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

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Operation Bridget

The good news is that Bridget is flat-backed and so Kelsey's (R.I.P.) old saddle fits her. The bad news is that Bridget is flat-backed and so, no matter how tight you fasten the girth, when you put your weight in the stirrup, the saddle is guaranteed to slip.

I've been looking over my journal from last year, and I realized I was spending a lot more time doing things with the horses last September. Having the horses loose in the yard on a regular basis means I can pop out for a minute or two here and there to say hello; I can sit on the porch and have a cordial chat with whomever happens to stick their head over the rail, or hand a carrot out the kitchen door. However, I think this interaction has meant I haven't felt the need to devote more time just to the horses.

So I decided Bridget and I have to get going with whatever it is we're going to get going with.

Today, I got out the clicker, filled a pocket with tiny carrot pieces, and fetched a saddle and bridle from the barn.

The first trick was learning to wait for the click, as of course once Bridget got wind of the pocketful of carrots, she was intent on getting as many as possible as quickly as possible. Anyway, she got the hang of that, and then we tried backing and turning. Maybe I shouldn't do so many things all at once, but Bridget's smart, and I'm impatient!

I'll need more time to work with the clicker to decide what I think of it. Having read on Song of the Black Horse that using the clicker creates a fast track in the learning process, I decided it was worth a second look.

Then I tied Bridget to the gate and put on the saddle. Hopefully one day we'll have a small space where we can tack up at liberty. I put on the bitless bridle, and it fits Bridget better than Rose, as Bridget's head is deeper, which means the cheek pieces are well away from her eyes.

We went for a walk. I was just determined we were actually going to go for a walk. Bridget stopped a few times, but she resumed walking each time, as I was clearly on a mission. I got fed up with being pushed off the dirt lane and onto the grass so she could eat, so I pushed her back and kept going.

I promised her a grazing break when we got to some shade trees at the bottom of the hill. She grazed for a while and then saw the COWS. She marched further down the lane to get closer to them, and they came scurrying over to the fence check her out. (Fence = 1 strand of wire, not electrified.)

Bridget was breathing fire and levitating, but happily she kept in touch with me and showed no signs of taking off. In fact she reallyreally wanted to say hello to the cows, but it was all a bit too scary. They were two-year old Holstein heifers. I know this, as their DOBs were on their ear tags, as were their names. Some of them had normal names, like Cayla and Caren. Others had weird ones, like Portage and Vision.

After the exciting cow interlude, we headed home. I asked Bridget to walk next to me without forging ahead. Whenever she got out in front of me, I stopped and waited for her to put herself back in position. And we practiced going real slow and then picking up the pace. I figure that if we're going to go out riding together, we'll need to have a sense of doing things together, listening to each other, being a unit. Walking together is a good way to start.

We stopped for Bridget to eat some particularly yummy grass.

At this point, Bridget was standing in a conveniently located ditch - hmm, good opportunity .... so I stuck my foot in the stirrup and hoisted myself up so all my weight was in the stirrup and I was leaning over her back. And - yes! - I clicked, then doled out a treat. We did this two or three times (putting the saddle back into position each time), and Bridget remained largely uninterested due to the profusion of herbage at her feet.

So, well, we're getting there.

Later, I went out for a dusk social call to the pasture. First Bridget came over for a visit, then George, then Bridget again. When George came over for a second time, he carefully placed himself into position behind me and proceeded to nudge me over to the gate. So I put the halter on, took him out, and let him graze all the way down the driveway and back up again before I turned in for the night. I thought it was very clever and cute of him to figure out how to tell me what to do.

George enjoying the fruits of his maneuvering.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


We've been having much-needed rain, along with unseasonably cool weather. But today looked like this:

So after church, and before taking the girls to the mall to look for Homecoming dresses, I took my coffee and a lawn chair into the field and plonked myself down under a tree.

Pretty soon I had company.

George and Rose didn't stay long, but Bridget wanted to hang out. Mostly she wanted to eat my chair. Having been dissuaded from that, she spent some time practicing putting her foot up onto my lap.

Chloe wanted to come over, but nobody would let her.

Then George made everybody go across to the other side of the field by the trees.

 I stayed put.

Yesterday, I came home in an antsy mood. I went in to the field with the brushes, and George came over to be groomed. Pretty soon, though, he nudged me over to the gate with his nose, so I put the halter and rope on, and we RAN down the drive and up the road. Whereupon I was completely out of breath. And moreover realized that I'd forgotten Chloe was out and that she'd followed us out onto the road. Retreat up the drive, jogging. Bridget and Rose galloped around the field and up and down the fence line, encouraged by the madly barking dogs who ran up and down in pursuit.

George and I ran around a bit more, then he grazed. After he was back, I took Bridget out and worked on asking her to move and stop. She is electric and is apt to react quite strongly to signals. I'm experimenting. She's very stolid about being climbed on and pushed and bumped, but if you come at her with a sharp intention, she responds sharply.

I'm thinking I really want to get riding.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Replace Your Divots

Today the horses went totally bonkers and galloped around the house about five times and around each of the fields at least once.

I don't know what spooked them, but the condition in which they left the lawn makes me fear that certain other family members are going to demand that their yard privileges be revoked.

One day, I might want to have a proper yard, and then what's to become of us?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Bird Whispering

We returned late this evening from a long day in Washington, DC with my daughter, her friend, and the exchange student, to find the dogs in a high state of pent-up agitation from their lengthy confinement. There was blue ink on the paws and nose of one of them, traceable to a mangled pen and further ink stains on the carpet of the downstairs bedroom. I hope that stuff I saw at Home Depot the other day works.

There was also a bird in my daughter's bedroom. My daughter and her friend went up stairs, and immediately came screaming down again. My fears of Something Gross were allayed when the cause of her alarm was revealed. She doesn't like birds at all - hence the over-reaction.

The exchange student, who displays an admirable and gratifying animal-craziness (she even tried to pet the DC squirrels today) ran up into my daughter's room, and I heard her say, "Cool!"

I grabbed a towel, which usually works really well for subduing and removing panicky birds, and went in to the room to catch the bird, which turned out to be a starling. We don't know how they get in the house. But they do.

I made several attempts to put the towel over the bird, but it kept evading me, and it began panting. So I decided maybe I could just treat it like a horse.

It was perched at the back of the bookshelf. I reached a finger up towards it, saw the bird tense, and removed my finger. I kept talking in a high voice, as I think birds are quite attuned to the sound of voices.

I kept this up - advancing, and retreating at the first sign of anxiety, and I kept up the baby talk. The bird moved position maybe once or twice, but it wasn't long before it was letting me pet it and scratch its chest. At first it drew the line at me touching the top of its head, but then I was able to stroke its head and beak and back. Finally it let me pick it up without struggling.

I called to my husband to immobilize the dogs, and to the exchange student to come and see the bird. We took it outside onto the kitchen steps, and I opened my hands. It sat quietly for a little while before flying away.

I didn't take any pictures, as I didn't think the bird would like that much. But here is one of its relatives.

Monday, September 5, 2011

New Friends for Rose and George

As this was Labor Day weekend, we had the pleasure of the company of my oldest daughter and her husband. My son-in-law has only been on a horse a handful of times, all when he was very young, but he's keen to learn to ride.

We formed a plan to take the horses out on Sunday afternoon. As often happens, when the hour arrived and we were heading into the house to get ready, the horses came over to us. George approached my son-in-law and nudged his back.

When we came out again, Bridget and Chloe were off in the field, and George and Rose were at the ready in the yard.

I'd planned to have my daughter ride George and to lead my son-in-law on Rose. But I thought I'd better check with George, especially as he'd already expressed an interest in my son-in-law. My daughter went to catch Rose, while I caught George and lead him over to my son-in-law. I asked George what he thought about who should ride whom. Sure enough, George walked up to my son-in-law and stuck his face in his chest. Pretty clear.

My son-in-law was captivated by George, who behaved very sweetly and meekly as we brushed him and tacked him up. I've been talking up the Spilkerization of our little household, and my son-in-law (a recent convert to dogs, and by extension to all animals, and with something of the convert's zeal) volunteered the astute observation that it might be better to just hang out with the horse for a few weeks and not bother about riding. I applauded this noble sentiment, but clearly George was already anticipating a ride, so I said it'd be ok to go ahead.

Meantime, my daughter was a little puzzled by exactly who Rose is. When I told her she was a Thoroughbred, but not a racehorse, for some reason everything became clear to my daughter, and she took a great liking to Rose. Rose again turned her head from the bridle, but as soon as she felt it heading straight towards her ears (meaning no bit), she relaxed her head toward my daughter.

The two riders mounted at the picnic table. I love the Wintec Endurance Cair panel saddle on Rose, which meant the saddle I put on George was much too small for my son-in-law. We made do, however, and set off. When we got a little way down the road, George decided we should turn off into the fields, which was fine by me, so we did.

My son-in-law, having felt a little trepidation in advance, found himself enjoying the ride, as well as the view from his higher vantage point. My daughter found Rose very green but willing to listen.

After a while, George began to express a disinclination to continue. The saddle situation was very much less than ideal, with - I imagine - some quite uncomfortable localized pressure. I suggested to my son-in-law that maybe George would prefer if he got down. He agreed with alacrity and was happy to lead George the rest of the way.

We continued home, and after the horses were untacked, the two riders and the two horses spent a little time together on the lawn. Rose always feels very bonded to the person she's been riding with, and she closed her eyes and kept close to my daughter. George's ears lopped out as he stood beside his new buddy.

Later, my son-in-law observed that George's attitude toward him changed over the course of their time together. He felt that at the beginning, George had sensed his uncertainty and lack of confidence and had been making a special effort to put him at his ease. Later, as he was leading George along, he felt that his confidence had grown and that George was not bothering to reach out in the quite the same way any more. I'd say that was true. I think my son-in-law will be good at this!

I also think George made a good call in choosing to ride with my son-in-law and having Rose go with my daughter.