Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Hiking with the Four Leggers

On the Memorial Day holiday, last Monday, my husband and I took a few of our family four-leggers on a hike. My husband walked our two 50 pounders while I walked our 1400 pounder. We all enjoyed the trail and got some much needed exercise. Misty was a good hiking companion. She matched her pace to mine and didn't spook at all. I was hoping to come upon some mountain bikers, but no such luck. We did, however, see a man and a woman riding a tandem bicycle along a nearby road. Misty gave them a look but didn't get disturbed by the odd 2 headed creature cruising by.

It was lovely to see the new wildflowers awakening from their winter sleep and arising from their dry pine needle beds.

Spring has finally sprung!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

First Trail Ride in 25+ Years!

This morning, Marley and I went on a trail ride hosted by some local professionals who gave us pointers along the way. This was rated as a beginner ride which is exactly what Marley and I needed. Not only was it our first trail ride together, it was my first trail ride in over 25 years!! This was a big deal for me!

I've been waiting a long time for this and it was great fun to finally take one of those from-the-saddle-and-through-the-ears photos.

Riding among the pine trees was a treat for Marley and Me. At first, he was full of bundled energy and it was a challenge to stay one horse length behind the rider ahead of us. We did some circling, and flexing, and some zig-zagging along the trail to slow down and occupy Marley's mind. Half way through the ride he became more relaxed and mellow and it was a joy to ride him.

It was chilly and raining lightly when we started on the trail, but the rain stopped during our ride. It poured yesterday, so the trail was very wet with lots of water puddles to cross. This was a great opportunity for Marley, as crossing water has been an issue of his in the past. He was quite hesitant at the first couple of puddles, but soon he was sloshing right through them, mud and all. I was very pleased with him.

We also got some practice going up and down some small hills. This is a challenge for Marley since he has a very drafty build with a big thick neck and is naturally very heavy on the forehand.

Toward the end of the ride, I could tell Marley was getting tired; he began stumbling here and there for no apparent reason.

Back in the parking lot, the ride is over, and I have a goofy smile from ear to ear. I love my chunky pony! But do you see how muddy his legs are?

The last stumble Marley took was a big one. The other riders said he went down onto all four legs. I thought for a moment I was going to taste dirt, but I stayed on and he recovered. I'm confident he'll get better with more experience and conditioning.

I hope this is the first of many trail rides for Marley and Me.

Next post will be on Wednesday.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Horses Cure TV Addiction

I like to watch TV. But since returning to horse ownership, my TV watching minutes (ok...hours) have dropped drastically. So much so, I never saw the commercial for the FurReal Pony by Hasbro.

I say the thing needs to poop for the full effect of pony ownership. They should fill it up with little plastic Wiffle balls that fall out the back every 3 hours.

Is there anything good on TV tonight? No? Oh well, it doesn't matter. I have to feed horses and do barn chores. That's better for the soul than TV any day.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Misty's Monday Muse

It's a beautiful, warm, sunny day here. Marley and I have been lazy and sleepy, relaxing in the shade. Marley is kind of an indoor nerd. He's been inside the barn most of the day while I've been keeping watch outside from the shade of our porch. A mare's work is never done. It's always up to us mares to protect the geldings.

My Lady has decided to take Marley to a nearby arena for a ride this evening. She just got done backing the truck and hitching the gooseneck horse trailer all by herself. She kept easing the truck forward and backward, and got in & out of the truck at least half a dozen times to check her alignment of the coupler. I nickered some encouragement to her. She only backed the lowered tailgate into the trailer once. Then she crawled in and out of the truck bed a couple of times to lock and secure the hitch, attach the safety chains, and plug in the brakes. Whew, I'm exhausted from just being a spectator to this odd dance. She's gone inside to rest a few minutes and have some ice water and a piece of string cheese before fetching Marley.

This is the first time My Lady has hitched the trailer without anyone guiding her. She says it's nice to have a man around to help, but a good horsewoman also has to be strong, capable, and independent.

Be a good boy on your ride Marley.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Little Life on the Prairie

This evening my stepson was tossing a baseball with some friends outside. As he was running for the ball he spotted this tiny nest in the grass with 3 hungry baby birds huddled inside.

I snapped a couple of pictures in haste because I knew we were treading where we should not. Even though it is blurry, you can see these 3 are anxiously awaiting a parent to return with dinner.

I'm not sure what kind of birds nest in the prairie grass. Perhaps a Grasshopper Sparrow? Do you know what kind of birds nest in Colorado grassland? I'm amazed. The ground seems like such a dangerous place for a bird nest. How can the parents protect them from Fox and other prairie predators? I hope they survive.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

HOAs vs Horses

HOA = Home Owners Association

Unless you are fortunate to live on a 500 acre ranch, you probably have to deal frequently with nearby neighbors. Sometimes that can be challenging.

We live in a community with a very active HOA and strict covenants. This has its pluses and minuses. It's nice to live amongst well kept homes and uncluttered lots. But like many such covenanted communities, we have our share of feuding, fines, and lawsuits. Most of us play well with others, but it only takes a few people to cause grief for everyone. Oddly, we even have some homeowners who do not like horses. Why would anyone who does not like horses buy a home in an equestrian neighborhood? They should be living in a condo in the city.

Fortunately, we are in the good graces of our HOA and the AC (Architectural Committee). We followed the covenants closely when we built our barn and they were delighted with the result. But I worried when I recently purchased my horse trailer. There is a lot of strife in our neighborhood over trailers, tractors, and implements that are not properly parked and screened. However, because this is an equestrian neighborhood, horse trailers are expected to be here. We don't have to build a huge fence around them, but we do have to park them as discreetly as possible, preferably behind a home or barn so that they are not visible from the street.

Being good citizens, we had a special parking pad created for the horse trailer. It fits nicely right behind our house which hides the trailer from the street. I went one step further to please our neighbors. Rather than choosing red paint to match my truck, I had the trailer painted in a color that most closely matches the house. Afterall, it will spend more time parked next to the house than hitched to the truck. It worked out nicely and the AC committee was quick to approve our plans. Here is how it turned out:

Dirt and boulders were brought in to create a retaining wall and parking area.

I've gotten really good at backing around a 90 degree angle to park the trailer. I just have to be careful not to back up too far.

The trailer; discreetly parked and camouflaged.

Happy horse owner. Happy HOA.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Misty's Monday Muse

Marley and I were up to mischief today. My Lady is not very happy with us. She got home from work early and all was well. We were the picture of innocence. She fed us our afternoon snack and went inside to finish her work from her home office.

We aren't allowed in the pasture yet because the tender new grass is growing. We usually get to move about our dry lot all day, but while we were at school some sweet, young grass grew in there. My Lady doesn't want us to overeat and get too much sugar that we're not used to, so she's been gradually increasing our time in the dry lot. Eventually we'll have enough time out there to kill the grass so it can be a true dry lot. But we are impatient.

At 4:30 My Lady came out to turn us into the almost-dry-lot. She stepped outside the garage door and was surprised to see Marley loose on the property.

Marley! What are you doing out here?

Then she found me on the other side of the house, doing the same thing as Marley - gobbling grass as fast as my teeth could snip! We were both outside the fencing, completely loose. But with all this grass everywhere, we didn't go far and hadn't been out there long enough to poop. So no harm done.

Misty! How did you two get out?

Then she saw it.

The corral panels were all cattywampus and separated from the barn.

Yahoo! This is where we made our escape.

My Lady is perplexed. She's wondering how and why we pushed these panels out. But we're not telling.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Misty & Marley Return from School

Misty and Marley are home now, but their education has just begun. Mine too.

Kathleen and Erin concluded that Misty is not tuned in enough to the human. She is easily distracted and scared by noises and things happening around her, but does not look to the human for guidance and reassurance.

There was a lot of activity at the ranch and Misty would become agitated whenever she heard voices or machinery or strange sounds outside. She would even get disturbed by the popping and crackling sounds metal buildings make as the temperature changes or the wind blows.

This spooky behavior and lack of attention to her leader (the human) is something that needs to be fixed on the ground before anyone gets in the saddle.

For a couple of days Kathleen and Erin did a variety of exercises to get Misty's attention focused more on the human, whether the human was moving about freely or giving instructions from the lead rope.

On the last day of school, they did more ground work with Misty over and around ground poles; sometimes isolating instructions to Misty's individual feet until she became very light and responsive.

It made a big difference.

Near the end of Misty's last lesson, we heard voices outside the arena, followed by miscellaneous banging and clanging, and then the sound of a 4-wheeler engine starting. Previously, Misty would have become flighty, but this time she remained calm and focused on her handler.

Do you know how horses will often lick their lips after receiving a release during a "pressure/release" training session, indicating they "got it"? Misty went beyond lip licking to a kind of yawn that included working her jaw back and forth. She also did this several times during our 2-day horsemanship clinic, after we completed our exercises and she was given a minute to relax and ponder.

Perhaps this is a combination of stress relief and a great big "I GOT IT!" going on in her mind. I find it very interesting.

We have some homework to do now, until our next lessons begin. I will continue the ground work exercises with both Misty and Marley. I purchased some landscaping logs to use as ground poles.

Marley has an additional assignment to do some longeing on a hillside. He's very heavy on the forehand and needs practice getting his hind end under him while going down hill. Erin discovered he is very uncoordinated when she rode him down a hill and is concerned that he could fall easily. Being a therapy horse for so long, Marley didn't get his mind or his muscles challenged very much. I'm hoping to take Marley on an organized trail ride soon and this particular trail has some steep switchbacks that we must travel down. We did a little hill work this afternoon and he was a bit cranky about it. We'll do more.