"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo



Thursday, June 26, 2014

Catchup


So what have we been up to while I went on and on about the OD ride? :)

Lily
She is getting a full 2 weeks of vacation. There are different formulas for determining how much rest your horse should get after an endurance ride. Some say a day for every 10 miles, others do a week for every 25 miles. I'm doing the latter. She more than earned it.

Lily spent the first 5 days after the OD in the stall + dry lot scenario: I wanted her to not have to compete for a fan (there are fans in the mare field run-in but there are 2 new horses) after that huge effort in the mountains, and I also wanted to be able to give her as much food as I wanted. My BO is awesome for letting me do this. Lily had free choice hay around the clock, her beet pulp + Triple Crown Senior mash with her supplements am and pm, and alfalfa for lunch.


Eating in her stall. The grease paint numbers finally came off with some Eqyss Microtek.

She developed some very mild swelling on her right hind fetlock about 24 hours after returning home from the Old Dominion. Of course I freaked. But upon closer inspection, I noticed that she had some skin funk/rainrot starting around that fetlock. Lily has historically swelled in response to fungal infections pretty much every summer since I've owned her. I started treatment of the funk with Eqyss Microtek and Furazone. She was trotting out sound, but after 3 days of treatment the swelling was persisting and I started to worry. My vet was coming out on Friday for a slew of other horses anyway so I added Lily to the list. (She'll split the barn call if she is seeing multiple boarder horses.)

Of course come Friday the swelling was mostly gone. I told my vet what I thought the problem was but reminded her that Lily had just done a 50 mile ride the weekend prior and I wanted to be 100% sure that I wasn't missing a mild lameness. My vet has a fantastic eye for lameness; I've witness her catch slight lamenesses that the average eye couldn't see. She's also really good at determining the source of lameness without imaging the entire leg.

Dr. L had me trot Lily in a very tight circle on the lunge, then flexed her for a full minute before having me trot her out in a straight line. Lily trotted out sound. PHEW! My vet confirmed the skin funk + resulting mild cellulitis diagnosis. No additional treatment: just continue what I was doing.

On Friday I set her free in the mare field. The two new mares are very sweet QHs so there was no issue with them. However, due to a shift in the powers that be, Gracie had taken over as herd leader. She didn't mistreat Lily but she guarded the new mares from interacting with her. So Lily spent the next 4 days on the outskirts of the herd. She's so good about not challenging authority. She's such a sweet horse that it's hard for other horses to not develop a liking for her. I've seen some really socially difficult horses that hated all others take a huge shine to Lily. She simply waited patiently to be accepted again, happily grazing on the opposite side of the field. I knew within a few days she'd be integrated into her herd again.

I've been bringing her up to the barn to hose her off, treat her fungus, stick her in a stall with lunch and a fan, and then turning her back out when she's done after dousing her with fly spray. She has been happy to see me every time. By Monday she had been allowed back into the herd. By Wednesday she was back to being 3rd in command: the QH mares are more submissive than Lily.

Lily and the new mares, Fancy and T&T
As of Wednesday of this week, the skin funk on the RH had resolved and the swelling disappeared entirely.


Gracie
I swear G-mare gained weight during her weekend off while we were away at the OD. I don't like my horses to be skinny (yes, Lily's ribs bother me but that's sadly what a racing-fit TB looks like. She is muscle-bound with no fat on her, and the drawback is that her ribs show. She is on a cup of ground flax a day, a probiotic, UGard, Healthy-Glo Nuggets (fat supplement), 3 lbs of Triple Crown Senior + 3 lbs of beet pulp am and pm, plus pasture 24/7), but I don't like them to be overweight either because of all of the associated health issues.

This is the famous Zenyatta, a TB racing mare that recently made the history books!

And Lily. Photo taken the week before the OD. Ribs show, yes, but she has a topline.
With Gracie's rise to power has also come a rise in attitude. She now thinks she can alpha her way through life outside of the mare field as well. I wouldn't be surprised if she was also mad because I didn't visit her for 3 days while we were at the OD. I went to get her in the field on Friday and she was all, "I don't wanna come with you." I flicked the end of the lead rope at her butt and she offered a kick in response. It was more a threat than anything else, but that got nipped in the bud right away: "OH NO YOU DON'T!" She got her ass handed to her in the form of lunging in both directions at the end of the lead rope. She gave a huge indignant snort when I finally asked her to halt, then followed me without further argument.

No more kicks from her since then.

On Friday we rode in the paddocks behind the main barn. I had been warned by both her previous owner and her trainer that Gracie is not a fan of arena work. If I want to do arena-type work with her, I try to do it in the paddocks whenever possible. She gaits better on firm ground anyway. We worked on gaiting consistently but had a few arguments about turning. NBD; we hadn't worked on that in over two weeks anyway.

On Saturday we worked in the arena because the horses had already been turned out in their fields/paddocks for the evening. Gracie decided she preferred to trot. This was fine, but that meant we had to do more dressage-type work if she was going to be trotting. She was fine with that. We worked on bends, circling, serpentines and baby leg yields at the trot. It was lovely work. I felt like I was riding an Andalusian.

That's how Gracie trots
We gaited up and down the driveway twice afterwards, completing 2 miles on pavement, to do some self-trimming. I barely have to touch the mare's hooves with a rasp. She trims herself perfectly when she is in regular work!

On Sunday we went for a 6 mile trail ride with Kathy. It was Kathy's first ride on Queenie after her hock + fetlock injections 2 weeks ago so we were taking it easy. Or well, that was the plan. Queenie looked like she had lost 10 years: eyes bright, ears up, she only tripped once, and she wanted to gait all over creation. Kathy was SO pleased! So we kept the girls at a dull roar and both of them kept pace at a running walk through the woods, with some proper gaiting thrown into the mix every once in a while. Queenie didn't trot once! Gracie was very good overall except for two arguments about direction: both times she wanted to turn towards home but we weren't going that way just yet. The first time she had a huge fit, tossing her head, then going up into a levade from which she leaped into the air...a pretty accurate representation of a capriole. Seriously. It's a good thing the Alta Escuela fits her because she does all of the Alta Escuela (High School dressage) movements without training... -_-

A levade is basically a low, well-balanced rear.

And the capriole, which both of my horses seem to be gifted at.
I should apply at the Spanish Riding School already...*sigh*
Note the saddle.
She is so balanced when she does these things that I'm barely perturbed unless she's doing it in a weird spot terrain-wise or is crowding another horse. Kathy says one day she'll catch these stunts on her GoPro. I'm sure that the day she starts bringing the camera along, Gracie will never do any of these things again!

She had her one-second tantrum and stopped when she obtained no reaction from me. I calmly told her, "Now that you have expressed your opinion on the matter, we are still going this way." And Gracie said, "Okay."

She is a riot. She continues to remind me of Lucero in every way possible. He was just like this too. It was like he'd periodically have to check that I was still interested in being the boss. "Are you sure? I'll gladly make all the decisions for you!"
"No Lucero, that's fine. I got this."
"Ok. Just checking. You might change your mind, you know.."

For the second tantrum she tried to plow through my aids to again go towards home, but got spun around and re-directed in a hurry. She continued on in my desired direction as if nothing had happened. Good mare.

Photo by Kathy.
That's Gracie being good in front.
She isn't really trying to unseat you when she does these things. She isn't one of those horses where you can't let your guard down because they'll take advantage (those horses are no fun). It's more her way of letting you know that she doesn't agree with your request. She also seems to be the kind of horse who tests you to make sure that you are worthy of her respect. She responds really well to a firm, quiet leader. She gets corrected and we continue without further fuss. She gets tons of praise when she chooses to comply, which makes her happy all over again. She may be a clown but she really does like to please as well.

On Monday I brought both mares up from the field. Lily got hosed off and placed in an empty stall with the fan on and orchard + alfalfa hay in front of her for lunch while I tacked up and rode Gracie in one of the paddocks.

Lily eating lunch this past Monday. She's filled out somewhat in 10 days of vacation so far.
Hay and alfalfa are stored in the main barn loft, from where you can toss the hay directly into the stall. Hence these views from above. :)

Gracie was on fire. We worked on speeds within the gait: collection and extension. She gave me her most collected gait and then we worked on her rack, which has the potential to be her fastest gait if she could maintain it for extended periods of time. She was absolutely spectacular, able to maintain whatever speed of gait I had chosen throughout serpentines and tight circles. We did 4 canter sets and introduced the idea of cantering in a large circle, which is new to her. She did better to the right than to the left, breaking the canter when circling to the left. It will come with time. We worked for 40 minutes and then I called it a day. Gracie, however, didn't want to cool down yet. "Can I gait now?" "What about now?" "I've been walking for 5 seconds. Can I gait now?"

I didn't want to get her worked up by arguing so I just dismounted and, in a lightbulb moment decided to start practicing tailing right then and there.

Photo from Teaching Tailing the Easy Way
I hand walked Gracie a bit and she was happy to relax. I then clipped the reins to the ring of her halter bridle and held the end of her tail while walking next to her. Gracie initially looked at me like, "Why are you holding onto my tail??" I convinced her that all I wanted was for her to walk forward. "Oh. That's it? I can do that."

I realized that the best way to do this exercise would be to hand walk Gracie down to the end of the paddock then turn her towards the exit gate and let her walk towards it while pulling me along. Once Gracie realized that all I wanted was for her to walk towards the gate while I walked behind her holding onto her tail with one hand and the end of the reins with the other, she was all, "I can totally drag you towards the gate all day long!" I guess we'll find out later how she tails going AWAY from home and up hills, but for now we'll just create this positive association while I teach her the command "Tail!"

On Tuesday we repeated the routine: bring both girls up, Lily gets lunch while Gracie gets to work.

I took Gracie out into one of the back paddocks for a lunge. We lunged between 15-20 minutes. I just wanted her to work, watch her move, and see how she behaved on the lunge outside of the arena.

She was actually pretty good. She was goofy initially, zooming around me and then trying to accelerate towards the opposite corner of the paddock, but I reeled her in each time and she soon realized that it was just easier to stay in a large circle around me.

Uphill much?
You can see why her canter is so comfortable: it is very much a 4-beat gait.
Gaited mare has suspension at the trot
I just like this photo :)
We did mostly trotting with some canter sets thrown in, but the main idea was to get her in a working mindset and listening to my verbal aids. Towards the end of the 20 minutes or so, she was quite sweaty so I asked her for a walk. Gracie would walk for a few steps then try to pick up a trot again. You can't fault her work ethic! So we worked on trot-outs, which is something that she needs some fine-tuning on. She's starting to get the hang of it but is not as consistent as I'd like yet. And then we moved on to practicing more tailing. I walked her all the way to the back of the field, held onto her tail with one hand and the lunge line with the other, told her "Tail!" and she started walking. I even had her trot ahead once so I had to jog to keep up. She was really, really good about paying attention, not stopping to eat grass, and halting only when I asked her to.

Butt sweat
She had a bath afterwards

All in all, a pretty successful week of work with the G-mare.

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I am going to commit the sin of anthropomorphizing the mares, but this is a post I've had in my head for a while now that I'd been looking forward to writing. I have always been fascinated by animal behavior to the point of owning several books on the subject, both written at laymen level and veterinary level. When I first started college in a universe far, far away, I originally went for a biology major because I wanted to eventually become a behaviorist. I later gave up on the idea because I decided I didn't want to deal with people not doing what was recommended and hurting their relationships with their animals in the process because they didn't understand or were too lazy to do their part. It's like training horses: I get great joy out of working with them but it is incredibly frustrating when progress is constantly set back by a non-compliant owner who doesn't do their part of the work. Hence why I don't train horses for a living. It's not because of the horses, it's because of the people.

Cats and horses particularly fascinate me because they can be so much harder to read if you aren't familiar with them. Dogs will go out of their way to communicate with you and are smart enough to try out different methods of communication so you can understand them. They will get you trained in the process! I still laugh over the story of our family's dalmatian who figured out how to let my mom know when she wanted both the TV on (for background noise; she liked it on at a low volume when the house was quiet!) and the fan on (because it's hot in PR; she'd plunk herself down in front of it). Happiest dog ever when she had her way. With cats it will vary greatly depending on the individual. If you listen to them, most cats will try really hard to let you know what they want. There is a theory among behaviorists that cats have developed the meow for our benefit. If you think about it, you will see that this is true. How many cats have you seen meow at one another? Actually meow, like they do to you when they want their dinner? They will growl, hiss, purr, chirp at one another, but the bulk of their interspecies communication is through body language. They use plenty of body language on us too and if you pay attention, their faces are transparent with a rainbow of expressions that let you know exactly what they are feeling and thinking, but they are very aware that we are vocal creatures and they have adapted in response to that. Isn't that cool?

That look just has "trouble" written all over it...hahaha....
Horses require a little more reading than cats and dogs, unless you have a very extroverted horse, like Ozzy or Ashke. Charles still tells people about when he first started getting dragged hanging out with me around barns: he used to think horses had no personalities and was quite shocked when he realized they could be as different from one another as, well, people.

Horses though, are on a whole other level. You all know what it is like to communicate with your horse from the ground and in the saddle, you know how it feels to reach an "Aha!" moment in the training process, and you know what it is like to be loved by a horse. It is like nothing else. They are not pets. They are our partners.

Your horse is a mirror to your soul. Sometimes you may not like what you see. Sometimes you will.
- Buck Brannaman

My two mares are a study in contrasts.


Whereas if I say to Lily, "Jump!" Lily pricks her ears and asks "How far?", if I tell Gracie to jump, she tosses her mane and asks, "And WHY exactly should I do that?"

Lily is the quiet introverted nerd in school. Gracie is the sassy, bubbly extrovert that likes to play innocent pranks on the teacher. Lily is an overachiever: she thrives on praise and will give you 200% when she knows for sure that she is doing what you want, that you are happy with her efforts. She is somewhat of a Type A personality who only in the last year has started to develop a sense of humor. It's been interesting to see that aspect of her: as she has become more confident, as she has started to get the hang of this new job she enjoys so much, she has stopped taking things so seriously. It's manifested in her recent ability of mentally letting go of things that upset her instead of dwelling on them for the rest of a ride/rest of the week/rest of the month! The same change occurred in me when I moved to the US and had to start making my own decisions in life. I soon learned that life is easier if you are able to laugh at it.

Lily liked dressage because I did, but I would forget so often to praise her. I think that fed into her previous insecurities and distrust. 


Lily enjoys listening. We talk in quiet conversation and enjoy moments of comfortable silence and contemplation. It's become a thing where I can tune out the world and it is just her and me. It's like being carried along by the current in a river: it's a constant flow of communication that doesn't require additional thought or pondering. It just is. It's taken us three years to get to this point, and I cherish it all the more because of how hard it was to get here.



Lily being chill on Tuesday this week while I put Gracie back in the mare field first.
I can pretty much tie her up anywhere and walk away, knowing that when I return she'll be standing in exactly the same spot, waiting patiently. She'll cock a leg and take a nap, knowing that sooner or later I will come back to get her. 
Gracie is a boisterous creature who is always talking. She is ALWAYS talking. She even gets indignant when you walk away from her in the middle of a conversation. "Hi! How are you! Do you have cookies!? What are we doing today? Will you take this muzzle off of me? Can I rub my head on your shoulder? Why not??! Why are you tying me up here? Wait! Why are you walking away? Come back here!"

"Ohai! You came back!!"
The best part is when you return to her and rub her neck or groom her: then she is silent. She gets this expression of pure bliss and relief, and closes her eyes. The mare LOVES being the center of attention!

Like I was saying...
She has gotten better about this. Into month two of ownership (month three of being in training with me), she too has realized that I will come back and is starting to wait as patiently and quietly as Lily does when tied.

Personality for days.
I ground tied her in the main barn aisleway while I ran into the tack room to put away the lunge line.
Here you can see that she was indeed ground tied.
This was the second before she tried to follow me into the tack room...
We need to work some more on the ground tying...
I can't even begin to tell you guys how ALIKE Lily and I are. I constantly catch myself reacting to things the way Lily would, things that I have noticed by watching her interact with her herd mates, and later realizing that I do the exact same things when presented with the same scenarios. For example, in social situations I have caught myself reacting to arrogant leader types in the same manner that Lily does: pin the ears (if I had ears that I could pin) and walk away in disgust. Lily is happy to leave mean horses by themselves but goes out of her way to be liked by everyone. One of the things that makes her the happiest is living in harmony with her herd mates and the people who handle her. I am exactly the same way. We both avoid confrontation when possible, but will set our foot down and put the offender in their place when our buttons get pushed way too many times.

Gracie is the cool kid in class who doesn't conform, who sets all the trends, whom people have a tendency to follow. She is independent but friendly, dramatic but with a great sense of humor. She can be quick to get upset about something but just as quick to forgive and forget. She enjoys standing out and being different.

"What? Why are you laughing?"
Lily is who I am. Gracie is who I yearned to be.

Isn't that fascinating? Does this happen to everyone? I do believe that horses tend to be a reflection of ourselves, either because we attract horses that are like us, they become like us, or we become like them. Or all of the above. Either that, or we go for horses that complement us, that have the keys to our locks and viceversa.

Lily is my mirror image; Gracie is my opposite.

Riding them is so different. I love riding Lily because of the joy that I have found in her, the mutual understanding that we have finally achieved. On her it is like we are a centaur, an extension of one another. It is like when the Na'vi warriors in Avatar ride the Mountain Banshees.

Confirmation that yes, I am a nerd
That. That right there is what it feels like to have reached the level of communication that Lily and I have reached. She has wound herself quietly around my heart and become a part of my soul. If I were to ride into battle on a horse, Lily would be the one I would choose to be my war mare. Together we are a greater whole.

With Gracie, it's like she has the missing pieces. I'm still getting to know her but there is such a familiarity about her. She just fits in with my personality. She is like the kind of person that I'm drawn to as friends. She came to be mine by a series of fortunate coincidences, but if I had deliberately gone out to look for a second horse, she is exactly what I would have looked for. She has only ever known love in the form of her previous mom, and she had some really awesome training put into her by Bob. He did a wonderful job of starting her, setting boundaries for what would have otherwise ended up being a very dominant horse, while still allowing her to be herself: a spirited, funny, social creature with a great heart. She is challenging in a way I like a horse to be challenging: she is smart enough that she likes to have her brain engaged, otherwise she gets bored. However, she doesn't try to constantly outsmart you. Or rather, she doesn't if you have earned her respect and willing partnership. She is beautiful to behold, but my favorite things about her are her mind, her sense of humor, her outgoing nature, and the fact that she will let you know exactly how much she loves you if you do everything right.

It's just the coolest thing to be owned by these two. 





11 comments:

  1. It is interesting how the human/horse relationships work. With dogs, they sort of have to love you because that's how they've been bred. But with horses, they must overcome prey animal instincts millennia in the making to work with us and they are big enough to tell us to f*#% off. Yet they don't; instead they become our partners in ways that not even another human being can.

    This was a lovely post, Saiph:)

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    1. Agreed: this is one of the most amazing things about the human/horse bond!

      Glad you enjoyed the post. :)

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  2. D'awww. You and your girls are the best. :) It's a running half-joke in our family that River and I are exactly the same creature, only in different bodies, haha. Someday I hope to have that centaur-like relation with him...I feel like we're almost there some days, and other days it all falls apart. And it's usually my fault! Sigh...lol.

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    1. It will come! It just takes time to get there. :) River is such a cool horse!

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  3. I'm glad Lily is feeling so good!

    Dixie is like an enormous cat. She knows exactly what she wants, and trying to explain her needs to the "stupid human" is clearly frustrating. (I almost always know what the cat and/or the horse actually wants, and I'm not doing it for my own inscrutable human reasons - no, I'm not going to open the door for you; no, I'm not going to let you graze here all day; etc.)

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    1. Dixie is a character. Lol It seems that mares in general have a lot in common with cats, personality-wise!

      And yes, the G-mare and the two cats tend to get just as frustrated when I don't let them have their way. Hahaha...

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  4. Sounds like you and Lily have attained the state of Co-being that Ashke and I are working on. BTW, it is possible for humans to pin their ears - ask J - I do it to her all the time. Sometimes I toss my nose for good measure.

    And I love Avatar. It is one of my go-to movies when I need a lift. The mountain banshees are awesome and riding without fear on Ashke is the closest I come to flying.

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    1. It's funny how their body language rubs off on us!

      Ditto here about Avatar! I love that movie. All of it. But I think what I loved the most about it was how they portrayed that mental and spiritual connection between the animals and their riders: the rider literally plugs into the animal and they can feel what the other is thinking and feeling. I kept telling Charles, "That! That's what it feels like to ride a horse you know well."

      <3 you and Ashke!

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  5. LOVE the from above views. You can see how much she filled out in just ten days!

    Also love your analysis. If we're talking about people being like their horses and my goofy, abnormal, super extroverted horse... well... I think you've hit the nail on the head ;)

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    1. It's nice to be able to have the option of looking at them from above. Most people don't ever get that glimpse of their horses: it's a great way of noticing if there are any muscle imbalances/misalignments too!

      <3 you and Ozzy!

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  6. I really like the view from above too. That's so cool!

    I love how in tune you are with your horses. Chrome is everything I want in a horse but I haven't really compared our personalities. I think we are similar in some ways and opposite in others. We both love to have fun, love trying new things, are normally confident but sometimes succumb to our insecurities, etc. however his moods are more stable and laid back where I can be changeable and occasionally high strung. That's the part he balances out I think. I think we compliment each other well.

    Also I thought I was the only person who imagined being able to pin my ears!!!! So cool that other people do that too. When I was younger I wished I had ears I could pin just so people would know when I didn't feel well, when I was happy or relaxed and most importantly when I was pissed! Then I realized normal people don't understand equine body language so it wouldn't do me any good lol!

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