Friday, May 15, 2009

Spring Pasture

I like to take pictures of the pasture in spring, summer, and fall to see how it changes. I can see that I need to water it more. My reseeding didn't take much this year. I think next year I will use fertilizer rather than horse manure.

Saturday was the first time this year that I put the horses out to pasture. I had been hand-grazing them on our front lawn as a reward after our walks. Of all the scary behaviors that horses can exhibit, I think the worst are the herd-bound behaviors. Each spring I have to gradually start separating the horses so that they don't become so dangerous and out of control when I do put one of them out to pasture.

Normally, I have to lead all three horses to the pasture together the first few times, so that no one gets left behind, and gradually begin separating them once they remember that being apart doesn't kill them like it might out in the wild. However, my son was volunteering at a track and field event, and my husband was on the phone with his father, so I had no one to help me lead all three horses out. I can't risk leading all three myself, because if I lose one of them, the highway is just a few yards away. I walked Lostine to pasture first, and all three horses went nuts. As soon as I released Lostine, she tore up the ground by galloping up and down the fence line whinnying to her buddies. Back at the paddock, Gabbrielle and Bombay were doing the same.

My husband heard the commotion and came outside to help. I caught Bombay, but Gabbrielle was so out of control that neither of us could stop her. She was galloping around blindly, not caring what or who was in her path, turning a deaf ear to our whoa commands. My husband finally caught her, but I had to keep Bombay's butt in front of her to prevent her from taking off. We had to get the horses from behind where this picture was taken to where Lostine is standing in the distance.

Here's a picture looking back from the pasture to the paddock, which is behind the red car on the left.

That's quite a distance to lead a horse that has lost its mind and forgotten how to walk and take a deep breath. Thank God my husband has muscles.

My daughter came home from college this week, so I made another attempt with her help. She led Lostine and I led Gabbrielle behind her on the first trip. There was still a lot of whinnying and running around until I could get Bombay transferred to the pasture, but it's a lot easier wrestling Bombay on the second trip than Gabbrielle. Bombay puffs himself up and prances when he's nervous, but he doesn't pull on the rope. Gabbrielle just acts like the rope and human aren't there and tries to fly to the pasture in record speed.

The biggest problem I had on the second attempt was that Gabbrielle refused to be caught when it was time to leave the pasture to go back to the sandy paddock. This was a first for her. Usually, she sees me approaching with a halter and trots right up to me and sticks her nose in it. However, she did not want to leave the green grass for anything. Each time I approached her, she swung her rear at me, and then kicked out and took off at a canter to the other side of the pasture. So, I used the Chris Cox training method of whacking her on the hip with the lead rope to prevent her from aiming her rear at me.

Of course, that sent her off away from me when my goal was to catch her, but I had to tackle one problem at a time, and the biggest problem was the threat of being kicked. Once that was handled, she eventually realized that I wasn't going to let her rest to eat more grass because I kept sending her off, so she surrendered and held still while I put the halter on her head. Of course, that technique resulted in her hooves tearing up the grass, but the grass should eventually grow back. Had I left her out there, she probably would have colicked or foundered from eating too much too fast, and learned that she could get away with it.

I did a lot of work with her over winter by taking her for walks along the road on a rope halter and tapping her forelegs with a whip each time she got ahead of me. If she rushed, I stopped her and backed her up and turned her this way and that to prevent her from rushing forward. It worked, and then we had a series of snowstorms where I didn't work her at all, and now it's like dealing with a baby all over again. One step forward, two steps back.

It would be nice to just be able to take whatever horse or horses I choose to pasture and just have every horse accept their predicament without throwing a fit. That's the way it was at the end of last summer. People say that horses have excellent memories, but with all the retraining I have to do every spring, I'm not seeing it.

Note: Yes, I know my horses are wearing their halters in the pasture. They were only out there for a short time under my constant supervision. I knew I had to bring them right back in since you have to introduce grass slowly into their diet, before cutting them loose for hours at a time. Plus the halters are snug enough to not allow a hoof or big fat nylon post get caught in them. The only threat is tree branches, so I shooed them away from the trees if they got near them. I suppose a car could crash through the fence and they could escape and be introduced to many more things that they could get their halters caught on, and with all the freakish things that happen around horses I wouldn't be surprised if that really did occur.

Last night I was sitting on the couch with the back door open, and I could hear an engine roaring and tires squealing off in the distance, miles away from my house. As the sound got nearer, I thought, "This guy better slow down by the time he hits the curve near my house or he's going to end up plowing down my or my neighbor's fence."

Sure enough, here he came going way too fast, and he lost control on the curve. Fortunately, he didn't crash, but regained control and slowed down for the next curve. I didn't hear anymore engine revving or tires squealing after that. I'm sure he sufficiently soiled his pants and possibly learned a lesson. The two curves on each side of my house can spank even the best of the worst drivers.


Lulu said...

Herdbound behavior is always tough to control. I, like you, want to be able to separate a herd member without the whole her having a panic attack...

I tie my horses up a LOT. I tie them one at a time or two at a time, leaving one horse in the dry-lot or pasture alone. Yes, the fuss and carry on at first, but they eventually chill out. Once they can handle these situations, I separate them to different pens or pastures. There is usually some hollering....but that never lasts long.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Lulu - Shoot! Tying up the horses is exactly the advice I was given last year, and it worked. My brain already lost that piece of information after just one winter. It seems there is so much preparation work that has to be done. I worry that by the time I get my horses to the point where they are totally safe, I'll be an old lady having hip replacement surgery.

Andrea said...

Oh, my dear sweet Peanut has horrible separation anxiety. He jumped a four foot wall between stalls to try and get to his beloved mare. He now gets tied up every afternoon and is in solitary confinement. Well, a smaller pasture all by himself. He has not left that pasture and is doing a lot better. Tying horses helps a lot.

The green pasture looks great!! I bet they loved to be able to be out eating some of that green grass!!

Shirley said...

Well, at least you got through it without humans or animals getting hurt. Sounds like they kinda have your number.

Katharine Swan said...

I see I have everyone defensive with my comments on different blogs regarding leaving halters on 24/7. It's a deplorable practice -- but in my opinion leaving them on for an hour or two in the pasture, when you're right there (and the pictures are proof! LOL), is NOT the same thing. So don't worry -- I'm not passing judgment on you, NM! LOL!

I do something kind of like what you were describing with trying to catch Gabbrielle. Occasionally -- not very often -- Panama will run from me when I try to catch him. I always make him work for it -- I swing the lead rope, cluck, and keep him running until I say he's done. Then I stand quietly and see if he's reconsidered. If he lets me approach him, he gets lots of praise. If he runs, we start over.

The first time he ran from me, it took an hour of driving him before he gave up. Since then, it only ever takes a few rounds before he decides it's too much work to try to evade capture. :o)

As for the herd-bound behavior -- that's nuts, NM. I don't think I've ever seen horses that upset about it, but then I board, and horses are always coming and going. Perhaps having a permanent home together makes them more herd-bound. I don't really have any good advice, but I think the tying sounds like an excellent idea.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Andrea - Poor Peanut. I'm glad to know tying and solitary confinement work for you.

Shirley - The first few times are risky.

Katharine - I wrote the post before you and Fugly wrote yours and knew you could see the halters on the horses in the pictures while they were in pasture, so I had to add the note because otherwise all the people who read your posts would feel the need to point out that I shouldn't put a horse out to pasture with its halter on. I don't usually do it, but wanted to under these circumstances.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Oh, I forgot to mention that apparently my horses aren't the only ones in the neighborhood suffering from separation anxiety. One of the boarders next door trailered her horse off and all the others have been standing at the fence calling out all day. My neighbor who breeds and shows horses doesn't have this problem, because she always trailers various horses out on a regular basis. I guess her horses learn quickly that their friends usually come back, and the younger ones learn from the older ones not to overreact. In my case, Lostine is the role model and she's very possessive of her herd, so the others have learned to act like it's the end of the world when I take one of them away.

lytha said...

I'd really like to follow this thread and see what happens. Will you start separating them regularly? I would have liked to try that back when I suffered from Baasha's herdiness, but now I don't need to. It's gotta be hard on the neighbors to hear a horse calling for hours. I hope you don't have a problem with annoying your neighbors....*grin*

No, seriously, I understand that it would be an entire neighborhood that suffers when we go about this separation training.

I anxiously await the continuation of this topic!


Laughing Orca Ranch said...

You know what, NM? I saw the halters on your horses while being pastured and didn't even think about the possible dangers, because 1)I was admiring your beautiful green pastures, and 2)I knew you would never do anything to endanger your horses and I trust your judgement. :)

Oh! And I can totally relate to the herd bound issues. Val's gelding is obsessive about his mare herd, and if one of them is gone, he hollers continually for hours, or as long as Val is our riding. Heck, he'll even holler and scream (loudly) while she is out on a trail riding HIM, as he tries to communicate to his mares back at the barn.
I swear he sounds like an elephant in musth! lol!
I'm sure everyone in the entire valley an hear him. It just makes me laugh. I can always tell when Val is out riding, 'cause her gelding, Scout will be hollering for his herd of mares. lol!

But you know what? His mares rarely holler for him. lol!

Who needs who more?


Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Oh! And I forgot to say that tying is scary for me now, after what Baby Doll did. Is there anything safe to tie a horse to, in case they decide to pull back?

Baby Doll isn't herd bound. She's typically too independant for that, besides the fact she doesn't even have a herd of her own, but she could benefit from some time at the patience pole, I think.

What structures do you feel safest about tying your horses to?



Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Lisa - I have three places where I tie my horses: Wooden posts that are cemented into the ground, the metal round pen posts which have panels that a connected by pins, and the side of the horse trailer. I won't tie them to the vinyl fence posts and I won't tie them to any kind of panel, like a wood or vinyl panel. I also always tie them at head height. My trainer has metal poles that are cemented into the ground with chains hanging off them, and she does her tie training there.

My horses actually tie and stand really well. I could leave them alone for hours if I wanted and they'd be fine. I just have to remember to tie them when I am separating them, so that they can't run around and go berserk.

Katharine Swan said...


I think NM gave you some sound advice for tying. I also use either a post cemented into the ground, intended specifically for the purpose of tying a horse, or (at my old barn) cross ties.

I was thinking, when I saw the picture with the ruined fence panel, that tying Baby Doll to the top rail was a really bad idea. I'm sure that although she was probably just being pissy when she pulled back, it probably terrified her when the rail came loose!