Friday, April 30, 2010

Going for a ride

Today I saddled-up the boys and decided to go on a leisurely ride down the road past Smith Rock. It was
Friday, the week was over, and it was a gorgeous day; sixty-five degrees, light breeze and sunny with breathtaking cloud structures hung just out of my reach. I try to get the boys out at least five days a week and it seems to make them happy and content. I have a hard time just letting them stand around in the pasture. even though it's five acres and nicer than most horse pastures. Sometimes I put them into the trailer and go do my errands; we just hang-out together. Getting the horses out in the world seems to put their heads into a very good space. Often in our travels we'll come across a back country road and I'll pull over, unload and we'll just walk for awhile or I'll ride bareback. I've been observing them closely since I began doing this and they simply seem to like being out and about. Some people could find this odd but my deduction is that they enjoy it plus after an excursion they are always much more ready and content to be back at home sweet home again.

But today was a day for a simple ride; no training or pressure, just an easy day out under saddle. I have to say that when I'm horseback or when I'm just hanging-out with my horses doing whatever, that's when I feel truly at home in my skin. The smell of my horses (any horses for that matter), the little nickers they offer, their honesty and trust makes me want to spend more and more time being with them. There's not a lot of talk so I enter their world of calm and quiet and there's a lot to be said about that world. The more I care for them it seems the greater is their loyalty to me. Horses have brought more joy into my life than anything else I can think of and viewing life from between the ears of a horse is my idea of a real sweet spot.

Riding straight down my road, which heads straight to Smith Rock is a great ride. I can ride for miles down that road and even though it is a paved road and goes right past some amazing scenery, I can ride for hours and only one or two cars will pass us by. 

Passing by the main gate to Ranch at the Canyons gated community is always breathtaking as it sits nestled right at the base of Monkey Face and Smith Rock State Park. Sometimes we ride past this entrance four times a week and it's always beautiful and it's always different as the light dances on the rocks in different ways every day.

 In all honesty, my life is blessed more than I can express and there's no two ways about that. I thank the Lord every day for my blessings and especially for the honor and privilege of care-taking two of His majestic creatures. Thanks for listening to this little story and have a great day.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Legend - a very smart and willing horse!

I was called to a ranch here in Central Oregon to take a look at an eighteen year old Polish Arab gelding named Kheldar; aka Legend. His story, or at least what the new owner of two and a half years had been told, was pretty standard in many ways. The owner communicated to me that Legend, in his eighteen years of life, had three or four owners prior to her and that Legend had been a dressage horse, an endurance horse and a three-day eventing horse and the story goes that he'd been quite good at everything he turned his hand or rather his hoof to. The owner now wanted him as a trail horse but she'd had a few experiences that led her to be concerned about his confidence on the trail and his predictability and safety; that's why I was called. I'd seen this horse here and there on the ranch as I was working other horses but I'd never really had reason to check him out up close and personal; I'd heard that Legend was an older horse and that he'd been around (meaning he'd accomplished a lot) and I personally respect and admire that; its kind of like meeting an old cowboy whose been through the ropes of life. In my opinion a person's just gotta have respect for that life experience.

The owner brought Legend into the indoor arena where I was waiting and I asked that she simply turn him loose. I know the horse saw me because I was pretty much standing right in front of him plus I was the only other object in the entire arena outside of him but he didn't even look at me. He trotted to the opposite end of the arena and completely ignored me, as though I didn't even exist. He was not shy about beginning to tell me about himself.I waited a few moments to see what he was going to do and all I got from him was more of what he offered in the first place. He stayed at the other end of the arena as though I was the least important hunk of chopped liver in the universe. Some might say he was not communicating at all but to me he was screaming volumes to me.

It's interesting how once we learn to read horses, how they cannot not tell us who they are. Once enough horses have been observed and once we understand that horses say exactly what they mean, then we realize they're incredibly easy to figure-out especially when we stop making it into rocket science. And in the case of our boy Legend, he thought he was being so very cool to show me that in his world I didn't even warrant a glance from him. But he was supplying me with all I needed to know to make my evaluation as to how to proceed.

So, it was clear that Legend, in his eighteen years of dealing with two-legged's, had come out with very darn little if any respect at all, at least that's how it appeared initially. I figured he'd learned to shut people out and get away with it unless, that is, he was forced to perform and then he was smart enough to understand his predicament of being a prisoner and so he'd do the job at hand and then he could be done with people for a while. That was my initial take on him, my gut feeling. I began to feel sad for him as he ignored me. I had so much I wanted to share with him and so much I wanted to do with him and yet he simply stood there like an abused orphan who just didn't want to talk. Possibly, I thought, when he was a young horse maybe he had hopes that he could become friends with the two-leggeds or develop respect for them but as time went on I felt he'd been let down and disappointed time after time until he just gave up to a great extent; gave up being genuinely curious and interested that is. Horses are so very smart and are lightening fast at figuring things out, especially people. 

He was on his fourth owner at this point in his life and although his present owner loves him and wants him to remain in the family it seemed obvious that Legend hadn't understood this until now; nobody had made him understand it. To  him it seemed to be just another temporary stop-over and no reason to expect anything different. Somehow I felt that Legend and I had a lot in common. Even though at that moment it was clear that Legend couldn't have cared less about me, I liked this horse and I found myself thinking very hard as to how to get to him and make him interested once more.

I prefer to work with horses and owners as I have mentioned before in some of my previous Blog posts. As I'm evaluating a horse for an owner I always offer lots of commentary because this way the horse owner gets a moment by moment glimpse at what I'm seeing when I'm with the horse and this places the owner right in the middle of the training loop; otherwise there's a disconnect and my working with the horse won't mean anything if the owner's not along on the journey. I really enjoy to work this way and I hesitate to work with a horse if the owner can't or won't be present for much of the training.

Until now Legend didn't even seem to look out of the corner of his eye at me. Usually horses in such a situation will sneak a peek here and there, especially if you're a stranger, but this horse had me totally tuned-out. I'd never had a horse ignore me to such an extent. I sat on a mounting block in the middle of the arena just observing him. He continued to ignore me. After a few moments I decided to make my presence known to him so I began to move him around the arena; just to let him know that I can determine and control his movement and his direction and that I'm, therefore, the boss or lead horse in our herd of two.  In his Arab manner he trotted right past me, head held high and looking in a forty-five degree angle away from me he again acted as if I didn't matter at all. Somewhere, somehow in his travels through life he'd learned this attitude of ignoring people and tuning people out. But I'd learned in my travels that this type of behavior really meant that this horse was dying for discipline and someone he could respect. This horse didn't want treats or affection; he wanted genuine discipline.

The arena was too large. I'd move him a bit and then he'd get stuck at the end of the arena. I'd go move him out of the corner and he'd just find another corner. I decided to take him into the round-pen. Even in the round pen he ignored me; always with his head stuck over the top rail of the panels and moving yet not even glancing at me. I put a halter on him and snapped a long line on and moved him once again. This time I could hold his head off the rail and even tip his nose towards me in the center. It seemed to work. Then when I wanted him to stop I'd give a voice command, step in front of his shoulder and ask him with the long line to take a few steps towards me in the middle. He seemed to catch-on quickly. Almost immediately, with just a slight request with the long-line, he'd walk to me in the center. I'd unsnap the long line and ask him to come with me but that was asking too much; he'd just walk away leaving me there alone. 

The short training session was now over and I felt we'd ended on a positive note. I was supposed to work with Legend again two days later but that session was canceled and now we're scheduled to work once again tomorrow, April 27th. It will have been a week since I last worked with him and I'm very interested to see Legend's response in this second session. I'll add to this post after our session tomorrow. Hope to see you back here then!  

April 29th:  I am constantly amazed at how quick horses are ready to step forward and embrace change. And I'm also amazed at how some people, horse owners, can get it and understand what an animal needs at a particular time. Maybe some people are just naturals because I work with a lot of horse people and those that are truly teachable are rare and when found are an absolute pleasure to work with.

The second session I had with Michelle and Legend was, without exaggeration, phenomenal. Somehow Legend just got it that two people were trying to help him adapt to his new life, a life of breaking out of his old mold of showmanship and arenas and stepping out into a new world of trails and trees and no pressure. During the first training or evaluation session, one could clearly see that Legend was worried and that he had a lot on his mind but almost overnight, within a matter of only a few days, he seemed to simply grasp and understand. I'm not really sure what happened in his head but let's just say that he had an epiphany of sorts. My experience is that horses are generally way ahead of people in understanding many things so we could simply attribute his sudden resignation and seeming adaptation to that; he's just one smart and clever horse. I'm not going to try to figure it out but I will say that Legend on the first training day and Legend on the second training day were like two completely different horses.  Like someone sneeked another horse entirely into his skin.

An old Native American once said that horses can read a person's heart and I feel that Legend tapped into his owner's heart and most likely into my heart also and saw that we were genuinely interested in his well-being. Now he stands by his owner and me as we chat before the session when before he'd have been at the other end of the arena playing I don't need anybody so just stay away from me. His eye is now soft and inviting whereas previously it was almost impossible for this horse to even register ones existence because he was so interested in everything else but you.

I am happy with where we are now with his new training program and I am happy because Legend took that courageous step forward and said "I will". Good going Legend, I look forward to continuing our work together and hats off to you Michelle it's fun to work with you. Horses and people often just make my day.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Horse Training: Head bobbing horse no longer!

One day I was called by a man who had owned horses his entire life. It seemed he had a horse that was a head-bobber. The more and the longer he would ride this horse the more violent became his head throwing.  He said he'd tried many various bits and he and no one else could figure-out what to do. I made an appointment to go see him and the horse.

The horse's name is Red, a 16h sorrel gelding.  From what I was told this horse is wonderful in just about every way except for the head throwing deal.  As I groomed and saddled him he was a perfect gentleman. I did a little ground-work to loosen him up and then I mounted.  The horse didn't throw his head at all, not even one time for the entire fifteen minutes I rode him. 

My intuition whispered into my ear and told me to asked the owner of the horse if he would mount so that I could watch him ride. As he rode it was as plain as the nose on ones face that he was holding onto the horses face which means he was constantly pulling on the reins and on the horses head. I asked the owner to let go of the horse's face and to put some slack in the reins because this was obviously the problem. The horse was constantly trying to tell the owner, first in subtle ways and then in not so subtle ways, to let go of his face.

The owner asked me how he should control the horse if he didn't have a tight hold on the horse's face. It appeared that he had been taught that by having a tight hold on the horse's face that he had brakes or more control over the horse.No wonder the horse kept saying let go of my head and it will be fine.

Anyway, the man realized, after a few lessons, that he didn't have to hold tightly onto his horse's face and that he only needed to contact the horse's face when he wanted to communicate with him and that then the contact should be soft and simple.  The horse stopped throwing his head and I'm pretty sure it was a good day for him and the horse's owner became a better rider. A rider's hands are his most important riding aid, and the softer the hands the softer (and usually happier) the horse. It was a good day all around!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Taking some weight off a big boy.

Tuxedo is a Percheron/Thoroughbred Cross and he is now almost six years old. In the above picture, and prior to leaving Central California for Montana in 2007, he weighed in at about 1350 pounds and he's 16h3. At that time he was only four years old.  

Max is a purebred Thoroughbred and he's now eleven years old. In this picture, and also prior to leaving Central California for Montana in 2007, he weighed approximately 1350 pounds. Max is 17h3.

Max, Tux, me and my dog Mr. Parker all lived outside of Missoula, Montana for about a year where I was running a horse ranch. Max and Tux were drylotted so I fed them a good quality grass hay daily and I always gave them as much as they wanted to eat.  In my opinion horses are grazers and it is said that they will graze and eat just about 90 percent of the time so if they don't have hay I figure it's like taking a monkey out of the tree; slowly they just go a little or a lot wacko.  Monkeys are made for trees and vice-versa and horses are made to graze so if they don't have anything to graze on I feel it's very possible that it could be the beginning of psychological behavior problems or issues. So, I always fed my horses all the hay they could eat and it never seemed to be a problem.

When we all packed-up and moved from Montana to Central Oregon in late 2007 the only place I had to put my horses upon arrival was on green pasture. Because I thought the pasture would only be for a few weeks I really didn't give it too much thought as I concentrated on finding a home for my little herd. The problem ended-up being that it lasted almost two months. For Max it couldn't have been a better deal because as a Thoroughbred he can eat grass until it comes out of his ears just about all day and all night without difficulty but Tux, without me even noticing, packed on about two hundred pounds just like that.  And because I was seeing him every day I simply didn't notice the pounds going on until one day I just stood there looking at this huge horse and scratching my head. Was Tux always this huge or did something happen when I wasn't looking?  He was looking more than kind of chunky so I loaded him into the trailer and took him up the road to the truck scale and weighed him: sixteen hundred pounds, I could hardly believe it. Percherons are a very large breed of horse and they can easily grow until they are around seven years old but I just never expected him to have such a growth spurt; boom over two hundred pounds. Whoa!

So, now Tux and I have our work cut out for us this Spring. Although I have a four acre pasture on my property I can't let Tux out there (until we get the first big freeze in the Fall and now it's only April) because he could fat founder quite easily so I've decided it's time to begin to take the weight off this big boy.  Now I ride him and exercise him for a good hour at least five days a week. I began slowly and easily for the past week or so but now I begin to pick-up the pace so that he's getting lathered-up during our workouts.  

It's not easy having two horses that have such different metabolisms. And I really don't like the idea of letting Max out on pasture and making Tux stay on dry lot; I'm sure Tux would feel slighted. So they will both stay on dry lot until the first freeze.  I plan to exercise at least one hundred fifty pounds off of Tux in the next six or eight months so - wish Tux and me lots of luck? And if you've got a young upstart Draft Cross, keep an eye out for weight gain if you put him/her out on pasture.  Thanks for listening.