Sunday, May 24, 2009

Cutting the Herd Cord

This picture is from last weekend's rodeo.

If you search for the word "herd-bound" in Google, you get one million results. If you search for the phrase "herd bound horse", you get 643,000 results while "herd bound horses" get 52,800 results. Obviously, herd-bound behavior must be a problem for people, otherwise there wouldn't be so much information out there on the subject.

I had planned to dedicate most of this 3-day holiday weekend to helping my horses get past their herd-bound behaviors. I couldn't get much riding in, because my husband, kids, and friendly neighbor were all out of town. If I got hurt, I could always call 911 from my cell phone, unless I'm unconscious. I know a lot of people who risk riding alone, but I'm very unlucky. The few times I have tried riding when no one was around, my horses decided to give me a bronc ride instead of a nice ride. I've learned my lesson, and don't take those risks anymore.

I'm working on the herd-bound behaviors in baby steps in order to avoid as much damage as possible. The horses don't only tear up the pasture grass when one of them isn't nearby, but they risk breaking their legs by galloping around on chunky, uneven ground with mole tunnels. If I thought they couldn't get hurt in their panic, I'd speed up the separation process.

Previously this spring, they only experienced being separated for a few minutes as we walked them out to pasture in shifts. Still that was enough to leave them completely unglued. I can trailer one horse off for a ride, and the other two settle down pretty quickly, but the angst they feel over other horses going to pasture to get that yummy grass without them amplifies their herd-bound behavior.

Today I tied Bombay in the paddock and Lostine in the round pen while I walked Gabbrielle up and down the street for some lead line training. I had to go back to square one with halting her each time she pulled on the lead rope and then backing her up by tapping her legs with a stick and saying, "Back!" Once she stopped pulling, I rewarded her by putting her out to pasture. Of course, she went nuts as soon as I removed her halter.

Originally, I was thinking I would just leave her out there until she settles down, but I worried about her breaking a leg. I'd rather have a single horse galloping in the flat, sandy paddock than a single horse galloping in the uneven, chunky pasture. So, I led Bombay out to Gabbrielle, and the two of them settled down. They were still whinnying for Lostine, but at least Gabbrielle stopped galloping.

I knew I had to stop Lostine from whinnying to get the best effect. Since she is the alpha mare, her calls are especially alarming to the herd. So, I fed her a nice, big flake of hay in the paddock, and she immediately lost interest in what her herd mates were doing out at pasture. Everyone then settled into eating with only a few horse calls here and there. Bombay paced a lot, but he'll pay for that later when he gets hungry and realizes he should have grazed more.


The other day I was running around the house like a chicken with my head cut off trying to fight a dozen fires at one time. I was supposed to be working at my desk, but I was also hand-watering outside, doing multiple loads of laundry, answering the phone, picking up the mail, paying bills, answering emails, making lunch, letting the dogs in and out, and cleaning stalls all at the same time.

I remember moving a rake into the spa room in case it rained. There wasn't enough room to put the rake in the tool organizer and I had a dozen other things competing for my attention, so I just leaned the rake up against the organizer thinking, "I'll deal with this later. I don't have time to reorganize the organizer right now."

I also remember having the fleeting thought that I should find a better place for it soon or someone will step on the rake and the handle will fly up and hit them in the face. However, I literally could not find a better place for it at that moment and had to move on to tackling other problems and chores.

So, this morning I was in the middle of doing a deep cleaning of the water troughs when I walked over to the tool organizer to get the scrub broom. As I reached for it, I stepped on the rake and the handle flew up and hit me in the face, knocking my two front teeth loose and giving me a big, fat bloody lip.

There just aren't enough hours in the day for me to deal with every problem that presents itself to me. Literally, every time I make a move, I create more problems that I have to solve. It snowballs out of control so fast, and I have to start prioritizing which problems are the most serious and need my attention immediately. Even when I am fighting fires, whether literal or figurative, I find myself multi-tasking. It seems that all hell always has to break loose at once. If the universe could just serve me one problem at a time, I could handle it, but for me, everything has to happen simultaneously for some mysterious reason.

I know there is some lesson I'm supposed to learn in all of this, but I have never figured it out. There's no such thing as taking one thing at a time when everything is an emergency. If a doctor and nurse in a trauma unit get six patients coming in the door all at once, they have to deal with all six of those patients. They can't just put a few of them off until tomorrow. Of course, they do perform triage to determine priorities, but they still have to treat all six patients as fast as they can. That's kind of what my life is like on most days.

I can't seem to do the simplest things without something going wrong. I have a saying that I blurt out to the universe every time some simple task turns into a fiasco. I say, "I'm not asking for a miracle -- I just want to..."

A lot of the times I finish up the sentence with something like, "" or "...sleep" or "...go to the bathroom" or "...push a button and have it respond" or "...pick something up without dropping it 20 times" or "...walk without getting injured."

A number of lousy things happened to me throughout the morning, but the rake in the face took the cake. When those one-in-a-million type accidents happen to me in spurts, I take them as omens that something really bad is about to happen, and I should lay low for a while. 23 years ago I had a day like that and every bone in my body was telling me to climb back into bed and not get out until we had a new day. However, I ignored the omens, went out on the town with my friend, and we got into a car accident that left me with memory problems ever since. A day doesn't go by when I don't wish I didn't get in that car.

So, today I didn't want to do anything, but I also knew I had to push past my superstitions or the day would be wasted. So, I risked doing the lead line training and splitting up the herd on my own. Fortunately, nothing bad came out of it, because I was cautious and took it slow. As the day wore on, my teeth tightened back up and my fat lip receded.

When my family returned from their trip, they reported that they saw two major car wrecks that appeared to have fatalities along the way. I had made up my mind on Saturday that I wouldn't go back out on the road. In just the 20 minutes that I drove around looking for Chicago screws, I had several tourists with out-of-state plates pull illegal U-turns right in front of me from off the shoulder of the road in the busiest intersections in town, and I had to slam on my brakes to avoid ramming into them. I don't know why people never seem to see me. I drive red cars and keep the headlights on day and night. There must be something in the air and it's not even a full moon.


Kate said...

Glad the turning out worked for you - despite the incident with the rake - ouch! Once the horses get used to the routine, things should settle down. I find that when I do things like cut myself while cooking or other mishaps, it's usually because I'm not focussed on the task at hand, but on something else that's usually not even something I can do anything about at the time - I know exactly what you mean!

Leah Fry said...

My goodness, what a day! I know what you mean about having days when you feel like your worst enemy. Hope you are able to relax and hit the ground running tomorrow.

And I'm with you on the herd bound thing. My two got it BAD. Food always helps :-)

Once Upon an Equine said...

Oh goodness NuzMuz! So very sorry about the rake in the face. That is awful. I've done the same thing, but didn't knock my teeth loose. What a day you had! I hope your horses get better with their herd bound issues. It's an ongoing battle. I trailered Marley off the property several times last week. Misty cries and there is lots of calling between the two as soon as I return and pull into the driveway with Marley in tow.

Sydney said...

"I stepped on the rake and the handle flew up and hit me in the face, knocking my two front teeth loose and giving me a big, fat bloody lip"

I am sorry but I seen my friend do this in the barn one day. I LOLed so hard. Talk about slapstick humor. Hope your teeth/lip are ok.

As for thinking about learning something from this: don't leave the rake on the ground lol!
Too bad we can't make a bunch of copies of ourselves to be in multiple places at once. I know that would come in handy for me but feeding multiples of me might get a little expensive.

fernvalley01 said...

Some days a girl just can't catch a break! Sorry ,you sound so frustrated. At least the horses were good ,probably wise to stay home and lay low today. Here's hoping you have a better week!

HorseOfCourse said...

And you get so angry with yourself because you know that you thought about it earlier, right?
Stress, stress. No good.
Good luck with the work on separating the horses. It will hopefully in the end reduce stress level both in you and the horses!

Cheryl Ann said...

I got the rake in the face thing, too! One time my German Shepherd raced across the yard as I was planting seeds and to prevent him from plowing into them, I stepped backward and THAWP! Yup. Right in the face! I actually saw stars and stumbled around the front yard! Hubby was home and I was DONE planting for the day, after that!

Andrea said...

It sounds like the herd bound training is working out great! It's a real challenge to fix those problems. And horses are herd animals, they like to be with their buddies. So, it's hard to break that habit. But it sounds like you have that under control.

On my goodness!!! I can't believe you got the rake in the face!! I am glad your teeth tightened up. Man what a day!

I always say bad things come in threes. I hope you have a better day today!

manker said...

yikes... good news about your herd... but scary about the rake... owy are you okay?!?!

deeeep breath

Lulu said...

Perfect timing for this post....I was just working on some herd separation last night!! In fact, I put the yearling in the barn, with grain, while I hand grazed the other two mares one at a time. I'm preparing the yearling for things to change...with one horse for sale and the other going to training, she is about to get a crash-course in ALONE!