Category: horses

Asked/Answered, Irritating People by Informing Them

My ole buddy Arab who learned lots with clicker and food rewards and also with classical training methods … he gets regular hand feeding now because he is nearly toothless. But he still enjoys any training session I want to offer him.

Do you ever reply to questions in Internet groups you’re in? You’re not one of those people who says stupid stuff, are you? I guess I am…

I wrote a reply to a woman who had posted a horse handling question on a Facebook group I’m in. She wrote, in response to some advice I’d offered, IN ALL CAPS! so she was yelling at me. She obviously didn’t want a stupid, behavioral, researched, positive-reinforcement kind of answer.

She believes I was off-target and didn’t understand what the problem was with this biting, kicking, angry mare. Oh yeah, that’s me.

What was I thinking? I knew I probably shouldn’t clarify when she brushed off the first person’s answer. But she was not getting it. Ugh! I have problems with leaving people in-the-dark when they are asking for some light on a solution.

Alas, elsewhere ignorance reigns. And the horse suffers – quite seriously in this case. Which is probably what spurred me on.

Should I have responded at all? Easy answer … Noooo! Do people actually honor FREE advice … mostly Noooo! Ah, they say thank you, but with no cost to them, there is also no value or commitment to the advice. Of course, this person didn’t say thanks…

The first person answering offered – how about clicker and positive rewards. I thought the questioner worried about the horse biting if she offered food rewards for behaviors. She wrote – “It bites.” So I said how to deal with resolving biting when offering treats … wrong.


I almost let it go. But then I did respond because, OK, I just didn’t want to let it go … and people who use negative reinforcement and punishment like it when it works. It’s a nice, for them, closed system – no thinking. Hence they tend to escalate their yelling or rude actions. Escalate, escalate, escalate … more, do it more, because it will work with MORE. But, what they don’t consider is it’s not good for them. It’s not good for them to be that way, it turns them bitter, shuts off their empathy and leaves them angry.

So I wrote, “You are absolutely right (I was being affirmative), the horse did need a different training approach (I was repeating her words) and that was offered by everyone who responded to your query.” (I wasn’t the only useless advice giver). And, I wished her all the best (definitely true –  plus I didn’t want her to yell at me anymore. Her negative reinforcement was working…grr).

Unwritten I wished some more stuff…

I didn’t say that her ALL CAPS shout was ironic. Although it was. It made me snort when I read it.

I didn’t chant, “Liar, liar, pants on fire!” since she had written that she used positive reinforcement. I wonder what she thought she did that the horse would think, yay, positive reward. Yay, you didn’t whip me! Yay, you quit jerking on my face! Yay, you quit bothering me by removing the pressure of your presence. Yay, you slapped me  and said **gibberish**.

(–Aside whisper– If you don’t know the difference – positive means added something the horse likes and negative means something aversive  taken away to reward behavior … the examples were negative reinforcement, the slap might be considered punishment and the gibberish, well is gibberish**horses don’t know English until taught words by connecting them with actions, but they do know threatening body language/tones)

I didn’t say, don’t take in horses to train when you know so little about — HORSES…

Or; How do I even know what the question really is when the writing is so lacking in key information…like not mentioning that she only wants new approaches in the same vein as what she has been using, just new, but the same … OK.

To be fair, horse training is mostly the use of negative reinforcement, advance/retreat, bits, whips, spurs, pressure – the good trainers are very specific and measured with its application because they don’t want to push the horse into too much fear or anger. And it works, horses remember. They are a high-fear animal and running away is their claim to fame. Beautiful runners.

Rougher trainers tend to work (find some success) with the calmer horses, because they can get away with it (they’d wreck the hot-blooded Arabs, thoroughbreds …) This horse was sent on to a rougher trainer, one who would ‘lay it down’. Euphemism – for tying up, throwing down and restraining until the horse gives up (learned helplessness, mental shut down and strong risk of physical damage).

What would you think are the chances of this ending well? And, who will be blamed? The horse.

Right …  The positives like food, eek! The anti-food line is a big, wide gap between what research says and what many horse trainers do. No, we don’t use food to train … that would be … cheating. And the horses might like it. They would come too close to us, get too enthused and we don’t know how to train them if they aren’t more afraid. We don’t know what to do when it comes to using food, except avoid or only give it once we get done training.  There is a long tradition of using the tools we use. They need to respect us (euphemism for fear).

True, that’s pretty much the way it rolls.

Yup, I gave her an example of how food could work to start to repair the inter-species rift, silly me. Will I do it again? Well not to her, but  …. oh heck, probably yes.





Hay Field, robins and horses

It’s Friday afternoon, a sunny beautiful day beginning Memorial weekend. I walked out my backdoor and thought the horses looked stunning in front of the neighbor’s hay-field, which is (unlucky for him) blooming in mustard flowers.

Photo taken from ground level and cropped to remove some extraneous foreground.
Photo taken from ground level and cropped to remove some extraneous foreground.

I took some photos from the ground level feeling grumpy about the fencing and the shrubs and the raised garden beds wanting to get in my way.

Photo taken from 10 feet up (deck).
Photo taken from ground level, more telephoto.

So I went up on the deck. Which raised my angle, but maybe not enough to make a significant difference. Except the foreground miscellaneous shrubbery was no longer a problem. Then upon looking at my screen I felt the span of the field was really the most interesting part of the scene.

Same 10 foot up view, landscape setting, no telephoto and cropped to highlight the spread of the field.
Same 10 foot up view, landscape setting, no telephoto and cropped to highlight the spread of the field.

A very pastoral scene, so quiet (except for the robins who feel I am too close to their nest and are making a major racket). So I went to investigate and found out the babies were leaving the nest. Only one remained and as it saw me looking at it, decided it was time to take flight.

Fledgling decided, despite days and days of me walking under this same spot, now is the time to abandon the nest..
Fledgling decided, despite days and days of me walking under this same spot by the dog kennels, now is the time to abandon the nest..
First it clambered up and out and perched between a support and the metal roof.
First it clambered up and out and perched between a support and the metal roof.
Then making the decision it wasn't a good enough location...
Then making the decision it wasn’t a good enough spot…
Out onto the horn to launch, briefly flying with parental encouragement and landing in the raspberry patch to rest.
Out onto the horn to launch, briefly flying with parental encouragement or maybe threats and landing in the raspberry patch to rest. Wow, caught the takeoff.

Now to help out, at least temporarily, a happy ending. I will keep the dogs in for several hours to give the fledglings a chance to find better spots to perch, or somewhere I don’t see their demise. And hope whatever eats them is actually hungry.

And with that … have a great Memorial Day weekend.


Watercolorhorses poetry

My watercolor art – I thought I’d create a haiku explanation. It seems that the same event, viewed at the same time creates different emotions in all of us. Only time reveals the most correct response, which is then boggled by differing memories.

For you non-horse body language viewers: the red horse wants to swirl and run, the brown/white horse is willing to investigate … but if the red horse runs the other horse will go with it.

Interesting isn’t it?

Spring Flowers Muck Below

Daffodilscrowrobbinwatercolor 003Here today in Wisconsin sunshine, above freezing and the dusting of snow we had this week is all gone (except for in deep shadows). Yesterday I was in the winter horse paddock with my high yellow boots on, adding fence. Scout, the lover of food, is determined to get onto pasture. I would love to oblige him, but the pasture is way too wet and would be quickly destroyed by enthused horse hooves.

We had amazing amounts of frost heave this year. Amazing, the ground rising a foot or even more in some trafficked areas. I’m not sure why certain spots heave so much. The ground under my horse trailer came up to nearly touch the underside of the trailer while the wheels stayed down. Two posts supporting our deck rose right through the deck, the others stayed in place. The horse winter area, insulated in many spots by horse manure, is a result of frost heave, thawing, and repeated precipitation … yucky.

So yesterday, in the muck, I became stuck. Really stuck. Thought I was going to take a dive or at least lose my boots – which would be very bad. You know the scene where Dorothy (Wizard of Oz) falls in the pig pen? I totally understand the horror of it. Sham (my old Arabian) came to the rescue and stood there patiently as I used him as a support. Each footfall became a question, “Will I be able to pick that foot up again including the boot?” Suction unreal. I got one foot onto solid ground, holding onto Sham, I still couldn’t get the other foot free. Totally crazy. No wonder Cola hesitates to come out of the run-in shed and then just leaps through to the feeding area.

So I let Sham, my anti-mud hero, have some time on pasture while I caught Scout and escorted him back into the, lets face it, awful muddy area. I’m hoping we’ll have several days of warm, ground drying weather soon. At least they have several good spots to be on and the run in shed is good, but they’re using it as a bathroom — hmm. Nothing to do now but hope for Mother Nature’s bounty.

Meanwhile the daffodils are blooming. Those are tough flowers. Come snow, sleet or frozen nights they still look cheery. I picked these for my husband’s birthday and then photo’d them this morning in a sunny window. Hope you are somewhere the ground isn’t clay infused and mucky.

If you don’t want dementia, log in a gratitude journal

I’ve noticed that gratitude is often born out of misadventure, maybe that’s why it wards off dementia. I mean, there are choices; remember the problems and spin them into gratitude examples – ‘optimism r us’ or remember the problems, but don’t figure out any solutions – which would be the opposite of finding a reason to be grateful. A dead end. Or let someone else provide the answers and be grateful for them – which seems somewhat lazy, especially if they also do the work – maybe really smart.

I’ve met some people with dementia who are optimistic despite continually having forgotten what they were doing, but I doubt they were writing a gratitude journal.

Does it really need to be a journal? Do you have to write it? And are there actually any studies on this or does it just sound nice? Expressing gratitude is pleasing for the people around you, maybe this is just a plot to get potentially confused people to be nicer? Whatever.

Gratitude entry #1: Yesterday I dropped a used syringe out of my pocket in the horse pasture and couldn’t find it despite doing many grid search patterns over the area.

I am grateful for horses who were willingly bribed to a new grassy fenced area before stabbing themselves. I am grateful the syringe was capped so being stuck with a long pointy used rabies vaccine tip is low. I am grateful I got my additional hiking exercise in a grassy rough horse poopie area as the mosquitoes were rushing into full power. I am grateful I didn’t pick up any ticks (none that I know of) in the search process. I am grateful I didn’t write a review for the syringe seller since I now believe clear, gray and black is not the best color choice for syringes used on horses.

Gratitude entry #2: Today I hit the turquoise new post button and ended up with the message, flash program not responding continue or end program, so I hit continue, then after many seconds the page came up and I hit inspire me. I waited several minutes and nothing – I suppose this, if it worked, would be the lazy version.

Thank you for the frustration that drove new thoughts on dementia. Thank you for the opportunity to write in a gratitude journal, since I was actually intending to post in my dog blog, but this at long computer pause, came up first. Thank you for letting me wonder if computer foibles are helping to drive the explosion of dementia … wanting to go somewhere, but ending up somewhere else.

Yeah. Feel much more cognitively sound!

However, it seems that the building blocks of dementia are put in place up to 30 years or more before its onset. I doubt that backdating the gratitude journal would fool anyone.

Gratitude entry #21788: I’m 25 years old, visiting Pearl Lake. Lovely day, grateful for the blue skies, warm breezes and warm sand on the shoreline. Water’s cold yet, but looks pretty.

Yah, unlikely I would put my age into a gratitude entry. Plus dementia turns back the clock, don’t need to jump start the process.

So exercise anyone? I’ve got a syringe to find.




20 below and 16 mph winds – yah it’s cold

Layers and mufflers, insulated boots and gloves – initially it feels OK. I really mean that, I’ve gotten acclimated over the last several weeks of a lot of below zero weather, but the difference is the cold seeps in fast and putting your hands in gloves in your pockets isn’t enough to help. The other thing is your face really needs to be covered.

If you haven’t been out in really cold weather I don’t think you can get a real idea of it. It’s much colder than a walk-in freezer, then again in wind blocked, sunny corners it’s a lot warmer. And usually when it’s this cold it’s bright. sparkly, sunny and the sky is clear, cloudless blue. This time, this morning it was cloudy and there was ice crystals blowing making it look like fog in the trees, but this afternoon…clear blue and cold.

This afternoon, along with the bright sunlight the wind has come up to a steady 16 mph out of the west. Wind and very cold, I’m glad I’m not a horse, but then again I’m amazed at how well they can tolerate it. But days of such cold wears on them and they get tired of wearing blankets too.

DeepFreezeJan5n62013 012a
Sunset on the coldest day of the year.

Give me 10 below or even 15 without the wind and I’ll be walking down Wester Avenue again.

Have horse will travel – what have you done lately?

Hornets, blown out tires, random farmer pit crew-like help, is this trip ‘doomed?’  Reggie swims most of a river trip, alcohol laden friend with expansive ideas on the amount of time available in the day and really sore muscles. Memorable, oh yeah!

Hay snack before ride.
Cola has a hay snack before being tacked up for the ride.

There was a gigantic paper wasp nest in the tack-room of the horse trailer under a patriotic red/white and blue saddle blanket. It took several dark flash-lit nights of Raid spraying expeditions – light, hold breath, spray-ay-ay-ay, then visit in the morning light to still see flying stingers, try again to quell the poor sleeping wasps living there. But one nest gone and thinking I’m home free and really ready for travel; not so fast pilgrim, another medium-sized one tucked in between the ceiling supports. Can’t load, fly spray, vaccination, stinger hating Cola into wasp hell, so I sprayed it down, swept it out and moved the trailer hoping that the ones out in the world wouldn’t find us again.

Tire check – 60 psi, 58 psi, 55 psi and 4 psi – what? One of the four tires on the old Featherlite horse trailer was reading less than 5 psi, not good on a 65 psi tire. Air it up and spray with Windex (the Greek, and maybe Italian answer to all things) showed a fizzling sidewall leak, ugh, not repairable. So with a call in to the Schierl tire place in town and a promise they would mount a new tire when I got there, off we went. Morgan horse loaded, Jack Russell terrier crated, sky is blue, air is warm, and myself packed and kind of ready to go on a 3-day riding, boating and partying weekend (OK so I don’t party that much, I don’t drink that much, haven’t been riding much this summer, I’m a married woman, but this is a single, partying girlfriend from teenage days which means reverting to old behaviors, kind of, and I’ve missed out on horse camping weekends this summer – it’s time and I’m committed).

The tire place was quick and with $100 less in my small brown leather purse we headed south with one new tire and three older ones.  I watch in my mirror for any tire weirdness, wobble, loss of rubber; which I don’t want to see, but did see 40 minutes, only 30 miles later. I just missed being able to turn off on a cross roads on hwy 29. There was heavy, speeding traffic as I got out to look at the hissing, disassembling tire. I’ve got about 75 feet to back up the trailer to get back to the crossroads, a little scary with the zoom of semis and cars whizzing past us. I don’t know, is this maneuver even legal?

Did it, only scrunching into one of those reflector posts slightly (the post was undamaged, my trailer fender and little fender light was crunched – oh well, I’ll need to replace the light and I pulled the bent edge of the fender back into place). Drive forward and back the trailer around that seemingly useless metal post and up into the intersection – yah, did it. Then across the 4-lane highway to a pretty white-painted farm.

ReggieAugsept2013 004
Reggie in his blue superdog cape.

Nice, friendly woman at the farm (if I was a hobo in the old days I’d put up a smiling cat sign by her drive) she used to have horses and was wistful about not having any now. She called her husband, he was at another farm up the road. He came in his green John Deer gator and had everything he needed except Raid – and I had that ready. He was fast, obviously had changed a lot of tires. I was impressed. Reggie and I played fetch, the nice farm-wife wished her daughter was there to see the cute terrier play, the pit-crew-farmer came to a stop when behind the spare there was wasps – Raid, sorry little striped stingers. Thank you. All I can say is thank you, that was sooo nice.

So now I don’t have a spare, two new tires on and two older ones. Keep going? Yeah sure, a little adversity – I’m still committed, but now I was running up against a time crunch for the first trail ride planned. Phaugh!, they’re always late, I’ll be able to make it.

And it was true, they were not even done unloading their horses when I drove in. I drive for three hours with delays, multiple emergency kind of delays and they drive for 15 minutes and we get there at the same time. I figured I had time to let Reggie do some fetching and Cola do some hay eating before I needed to saddle up, and it was true I had entered the time warp where everything runs slower and together, but many things have to be skipped.

We set off on our trail ride, along hwy 21. Eeoww, along hwy 21 there was some highway trash, a dead deer, a dead dog – one of the women riders thought she’d seen an advertisement looking for a lost husky – bummer, maybe we’d found him. OK, so this is a different kind of trail ride than I’m used to, so deal. Cola got real calm about semis swooshing by, that’s a good thing maybe.

We get to our destination, a person’s house, a very nice house. I turned Cola loose with the other horses we rode with and there was some horse posturing, horse exclamations timed with front leg fake strikes, but everything was good – the mares thought he was hot stuff. He thought he was hot stuff. It worked for them.

We had salty snacks (I mostly avoid salt) and alcohol (I don’t drink if I’m riding), the discussion swirled around alcohol induced verbal and judgement errors – many, and dismay over gay male beauty being a waste (I didn’t understand that reasoning although I’ve heard it before from other women).  The little dogs of the household milled about and barked often (Reggie would have fit in if he was there) – I had iced water, lots of it, it got dark, I did say dark – then we trail rode back along hwy 21 against the headlights.

Hmmm, good for one time and we didn’t get smashed on the road and turned into large road-kill. Cola was rather upset (just this side of a horse melt-down, I guess his day was too emergency filled) about two-thirds of the way back, we were walking too slowly, so I let him up front to stride out (burn up some stress) – still at a walk, and he was happy again and I breathed a sigh of relief. It’s always good to skip the I can’t see anything, road-side equine bolt.

Then it was time to figure out where Cola would stay for the night. My girlfriend thought he could stay in one of her pastures. I was thinking his trailer, as it was dark and I didn’t want to put him in a new pasture when he didn’t know where the fencing was with the chance of him going through it and injuring himself and needing to be found and vetted. We went to her place, she had wire fencing, no white tape, perfect for putting a real good injury on a horse that didn’t know where the fence was when other horses who lived there started chasing him. I said nope, he could just stay in the trailer. She said there was a round pen available which gave him more room and was still safe at a friend’s place, the same one we had ridden out of. It was only after I had him set and was ready to leave that I found out that barn had break-ins. Well Cola isn’t all that friendly to strangers and I hadn’t left a halter on him so I thought he’d be safe, please.

Eleven p.m. and settling in at my friend’s house, with Reggie walked, run, barely exercised – this is a Jack Russell, Benedryl’d -he’s got allergies this month, pottied and then crated next to the bed … tomorrow’s schedule included a morning trail ride, afternoon river kayak trip and evening dress-up dinner. Could we do it? My thought was, it was unlikely. Sleep, hmm, the bed was comfortable, but no I didn’t sleep much – first night in a new place, oh well and Reggie needed some extra night-time walks.

What do you eat at a girlfriend’s house where there is only chips, salsa, candy and beer. She obviously eats out. No fruit, no other vegetables, no breakfast stuff, but there was toast and butter and jelly and water. So next time I will bring my own food. I stopped at Kwik Trip for coffee and bananas, it was already after 9 a.m. The packed day was starting late.

I petitioned for horse schooling instead of trying to trail ride (because trail riding on the Bannerman trail out of Redgranite would take at least 3 hours and we were supposed to be north of Wautoma with kayaks at 1 p.m. – before which I needed to haul Cola back to the place with the round pen and leave the horse trailer there, the kayaks needed to be loaded and we would need to change clothes and hopefully have some lunch).

Schooling we did and my friend got focused on teaching her horse to load in her trailer and load in her trailer and load in her trailer with my help and my help…. It took pretty long. My efforts to prompt an early ending on a good note were ignored. I abandoned the trailering project and went to ride circles and squares with gait changes and starts and stops and lateral movements, because I needed to school Cola after that rather crazy hwy 21 trail ride.

Time to get going, time to get going – it’s 12:30 we’ve got to get going, ah, we can catch up to the other kayakers as they sit on sand bars and drink. Lunch? ah, nope. Oh, OK, I forgot, foodless time warp.

The Mequon River is a brown trout stream, cold, medium fast, clean, clear, sandy bottomed and Reggie wanted to swim it, not ride in the kayak. So he swam and kept up with the kayak and I paced myself next to him so if he got in trouble I could help him out of it. The banks weren’t always easy to get up on for a short dog, I swooped him up to give him a hand and warm him up as he shivered – cold water, warm sun, lovely day with a wet, anaerobic-stinky muddy, bouncy and determined to get back in the water 18 pound, well muscled dog on my lap. I lassoed him in the lime green Emotion kayak with his leash wrapped around my pale mud gritty leg, put a red, soggy PFD under him and clenched him between my dog-toenail-scratched knees until he quit shivering and relaxed. He still ended up swimming for a couple of hours, he was the entertainment and I was his keeper. It kept me occupied and grinning ‘cuz, you guessed, I wasn’t drinking or smoking. Smoking while kayaking, who knew? I guess it goes with drinking on sandbars.

The put in and take out were only about 2-miles of roadway apart, but about 4 hours of river-time. Did you say 5:30 p.m. dinner reservation? We put the boats in at 1:30 ish. Relax, time is flexible and it wasn’t really my deadline.

It was beautiful and everybody else was drinking (this is Wisconsin, the home of beer, and mixed drinks in plastic jugs) and there was no way we’d be done in time to do the dinner at the restaurant at 5:30. And I was starving, but who cares, it was beautiful and fun and beautiful.

We got to the take-out spot by the bridge at after 5:30 – surprise, the time warp doesn’t really extend to all areas. The sun was warm, the mud at the edge was particularly black and slimy and looked ever-so contrasty against Reggie’s otherwise white coat. Need to wash the dog off thoroughly, but not in this spot of muck.

It took a surprisingly long time for the rest of the party to catch up, and then to figure out how to get the put-in point vehicles. I was quietly amused, I had gone to the other side of the bridge where the bank was rocky and the bottom sandy to wash Reggie up, come back to the bridge top and realized he still had a muck area that  needed to be washed off, down to the river again. That didn’t matter, the others weren’t moving. They still didn’t seem to know who was riding with whom to go get their cars.

Finally people got into cars and seemed to know where they were going 20 non-time warp minutes later. But what about the dinner reservations? and the people expecting us? Too bad, it wasn’t happening. The decision, just go the quarter-mile into Dakota and eat at the bar there. Voila, problem solved, kinda. So how much did they drink on the river? A lot.

The bar we went to is a Wisconsin old-time bar with fish on Friday. It used to have a dance hall upstairs and downstairs it had been a store and a bar. The upstairs dance hall was closed after one of the drunken patrons fell down the stairs to his death. It was deemed the second floor’s dance hall’s fault.

One of my high school friends who was on the river trip bought several plates of fish, yeah bar food! I had a couple of rum and cokes on an empty stomach, whoa, needed food, any food, even deep-fried food. I checked on Reggie several times – untethered in a spanking new truck, but he wasn’t excavating anything. Reggie spent about an hour looking out the window of the shiny white pickup at the bar doorway, then he sacked out, since we were still inside, and slept. Slept deeply as only a tired Jack Russell who has conquered a river can.

My inebriated girl friend’s petitioning of the 6’8″ manager (I’m guessing on the height, but he was a skyscraper) to let him come into the bar was not successful, the dog needed the sleep anyway. The  river trippers were still amazed at his antics in the river, swimming, stick searching, root pulling. At the start, and many times after that during the trip people would tell me, “He’s stuck, he’s stuck!” with serious concern in their voices and I would have to tell them that he was hanging on – yes, I know his head is underwater, he’s bubbling. He actually did a flip when a root he was pulling on let loose suddenly – I missed it, but the story was told several times in amazement … that’s what he did in the sandbar pauses, root pulling and searching for stuff to pull up from the bottom. Very busy little guy – good fodder for bar talk.

It got stupid – as sitting in a bar will. There were negotiations on the price of bar T-shirts and a historic bar button-down shirt, minor food throwing – where in a piece of buttered rye bread was stuck to the recently painted white wall and unwanted fish got transferred to someone elses plate, threats of paddling with a wooden paddle that had hearts cut into it and long deliberations on what the inscription on it should be, and the historic shirt became unflattering head-gear (move over lampshade).

When I realized early on that I was buzzed, I stopped drinking, but the rest of the river crew didn’t and the eve went on. Talking to drunk people, they don’t remember anything, it’s repetition and laughs. I was obviously going to be the designated driver.

“Why do you have the keys to my truck?” was the question.

“Cuz it’s best that I drive.”

“OK, I still don’t know why, but that’s OK”

It was a very new white truck with some cool improvements – I’m still driving a ’96 4Runner, so I’m not up to date. I drove and listened to, not my favorite, Barry Manilow for the sixth cycle of the CD and sang along – why not? Reggie slept on.

I drove to the place where Cola was in the round pen to add hay and water, my friend just kept texting, turning the overhead light on so it was difficult to see and making apologetic calls about missing the planned dinner (it would have been better if she didn’t, but oh well). And wondering why we were taking the long route home – the horse, remember my horse?

Night 2, I slept well after a little while. Had to take a shower to get the mud and some pine sap off my feet. My girl friend was asleep immediately, no surprise there. Reggie was ready to continue to sack out also, good dog.

Woke up on another gorgeous day, heavy dew on the grass, crows making noise, but I had bananas and some yogurt from Quik Trip. Yeah, food for breakfast! But sore, scratched and bruised, sure I want to go riding for several hours this morning, just let me put on some padded pants (hey I’ve got them and they work, thank goodness). No hangover on my head, so sorry about yours. Ha ha, OK, not so sorry.

Bannerman trail is flat wide, grassy, lined with trees, lined with poison ivy in places – so take care on potty breaks, a nice trail. We have to ride through Redgranite, past the quarry, to get on it and Redgranite has a rule that horseback riders must wear reflective gear – got it.  A couple of hours of riding was enough, my friend declared that her horse was too stupid to learn more stuff. OK. Day 3, last day, did I say sore muscles, time to make the long uneventful drive back home. Uneventful.

Do you do crazy trips? Have old friends taken a different life path that you can visit sometimes?

Mare-ishness, moody horse? moody me?

Horseparts,sailboat,wedding,flowers2010 073

Training horses, especially if they haven’t been handled much can be a puzzle to start. A puzzle where you both don’t want to get hurt, but you also want to make sure they know what is being asked for so they can do it well for someone else. As with most animal training the usual methods tend to be rather abrupt and not how we would prefer being trained. Bits, spurs, whips are usually parts of a system based on negative reinforcement and punishment (definition of punishment is something done to suppress a behavior) and not the friendship of “My Friend Flicka.”

Cover of "My Friend Flicka: The Enduring ...
Cover via Amazon

I’m working with two mares aged 5 and 6-years-old in a mostly reward based model of training. They are quite bonded together and they haven’t had the benefits of early conditioning. I started working with them on the far side of a fence. Teaching them to cue to a hand target, learn a marker sound and then get a treat. They didn’t know about treats and they thought the marker sound was the electric fence popping – a good reason to jump back. I had to drop carrot pieces to get them to realize that was what was in my hand and another horse showed them that carrots were for eating. OK, so a week went by for this piece of the training, but they learned to come to my call, take a treat, not jump away just because there was a clicking sound.

Next I went inside. They have two inside stalls that also have outside access. Once they knew I was worth it, they came inside to play reward games. The key info I wanted them to know was they needed to do something, hear a click, then I would reward. They don’t get to mug me to get carrots. I wanted a come to me, look away for a click then hand out the treat – efforts to get into my treats got nothing except me moving out of range.

Then onto more hand targeting with the treats in the opposite hand. Then putting on the halter, then back steps to desensitize ears and poll area because they were quite worried about this. Then handling and putting on halter from other side. Then moving their head where the halter pressure indicated. Then backing a couple of steps.

So what did all this get me other than the above items? Much calmer and gentler horses who were much more aware of where I was and where their heads were in relation to me, I became much more valuable to them. Next I went on to sacking strategies. Inside of the barn there were cobwebs so I broomed them down and the girls were shocked, they left and came back and I rewarded their return and tried sweeping again a little less high. From there I went to a saddle pad and dancing in the aisle, pretty soon it was just a horse theatre with carrot munching. The next visit more of the same, just closer and higher until finally I could sweep their stall and put the pad on their heads, back and flapped against them.

On to playing with other usual tools. Bridling with the horses putting their heads into the bridle, they were not impressed with the metal bit. Whip as a pointer for cuing movement, but first desensitizing them to the whip as it had been used as a scare tactic before.

So yes, I am using the usual tools, but in an easier – this is what you do about this stuff way. I’m also going through about a pound of cut up carrots at each session and they are free to leave. If they leave I know I have not been interesting enough or I have applied too much pressure and they decided it wasn’t worth trying to figure out what I wanted. They have not wanted to leave (except when I scared them with the broom and when I first got out the whip) or to stay gone except today I got some hesitancy.

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I came to a point a couple of weeks ago where I felt the current system of run-in stall was no longer working. One mare seemed to be in-season and the ex-stallion was accompanying her there. I took the other mare out into the barn aisle for a separate stroll. It was working very well until the third mare decided she couldn’t stand it and attempted repeatedly to ram open the stall door and then stampede outside and loudly whinny her frustration. Anxiety is catching, I certainly caught it. All the conditioning I had done came in very handy as the mare I was leading got upset, but not unmanageable and I got her back inside with the others and unhaltered without an incident. Wheeow!

OK, time to separate one out for real. Why so long to do this? Partly the Wisconsin monsoon-like weather, but otherwise long term bonded horses can do crazy things when you try to separate them.

Out into the round pen, repeat all earlier training because this is a different location and without horse friends, at a sped up pace then onto things like fly spraying and surcingle and free lunging. And no crazy escape attempts…yahoo! She’s doing great up ’til today.

Today she was grumpy and she did seem to start out grumpy, so maybe in season. And maybe I asked for too much considering how well she did yesterday. Today with the surcingle on we got some crow hops and some tearing around instead of just nice movement, huh. And today when I left the enclosure I realized how few rewards I had actually given out, so who was actually being mare-ish and moody?

At the end of the lunging training, that wasn’t all it could be, I took the surcingle off and tried to see if she would target or do any very simple things with me, she just looked and then examined her underside where the surcingle had left a sweat pattern. She seemed to be giving me a clear message.

I took the equipment back to the barn and brought out the brush and fly spray. She was appreciative, but still not quite her usual self. I think I’ll check in again with her this evening with incentives at the ready and when the flies are less and the breeze is cooler.

Hay – horses need hay, grassy, clean hay

The pattern of everlasting, never-ending and always falling rain has finally, maybe too late, let up in northern Wisconsin and summer has arrived. The weather forecast showed more than three days in a row without rain and now the farmers are in constant motion, cutting, raking and finally baling hay. The sound of tractors pulling balers or rakes is constant and everywhere.

Large round hay bales with hay drying in rows in the foreground.
Large round hay bales with hay drying in rows in the foreground.

Hay is the food of winter. Hay is the difference of being able to support livestock and not. Not enough or too costly results in horses needing to be sold and cattle needing to be slaughtered for meat. I buy small bales for my horses, I like them to know who is feeding them and the small bales tend to be cleaner (not moldy). My neighbor, photos, makes large round bales. They’re usually cheaper per pound, but need special equipment to move.

Horse hay is grassy hay, so actually, right now is the usual time for it to be harvested for the first cutting. Cutting now gives the meadow nesting birds a chance to have raised their fledglings successfully. There are advantages to grassy type hay. The soils and climate in this county are really good for hay and trees. However, the lure of higher profits has tempted many to put in corn instead. And last year, for many up here, it worked, but not this year.

Alfalfa type hay, which is higher in protein, and needed for high volume milk production,  and gets woody and less digestible the longer it grows – this is late for it. Alfalfa had trouble surviving the winter, there were seed shortages and then the fields were too wet; so dairy forage may be in trouble.

Last year was very dry. It parched the fields. Our winter held on forever with snow and more snow. This spring was very wet with rain and more rain. It soaked the fields. We don’t have good drainage in Taylor County, we have standing water and runoff.

But after five days of summer breezes and warm temperatures, soggy wetness is forgotten. It’s haying time! And it’s typical weather for haying, hot. So if you’re out in the fields you’re sweating and coated with dust and chaff. But it smells good, well, unless you’re allergic.

Hey, we’re going to have hay you hay-burners you!

For the love of a horse

To love is to admire with the heart,

To admire is to love with the mind.                    — T. Gantier

For the Love of a Horse

His eyes are expressive, large and brown seeing into the soul of problems and seeing the reality, seeing and ready.

He comments with the traditional,TV sound-track whinny, with a question mark at the end, “Are we going to play? Hay?”

He is fuzzy with winter fur, chubby with winter hay, happy with winter sunshine.

He doesn’t like riding in trailers, but he likes to load up. He likes games and the jolly ball and carrying sticks.

Equine mystery

He is such a silly, quick, athletic boy and I admire him so. –JR