It is March 1 and I see a Robin for the first time this year - but then it snows all day. I sit on Sara bareback at Ruby’s stall while she finishes her grain. Ruby is bug-eyed! What am I doing up there?! After breakfast, I lead Ruby to the blue mounting steps and stand on the bottom step. She does not know that she is supposed to stand quietly and close to the steps, but does well enough. As I lead her around the arena, walking in and out of the hay tubs, she presses toward me. When I move her away, she fusses but I remain calm. We play fetch-and-give with Sue’s Ball. I sort-of-think she is getting the hang of “give.”
Over the next two days, we get eight inches of snow and it is only fifteen degrees. My fingers are cold!
By Sunday, the 6th, it is forty degrees and fifty-five on Monday. Geez! The pens are a muddy mess - again! On Tuesday, it is sixty and beautiful; and much of the mud in the pens has evaporated. It is a truly nice day and I clean the pens completely.
I think it might rain during the night and I don’t want to leave both Zena and Allie out - what with Zena still barring Allie from coming into the arena. For the first time, I leave Allie out and stall Zena. In the morning, I am surprise to find Zena with her udder the size of a football. It does not seem to me that Ruby has been suckling lately - but it sure looks like she is. And, she sure suckles this morning!
I decide to take Zena for a lead-line walk out the trail door with Ruby loose behind. Well, that doesn’t turn out as I had hoped. Zena is on edge and, in turn, sends ruby into a panic. I realize that I was short-sighted. Sarge, my son’s German Sheppard has been staying with us all week, and the horses have seen him running around the pen and on the back-ten paths. Now, he is confined to the backyard where the horses cannot see him but, every once in a while, I can hear he and Skipper bark. At any rate, now I am standing at the back corner of the horse pen, truly concerned about leading Zena back. She is all-a-tuttle and Ruby is racing back and forth from arena to mom. Well. I drop the lead and let them both canter back to the safety of the arena. Ca sera.
On the 10th, my thirteen-year-old grand-nephew Jason, visits. When he was younger, he would ride Buffy, my aged Grulla Quarter Horse mare - a perfect babysitter. But, Jason’s not been here since before Zena arrived - well over a year. I am thinking that, now that Buffy has died, Zena might make a nice trail horse for Jason. His first comment is that Zena is taller than Buffy. But, at thirteen, Jason is six-foot-two! In their picture, Zena looks pretty darn short.
We groom and saddle; and Jason rides just at a walk in the east pen that spreads into what used to be our outdoor arena. Zena is not very compliant because Jason is not asking. He never needed to with Buffy. I hop on Sara bareback and we ride together; which encourages Zena to at least walk along. When Jason dismounts, I hop up just long enough to walk, then trot, Zena around for a moment. It has been a long time since Jason rode. I will have to find time to work with him. At any rate, Zena shows no sign of lameness the next morning. Nice.
The next day, I lead Ruby all around the arena with three great stops - quiet and immediate. We play fetch-and-give with Sue’s ball twice. After everyone is out at the hay piles and I am picking stalls, ruby comes back in for more play. We play follow-and-stop SIX TIMES AT LIBERTY - including to the wooden box, where I stand up at her side. First time at liberty! Good girl! But, in the evening, there is a ruckus as they all come in for their grain. Neither Ruby nor Allie want to go into their stalls. Finally, ruby runs into Allie’s stall - so I lock her in. Then, I put Allie in Ruby’s stall. Of course, I cannot teach them that they will receive their grain in someone else’s stall - so they both go without the evening grain. Not a punishment. Just a fact.
On the 12th, the weather is fair and I decide to start desensitizing ruby to walking on the trail. I lead Sara instead of Zena out the trail door with Ruby loose behind. I have confidence that Sara will remain calm for me. Still, I am a bit scared. Ruby is again in a panic. I remind myself that she has not been out of the arena or pens for three months. Surely, she must remember frolicking on the lawn last fall. But, who knows what a baby remembers. While racing up and down the fence line, she kicks Sara in the hip and, on a return pass, she mounts her! I use my switch to back her off. When she runs inside the arena, Sara and I jog along the backside of the pens to the west side - over near the round pen. Ruby comes running out the chute into the pen and cannot figure out how Sara and I have ended up on the opposite side of the yard. From where we are, Sara and I can enter the arena from the west side red barn (causeway and tack room) slider without worrying about being cantered over by Ruby and, once we are back in the barn, Ruby is fine. In the evening, Ruby leads perfectly as we walk inside the arena. We take a long walk with only two stops - one at each end. Good girl.
Sunday, March 13, is another milestone day for Ruby. I need to loosen her halter a notch because the girl is growing! I lead her in the pens for a measurable distance for the first time. We walk in and out of the posts that were left when we removed the planks dividing the old outdoor arena from the east pen. We stop for a treat at each post as we walk all the way to the back of the pen. She offers much nervous circling on the return but, when we enter the arena, she walks around the entire inside with no stops before I return her to her stall. I use a loose and open binder twine around each horse’s neck to walk them to the pen. I know. For thirty-five years, I taught to never walk a horse without a halter and a lead. Now, I lead Ruby with just the twine all the way to the end of the chute - forty feet? As I am finishing picking the arena, Ruby comes back in to play fetch-and-give. I take a video, but later learn I was holding my camera backwards. In the evening, I lead her around the indoor arena, ending at the wooden box in the middle. I stand on the box next to her and give her a treat.
Monday is damp and 45. I again lead ruby in and out of the pen posts but, halfway back, I let the lead slip from my hand and she trots back to the arena. I never hold the lead tight. Jason visits again, after school. He earns an A+ for his effort at walking Zena under saddle - so much better than his first attempt. He is a good kid - remembered everything we discussed last week and works responsibly with me. He leads Ruby from her stall and into the tack room; being the first person other than me to do that. We clean Sara, Zena, and Ruby’s feed, including applying purple Thrush Buster - not because they have thrush; just because it is spring and wet.
On Tuesday, I lead Ruby inside the arena before leading her in and out of the pen poles all the way back with treats. She wants to hurry back but receives treats for stopping each time I ask. We play fetch-and-give twice before putting the rest of the girls out. Again, while I am picking the arena, Ruby comes back in. I have the gate to the far end storage area open, the slider to the dumpster open, and the wheel barrow plank in place on the rim of the dumpster. I should state, here, that the far end of the arena is built up higher than the parking lot outside. The dumpster straddles the outside of the east end slider; sitting three feet lower than the arena floor. My dumpster plank has an incline, but not a difficult one. Ruby wanders down to join me and is in wonderment at the out-of-doors behind the dumpster. She ventures just one foot over the foot-high board that runs along the slider opening (to keep coyotes from slipping under the door was my paranoid intention). Sara or Sparky would have stepped over the board and onto the mound of earth on either side of the dumpster lickity-split to eat what little spring grass is growing. Ruby acts like she has never been outside the arena and pens.
Wednesday is big-time treat day for Ruby! I lead her on a very loose lead in the arena, to the slider leading to the chute, and to the end of the chute. I lay the lead over her back. She walks to Sue’s ball, but I stay near Sara’s stall door. She picks the ball up, lays it down - and then walks to me and asks for her treat! We return to the ball together and play one fetch-and-give. She is still not actually giving the ball to me - just holding it for me to take, and releasing her teeth from the rope as soon as I do. At this point, I take the lead off, cue her to follow me, and walk to the chute slider. She follows and stops with me, so I treat. We walk halfway through the chute (treat), and to the end of the chute (treat). She starts to turn away as I walk to the first post. She ponders! She comes! Treat! Same with the second, third, and fourth posts. That was her limit but I am thrilled. She did lots of pondering. In the evening, she comes out of the causeway on cue. We play fetch-and-give wherein she drops the ball twice but re-picks it up without my asking. It rains with thunder all night long.
On Thursday morning, I put the horses out before walking the back ten with Gary and Skipper. Later, Ruby comes into the arena while I am picking Allie’s stall. We play at liberty (Carolyn Resnick originally coined that term) - no halter or lead. Ruby follows me to the wooden box. I get on the box, than off. At my request, she steps around and closer to the box. I get on the box and give her much back scrubbing. We play four fetch-and-gives. Her last give seems to be an actual swing of the rope toward me. Maybe. I free-lead her out to Zena, who is munching hay near the big log in the east pen. I sit on the log but Ruby stands too closely to me, so I stand up. SHE WALKS HALFWAY BACK TOWARD THE CHUTE AND TURNS TO ASK ME TO FOLLOW! The request is so incredibly clear! We walk into the arena together and I get her halter and lead. We play in-and-out the posts to the far end. It is very windy but the other horses are out eating hay, so that likely gives her confidence. At the far end, she pops up a little so I remove her halter and lead and tell her we are done playing. But, she follows me all the way back to the water tank at the chute slider. In the evening, she stays in to play. We do three fetch-and-gives and I make a greater effort to encourage the give.
Friday is crisp and pretty. I have purchased two hula-hoops that are a little smaller than most. My plan is to ask Ruby to place her front feet in the hoop and to remain there quietly. I have seen this in Vanessa Bee’s “Three Minute Horsemanship;” and many horse owners do this. Sara stands to the count of ten the first time I ask; but she has had practice standing. Sparky stands to the count of six while spending way too much emotional energy thinking about (asking for!) her treat. Ruby stands to the count of ten with my standing three feet from her. I think that is pretty good. I walk her away and bring her back. This time, she stays in the hoop to the count of five with my standing four feet from her. We play fetch-and-give and stand-by-the-box. I take a video. Like on Tuesday, while I am picking the arena, she follows me to the dumpster door. This time, she steps over the running board and around the dumpster to pick at the grass. She trots to the back of the arena where there is a grassy area between the arena and the outside pen. She grazes there, with the horses in the pen and in her sight, for ten minutes before galloping through the trail door into the arena, which I have opened for her, and on out the chute to join the others.
On Saturday, I decide to let the horses out on the west side of the barn, where they grazed so much when Ruby was a baby. She’s still a baby! I halter and lead Sara from the arena and out the causeway door into the yard. Ruby follows but, in her nervous excitement, mounts and then kicks Sara! I use my switch to move her out of Sara’s space, but she remains unsettled. I remove Sara’s lead, thinking this will make it easier for Sara to make her own decisions. But, I forget that she will likely trot all the way around the pens to graze on the east side because that is what she always did last fall. Maybe, she thinks the grass is really greener on the other side of the fence (pens). And, yes, that is what she does. I want to walk back through the causeway and through the arena to open the trail gate at the far corner so that Ruby can get to Sara - or so that Sara can come back into the barn. But, I do not want ruby to suddenly run back in, racing over me in her rush to get to Sara or the other horses. So, instead, I walk through the tack room and around the outside perimeter of the arena. By now, Ruby has come back into the arena and, when I open the trail gate from the outside, she comes out with Sara. Ten minutes later, after finishing the last of my chores, I walk outside with lead in hand and ask Sara to come to me. Silly me. It is spring and this is her first time out. She trots around to the front of the arena with Ruby following. When I whistle (really?), Ruby comes first with Sara following. Really? Ruby zips through the trail door into the arena with Sara following; and they both join the others in the pen. But, then, ruby comes back in to play three fetch-and-gives. In the evening, she stands in her hula hoop to the count of ten with my standing ten feet away. Good girl.
We are heading into the third week in March. Ruby stands in her hula hoop to the count of fifteen. In the evening, I put hay on the cement grooming pad just outside the causeway slider to encourage her to stay outside. I put her grain in a rubber dish and hold it in my arms outside while she eats. A neighbor is enjoying target practice with his gun popping a half dozen houses away. Ruby stays out for a good forty-five minutes. When I fill the water tank, Ruby plays with the hose.
Zena has hair missing from her cheek, and Allie has a couple small bald spots near the top of her tail. Sorry to say, these are the result of not being groomed often enough over the winter. I treat both girls with Bannix, an anti-fungal for “wounds, fungus, rain rot, ringworm, thrush, and white line” - horsey heebie jeebies.
Although I have not mentioned it often, Zena has been guilty of harassing Allie all winter long. On Tuesday morning, Zena will not go into her stall; opting instead to chase Allie around the arena. So, when she makes a swift trot out the chute slider, I close it! I was not particularly upset with her. I just did what she made easy. No morning grain for Zena. In the evening, she is the first in her stall. It reminds me of one of my favored children’s books, “Ping,” about the little duck who lived on the Yangtze River and was always the last back on the boat at night. I apply Horseman’s Dream Fung-A-way on Zena and Allie’s bald spots - just another almost empty bottle of medicine I have stashed in my cabinet.
In the morning, I take much time to groom all of the girls. On the national weather chart, I see that we are sitting on the edge of a really huge storm that is reeking havoc on millions. We just get a dusting of white along with a bit of wind. When the horses come in for dinner, Sara, Sparky, and Ruby have a heyday running, bucking, and rearing about the arena. I just stand in Sara’s open stall door and enjoy the malarkey. I tie Ruby loosely to the wall for five minutes - where she mostly farts around with the rope. I brush just one side of her; opting not to ask her to move over.
Thursday opens with a light but chilly rain. Because Allie has already been in her stall all night, I opt to leave Zena in her stall. Allie can eat unharassed in the arena with the others. It is cold and rainy all day.
On Saturday, I groom all five horses in their stalls and pull six plastic fifty-gallon barrels from the storage area. I will use them for games. Ruby stays with me all the while I pick the pens and, when I come in to pick the arena, I open the trail gate so she can graze in the area between the arena and pen. Fifteen minutes later, I walk out with halter in hand, thinking no way am I going to get this on her. I show her the halter and she puts it on! Good girl! Not any one of my other three horses would do that. Thank you, Trish Mayer, for encouraging me to use treats for training early on. I return to the arena and come back out a few minutes later with the lead rope, attach it, and walk her inside. We play stay-in-the-hoop and fetch-and-give. I am absolutely sure I got an actual give from her. Not from a huge distance, but a swing-the-ball-to-me. All-in-all, it is a wonderful day. I enjoy a great deal of yard work and clean the tack room.
It is Sunday, almost the end of March, and seventy-one degrees - warm and wonderful! Ruby plays with the water hose as I reel it onto its carrier. We play in-and-out the barrels and I take a video. I fly-repel everyone’s ears for night gnats - first time this spring. Sara and I take a short ride down the park road. She does well going out, but wants to jog-trot on the way home. We do lots of circles but, all-in-all, I am happy with her first right out.
On Tuesday, I give Ruby a super groom - body, feet, mane, tail, and ears. She picks pens with me - following and chewing on the barrow. Afterward, I lay the fifty-gallon plastic barrels on their sides and she rolls them, along with Sparky. Sparky does great, but Ruby is not so sure. After school, Crystal comes to ride Sara. They use the old western Abetta saddle and trot a two-point for warm up before trotting away from and back to the barn in the west pen. Sara tends to easily drop into a canter from a trot, so I warn Crystal ahead of time. Sure enough, Sara picks up an easy canter for about twenty feet. Not much, but it is Crystal’s first. They then walk the ten acre path with me at their side.
On Wednesday, Ruby and I go through a ton of treats playing pull-the-blanket-over-my-head and walk among the barrels at liberty. In the evening, I come to the barn to learn that I had not secure the first stall - the hay cart stall - with the extra lock strap. The horses have a full bale of hay pulled into the arena and mostly eaten. Now, I am wondering whether I had the door latched but, even if I did not have it latched, someone realized the door was not properly closed and managed to slide it open. Sara, I am guessing. I taught her to open swing gates last year so maybe she has extended her skills. Still, someone had to yank the entire bale of hay out of the hay cart and pull it out the door. That must have made quite a racket.
Thursday is the last day of March. I am busy in town all day but, in the evening, I line all six barrels in a row and Ruby follows me at liberty in-and-out of them down the line and back. She completes the task in both directions with much thought. A good end to a good month.