The opinions expressed in previous entries may or may not express the current opinion of the author.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Dozing at Dusk

I haven't gone out into the pasture much lately to share space with the horses.

This evening, after supper, they were hanging out by the gate, and I went out with the grooming box and brushed George for a little while. But I was tired, and the thought of just sitting and relaxing was more enticing. So I turned over a bucket and plonked myself down.

As a human, there's something about sitting that makes me calm. Horses can relax while standing; I relax better sitting. George came and parked himself beside me, the others gathered close by, and we just sat for about an hour.

Here we are.
Bridget is sleepy.
Rose is sleepy.
Chloe is sleepy.
George has a new thing. He puts his knee on my lap and rests it there. Don't know why.

Then it got dark, and I went in the house. Sometimes I wish I could sleep in the field. They would probably chew my pyjamas to ribbons and knock me out of my hammock. Still ....

Sunday, May 29, 2011


I learned something yesterday. Don't bother to try and flatter an Appaloosa. He will not be impressed, and he knows he's cool already.

I trimmed three Appaloosas this week. The first was Raspberry, the camp horse; he was rather sensitive and did not fit the stereotype. But the other two Appaloosas were alike, not only in appearance, and in hoof quality, but in their distinctive - what I take, and stories describe, to be - Appaloosa personality.

The first was a big, handsome Appaloosa called Cracker - rescued last fall from an auction as a poor, sick, scrawny, abused creature. He is now healed, well filled-out, and trusting of his new family. The past abuse, however, did not made him timid - when he arrived at his new home, he was wont to bite and kick. He is past that now, although clearly he has never been a horse to shrink back from provocation, but to meet it head-on.

He has great feet - wide heels, big healthy frog, good concavity, little or no flaring.

His owner, her husband, son, and a friend stood chatting while I trimmed - telling stories of their horses, and the horses they'd known in the past. It was fun.

The horse was not inclined to listen to me much. Perhaps his background made him leery of strangers. One of the guys suggested that he was used to men trimming his feet and was testing me. He did ok, but wasn't cooperating with the hind feet. Something about the way he was reacting to me made me think he just couldn't be bothered. So I finally just held on and wouldn't let go, despite him kicking and waggling his leg. I stretched his leg out for him and relaxed it back to a bent position to rest on the hoofjack. We worked it out, got his feet finished, and the owner was happy.

It was interesting, though - the difference between this horse and some others. Mostly, you feel like they tune in and pretty much stay tuned in. This guy wasn't all that keen on tuning in. I don't know if the man was right and he was testing me. Maybe that's not the way I would look at it, but - despite his background - he didn't seem to want or need reassurance, and as a woman, I guess it's easier and more natural for me to offer reassurance than to make demands. Rather than deliberately testing me, possibly he was just ignoring me because I didn't seem worth paying attention to. So hanging on and refusing to let go was perhaps one way of showing that I could not be ignored. And let me say that holding on to a big horse's hind foot is a lot easier than holding onto a tiny little spitfire of a 36" mini.

One of the observers at this trimming asked me to come and do his horses the next day. I was delighted to find that the two horses in question were familiar to me by sight, as I'd been driving past them for years and had always wondered about them. Buck is another tall, handsome Appaloosa with spectacular feet, big bones - and that personality again. I was trimming away, making reassuring noises and telling him he was a "good boy," when it struck me that it was way too condescending to be calling him good boy. So I apologized for calling him that, and tried to be more business-like. I don't know if it helped, but we managed.

Buck's buddy, "Chubby," is a 3/4 Arab. His feet are also very nice, if a little narrower and with a slightly greater tendency to contracted heels (always a danger with rock-hard feet, I guess). Their owner has been trimming their feet himself and has been doing a good job, it seems. He likes to get them done by a professional (who? me?) every once in a while.

Both Buck and Chubby were resistant to resting their feet, especially their hind feet, on the hoofjack to work on the underside of the hoof. I guess it's unfamiliar to them, as they're used to the old-fashioned way, where you wedge the foot between your legs - which I ain't doing, cos my back'd give out.

I gave them treats when they were done. Got them both finished in under an hour and a half, so that wasn't too bad. But they were a little bit of a challenge.

Buck and Chubby's owner just loves those guys. He's had them for years and trained them himself. He's fond of saying that people call Appaloosas mean and crazy, but that he's never had any problem with Buck, except he's a little stubborn at times. He says that when he's trimming Buck, if he's taking too long, Buck'll turn around and give him a little nip - not hard, just to register his complaint. The owner will just say, "Buck - quit." And Buck will stop. Now, some people might turn around and yell, or smack the horse. And with that strong personality, if he was treated that way, I think pretty quickly that horse could turn into something you might call mean.

Buck's owner says that Appies are known for being fond of children, and also for being loyal to just one person or family. I wonder if Raspberry and the other Appaloosa I trimmed a few weeks ago tuned into me better because they were not particularly bonded with the person who was handling them and so had a frequency open for me to connect into.

I need to figure out how to treat this kind of horse with proper respect, but not let them treat me like a doormat. The "King" (the Hempfling type) requires respect, but is susceptible, in a Lear-like kind of way, to flattery. They like you to affirm their kingliness. But the Appaloosa knows who he is and doesn't need your affirmation.

Working with these guys reminded me of the Appaloosa mare we owned for a short while (before she died prematurely). She found it almost impossible to stand on three legs for the farrier. But she was super-smart and cooperative. She figured out that if she rested her hind quarters back against the wall, propped her head on someone's shoulder while simultaneously leaning sideways onto one or two other people, then the farrier could pick up a leg on the opposite side. It would never do to be condescending toward her, or baby her in any way - she was an adult and wished to be treated as such.

Here's something else I learned. Buck's owner says that you should monitor the color of the pupil of the horse's eye. Blue is normal; if there's a yellow tint, the horse is scared; and if there's a red tint, the horse is angry.

No photos of these horses, but here's something cute in Buck's barn.

Two litters bunking in together.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Cooling Off

The other horses are scaredy cats when it comes to hoses and water. But Bridget knows a good summertime cooling-off opportunity when she sees one.

Quite a Workout

Mirabile dictu - the miniature horse was apparently arthritis-free!


Hind feet


Two and a half hours later, after trying to use a hacksaw which turned out not be sharp enough, and so resorting to using the nippers, we'd managed to get them looking like this:


The heel was still way too high, and the hoof capsules - especially the hinds - were too distorted to allow a proper shape to emerge on the first trimming. I don't blame the owner. He was a good guy - another grandpa keeping a horse for his granddaughter - he'd asked his previous farrier to keep him on her schedule, which hadn't happened, and he'd been calling her and receiving no response. I'm calling him to schedule another trim in a month, when hopefully there'll be a bit more straight growth coming out of the coronet band. At least I think I made the pony a flat surface to land on.

He said two other farriers had told him (because of the pony's funny feet) that the pony "had foundered." Personally I doubt it, and I discussed it with my laminitis-savvy trimming friend, who also thought it unlikely. The pony got in this pickle because he has rock hard little hoofs, and no weight to wear them away.

When we started, the little guy was all for rearing and plunging. His owner snubbed him up tight to the post, which only made matters worse. I asked for us to move to a softer surface, to make it easier for him to stand on his little rockers, and I asked his owner to not fight with him and to just let him move when he wanted to. I had a discussion with the pony and told him he could have his foot back whenever he wanted, as long as he asked nicely.

The pony understood perfectly, and pretty soon we were really able to get to work. He became very cooperative, and when he got too tired of lifting one leg, I'd move to another, and in this way we finally got the feet down to a point where the pony could at least be more comfortable and where his hoofs would have a chance to grow in straight. There was one point when I wanted to work more on the LH (the worst one), and he really didn't want to let me have that foot. So I refused to let go even though he kept kicking. He finally got the better of me, but he must have realized I really, really wanted that foot, because he then figured out a way of just lifting it up enough that I could prop it up on my boot and work on it that way.  When we were all done, I had the owner walk him out, and he walked out nicely. No sign of soreness, which I think also argues against founder.

This is the third male owner (all of whom keep horses for their grandchildren) who was very vague about the horse's name. The first two managed to remember the names after some thought - obviously using names is not part of their normal interaction with the horses, even though they are the main caregiver. The owner of this mini, however, could not remember the name at all. So we were calling him Buddy, of course.

Quite a different situation with the horses I trimmed today. - two summer-camp horses, who had over-wintered at a local farm here. Their foster-owner was a woman who had taken them in the hopes she would get some riding. She'd ended up being too busy with the dairy farm and all, but had taken good care of her two charges, who looked healthy and were very friendly. And she knew their names! She also had names for her cows. I was trimming away, and this enormous old Brown Swiss cow came up to stare at us - the nice farmer lady keeps her old cows around because she gets fond of them.

Sam, a Haflinger, and Raspberry, an Appaloosa gelding, didn't seem arthritic either! And they had pretty nice feet. Raspberry has very soft, chippy wall - he's going to have shoes on, but he'd chipped away so much of the wall, that there wasn't much left to attach shoes too. The farmer lady said he'd had shoes attached with clips last summer. So I didn't sweat it, and trimmed the bits that hadn't chipped to match the bits that had. He didn't have very much concavity. Raspberry was sore on his LH afterwards - I hadn't walked him out before trimming (mea culpa), so I don't know if I caused it. Hopefully not, as I didn't take much off the hinds at all. Raspberry was anxious when held tight - so again I told the owner not to fight with him or try to hold him still - that we'd let him move if he wanted and rely on his voluntary cooperation to get the job done. Once he didn't feel trapped, he proved to be helpful and calm.

Sam had nice feet - pretty tough, but not so tough that they wouldn't break off before getting too long - and a decent concavity. His RF toe was especially long - and I noticed he was reluctant to weight that foot, leaning on me when I picked up the LF. I think there might be some minor pain somewhere in his joints along that leg. I thought he was going to get shoes on too, and so I left more wall on the ground than I normally would. After I was done, I found out that he doesn't get shoes at camp, but then, by the same token, hopefully that will enable him to wear down his feet better. Sam was what I think of as a typical Haflinger - smart, sturdy, bold, and curious.

These two had not been trimmed since last summer, yet their feet were in pretty good shape. I put this down to the fact that they had plenty of room to run around, and a buddy to run around with. The owner said they frequently galloped full-tilt around the field together. Whereas a couple of other horses I've seen, with badly overgrown feet, had less turnout and/or no buddies to encourage play and exercise. I didn't feel bad for Sam and Raspberry going back to camp, because the farmer lady said that the camp owners were very nice, and took good care of the horses, and never sent them to sale.

When I was done, I reflected on the fact that once again, I had not really produced a set of textbook trimmed hoofs. They looked pretty good from the outside, but from the underneath - well, they're ok, but I feel I should have dug more for the true sole, I should have unearthed the true apex of the frog, and so on. I hope to keep learning and improving and become quicker, more efficient, and more confident - for now I take comfort in the thought that I seem to be doing a better job than some others I'm hearing stories about. At least I answer my phone.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

His Majesty

Like I said, one day I will get to trim a horse who does not have arthritis. Today was not that day.

Star is a grey pony belonging to an older couple who keep him for their grandkids. He is small and supposedly Welsh, but of a decidedly baroque appearance, and very proud, sensitive, strong-willed, and impatient. It didn't take me long to decide that I was in the presence of a Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling "King," only one of whom have I - knowingly at least - encountered before.

He, like everyone else it seems, has some problems with his joints. He is 25 after all. He ceded his front feet gallantly, but when I got to the hind legs, there were problems. After a little snatching and kicking, he settled down to let me work on his right hind, but there was no way he was going to let me have his left. He kicked repeatedly, and cowkicked once or twice as well. This kicking was, I concluded, at least partly motivated by irritation and avoidance. I didn't get cross, managed to stay out of range of the kicks, and he began to try to work with me a tiny bit.

When he managed to just raise the left hind foot by leaning all his weight on me, and when he later almost fell over on top of me, I realized his reluctance to pick up that foot was also due to physical discomfort, and that he really couldn't help it. I worked with him on the leadrope, and he was willing to run with me, back up, come toward me, stand still, etc., none of which had the effect of softening his refusal to let me have his left hind.

His owner and I discussed the situation. I said I believed that his cooperativeness with the other three feet meant that he was not being "naughty." We thought that his inability to lift the left hind - other than for a quick kick - looked to be due to an unwillingness to weight the right hind. I thought the problem was not in the right hind foot, but higher up - possibly in his hips - or pelvis? The owner had told me that Star had recently been giving the grandkids pony rides, and that when the last (and oldest) kid was having her turn, he had, quite out of the blue, bucked three times and thrown her off. We now thought maybe this had been due to his soreness.

Finally, we decided we no option but to leave the hoof like this:

You can see how the hoof has worn off except at the toe. As this is the side he prefers to put his weight on, I told the owner that I hoped it might wear quicker to help it catch up with the side which was trimmed. I think the toe will break off sooner or later. Also the owner may put the pony on a joint supplement, and maybe next time will be easier.

I was glad to have the opportunity to meet another King - it is an interesting type, and one which I find quite different from other horses. At least I think that's what he is - his face looks the part, and his personality certainly fits the bill.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Who Would Have Thought It?

I have long wondered about this moment, and I've wondered if it would ever happen.

Chloe, the little girl, and I were together in the corner of the yard, and I'd promised that we were going to ask Chloe if the little girl could ride. I told Chloe what we wanted to do, knelt down beside her, and made a mounting block with one knee. I asked the little girl to step up onto my knee with her left foot and put her hands on Chloe's back. This way, there could be no mistaking our intention. Chloe was on a loose leadrope - I wasn't holding her. As she showed no wish to move, I asked the little girl to swing one leg over Chloe's back and sit. And there she was, mounted on Chloe, who stood very still and patient.

Earlier on, I had brought Chloe out of the pasture and given the grooming box to the kids. At first they all wanted to brush her, but after a while only the little girl persisted, following Chloe around the lawn, relocating herself and the grooming kit whenever Chloe moved.

After lunch, I decided we could hazard a go at riding. The little girl had finished eating and had returned to Chloe. I went over, demonstrated Chloe's hand-shaking and kissing tricks, and then put the leadrope on. Once the little girl was mounted, Chloe refused to move. She did, however, paw the ground rather extravagantly a couple of times. I wondered what she meant - and then I realized she wanted to do her new foot-on-my-knee trick. So we did, without disturbing Chloe's little rider. I took the lead rope off for a short while, to emphasize to Chloe that I really didn't want to be making her do this if she didn't want to.

The girl's little brother came over, wanting to ride too. He asked me if he could, and I told him he had to ask Chloe. He didn't quite get it, and asked me again: "Can I ride the pony?" Then his sister said, "You have to say: 'Chloe, can I ride you?" So he put his face up to Chloe's nose - which was about on the same level as his head - and asked the right way. I think she said yes. We plonked him up on Chloe's back behind his sister, where he stayed until Chloe turned around to get away from Bridget, who was sticking her head over the fence, at which point little brother felt a bit insecure and asked to get down again.

Chloe now was ready to go back to the field and stuck her head through the gate. But the little girl's big brother wanted a turn. The girl got down, and I was about to show her brother how to mount, when she - full of confidence - came back over and demonstrated to him how it was done. Chloe stood quietly during the demonstration and while big brother mounted up. After a few minutes, Chloe decided she was really ready to re-join her buddies and pawed the gate. So I asked the boy to dismount and let Chloe back into her pasture.

During Chloe's lawn time, the other horses had been milling about on the other side of the fence, fussing and clamoring and trying to get our attention. The little girl's mother said to me, "I never knew horses did so much ... well, I guess you can't call it ... talking ..."  "Communicating?" I suggested. And she said, "Yes! That's it!"

Later on, after the company had left, I let the other horses out. They all really like eating this plant -

Rose chomped off a peony blossom and then spat it out. She and Bridget both ate some poison ivy that was growing among the yucca. (When non-allergic daughter visits, I will get her to pull it out.) 

Chloe meanwhile, ever independent, was going her own way in the barn pasture.

So - how about that Chloe?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Chloe Takes Charge

There's absolutely no point trying to train Chloe; she is training me, and she's a lot smarter than me.

Today, she was out by herself on the lawn. I went over with some apple to entice her into practicing tricks, but although she accepted the pieces I offered her, she was more interested in munching the tall grass at the edge of the yard.

Later I went out again, carrying the halter and leadrope. As soon as she saw me, she came right over. But when I tried to put the halter on, she moved away. I pursued, but each time I caught up with her, she moved away again. Then she set off down the drive at a trot. I ran beside her, and when we stopped, she turned towards me and touched the halter with her nose. I put it on her, and this time she had no objection.

We did the foot-up-on-my-knee trick, but two or three times when I was asking her to put her foot up, she re-positioned herself so that I was alongside her .... in mounting position? Could she possibly be suggesting that I ride???? There was no way I was going to risk offending her by trying to sit on her, but I flopped forward over her back instead, and she stood quite still. Tomorrow a friend's 8-year old daughter is coming over to meet Chloe. I've already explained the "Chloe never has to anything she doesn't want" rule, so we'll see what is permitted. Obviously I have to leave it up to Professor Chloe to take the lead in what happens.

After Chloe returned to the field, George re-asserted his authority by driving Chloe off in a mad dash around the field. They all had a fine time running around before dinner.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

I Hope Wasabi Isn't Bad for Horses

Today Chloe was off by herself in the pasture. She caught my attention, and we both had the same idea - pony liberation. The others didn't notice as we nonchalantly walked down to the gate, each on our respective sides of the fence. After she'd been loose for a while, I fetched the halter. When she saw me approach with it, she walked right up to me. (Did she know about the carrots in my pocket?) We practiced a couple of tricks. I wanted her to follow me over toward the kitchen steps to work on putting her foot up, but she flatly refused. Well, let the mountain come to Mohammed - I knelt down on one knee, made a flat surface with the other, and we used that instead of the step. After the halter came off, she had no interest in leaving, so I guess she quite liked it. And when I went to fetch Bridget's halter later, Chloe came over and expressed an interest.

The horses currently have the run of the front pasture and back pasture, which suits them. Everyone likes the front pasture best (including me - I think it's a feng shui thing), but they like to have the extra space to roam and forage. There's been so much rain lately that there's no need to be fussy about husbanding the grass. Having this extra lebensraum means that when I let them loose onto the lawn and open the other gates, they don't immediately set off on a stampede.

After I let them out today to join Chloe, they quietly meandered out onto the lawn to graze and mill about near the house.

I sat in the kitchen door to peel apples and have a drink. And eat wasabi peanuts. George planted himself by the steps as usual. I offered him apple peel, but he thought it infra dig. The wasabi peanuts were another matter. I wasn't too sure if horses are supposed to eat peanuts, so I bit them in half, ate the peanut side myself, and gave George the other side. He thought they were just yummy. I let him try my gin and tonic too. He very daintily stuck his tongue in and lapped up a little. He had two sips and decided that was enough.

I've been told in the past not to give George treats as it made him grabby and disrespectful. That was not the George who was sharing cocktail hour with me this evening. He stood quietly, looking meek and hopeful, his little elephant-trunk upper lip crawling over my knees and arms, searching for more wasabi - all very gentle and gentlemanly.

At one point, my son, who doesn't really like horses, noticed George standing in the kitchen door and couldn't resist coming over to pat him. Later, he readily walked out with some apple scraps I gave him to feed George. Having the horses spend time in such close proximity to the human habitat really encourages interaction.

Next on the agenda - napping with the equines! Too bad the hammock has finally given out. But no worries! Father's Day is coming, and there's a certain paterfamilias known to me who would like to be presented with a nice new hammock to hang between the trees. And if I happen to use it when he's not around and the horses are in the yard, what's the harm in that?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Conspiracy Theory

There was definitely a plot afoot this morning. When I looked out, the horses were all gathered near the gate. Breakfast was served - still no dispersal. I went away, came back a couple of hours later - they were still there. I should have guessed I was about to be the victim of an Equine Mind Control Feat.

I decided to open the gate and let one of them out into the yard for a while. But something (the CIA wishes it had this kind of power) made me say, "Oh, what the heck - I'm just going to let them all out." So I did.

Yee haw! They dashed through the gate and proceeded to rampage around the yard like a band of naughty children tearing through the neighborhood. Around and around, back and forth, bucking, kicking, galloping, skidding to a halt, pivoting, leaping like gazelles over upturned buckets. I opened the gate to the front pasture, which leads into the back pasture, and I opened the gate from the back pasture into the yard - so they had unprecedented access to all three pastures plus the yard. And they made full use of it - going in one gate, coming out the other, one horse separating from the group to explore, and then figuring out how to get back together.

Finally, puffing and hot, Bridget and George came up to me as if to say, "Well, that was fun - what's next?" They then continued with a slower-paced, albeit potentially more destructive, exploration of the house environs. Chloe took advantage of the others' distraction to come over for a scratch and then demurely continued with her normal day's routine, while the other three stalked around the house. I stayed outside to be playground monitor, as horses are not like other people. Other people do not sit on top of shrubs in order to scratch their tummies.

Mmm, that feels good.

Is there another horse in there?

Bridget wonders the same thing.
Bridget is the Queen of opening lids.
Got it.
Look I got the lid off dinner too!
Now if I could just get into the mother lode ...
She couldn't, so she tried main force.
As she'd been clever enough to open the cooler,
I thought I'd take out a Sprite and offer her some.
She didn't like it. (n.b. We do not usually have
soda in the house. It was left over from a church picnic.)
She didn't like the coffee either. (Why yes - that is whipped
cream in my coffee! And yes, I did drink it after Bridget
had stuck her nose in it.)
Those kids are ker-azy.
This morning, as I was leaving mass, Father called out to me, "Ride your horse today!" Now, I take Delphic utterances of this nature very seriously, so it had occurred to me that perhaps Today was the Day, and I would ride someone. However, I now realized that the horses had gotten through to Father also and that he had simply misinterpreted their communication, the images necessary to convey the idea of 1,000 lb animals charging around your front yard being unavailable in his conceptual lexicon. You would understand this if you saw the rectory lawn.

Nevertheless, as along with St. Augustine, I tend to believe in both a literal as well as allegorical interpretation, and as we were in a festive and frisky mood, I decided to play a little game with Bridget. After returning George to his pasture when I couldn't take any more of his shrub devastation, I put Bridget's halter on and led her up to the kitchen steps. I said, "Right, this is where you stand - oops, you don't move your butt away, just keep it there, right, here's a carrot. And then, see, I lean over your back like this, and - oh look - this is a good way to scratch your other side. And then here's another carrot." We repeated this three or four times, stepping away in between. I think it went pretty well; it didn't seem like we were really doing anything much - either from her point of view or from mine - which is what I was hoping.

Bridget and Rose stayed out a bit longer than the others to keep me company while I sat and drank my morning coffee. I'm liking this "sharing space" when the space we're sharing is my own habitat!

I had set aside this morning to clean up bedrooms for two of my college students arriving home tomorrow for the summer. However, when your parish priest and your horses gang up on you, what can you do, right?