look at mountains of metal when the desert has such beautiful scenery?  I feel sorry for people who can't see past their neighbor's junk piles.

Oh yeah, and the guy who was painting the house behind me was blasting his music all week.  I'd swear that all the neighbors for miles could hear it.  News flash!  Ipods and earbuds were invented to spare the rest of the world from having to suffer through some people's bad taste in music.  Oh well, I guess this was my karma for forcing my parents to listen to my rock music record playing day in and day out for ten years straight.

Gabbrielle got spanked last night for being stubborn and refusing to leave Bombay's stall at feeding time, so this morning and all day she has been an absolute angel.  She even stands outside of stalls and looks at me to ask permission to go inside.  She has also eased up on her aggressiveness toward the geldings.  So, to reward her, I took her for a walk in the desert and let her graze on fresh grass.

We wandered off the trails to look at new growth, new trash piles, and fallen cacti and trees.  She was hanging her head low, totally relaxed until I attempted to make her approach one fallen saguaro that also had a trash pile around it.  I think she felt like she was surrounded by scary objects, so she launched into nervous mode.  Whenever she is nervous, it's hard to get her to go down into arroyos.  I'm sure they smell like the animals that travel them, and she also likes to stay up high where she can see everything around her.

On the way home, we passed a couple of horseback riders, and I was really proud of how Gabbrielle handled it.  Her head did shoot up in the air and she did gawk, but all it took were a few yanks on the lead rope to remind her to stay next to me at a walk on a loose lead.  She's getting past her balking stage.

I was totally jealous of these horseback riders.  Both were talking on cell phones, neither had the reins in their hands, and their horses didn't even glance at Gabbrielle and I.  They may as well have been riding couches down the trail.  That's something I'd really like to experience with my own horses some day.  I do ride rental horses from time to time so that I can have a comfortable, safe, relaxing ride, but ultimately, I want my own horses to mature to the point where they just do their jobs without all the drama.

I think if we ever get to a point where I have an empty stall, I'm going to stop one of these riders and ask him if he would consider selling his horse to me.  That's the way to go when it comes to buying horses.  Don't shop around on sites where horses are for sale.  Go out to the trails and watch the horses that are being ridden there.  Or if you want to show, go to a show.  Or if you want to jump, go to a jumping competition.  I remember seeing a little girl riding a short, stout, strong buckskin gelding that was as sweet and mellow as can be on the trails one day, and I haven't been able to get that horse out of my head ever since.

But enough about horse envy...  I then took Bombay for a walk.  He was a perfect gentleman all the way out, keeping his head even with my shoulder, giving me my space, stopping when I stop, going when I go...

I took him past the two houses at the end of the street, because the traffic coming from and going to them has risen exponentially, and I was trying to figure out what the deal was.  I spotted at least two vehicles at each house that I had never seen before, so I suspect they are hosting snowbirds.  It feels like there are three families living in each house.

I was concentrating so hard on just how many vehicles were filling the driveways and cul-de-sac of these two houses that I was taken by surprise when a pilot dive-bombed us in his fancy plane.  I jumped, but Bombay totally ignored the sudden engine noise coming at us fast and loud from above.  The pilot got a good look at us, then pulled up and headed for the mountains.  He began to circle toward us again, and I decided that I would flip him the bird to let him know how I felt about his unwanted, unwelcome, and dangerous stunt.

Fortunately, he kept on turning until he turned away from us, and then he was doing these circles and loops, obviously for fun.  Then he flew into the mountains, would wait until he was dangerously close, and then turn at the last minute.  I said to Bombay, "Doesn't he know that is the Bermuda Triangle of mountains?  Playing chicken with them is not a bright idea."

We watched while he continued to act like a complete ass all the way down the mountain range.  I kept waiting for him to crash, because I really could not see any other outcome.  This pilot was behaving like he was suicidal.  He flew off without crashing, so at least one idiot survived to see another day today.

Bombay was great until I turned us toward home, then suddenly he was pulling on the lead rope keeping his shoulder lined up with my shoulder.  I prefer that a horse keep its head at my shoulder and let me lead.  I kept giving him tugs until he slowed down and walked on a loose lead, but then he'd speed up again and try to drag me a few seconds later.  I finally got so tired of that being only temporarily effective that I'd stop each time he pulled, and I'd either make him stand still while I tossed the rope all around his legs and body, or I lunged him around me.  Then I waited for him to calm down and take a deep breath before continuing on our walk.  At one point, I was waiting a long time for him to sigh or cock a hoof or something, so I took an exaggerated breath to model for him what I was waiting for, and he responded by belching in my face.  I petted him and said, "That's my boy!"

We almost made it home and then he spooked and bolted to the end of the rope over nothing (it was the exact same spot where he flipped out over seeing a mule for the first time), so I had to turn us around and walk away from home, because I was not going to take him back to the barn until he was as relaxed going home as he was on the way out.  If I can get it through his thick skull that he has to let me lead regardless of the direction, and he has to stay calm and relaxed, then I might want to try riding him on the trails again.  He just causes so much trouble by prancing on the butt of the horse in front of him on the way home on trail rides and bursting a blood vessel over seeing other equines out there.  So, I want to nip that behavior in the bud from the end of a lead rope first, then it will be easier to tackle from the end of reins.

I was thinking that there are a lot of different reasons for horses to rush home.  Not only are their buddies there, but food is there, rest is there, and they simply know the way.  I wondered if perhaps my horses are just being know-it-alls by showing me the way home.

Then I started thinking about something for horse owners to be aware of if they hire trainers to ride their horses on the trails.  I could totally see a horse trainer racing a horse back to the barn because he or she is late for his or her next appointment.  So, if you have issues with your horse rushing home, be sure to let your trainer know to allow twice as much time to get back as they do to get out on the trails.  Making the horse walk and stop all the way home should be part of its training.

Since we have grass growing in our back yard, I gave each of the horses a few minutes of grazing time while I held the lead rope.  The grass was growing outside of my fenced areas, so I had to supervise.  Rock got so pushy that he tried to barge out the gate when I was bringing Bombay in, so I had to have a chat with him about not leaving the barn without a halter on and a human at the end of the lead rope.  Even though I didn't get any riding in, it was nice to be able to take the time to deal with each behavior problem as it presented itself.  Hopefully, the time I put in with the animals today will pay off in the future.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Manipulative Mare

No sooner did I correct the problem with Gabbrielle making Bombay's stall a muddy mess by constantly urinating in it, and she started up a new rude behavior.  Now she deposits piles of manure in places where she knows I will have to step in them.

One of this summer's storms washed all the sand and dirt away from one end of the paddock, exposing hard rock, so I started spreading manure there to soften the ground.  I was also hoping that the horses would catch on and poop there, thus making my job easier.  Bombay was the only horse neat enough to always use my designated end of the paddock to do his business.

Rock just poops wherever he happens to be standing, and Lostine repeatedly poops either in her stall or Rock's stall.  (I have to leave the stalls open, because the barn is the horses' only source of shade.)  Gabbrielle, on the other hand, poops where she knows I need to walk to get my barn chores done.  This includes at the opening of each gate to the barn and each stall, and in front of, as well as beside, each feed barrel.  So, now if I want to be able to feed the horses without stepping in manure, I have to clean first.  However, all the while, Gabbrielle still makes a bee-line for the areas I just cleaned and poops in them before I can feed the horses.   She's not making the connection that she's delaying feeding time with her actions.

Even when I don't catch her in the act, I know these are Gabbrielle's piles, because I can recognize her poop anywhere.  She has a completely different metabolism from the others.  It is very fast, which allows her to poop every two minutes, if need be.  She also has these odd, rectangular pellets that no one else can produce.

Anyway, I am totally convinced that this behavior is intentional.  I had tipped over two water troughs to clean, and while I was cleaning one of them, she marched right up to the other one and pooped right where I would need to stand in order to clean it.  So, I got out the manure fork and wagon and went from stall to stall cleaning, and no sooner would I clean one stall, and she'd be in there pooping again.  Then she kept pulling the hose out of the water troughs so that I would have to drop the fork and run around to wherever the hose had fallen, pick it up, clean it off, and put it back in the trough.  In the meantime, she'd mosey over to the fork and start chewing on it.

I finally got so fed up with her being a pester-wart, that I sprayed her with the hose to chase her off.  That only worked until I walked away from the hose, and then she was back either pooping where I just cleaned, pulling the hose out of the trough, or eating my manure fork.  Oh, and she also likes to chew holes in the rubber tires on the wagon.  So, I locked the gates to all of the stalls, thus locking her away from the hose, the wagon, the fork, and the previously cleaned areas, and told the horses to go play in the sun for a change.

Gabbrielle watched me intently, and as soon as I started to leave the barn, she sneaked in.  I chased her out again, but I could only do that for so long until I had to get on with my life.  She ended up going into the barn and trying to open the latches on all the stalls.

It's nice having an intelligent horse, but not if she gets into everything and drives her owner bananas.  I'm thinking I may have to put her in the round pen with a bucket of water in order for me to successfully complete my barn chores in the future. Then, only when all the other horses are fed, will I bring her back to the barn to her stall to eat.  If she's smart enough to play games with me that prevent me from getting my work done, then she's smart enough to know when she's being punished for wasting my time.

Two mares conspiring.
"You grab the hose and spray her with it while I tip over the wheelbarrow.  Then we can laugh while she picks up all that poop again dripping wet and cursing at us."

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Wildlife Warm Up

It's beginning to warm up enough for the wildlife to make an appearance around here...

It appears to be mating season.  The girls are calling out for the boys and the boys are answering back.

I had some wild ones in the paddock today too.

Rock got a little too riled up chasing everyone around, and he eventually got shunned by the rest of the herd.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Just Me and My Camera

Yesterday I hiked out into the desert horse-free in order to find the deer that seem to have been out there two days in a row.  They are always far enough off in the distance that I wonder if I'm hallucinating.  I took my lightweight point-and-shoot with its outrageous telephoto capabilities just in case I spotted them.

Of course, despite hiking all around the same area I saw them previously, bushwhacking and hiking alongside tree-lined arroyos where they could hide, I didn't see a single living soul beyond a hare.  I was thinking, "Where are all the hikers, bikers, and horseback riders?  They are always out here when I bring a horse with me."

I suspect they mostly exercise and ride on weekends and holidays, and then try to be consistent and keep doing it for a day or two after, and then their efforts peter out by the end of the work week.  So, I guess I should be riding my spookiest horses on Thursdays and Fridays if I don't want to work on exposure and just want a relaxing trail ride.

I did take a few pictures of various things that I suspect would spook, or have already spooked, my horses on the trails.

I'm not sure what was going on here, but we occasionally run into vehicles from the power company.  This was actually way off in the distance -- not anywhere near where I was hiking.  But it reminds me -- we discovered that the city installed a stop sign on one of the roads we ride our horses across.  I usually avoid that road, because people drive 45 mph on it with blind hills, even though the speed limit is 35 mph, and it is a pretty busy road year round.  Now with the stop sign, it will take drivers a while to get back up to speed, so horseback riders will have a fighting chance.

From this view, I was walking on a trail and knew that if any of my horses saw that fallen cactus out of the corner of their eyes, there would definitely be some teleporting sideways, because this anomaly was almost unidentifiable to me.  It was as big as a prize winning hog.

This is what it looked like when I walked right up to it.  The poop-in-your-pants factor raises and lowers by the angle a horse sees it from.

This fallen cactus sent Gabbrielle into a tizzy all of last year.  It looks like a seal.  I could understand why a horse would be concerned.

And here are just some pictures of the desert you don't usually see well with my GoPro snapshots.

I've spent the majority of my life hiking among pine trees, large boulders, and blue lakes, still I find the desert to be so enchanting and mysterious.  It is constantly changing from one day to the next.  Some days I see wildlife everywhere and wonder how it all survives with so little water.  Other days I see nothing and wonder where all those animals went to hide.  Pretty soon we should be getting an array of wildflowers blooming, and I am determined not to miss it.  It's been a wet past six months, so photographers are predicting that this will be a great spring for wildflower shots.

I am also fascinated by the mountains.  I take close ups of caves, nooks, crannies, peaks, rock formations, and whatnot with my telephotos lens in search of interesting hiking spots and perhaps the Lost Dutchman's gold mine.

I've actually only gone hiking in these mountains a handful of times, and I took a lot of water, some food, a trail map, and made sure that either a relative or a ranger knew of my plans.  I also took the shorter, easier or more populated hikes, because those who venture far, especially those in search of the mine, often don't come back.  There are so many things that can go wrong and have gone wrong -- everything from getting lost to getting dehydrated to overexposure to getting bit by rattlesnakes to falling into crevices to getting shot to getting decapitated.  Throughout the mountain's history, men have been killed by the natives, or by greedy gold miners, or by Mother Nature, or just by modern day psychopaths.

On February 8th, the History Channel will be airing a show called "Legend of the Superstition Mountains".  I'm really looking forward to it.  The trailer for it looks awesome.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Covering Ground with Ground Work

I worked with the horses from sunrise to sunset yesterday.

First, I trail rode Lostine, which I already wrote about.  Then I took each of the other three horses to task in the round pen.  The day got windier and windier as it wore on, so the horses had to contend with the weeds, bushes and trees swaying and rattling, as well as the neighbor painting.

Bombay remembered all of his ground work exercises.  He was stronger on one side than the other, though.  This is what baffles me about him.  He's so good with his ground work, and then I get in the saddle and he acts like a green horse.  I guess I will just start riding him more in the arena and round pen to make all the cues from the saddle second nature in what he perceives to be a safe environment.  Then maybe he will be easier to slow down and stop on the trails.  My biggest problem with him over the past few months has been that he loses his temper when I tell him to slow down or stop, and then he starts bucking or threatening to buck.

Does anyone have a good training technique to share that is a calm down cue from the saddle?  Bombay could use it.

While lunging Bombay at the lope, a duck quacked and he came to a screeching halt and turned to look at me like, "What did you say?"

I burst out laughing and said, "It wasn't me.  It was a duck."

Apparently, the speeding neighbors who bought a rooster have now bought themselves a duck.  They originally said they were going to get a cow, but I guess they decided a cow was just too big for their parcel of land.  So, now our neighborhood sounds like an Aflac commercial.  Ducks crack me up.

Anyway, I told my daughter this story and said said, "Oh my God!  Now the old 'stepped on a duck' excuse is valid."

Gabbrielle was the softest, most responsive horse.  I forgot that P.S. had taught her several things I don't normally work on, so I was surprised that when I "beat" the ground with the whip by swinging it in a circle next to her to teach her to relax around scary stimuli, she began side-passing.  I decided to let her, because at least she was side-passing in a relaxed manner.  Ha ha.

I just love her slow lope.  You may remember that I spent years trying to get her to slow down when I lunged her, because she would gallop as fast as possible and her legs would fly in all directions with no sense of coordination.  P.S. and the horse trainer taught her how to carry herself, and lope at a slow, relaxed pace so that she doesn't kill herself or somebody else.  She still carries herself like a giraffe at the trot, but she's better about bringing her head down at the lope.  It's nothing like you see with Quarter Horses, who can practically lope with their noses to the ground, but for Gabbrielle to carry her neck at an angle instead of straight up in the air is a big accomplishment.

All the horses handled having a whip "helicoptered" over their heads, which is something I haven't tried before.  Rock was exceptionally lazy about loping.  Anytime I fiddled with the camera, he transitioned down until he was moseying around looking for a patch of grass to graze on.

I made up my own training method to help a horse stay out of your space and halt on command at the same time.  Maybe it's already in some trainer's program, but I have no prior knowledge of it.  What I did was lead Rock while walking backwards holding a carrot stick out.  Rock walked toward me and the carrot stick.  When I said "whoa" he had to stop his feet before running into the tip of the carrot stick.  If he hit the carrot stick, I backed him up across the round pen, which he didn't like because it was hard work.  If he did not run into the carrot stick, he got petted with it and praised.

While I was working with him, some people driving by stopped and got out of their car to watch.  They used the fence at the back of my property as bleachers.  Maybe I should hold horse training clinics.  I wouldn't even have to advertise, because it seems that at this time of year every time I work in the barn, arena, or round pen, people just show up to watch.

Maybe I can train Rock to carry a hat around to collect tips.

It sure would be nice if I could take the time to get set up for sunrise and sunset shots that don't include power lines, but I tend to take them on impulse without any planning, and I'm usually at the barn at sunrise and sunset.  My property is surrounded by power lines.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Queen Reigns Supreme

On today's trek down to the barn, I had no plans.  The ravens let me get to be about 5-feet from them before they flew off.  Pretty soon they might let me pet them.  One of them tries out different sounds on me to see how I will react.  Today's sound was almost sweet.  It was a very quiet cooing.

I wound up haltering Lostine, grooming her, tacking her up, doing a little bit of ground work in the round pen, and she was so quiet and cooperative that I braved those insane trails again.  There is a pattern I'm seeing in which I tend to hire horse trainers in January and February because those are the months I find it most difficult to get nice, quiet, relaxing trail rides due to both expected and unexpected changes in the traffic, the environment, the weather, and whatnot.  I think this is the time when the horses feel most anxious, because what they come across on their travels is so unpredictable.

This is the only picture I got of the trail ride while heading out.  The GoPro took one picture and then the battery died.

I was thinking about how much I respect this horse.  I've owned her for 15 years.  When I first got her, I took her to two different trainers and they both said that she didn't need any training.  It turned out that she behaved beautifully for any rider who knew what they were doing.  I did not know what I was doing, so she gave me all kinds of grief in the beginning.  However, she taught me to be a better rider, and I have never had to put her back into training with a professional because whoever raised her in her early years gave her a real solid foundation, and she has retained it.

After my struggles with Rock yesterday, it felt heavenly to be on a responsive horse.  In fact, she is so responsive that she reads my mind and does what I'm thinking before I even have the chance to give her a cue.  On the trails, all I have to do is look at a cholla ball or big rock that I want to steer her around, and she steers herself around it.

Approaching the road, I listened closely and looked both ways and didn't see or hear any vehicle coming.  We got out into the middle of the street and my neighbor came flying up over that hill next to us in her luxury crossover with one of those huge grills on the front.  I startled and inhaled in shock.  Lostine startled and sidepassed up the road moving away from the front of the vehicle.  The driver slammed on her brakes, I squeezed Lostine forward, and she got us out of the road.  Then I turned and waved at the driver, who waved back.

I don't want these neighbors to start to spite me because I keep making them come to a stop since I'm always riding horses across the road, so I'm taking the approach of being super friendly and acting like I'm glad to see them.  The idea is that I'll make an impression, and they will think of me in that same spot I always cross the road, and then just automatically slow down knowing that I might be there.  If I make a negative impression on them by making them feel at fault, then they might start driving faster and swerving toward me just to harass me.  There's no need to put up a sign.  They know I ride my horses across there, and they are pretty much the only ones who have nearly hit me on several occasions because they drive so fast up over that blind hill.  I'll have them trained in no time, but until then I think I'm going to start crossing the street further away from that blind hill.

We were having an awesome ride on a loose rein.  Lostine was enjoying the outing and I was feeling completely relaxed.  We started going down the trail that Rock had his little freak out on yesterday after seeing the herd of deer.  I scanned the horizon and saw what looked like deer laying under that same tree.  I was squinting to try to verify that it wasn't an illusion when I heard a man clear his throat on the trail up ahead.

I am trying to look for opportunities to challenge my horses to face up their fears on the trails, but I have had so many scares lately caused by horses being overstimulated by various activities on the trails that I decided to opt in favor of keeping it a nice, quiet trail ride.  I didn't know what was up ahead -- if it was just a lone hiker or a lone horseback rider or lone bicyclist or someone with loose dogs that he cannot control.  Usually, if there is just one challenge the horse has to face, we can work through it.  But lately we've been running into multiple, simultaneous challenges, and that's what pushes my horses over the edge.

I have to balance out what is good for the horse and what is good for the rider.  If I have to deal with horses spooking, spinning, and bolting on every trail ride, then I start developing a sour attitude about riding.  Then I ride less often, and the horses pay the price because they aren't being kept in shape and they lose what they've learned when they are inactive.  So, I have to make myself happy too, and on this day I chose to keep my ride pleasant.  I turned Lostine around and headed down a different trail away from the deer and away from the man who cleared his throat.

We didn't see anyone on the rest of the ride.  In the final stretch toward home, Lostine got anxious and began looking at everything like it was scary.  Then some quail flew out of bush in front of us and she jumped backwards.  That's a new one.  I'm used to horses jumping sideways.  She started trotting off the trail like she was losing her head, and I pulled on one rein to remind her that I exist up there in the saddle.  She very politely came to a stop and I sat there stroking her for a while, letting her take in our surroundings until she realized nothing was there except the Boogeyman in her head.

We made it home without me having to dismount and without getting hit by a car.  It's funny how one near miss changes you.  On the way home, I made her stop twice and I waited a long time before crossing the street.  I kept imagining that I was hearing engine sounds, but nothing was there.  I was just so happy to be on a horse that would stop when I asked her to.  That simple bit of cooperation from a horse is enough to make me feel more secure in the saddle.  When I saw that the battery died on the GoPro and I only had one picture, I forced a little more juice out of it and got this shot before it died again.

Cuteness prevails.

New Snags in the Dietary Changes

As you know, I've been trying out a variety of products to help my horses get the nutrition, protein, and fat they haven't been able to get with last year's batch of worthless hay.  Everyone is fattening up and looking healthy except for Lostine.  She doesn't look bad, but her ribs are still visible.  I know we may never be able to keep meat on those ribs at her age, but I'm still trying.  I noticed that not only does she eat all day and make little progress, but now I'm finding chewed up wads of pellets and supplements in her barrel.  It's like she wants to eat them, but won't swallow them.  Then once she spits them out, no one wants to eat them.  So, I may have to start feeding her watered down mash for every meal sooner than I expected.

I've been getting persistent headaches every day over the past few weeks, which is unusual for me.  At first I just blamed stuff that was blooming after the rains, because the headaches always began when I was down at the barn feeding the horses.  But then one day I was holding a bag of Cool Calories 100 and when I pulled the scoop out of the bag to pour into a feed barrel, a wind picked up and blew the power into my face right when I was inhaling, and I got an instant brain freeze.  Then a massive headache set in.

After that I became more aware of how I was handling the powder.  If I clutched it to my chest while scooping, I always got headaches.  If I held it way out to my side and held my breath when scooping, I was okay, and if I didn't feed the horses it at all, I felt great and breathed clearly.  Cool Calories is essentially fractionated vegetable fat, as they call it.  I've only used 3/4ths of a bag so far, but I think it is helping in fattening the horses up.  However, I'm worried that if the powder is giving me such bad headaches, it may be having the same effect on the horses, so I think I will have to cut that out of our feeding routine.  I'm a bit bummed, because it was one of the easier ways to feed.

One of the things I have been monitoring is the amount and quality of manure each time I make a change to the horses' diet.  I am no longer giving the horses free choice hay, because the manure just gets unmanageable and the hay is such poor quality that its not doing anything for their physical health.  All it does is keep them busy and out of trouble.  When they had free choice hay, I would have to clean up manure three times a day, and no sooner would I clean one section of the barn or paddock, and I'd turn around to see that the horses had already dropped an equal number of piles where I had just cleaned.  I literally could not clean faster than they pooped.

What really bums me out is how we had gotten the main manure pile down to 1/6th of its previous size after multiple weekend trips to the landfill, and now the pile is already back to the size it was before we started hauling it out.  It took two years to get as big as it was before we bought the trailer, but now with free choice hay, plus all the extra feed products I've been trying, plus having one extra horse, it only took a matter of a couple of months to get the pile back to its previous size.  Rock is our biggest horse, and he definitely has the biggest poops.  They stink too.  None of my other horse's stink, but if we are out trail riding, everyone knows when Rock needs to poop.  His gas could clear a football stadium.  One would think he's eating meat on the side.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Expect the Unexpected

I spent the majority of the day cleaning mud, dust and dog poopsidents out of the house, doing laundry, washing dishes, doing paperwork, paying bills, etc., and it was a long, dreary struggle with everything that could possibly go wrong going wrong.  Still, I persevered and completed what I set out to do, so I decided to reward myself with a nice, relaxing trail ride.

No sooner did I swing my leg over during the mount and two horses in the barn got into a tussle and banged up against a gate.  Rock saw the movement out of the corner of his eye, heard the crash, jumped, spun around, and took off running.  I only had one foot in a stirrup and had somehow lost the reins, despite having tipped his head in toward me with the inside rein while I mounted.  Awesome.

I didn't even have time to sit all the way down, so his jump popped me out of the saddle and I came down crooked.  I was grappling around for a rope, any rope, thinking, "Really?  The one horse who almost never spooks decides to spook, spin and bolt right while I'm mounting?  Could my luck be any worse?"

I grabbed a part of the rein or lead rope and pulled, and he instantly came to a stop.  I got myself situated, did some lateral flexation exercises only to determine that he had lost all his softness.  I knew I should do some ground work with him, because I'd be riding out with very little steering unless I could get him to be more responsive, but I really had my heart set on that trail ride.  I had worked hard all day in the house, and the last thing I wanted was to have to work hard at the barn too.

The majority of the ride went well, but it was a struggle to steer him around cholla balls.  He was just so hard in the mouth and face, and my legs were like flies on his sides.  I wanted to do something different, so I turned him around in a spot we never turn and headed back the way we came.  That was a fateful decision.  I probably would have had a better ride if I just kept going straight.

Coming up out of a meadow, he alerted on something.  I saw movement under a tree in the distance.  It looked like a pack of coyotes.  I urged Rock on, but he was very concerned and kept stopping to gawk.  I wondered why he was suddenly so interested in coyotes, because they visit his barn every night, they trot along side him and follow him on the trails, and unless they are nipping at his heels, he totally ignores them and accepts their presence.  I got him going, but he was nervous, so he was doing a little prance, going faster and faster.  He stopped again and stared.

I looked a little closer at the coyotes and realized that they were acting strangely.  They began moving around and it hit me that these were deer.  I have never seen deer in central Arizona before.  I know they are here, and some people I've ridden with have seen them.  I've just never seen them here.  My Arabs had deer coming around the barn all the time in Nevada, and they were seriously freaked out about it.  Anytime I was woken in the middle of the night by horses kicking stall walls, I knew it meant the deer were nearby.

But I don't know enough about Rock's history to know if he has seen deer before.  He seemed very concerned about them.  So, we were at a stand still watching the deer when a hiker suddenly appeared over a rise.  Rock jerked his head in that direction and snorted.  Then another hiker appeared over a different rise, and Rock jerked his head in that direction and snorted.  Then a third hiker appeared, and these three hikers were kind of converging on the deer, which were starting to get stirred up.  Rock jerked forward at a fast walk, going faster and faster, working his way up to a trot, and I could feel his panic.

I kept trying to slow him down or even stop him, but he wasn't responding.  His neck was stiff and I just couldn't bend it enough to circle him.  I knew it was only a matter of seconds before he'd be loping for home, so I decided that since I didn't have any brakes or steering, I should bail out while he was still moving at a slower speed.  As soon as I lifted myself out of the saddle, he stopped and let me dismount at a stand still -- just the way I like it.

I led him around a while and didn't go straight home, because it became clear to me that he had forgotten all of his leading manners.  The twirling rope didn't deter him from barging ahead of me, so I had to keep turning to face him and snaking the lead rope at him to force him to back up.  Then when he tried to pass me, I'd kick him in the chest the way a horse might.  I thought, "The whole day has been a struggle, so why should I expect a trail ride to be any different?"

Once home, I lunged him in the round pen.  I need to get back to doing some basic ground work with all of the horses.  This has been a wet and busy winter, so they aren't getting ridden as much as they should be, so they are losing their responsiveness.  It turns out that the neighbor behind me is painting his house, but with brushes and rollers, so I don't have to deal with compressor sounds for a while.  But the horses will have to do their ground work with men up on ladders nearby, and I'm not going to tolerate much gawking while that is going on.  Those horses better get down to business and listen to me.  The sooner I can get their ground work perfected, the sooner we can be trail riding safely again.

I started thinking about why deer would suddenly show up in our part of the desert, and I realized its because of all the grass that is growing thanks to the storms.