Nope, I'm not talking about horses that spook! At least not this time. I'm talking about the spooky happenings that are fairly common around here. These happenings are related to horses and since Halloween is upon us....
This farm has been here for decades upon decades. Not always in the same form (the house used to be down in a lower field, the barn was much smaller and in a different place at one time). But, it was always a farm. I mean, at least since the time of the establishment of the nearest town. People were born in the old house - so we are talking that it has been a farm for THAT long. I want to research the history of the area itself, specifically things like Civil War times, but I haven't had time to do that yet and it doesn't relate to this post. Nope, this little post is about Prince.
Not THAT Prince, although that too makes me sad still.
So, a long time ago, when the farm was set up a bit different and there was a tiny, old farmhouse here, there was also a little horse named Prince. I'm told he had a black head and a white body. That would have most likely made him a Paint horse, a Tobiano color pattern. Oh, as an aside if you want some great reading on Paint color patterns, something I find incredibly fascinating (and confusing), check out the APHA Color Guide by clicking -
So this little horse lived here. I think at the time that tragedy struck I have heard he was 10 or so. See, unfortunately, the farmhouse burned and the family was without a home. Not being able to afford to rebuild, they moved to town with other family. Not knowing what to do with Prince (remember this is waaayyyy back), they opened the gates in the fields and let him go. Only he didn't go. He stayed right here as a free-range horse for another 7 or so years. People would see him in the fields, they would throw him hay in the winter, bring him apples and carrots. The person that told me the story said that he was found one spring in one of the abandoned barns. He had died over the winter.
Although the story itself makes me sad and angry, the story doesn't end there.
Not long after getting here I noticed things. I would be at the barn working and I would feel like I wasn't alone. I would catch glimpses of "something" out of the corner of my eye but nothing was there. It was bigger than human form so I was sure it was not of us. And on several occasions I have heard a horse "blow" behind me (this is when they exhale a little puff of air - they do it in greeting sometimes or just as a long sigh) and when I turn around expecting to see our horses in the run-in, there is no one there. A quick check outside will verify they are all the way out in the big field. I will hear a horse paw at the ground sometimes, or just feel an equine presence.
All of these oddities are what led me to ask about the history of the place and also led me to the story of Prince. No doubt there are other horses here, long forgotten and in the earth. On horse farms there is a standard operating procedure of burying horses that have died of old age or tragedy right there on the farm. There are no "horse cemeteries" and from a practical standpoint, it is best to get something that big taken care of so that predators and scavengers are not alerted to it. Given that this farm at one time was also a breeding farm for Arabians, there are likely more horse spirits wandering these fields.
I like to think that when I hear Prince behind me or glimpse him out of the corner of my eye, he is just hanging out and checking out what I'm doing. I like to think he is happy there are horses here again and that someone is taking care of the place. I'll put some apples and carrots out in the field for him tomorrow night, because I'm sure he'll be prancing around while the veil is thin, a free-roaming spirit horse that would not leave his home, even when presented with the option to do so.
My girlfriend's horse looks almost identical to the horse in this picture. He is sleek, listed as a dark bay but really he looks black most of the time, he moves beautifully. In other words - He's Purdy.... He can be a cranky little shit at times too and despite having an impressive bloodline he is more or less a rescue (I say this due to the way he came about being her horse). Some of his history is a bit sketchy and we can't piece it together. His prior owner only had him for about 8 months and we talk about how perhaps because of his attitude he may have been passed around a bit. As a result of all this, he is a little hard to trust. And he is not prone to give trust easily either. He looks at just about everything suspiciously and there are people he likes and people that he just.does.not. He looks at working with a grudge on his mind at best. When his ears are forward, you count that as a good day.
Being so different than my own horse - lazy yet laid back, unregistered throw-away, comic relief of the barn, never (cross fingers) sour although sometimes just plain humorously rotten - it takes me a bit to adjust myself when I am around him, which I started doing about six months before we actually moved and moreso once is became firm that he would eventually live with Takoda and I.
It is odd how we center ourselves via our own horse. Having had Takoda for two years now, I was thinking the other day about our own rough start, realizing he knew very little of anything other than following the line of horses ahead of him, his issues with touching his feet, his own pushy nature, etc... On Sunday I was braiding his tail, having just washed some of the winter crud out of it and he half leisurely, half "omg are you done messing around back there" lifted a hind foot and just barely stomped it. Just ever so barely... Such a small movement that most people would not have even noticed. I lifted my eyebrows like any mom and said - excuse me WTF did you just do? And he dropped his head in embarrassment. He was bored, see? And tired of me messing with his tail and he just wanted to go back in his stall and eat hay. So, he half-heartedly found a way to say - moooooommmmmmm hurry up. He wouldn't have kicked - he knew it and I knew it, so I was extremely comfortable reprimanding him via voice and not moving from what I was doing.
It isn't that we are less careful with our own horse. Well, sometimes we are and we probably shouldn't be. But, normally it just means that we get to know them so well that we have a connection, a feel, an understanding of their quirks and oddities.
Now that I have been caring for my friend's horse daily for two full months I am getting to where I understand some of his as well. I can read him better than when we were all boarding. Part of it is a matter of the simple acts of food, water, bringing in from the field, sending out to the field. The other part is actively looking at the differences (and similarities) in how these two communicate. One thing that is odd to me, yet makes sense in the horse world, is that Takoda is actually the Alpha. He "herds" the other horse to where he wants them to be in the field. He dictates where they will stand in the run-in. I am assuming this is part of why Angus is so hell bent on dominating people at times. I don't know what the pecking order was in his prior herd but at their boarding barn they were both somewhere in the middle. However, Takoda was more of a loner and Angust was more....well, he was willing to be the little kid that follows the bully around and says - yeah and take that - to the other horses.
LOL. It makes me think that maybe we just need a damn mare to put them both in their places.
Welcome to my fantasy. The photo to the left is how I would have my horse life be if everything were utterly perfect. Sighhhhhhhh....
This is sort of a post about horses. Mostly it is a post about gossip, life and renewed commitments we could all probably use. Life at a boarding barn as it exists in the present, gossip because it is the root of all evil and renewed commitments because I have several.
See, despite being frightened as a mouse that finds itself suddenly in the mouth of a cat (which actually happened to one poor soul yesterday when, as I opened the door to under my kitchen sink Obi dived into the space and ensnared an unsuspecting little creature simply out for a morning jaunt to the nearest kitchen trashcan) about venturing out on our own, we are committed to doing so. SEE PRIOR POST. And, I will not lie about the fact that although there are pluses involved in your horse having residence at a boarding facility, there are many, many minuses.
People stuff is everywhere in life. It is one of the reasons I tend to keep to myself, carefully monitor my on-line time even... But, it seems like boarding barns are simply chock full of drama with an extra dose or two and I am not sure why. I have argued against the offhanded sexist belief that it is normally because they contain mostly (or in the case of my barn only) women. But, gosh....so much of what goes on in them (and this isn't the first boarding barn I have been a member of) centers around gossip, snarkiness and stuff I haven't experienced since well, junior high and high school, that my arguments are becoming harder to make inside my own head.
I have the added issue that I made a decision when I boarded there that I was going to try my best to get along with everyone. I was there to ride and in order to ride you need people to ride WITH and so I was not going to allow myself to be dragged down into "barn stuff". This has sort of worked. I say sort of because I don't think there is one person there that would not invite me to ride if they were going out. BUT, I still generally ride with the same couple of people on a regular basis. Why? Because they are the only people on mostly the same schedule as I am and because they ride. See, the other thing about a boarding barn is that you have a ton of folks that have horses housed there. Horses they don't do a damn thing with. Or, horses that they only see once a week or even every couple of weeks... So, they don't ride much is what I'm saying.
There are other factors. Fear (of course) is big for me and riding with some folks as opposed to others is more safe. This is a practical matter as well as a something that needs to be conquered matter. There are "real" fears and there are the fears that simply hold you back and my riding life is a mixture of both. There are....
Well, I guess I am wrong the main factors are convenience and fear. Gosh, that makes me feel like a big pussy. Anyway - OK, this has already been productive in terms of breaking down my brain. Note to self and reader friends - write stuff out.
So, the gossip. OH MY GAWD the gossip. I can't get away from it. People tell me things. Random meaningless things are said in conversations. Things like - I got bread from Walmart the other day and it was blue. Somehow that gets translated weeks later to you said all bread at Walmart is purple & so & so told you that so I asked such and such and they said absolutely not bread is yellow and everyone knows that. I AM NOT exaggerating about how inane and ridiculous some of this stuff is. Yesterday I flipped a lid (sort of) and said - WHY does it matter whether the bread is blue, purple or yellow? And the offender said - it doesn't really.
Ding Ding Ding Ding Ding... So, you gossip to stir the pot of shit. If one engages in also stirring, even in casual, seemingly unimportant conversation, one is also immersing herself in the pot of shit. Well, it STINKS, this pot. And I gotta step out of it and take a goddamn shower.
Today I am going to the barn at NOT my usual time. I need silence. I need to not be surrounded by random discussions about this horse or that one, assumptions about the owner, the trailer it came in on, the choice of food, condition of the coat. The only SHIT I want to smell like today comes out of the far end of my pony and I'm determined to keep it that way.
My new line is "that doesn't sound like it has anything to do with me" and I'm sure I'll be repeating it 10 thousand times over the next month alone. I don't know how else to deal with this other than to shut it down and discontinue all conversations that have anything to do with anything other than...well, I can't think of any safe conversations so let's just say I'm mainly mute at this point.
Just because I haven't added to this journal doesn't mean it hasn't been an adventure.
I was looking back at past entries and what we had accomplished last summer and thinking about how we've surpassed SO MUCH of that this past season.
We logged tons of hours on the trail, we even led the rides on several occasions! That is something I never thought Takoda would be up for. He isn't a born lead horse. He's actually really comfortable bringing up the rear and prefers that spot. So, by default we sort of become the guardians of the back of the line when everyone rides.
We didn't spend a lot of time in the arena until later in the summer and it showed. Takoda definitely prefers the trail, he gets bored easily and it is always a challenge to make the arena at least tolerable for him. I know he doesn't like it but sometimes it is the only choice we have a I firmly believe that there is value to arena work. Trotting over ground poles teaches him to mind his feet and where they are in relation to the rest of the world. Patterns keep his brain busy with work rather than mischief, a constant balancing act with Takoda.
The other day we took a short ride out into the field that serves as his "home base" - 20 or so acres of terrain with a little stream, a pond, woods and field. There is a steep climb in an open field to get to the top and although we were just meandering around the stream at the bottom he was convinced that his friends were "up there" somewhere. He simply could not concentrate on walking because he had to stop every five feet and whiney toward to the top of the hill, then wait for a reply, which of course kept coming from the barn because all his friends were in for the night, thus confusing him even more... We got it done but it was a reminder to me what we are in for when we move out on our own.
He is very comfortable with this routine now, and his surroundings. Moving a horse is tricky. You have to be patient and sort of work them into a new routine. On one hand, when the time comes, I won't have to worry about getting him used to other horses right off. But, I do worry about companionship and what the next step will be. He'll need a friend, maybe not a horse, but a friend just the same. He proved to be pretty nicely independent when he was injured. Being away from your herd in a field by yourself for five weeks sucks for a horse. But, he did get to see them in the barn on a daily basis and he did make friends with the donkey in the smaller field next to him. However, when he rejoined the group he was obviously thrilled to be back amongst horses. HIS horses. So, I will need to consider how emotionally difficult a move will be for him.
Then, there is my own fear. No one to bounce things off of. No one to help. No one to ride with. It will all be up to us and I can't even allow myself to contemplate it for too long or I'll chicken out on the dream and just continue to worry like everyone else about what will become of my boarding barn when this or that happens...
I have time to plan and figure things out. I just have to continue to remind myself that there are pros and cons with every scenario.
There are some fascinating things about life with horses, some practical things, some interesting things, some spiritual things... There are things that "horse people" have in common and one of them is normally that they would rather be with their horse than just about anywhere else on earth. This has caused many an issue in life I am certain because most times other people don't understand....
Honestly, sometimes we don't understand either! Horses are not an easy "hobby" to have. They are complicated creatures, expensive, and the amount of time that is spent actually riding in comparison to the amount of time spent doing everything else that is related to the horse (feeding, mucking, caring for) is....well, it is WAY out of balance in terms of percentage.
But, for some reason those of us with the "equine sickness" do not seek a cure. We instead seek more time and innovative ways to manage it. We will get up earlier, go to bed later, our homes will suffer dirt, our dishes will remain unwashed (as will our hair LOL), our yards are never immaculate, our vehicles are more like transport carriers of everything we might need for the horse (and usually nothing we need for us). Oh, and they often smell like poo. We don't have food in our refrigerator but our horses are always well nourished. I can't even remember the last time I went "to the store" for groceries but I can track how long Koda's oats will last in seconds.
I tend to spend endless hours at the barn both with my horse and just fiddling around. I like puttering in my locker, cobwebbing Takoda's stall, thinking up ways to do things, deal with things, working out stuff in my head... I think more straight there it seems. Life is simpler. I crave it. It isn't just the horse, although he is what has led me to seek a more straight forward, basic life. It is the silence, the lack of pretense, the unspoken knowledge that things make sense when I am where my horse is, whereas in every other part of my life things seem to spiral out of control with the ridiculous notion that anything and everything tugging on me is of absolute significance when really, in the long-run, not one damn bit of it matters.
To the horse, this moment matters. There is no forward and backward in terms of hope and regret. Only now. Being around the horse is the only time that everything else fades to black for me. It is sacred time. I want to drink it more deeply than sweet wine and savor it and when I am there I never want to go back to the "real" world that pulls at me via texts, emails, that annoying ringtone I have set for annoying circumstances...
I want to lay my head on his shoulder and smell him ~ that sweet smell of the field mixed with dust and sweat. I do this sometimes, close my eyes and pretend we are all alone in the world...some magical faery world and there is no way back to here and now.
My horse hears problems that no one else knows. I spill my secrets to him over long hours of brushings and carrots. I am unafraid to admit to him when I am lonely or sad, when I feel overwhelmed, how angry this or that has made me. I read to him sometimes in the winter when we can't ride. I'll sit in front of his stall and read outloud (usually Horse Illustrated or some odd short-story). I started this when he first arrived as a means of him getting to know my voice. Now I think I just do it to linger a little longer in the presence of the only damn beings that make sense to me some days.
When my life is a mixture of uncertain plans and very few solutions in the immediate future I put my faith in a basket called "the barn" and I go to him. He is not perfect, nor am I. Somehow, a horse not being perfect is more forgivable to horse people than the expectation of perfection in themselves. I feel like if I judged my life the way I judge Takoda I would have room in my heart to love me. I should try this approach at some point...
I curse rain and snow (well, I've always cursed snow as everyone knows LOL) for the mere fact that they impact my plans with my horse. Horse people are weather watchers for sure. If you ever want to know the forecast for the next few days, ask a horse person. We also know the amount of time it will generally take the rain clouds to make their way over the crest of the hill and to the field and can calculate whether we still have enough time to untack if we linger just...a...little...longer on our horse's back. We know whether, based on the radar and the storm speed, we have the time for a "short ride" just to the deep water and back. We calculate whether the bands are moving slow enough to ride in between them. And on true rain days we sit on the benches and grumble LOL, the old cowgirls smoking (not me, siggghhhhhhh I admit I do still miss it), some of us working on other horse related stuff (cleaning bridles, changing gear out, mixing up oats and supplements) and all of us wishing we were riding instead.
Today looks as if it will be one of the latter mentioned days, which is what got me to originally thinking about our complicated emotional lives with our horses.
SPRING! SPRINNNNGGGG!!!! SPRIIINNNNNNGGGGGGGG!!!!!! OMG. So, it begins. That incredible time of the year known as “riding season” is upon us. The horses returned to their “regularly scheduled programming” last weekend. Meaning, they spend very little time in the barn and under cover since winter has ended and grass is greening and growing by the second. They are happy. WE are happy. Not only is it better for them in the sense of actually BEING A HORSE, but it means much less mucking for those who love them!
So, right now they are all full of green grass, piss and vinegar. Meaning, they are a bit spirited, willful and happy. This doesn’t always equate to the most relaxing rides LOL but it is a good chance to work on communication and partnership.
There are a few things Takoda needs help with this season. One of them is his stall situation. We have traditional stalls with sliding wooden doors on them. They have a “window” – meaning there is a high portion when you close the door that has bars on it so they can see out. Doors are good in the winter because they keep the drafts out well. In the summer, not so much so because they hold in the heat. So, lots of people use stall guards, which are basically cloth or rubber material and you hang them from both sides of your stall opening making a sort of barrier. Your horse can stick his head out easily, the set-up is much cooler temp-wise, etc.
So, Takoda, being Takoda, had some fun with his stall guard last year. He’d periodically half-way crawl under it to get to the hay stacked beside his stall for the next day. He often cranes his neck OVER it and curls into this snakey position to get to his buddy’s feed bin in the stall next to his, where he’ll lick up all the leftover crumbs that Angus doesn’t eat. He’ll lean on his stall guard and rip it (I repaired it TWICE last year). We ended up trying to put additional single chain guards up last year (you can see these in the picture – they are covered in rubber and used as additional measures for crafty horses). He’d put his head IN BETWEEN them and do the grain licking thing. We put up two stall guards, one on top of the other, to make a big tall one. This resulted in the leaning….LOL.
So, I am looking into other options like this door from BIG D – it is tall, which he needs, but open. And it is steel so hopefully he won’t break it.
Horses are so funny. No two are the same. Takoda is comic relief for the entire barn. Yet, he is laid back and pretty gentle, doesn’t get too rattled about much too often (although when he does it is a doozy), and my “issues” with him for the most part revolve around the fact that he is lazy. LOL “lazy” in horse terms simply means that if horses could be couch potatoes, a “lazy” horse would. Now, this isn’t all bad. These horses are also known as your “more whoa than go” horses (which I was insistent upon when looking), they are often great trail horses (because they also often like to just fall into a line and mostly walk) and are not “hot” (meaning – I dunno, think of the common view of an Arab for instance) or “forward” (forward usually means more fast). All of these things fit my bill as far as what I want in a horse. My hot, forward days are over (thank you very much though High Pockets you were awesome when I was younger and more reckless).
Horses like Takoda though, are challenging in the respect that they also tend to not really be interested in pleasing you, are not really interested in working (because they are couch potatoes!) and can have just as much attitude (in a different way) as the opposite type of horse. Takoda’s motto is – evade and ignore when misbehaving. So, we have our discussions at various points. Sometimes they take place on the trail, which is very frustrating. One of my main goals is for that to stop happening.
An old horse woman told me that all he needs is a “wet saddle pad on a regular basis” – meaning, the horse needs worked to sweaty, cause that is good for all of us. LOL. This is true. Although I am trying to also make that work meaningful and enjoyable because THAT is fair to both of us.
I am reminded again though how much horses can be just like their people. When I just described Takoda in terms of not being concerned with pleasing, not really interested in doing much of anything that isn’t his idea, etc….I am also giving a perfect description of myself. I’m a loner, so is Takoda. For a herd animal, he never is in a hurry to get to his friends when I take him out to the field late. We both meander our way around the barn. I don’t like to tack up quickly, don’t tend to run here and there…I’m more like – jeez, relax people… He mirrors these things in his own life and approach. One of my GFs with a hotter, more forward horse and I often turn them out at the same time, as we ride together often. As they work their way up the hill to the herd, her horse will pick up a trot, then a canter in order to catch up with the rest of the boys. Takoda usually just walks, stopping along the way to eat grass. If he does pick up a trot we’ll stand there and take bets on how many strides he’ll take before he is like – fuck this, I’m walkin’. LOL, yup, that’s my boy.
Oh how I wish it was as romantic as the image makes it out to be! LOL. So, since my last blog entry in December, we, as predicted, have experienced 8 weeks of what I consider sheer Purgatory. Winter arrived right after Christmas and it stuck its nasty claws in our backs and stripped away every bit of warmth, security and patience we could muster. It is now the last day of February and we are bracing for March to enter our lives with a roar as the latest winter storm event makes its way across the country and the season gets set to punch us in the face once again tomorrow.
But, there is hope. The calendar keeps advancing and next weekend begins daylight savings time. I’m not a fan of the practice of daylight savings time but it does signal the coming of spring in this part of the country. I’ll take any “sign” I can get at this point.
Takoda wore a blanket this winter for the first time in his life. I was worried that he might freak out or tear it up or any number of things when I ordered it and frankly I wasn’t even sure I was gonna use it. I toggle back and forth on blankets. One part of me feeling that horses have been around for eons and we try to treat them like indoor lap dogs. They grow thicker coats for a reason in the winter and we should just let them be horses. The other part of me thinks – yeah, but they are NOT like the horses of old and they don’t roam the countryside 24/7 and you DO alter their natural lives, therefore probably altering their ability to withstand a lot of the “natural” things that they historically could withstand, like polar vortex temps and gouging winds…
In the end, I admittedly, caved to peer pressure. LOL. I introduced him to his blanket slowly, first showing it to him, making noise with it, rubbing him with the material. This is called “sacking out” or “desensitizing” in the horse world. The mindset is that if you introduce things slowly and allow a horse to get used to them, he won’t feel like the object is going to eat him. As it turned out, I wouldn’t have had to do any of this because Takoda could not have cared less about me throwing the damn thing over him and buckling him up. He half-heartedly flicked a back leg when I was fiddling with the rear straps and when I said “it’s OK bud” and rubbed him he put it down and that was that. After I got it on he was completely uninterested in it and more interested in getting back to his hay. So far (still crossing fingers) the blanket has even stayed intact. Horses are masters of tearing through blankets. There is this hilarious YouTube series on horses and blankets and every bit of it is true.
IF HORSES WERE PEOPLE - BLANKET EDITIONS:
Anyway, I’d like to believe he appreciates my efforts to add to his comfort. But, who knows?
So, this season having been deemed “The Winter of Ice and Sub-Zero” (we always deem winter with a name – last year it was the Winter of Weekend Snow because every weekend it seemed to dump several inches of fresh snow just when I was hoping to go visit horses during my search) we have been dealing with frozen water buckets, three inch thick ice in the barn driveway, stall doors that won’t shut because ice builds up on the bottom of them, and all the other general inconveniences of winter at a barn. I’m saying people – I will take battling flies any day over this sh&t!
There was a day a few weeks ago where it was warm enough to take his blanket off and get a good look at my boy. It is good to do this periodically during the winter if you are blanketing. Blankets can hide weight loss and any rubs or sores they are causing. I was glad to see he had none of these. He looked fabulous! A great bit better than the somewhat stringy look he had last year when he arrived. His tail is filling back in nicely (he likes to rub his butt on things for no apparent reason – he doesn’t have worms but he probably DOES need a sheath cleaning, which could be the culprit as I seriously doubt he has EVER had that done) where he had rubbed a good swath of it off by the end of fall. The blanket flap protects it and as an extra measure I braided and conditioned it for winter and once a week have been unbraiding, reconditioning and rebraiding. He’s a little bit fat, which is just fine with me for winter, and his coat is nice and soft.
So, looking forward to spring we have tons of work to do! I would say that last summer was the “getting to know each other” phase of our relationship. I wouldn’t exactly call it a honeymoon phase LOL. In life with horses the honeymoon generally doesn’t last a whole season. We did, however, get to experience the ups and downs of our relationship as we waded into me being a first-time horse person and Takoda actually being treated as “someone’s horse” rather than just one of the many horses in a field that gets ridden now and again. He learned (and didn’t always appreciate) that things are expected of him. I learned (and didn’t always appreciate) that he has his own opinion and that I need to recognize that and work within his mindset just as much as I need to have expectations according to my own.
I think most of all I learned that he is an individual and that I cannot compare him to other horses that I have known, or other people’s horses around me. He is unique, as we all are. Some things that will work or have worked with other horses will work with him and others will not. I am finally understanding what my riding instructor and friend meant with her comments when I would get frustrated last summer at his lack of knowledge or apparent interest in obtaining any. She would say – yes, he doesn’t know much and yes, you are worried about “teaching” him because he is your first horse BUT what you are teaching him will be unique to you two. YOU guys will have done it, not someone else. The experiences and knowledge and relationship will be unique between you and THAT is priceless.
This all relates to another aspect of life right now, which I will blog about soon…
The threat of it hangs over us like a cloud. So far we have had some very near misses in terms of really bad weather. My hometown, just two hours southeast (believe it or not but at a much higher elevation) has gotten slammed pretty good at least twice. Here, we all keep holding our breath, trying to play hit and miss with rain and mud and temps. Just because it hasn't snowed significantly doesn't mean it hasn't been miserable, wet and sloppy.
Everything is more complicated in the winter and keeping a horse is no exception. It is next to impossible to keep them clean, anything in terms of supplies that could freeze need taken home unless you have a heated tack room (which we don't), there are the frozen water buckets, the ice in general and the question of to blanket or not to blanket. Thankfully, Takoda has never been blanketed and he gets a nice, fuzzy beast coat in the winter so that question for us is mostly not an issue.
Then there is the training/exercise question. I am NOT a fan of winter riding. Well, unless it is above 45 degrees LOL. The day that I went to visit Koda last winter it was a very odd day that climbed into the low 50s and there had been a storm the week before so still some snow in the fields. What fun it was to tromp through the snow on a sunny day! But, alas, winter gives you few days like that one in reality....
Still, we have been plugging along, doing some groundwork when the weather will cooperate, riding when the stars are aligned.
See, the other bugger during our winters at my barn is that the turn-out schedule changes over to where all horses come in at night and go out into the field during the day. The barn schedule follows the light (or lack thereof) and the footing. So, in the spring/summer/fall the horses are in the field a good 15 to 18 hours a day. They only come to their stalls in the mornings to get fed and then generally by Noon or so go back out to sweet freedom! In the winter they go out in the mornings after breakfast and come back in before dusk, which right now is around 4:30. It sucks for riders because your horse is out when it is daylight and although you could ask they he stay in, you really hate to because then he misses what little "horse" time he has per day. Takoda HATES being inside. He was never stalled before I got him and last winter we just caught the tail-end of the winter schedule. So, he does all the naughty things that horses do when they get bored. I have toys for him in his stall. A hanging ball to knock around, a beach ball to paw at, a salt lick to play with.... But, he is pretty much a hot mess right now in terms of his brain. This horse NEEDS stimulation! His wheels are always spinning and when you aren't pointing them in the right direction he just gets like a little pinball.
The all mighty almanac tells us that in mid to late January we will be blessed with the winter we all dread. I only hope my horse still has a working brain come spring!
Today we had a final trail ride and then a pot-luck picnic. It was a beautiful day, sunny and in the high 60s. Perfect fall weather - leaves slowly twisting in the breeze as we made our way through the woods. The horses act different in the fall. They pay more attention to their footsteps because it is hard to see the terrain under the carpet of reds and golds... They prick their ears toward the sounds of squirrels rustling through the forest, sometimes they act suspicious and curious at the open views through the woods. Things you cannot see in the summer are visible. The stream below from the high road, with little white caps where it bubbles along the rocks. The old camper someone left long ago, hidden in the summer by the thick forest. You would think that seeing everything would be better, right? LOL, wrong! Horses are hypersensitive to changes in their environment, even the smallest ones.
We started our day with some bur removal. LOL. Burs are the bane of my horse existence right now. Everyday Takoda has a tail full of them, or his forelock is caked with stickers and I spend a good amount of time carefully plucking them out. By the time we got tacked up it was a nice sunny morning with a pleasant breeze. Our familiar path took us through two fields, along a densely wooded trail with several water crossings, up the side of a semi steep ridge and onto an old logging road. From there we wind back down into the fields and home.
There is a lovely semi deep water crossing on our way home but we decided to not take it today because although it was sunny it was still a bit brisk. In the summer, this is one of Takoda's favorite parts of the ride. He loves water. I am quite certain that he would swim readily if given the chance. This particular crossing is just deep enough that you actually just barely get a sensation of floating. It is like you are THAT close... And then you aren't. LOL.
Once back at the barn and after bunches of kisses and "good boy" carrots and clean up, I put him in his stall with a big pile of hay before turn-out time. Then we ate! LOL. I was starving! So was everyone else I guess because we all dug in and had a great lunch, then sat around, laughed, talked and tried to make the day last as long as possible.
From here forward we may find ourselves kicking around in the arena and adjacent field while the woods gets overrun by hunters for a bit. But, I will be thinking back and thankful for this day for quite some time.
OMG so, WHAT A SUMMER it was! I am not sure where to begin as I was too busy to really make proper entries, although with every little hurdle crossed or new thing learned I did manage to scribble a note and put it in my Gratitude Jar.
So many amazing things happened for Takoda and I this summer. The best of which was quite simple. Getting to know each other well and establishing the relationship of "this is my horse" and "this is my person".
So, my horse is smart. I mean he is really smart. LOL. This is not just a horse mommy talking, the vet, the farrier, other people...all have said it. He is also an underachiever. Just like his mamma. He'd rather walk than trot, eat than work, hang out and be a horse than work, dear Epona just about anything than work. On the other hand he is smart enough to get easily bored, be curious, full of mischief and basically be "that" horse in the barn. You know the one...he puts his head between his canvas stall guard and the hose-like topper guards we put up to keep him from hanging out over the canvas. He crawls halfway under the same canvas guard and pulls half a bale of hay into his stall for a self-serve snack. All of this stuff he does without getting panicked if he gets stuck for a moment. He'll just adjust his head or turn it the other way to get it out of the hole he has created. It has become a fun game to keep him interested and occupied so he doesn't get bored enough to get into trouble.
Even when he misbehaves he is comical. My girlfriend and long-time instructor says "you should see the look on his face" when he is challenging me. Not a bit of malice more of a stubborn avoidance and he ends up not even really knowing what he is avoiding or why he is avoiding it.
I had some goals at the beginning of this. One was to be able to clean all of his feet without issue. If you will recall, this was a huge struggle when he came home. We got over that hurdle by touching and picking up feet every single day for weeks - well over a month - on end. Some days I will admit tears welled up. Feet are such a basic thing to humans in terms of how your horse should act. I have never leased or worked with a horse that was not OK with me handling their feet. Well, I guess Takoda was my "there is always a first" horse in that respect.
The second goal was that damn bridge. It took us three times across for him to be OK, even "meeehhhhh" with it. With Takoda it is a matter of repetition and praise. Now, he is generally more interested in the mares that are in the field next to the bridge than the bridge itself.
Another goal, which frankly I was scared shitless of and doubted we would meet, was to participate in the annual St. Jude's Children's Hospital trail ride. This is a three hour ride that takes into account all kinds of terrain in our area. There are fields, forests, old logging roads, rocky trails, a farm with other unfamiliar horses, cows, steep climbs and downhills. We ride a bit of this when we do our own mini trail rides on a regular basis but people that ride in bigger groups will tell you that when there are lots of horses and many are new to your own horse, new territory, etc. it can be a bit stressful.
But, my horse was a champ! He was so awesome and did so well that the lady behind me could not believe I had only had him for five months and that he was basically a field horse that only occasionally got saddled up before he came to me.
There were struggles too for sure! Horses are always challenging their people in various ways. They don't do it to be "bad" or "mean" it is just how they live and think. There is a pecking order in the herd and you are part of your horse's herd, plain and simple. Takoda started exhibiting some very stubborn and dominant behavior mid to late summer and we figured that he was trying to move up in the herd and either was having some success and it was carrying over to mom or (more likely) he was having no success and getting frustrated and it was...carrying over to mom! That's the thing I notice most about horses. Their frustration carries over to you. You ARE a part of their herd and you are the one asking them to do things that from the standpoint of being a horse, sometimes don't make sense. So if they are frustrated in the field or barn you are only adding to their discontent by asking them to go this way instead of that way, trot when they'd rather walk, canter (WTF is THAT and why are you smooching at me and stickin' your heel into my side???) when they'd rather just eat...
One of the main things with horses is time. Time in the saddle and time in general with them. I did not buy a horse to only see him once or twice a week. Unless I am not in town I have dedicated a portion of my day to my horse since he came home and I feel like that shows in our relationship. Yes, it is always changing and hopefully growing and yes there will, and have been, hiccups. However, I cannot stress enough to people how the mere acts of grooming your horse, talking to him, walking around the field with him, doing exercises from the ground with him are just as important as riding.
As we wind farther down the road into Fall and eventually Winter, I will be coming up with some hopefully fun ways to keep our lives interesting and continue to build this relationship with my "quiet, stocky, grey gelding" that I spied on-line one cold morning last January.
In Loving Memory
...of the first horse to hold my heart