Winter on the Farm

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I saw an interesting image on the Facebook the other day, and thought I’d share it:

 

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Truth! The one thing that is not mentioned? No sick days – no matter how ill we may be!

My husband has been rather ill with a high-fever the last few days, and BOY, has it ever made me appreciate the speed with which he can clean stalls. He is also very meticulous about it. I’m meticulous, but painstakingly slow, haha.

Anyhow… off to bed. I’m trying to avoid catching whatever crud he has… fluids, rest and lots of time outside in the fresh air!

Training

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Yesterday was wonderful: my trainer came out, one of my students took a lesson with her, my friend and fellow instructor varied her riding partner by using her husband’s quirky horse, and my friend Jessie trailered her horse in from her new farm.

I loved watching my student learn something new with D. I had been eager to watch this excited nine year old girl work with my trainer, to see what exactly my mentor would work on, and how she would approach it. My student, “K”, is a bright, enthusiastic rider who is so quick to learn about all things equine. We had been working on trotting in our more recent lessons, and I had been gradually introducing the ideas of utilizing one’s legs as aids (aside from “go”), and relying less dependently on the reins. Well, D took a whole new approach with K… they worked on some groundwork, and K was in love with it! I don’t think she cared one iota that she spent a bit less time riding than usual – she just enjoyed working with the horse, learning something new, and learning to teach her horse something new! It was glorious to see, and I’m so proud of K and her growth as a young rider!

I didn’t get to watch most of the other lessons, as I was getting my booger of a horse ready. I did see that D hopped on my friend/instructor’s horse, who has a tendency to move lazily, and sometimes demonstrates strong, defensive tendencies when asked to move out more. I wish I’d have been able to watch and see what techniques they were utilizing to work with him! I also caught of few glimpses of Jessie’s ride, and she and her horse have come leaps and bounds! Her formerly eager-to-lope horse carried himself in a beautiful frame and demonstrated a very steady tempo at the trot (a great departure from his former head-tossing, speeding-up, slowing-down self).

Then there was my gelding and I. I could tell I was going to be in for a special lesson today – I hadn’t worked with him as much as I should have the last month or so. It had warmed up outside, and everything was damp and misty. My boy stands nicely (relative term, of course) in the cross-ties when he can look out the aisle door and see his friends in their paddocks. Without the visual distraction of other horses, he is fidget-y to an extreme degree, and yesterday, because of the dreary rain, they stayed inside. No visual distractions to focus on for him. K had wanted to help groom, but for safety’s sake, I had to ask her to stay out of the washrack, as I didn’t want my 16.3hh horse accidentally knocking her about.

He calmed down once we were in the arena. I lunged him, and he was brilliant – he transitioned easily between most of the gaits and was very attentive to the cues I gave him. I’m very proud of this accomplishment, as I said in previous posts – his former idea of “lunging” was to walk as close to me as possible, carefully watching for his opportunity to crowd my space and stop. He danced for mounting (a departure from our quickly-learned ability to line up at any given mounting stool/ramp/block), and started off as soon as my seat was in the saddle. We started right out with turns on the forehand. I knew how to do a turn on the forehand… I thought. Okay… so, maybe I had the idea, and had been lucky to ride horses who “mostly” got it… yesterday, I learned how to teach my horse to properly execute this maneuver. He still doesn’t “have it”, but that will be incorporated into our work for the next few weeks. After it became evident that my horse was very confused by my insistence that he look one way, and swing his hips another while keeping his front leg planted, D had me hop off. He really wasn’t responsive to the leg pressure, except to try to move forward. Whoops.

We started working from the ground, me at the girth, one rein in hand. Applying pressure to the area where my leg would go to ask him to move over resulted in him moving forward, backward and every-which way… except sideways. He even was side-kicking at us, out of irritation. Then suddenly, he took a sideways step! Yayyy! I Let that sink in for a minute, then asked for another! This funny waltz continued until he seemed to be moving his hindquarters independent of his front more consistently. Then, I hopped on and rode him in a square, asking for a few steps of a turn-on-the-forehand at each corner. We have some big work cut out for ourselves! I am confident that with practice, it will come together!

… begins with a single step.

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(Continued)

I made it a point to spend a little time with this horse everyday, after we legally became his owners. He hated the cross ties, and danced about with his head high in the air. The lack of direct attention over the time he’d been abandoned resulted in a horse who wasn’t sure who or what to trust. He was very sweet, and never offered any acts of aggression – yet, his sheer size made him dangerous to handle, as he was at the ready to jump sideways with every sound and movement.

After a few days of coaxing, and gentle attention, he seemed to calm down a bit when he was being groomed. I took him into our arena and did in-hand (training exercises from the ground) work with him. If you asked him to trot in hand, his head would fly up in the air, and he’d plant his feet, wild eyed. He was certainly unsure. When I tried to lunge him, he’d walk in a circle at arms length, but anytime you asked him to go further out, or faster, he’d stop. Apparently, he didn’t have a history with lunging. The owners brought the horse here, and visited and worked him so infrequently during the time that they were active owners, we really had no clear training history to work with. We knew he’d been trained in the discipline of Saddleseat, but did not know whether he’d excelled, or if he was a constant challenge.

It soon became clear that this boy needed a leader – someone to teach him to be unafraid. Someone to be brave for him, to encourage him. My first ride was tense. Initially, due to my inexperience, I had someone else mount for the first time – my instructor at the time swung her leg over, and we soon learned he didn’t have brakes (or at least, he’d forgotten them). He would walk and trot and slow down, but “whoa” was not in his vocabulary, unless you went to the center of the arena. After a few rounds, I hopped on and walked him around. We discovered that, aside from his unfamiliarity with “whoa”, he was as flexible as “Pokey”, Gumby’s putty horse sidekick:

Gumby's horsey side-kick, Pokey!

Gumby’s horsey side-kick, Pokey!

At this point, Matt and I were still unsure about finding the right home for him. Several people who had seen the “Lien Foreclosure” ads I’d posted had recognized the horse, and contacted me. While I appreciated their candor in describing his sad past, I was not comfortable sending him back to the world of Saddleseat farms. The constraints put on the horses in the form of weighted shoes and tail-sets just didn’t sit right with me – time and again, I came back to the same thought: “This horse has been through enough stress…”

I rode him weekly, although we did little more than work on basic steering (he exhibited great contortionist ability – pretzling himself to avoid turning when he didn’t feel like it). We worked on walk/trot transitions rather infrequently. Each ride, he spooked at something. While he never offered to buck or rear, jumping five feet sideways became our signature move. There was also the occassional “bolt”, where he’d spin on a dime, jump five feet sideways, and then take off with his tail flailing wildly behind us. God’s good grace kept my butt in the saddle. Falling 5’7″ to the ground from a running horse is not something I’m okay with…

At the same time that I was learning this beautiful horse, I was also learning how to become an instructor. I needed to restore my confidence after a few scary moments with my mare made me afraid of cantering. My head was spinning. I knew my new boy needed a future that was safe and secure, but I wasn’t sure I’d be the best fit for him. Really, I wasn’t sure what either of us needed.

After watching her present and teach at several Michigan horse expos, I approached an accomplished dressage trainer. A bit of research between expos taught me that “D” not only excelled in her own personal riding career, she had coached many horses and riders to success. Her down-to-earth techniques and kind approach to training both horse and rider were exciting. I nervously approached, her, and soon I was describing to her my fear of cantering. That progressed into the conversation about this great horse who needed help. It turned out that this encounter would be a step in a new direction for this horse and myself…

My first lesson, I showed up at “D’s” barn, nervous and unsure about what to expect. She put me on the tallest Arabian I’d ever encountered, who liked to threaten to canter, but was an old pro. That lesson ended up being so refreshing, I left with a renewed enthusiasm for riding. I couldn’t wait to go back… and hoped I’d be able to convince her to come to our farm, where I could work directly with my horse under “D’s” tutelage!

A journey of a thousand miles…

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I’m going to take this blog in a bit of a different direction for a while.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step…”

From here, I’ll be discussing my growth as an equestrian, and many of the large, small, graceful and faltering steps that form this journey. It isn’t just my journey – there are many key travelers here, from my amazing husband, to our gaggle of animals, friends and family. I will share my experiences here: good days, bad days, encouraging experiences, discouraging moments, and of course, our mostly small, but daily, successes. You know… your everyday, run-of-the-mill accomplishments, such as “Hey! I just realized that, through some miraculous pony-epiphany [brought about by a lot of persistence and consistency] I’m not struggling to get this horse to stay in his stall when I bring him in anymore! We have an understanding – one that my wrist fully appreciates!!!!” (Maybe I’ll describe this story in more detail later…)

I’m a therapeutic riding instructor, and the bulk of what I have learned in my evolution as a farmer has been about horses and horsemanship. I’ve had an amazing support system to help me develop a discerning eye and careful approach to horsemanship, one that I’m constantly honing and hope to record some larger-scale successes with, someday. I’ve come a long way from being the little girl who loved horses so much that childhood friends tell me “I saw a horse and thought of you!”. I’m always in pursuit of growing as an individual… I’m constantly learning new things about what goes into providing the best care for the horses, and how to manage the business of horses. What is the best feeding option? What does lameness look like? How do you stab a 1200 lb animal with a needle and have it not kill you? What types of tweaks do we need to make to our boarding agreements? What goes into caring for a horse (or 18 of them)? I’ve learned so much already, and there is so much more! FACT: I drive my husband batty! He is so tolerant, good-natured and supportive! I am eternally grateful beyond words…

My next few posts will be about my experiences riding, learning and training the horses I live with. Whether it is teaching an old gelding that was used to going freely in and out of his stall that it isn’t O.K. to drag me down the barn aisle when he didn’t want to be in his stall, or learning how to most gracefully avoid having feet stepped on by the horses… I’m constantly learning about horses, and teaching the horses I work with. Every moment I’m  handling a horse, the horse is learning something – whether I’m reinforcing previous training, or teaching the horse a new expectation.

In brief – I purchased my first horse after having taken lessons on and off throughout my life. She is a beautiful, kind girl with a firecracker personality. While bucking isn’t really her thing, going slow isn’t, either. After a few near-mishaps, where she bolted like a rocket and ran until she felt like stopping, I developed a fear of cantering, which significantly impacted my growth as a rider. Now, I’m going to jump ahead a few strides…

Here is a story of the “beginning” with one of our horses… my special boy!

Four years ago, right before my husband and I were married, we were faced with a very sad situation. Horses were brought to the farm, and for whatever reason (the economy, poor money-management skills, or worse – lack of responsibility and accountability for a dependent animal), they were left here. It was right when the economy tanked – apparently it was a common phenomenon. There were four horses. Two of the horses were owned by a woman and her daughter who had not paid board for about a year and a half, and had not come to visit their horses in even longer than that. One beautiful little mare was owned by a woman who seemed to have substance abuse issues. The last (and possibly saddest) was bought at an auction, dropped off with the first month’s board, then the owner dropped off the face of the earth. I had never met any of these owners, although I had spoken with a few of them on the phone.

Hello! That was my “welcome” to the world of “horse boarding”. Each time contact was had with the owners, they were offered to just pay what they could and come get their horses. Apparently, they weren’t in the position to move the horses, or they didn’t want to. Either way – over a year, period, is far too long to be responsible for caring for someone else’s horses who aren’t receiving necessary medical care and having their needs attended to (aside from being fed, provided with a clean stall, and let in and out – all by someone other than the owner, who was supposed to be getting paid for these services). It was far beyond necessary to remedy the situation.

After relying on my background in legal studies, and seeking the legal counsel one of the nation’s most reputable “equine” attorneys, we set in motion a sequence of events that resulted in new homes for most of the horses, and us owning a beautiful, lost horse. That is where this story begins. This was where a journey of a thousand miles began – our first step.

I’d handled him enough, this worried boy. Soft eyes, and a curious spirit. Always deep in thought, pondering some concern – ready to take flight at the slightest inkling of anything awry. He looked sad. This tall, dark and handsome horse was every little girl’s dream, and yet so scared of life that to handle him meant risking being jumped on by a 1100 lb lap dog. Yet, he was affectionate and playful. He hung tight to my heels, his nose at my elbow, and would instantly puff himself into a nearly 8ft tall panicking monster when anything unexpected occurred. I was scared of him. And I loved him.

He’d been through enough – I’d learned through word of mouth that he’d been abandoned at other boarding and training facilities several times in his life, by the same owners who left him at our farm. Somehow or another, they’d managed to drag him out of those situations and to a new barn where he’d again be left. What a sad existence. Matt wasn’t particularly excited about the prospect of keeping him, but we were both sure this horse deserved better than the life he’d had thus far. There was only one way to ensure that he’d have better… and that is the “beginning” of the journey – when he became my accidental horse.

The cycle stopped here, and our journey began.

My sweet boy...

My sweet boy…

Pre-Fall Morning

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It has been quite a while since I’ve posted! I woke up quite early today (I know, I know: I’m a farmer, “early” should be my middle name. It’s not.). While the coffee was brewing, I grabbed the camera and stumbled groggily outside to soak up the early a.m. ambiance.

It was glorious! Actually made me wonder why I don’t do this more!

This morning, there was a brisk fall chill in the air. Fall is my absolute favorite time of year…although it directly precedes winter, I choose to focus on the positives 🙂 To me, fall symbolizes a preparation for new growth (I know, this is contrary to the popular idea that Spring symbolizes new growth). It is a time to fully absorb all that has been accomplished, and plan for the future. Fresh apples (okay, so this year, there are literally absolutely ZERO apples on the local trees – makes me sad), apple cider, donuts, squash, pumpkins, fall leaves. I LOVE it!

 

 

The Vines

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The Vines

Last, but not least, the grapevines! They are almost waist-high on the trellis now! I’m so excited!

P.S. I thought I should note that, I don’t know exactly what all of the plants in the garden are because they have been shared from friends, who may or may-not recall what exactly they are sharing 🙂