May 2 ~ Ruby will turn one this month! I groom her nicely, clean her hooves, and saddle her loosely with the bareback pad. In the evening, I let Sara and Ruby out to graze. Sara does not want to come back in. She has not galloped like this in the ten years I have owned her. It is surely rewarding to watch.
The arena is dusty, so I hose it before heading up to the house. I feel shameful because I live within twelve miles of Flint; and the city is suffering a massive water crisis. Because of poor decisions made by state and city officials, lead has leeched into the water pipes and thousands of families have nothing more than sixteen ounce water bottles from which to drink, cook, and wash. Can you imagine how many bottles of water it takes to get kids ready for school?! Our local NOW chapter discussed other ways of getting water into the city, but every option – larger containers of any kind – are not allowed for health reasons. And, here I sit watering my arena from my wonderful well. I wish I could drive into the city, pick up a mother and her children, and bring them to my house for a good weekly shower and clothes washing. But, again, I am given a million reasons why that can’t happen. It is shameful that we can’t come together better than this.
May 3 ~ What a wonderful day! Kim and I take Sara and Zena on Zena’s first official trail ride. We start out with Sara in the lead. Between the back gate and the park road, there is a snapping noise a few hundred feet off – in the Aspen grove to our left. Sara gives a little start and Zena dance-prances in place; but she settles when I ask. Having served time as an Amish buggy horse, I am guessing someone “taught” her not to bolt. I’ve grown used to riding short horses and, if I needed to bail from Zena, it is a long way down!
When we reach the park road, there is a large mower, blowing billows of dusts as it comes down our side of the road. We turn the horses back up the path until he passes; and then return to the road and follow him at a distance. A couple of cars pass, to which Zena gives no attention. As we walk down the center of the road, Zena steps out ahead of Sara and takes the lead. Her legs are longer and, with her experience as a buggy horse, she must be used to trotting at a fairly quick clip. We turn left along the upper river trail and walk a wooded path. Two men are talking as they come up the steep bank from the river, so I call out for them to speak louder so that the horses will be aware of them. The first to reach the top has a mountain bike in tow, so we ask him to stop; explaining that the sun bouncing off the moving spokes startles many horses. We visit for a bit before the men return down the hill. Yes! The one was simply trying to see whether he could peddle up the hill! It is a very steep and sandy hil!
Kim and I, and the two girls, continue along the path as it opens into a field. Turning back toward the road, we spot a fellow with a small dog coming toward us from a make-shift parking lot. We veer left and make our way to the road with Zena, again, not giving a care about the man nor the dog. We are nearing the trail back to the barn, and Kim asks whether we can pick up a trot. We agree to come to a stop if any of the four of us ask. Sara won’t because she knows she’s close to home. But, I am concerned for Zena’s pastern joints. Even though she is built to be a high-stepping Morgan, when I ask, she trots slowly enough for me to sit comfortably. After a hundred feet or so, she drops from the trot and we walk the rest of the way home. I make a video of us coming up the back ten acres. It is boring but a milestone.
Back at the barn, I show Kim some of the exercises Ruby has learned. I toss Sue’s red ball and trot after it, asking Ruby to fetch. She does; and gives it to me. I toss it toward Kim; and ruby and I trot after it. Upon picking it up, ruby looks at me and then Kim twice BEFORE GIVING IT TO KIM!!! It was absolutely decisive! I so wish we had a camera on it. Kim just beamed and I was shocked. So very cool.
May 4 ~ A ten-yard pile of fill sand is delivered into the horses’ pen this morning. After the truck leaves, I open the trail gate and let ruby out of her stall. I get Sara, thinking we will attempt a walk around the ten. But, when Ruby trots out the trail gate and espies the newly dumped sand in the pen, she bolts back into the arena. On her second attempt, she canters up and down the fence line but will now follow Sara and me out back. The trail gate is open and she goes back inside, where I find her when Sara and I finish our walk. I let all four girls out for their morning hay, but Ruby is afraid to venture into the pens because of the sand pile. I have one video of her hesitancy; and another of her approaching the pile – but only after she watched me climbing up and off the pile a couple of times. I came off the pile and walked toward her. She joined me halfway and returned to the pile with me.
May 5 ~ Ruby offers just a short canter up and down the fence line before returning to the barn this morning; but Kim and Sara, and I and Allie, enjoy a rewarding trail ride. we are out for more than an hour. Allie is very good, always leading well ahead of Sara. She behaves as if she really doesn’t need a second horse along for emotional support; but I guess I don’t know what is going on in her head. Maybe, she knows Sara is back there and, maybe, she knows the joke about, if a bear came along, she wouldn’t have to outrun the bear. She would only have to run faster than Sara. Ha. I started today by swimming fifty laps – with snorkel and fins – at our local pool; and ended it by practicing my piano. A good day all-in-all.
May 7 ~ Ruby is wonderful today. She simply behaves like a good friend all day long. Allie’s owner, Judy, arrives for a visit. In the evening, I put Allie out to graze on the east side of the barn while I put the others out on the west. While picking the indoor arena, i tell Judy that Sara might wander around the back of the pen to her side; but that the others would most likely not. Well, count on me to be wrong. Zena wanders around the back and the others follow. The next thing we know, Zena wanders beyond the tree arch where we cannot see her … and the others follow. Gary has said he does not want them to trample all the young trees; and I agree. From now on, I will have to consider how I want to put them out – maybe not all four at the same time. Sara and Zena are dragging twelve-foot leads behind them so, when I am finished picking the arena, I collect Zena and put her in her stall. Ruby stays out with Sara and Sparky. when I bring Sara in, Ruby follows – not quietly, but not crazy. When Sparky realizes everyone has disappeared, she canters into the arena. I consider it a growth moment for all of them. I practiced my piano for twenty minutes this evening. It was so enjoyable. Why am I not more consistent?
May 8 ~ Today, a friend brings young Payton for a ride. Makes for an enjoyable day.
May 9 ~ This morning, Ruby agrees to let me lead her around in the arena. She behaves nicely, allowing me to pick up all four feet. I do not ask her to hold them up for long. “Hold” is a word I have added to her dictionary, as I use it with my other horses when asking them to keep their feet up quietly. Ruby walks a figure-eight around the barrels and the three tubs on the lead; and walks over the mattress and the teeter-totter. All three of the others do too; including Zena – who puts just one foot on the mattress and the teeter. In the evening, Gary takes some very good photos of Ruby and I, by the very old flowering pear tree; and videos of Ruby passing between the blue barrels and the wire fence – both forward and back.
May 10 ~ I swim my fifty laps this morning before sharing a quiet breakfast with Ruby in the tack room. She asks to have the bareback pad put on her back – meaning, she muzzled it and I responded. A few minutes later, she muzzles the comforter. So, I remove the pad and cover her with the comforter. She lifts all four feet for me. In the evening, I de-worm all four, without even bothering to put a halter on Sara or Sparky. I halter Ruby just to keep her from trying to investigate the de-wormer plunger when I pull it from my pocket. I have no problem administering it because she puts EVERYTHING in her mouth. I end the day thinking that Ruby has finally learned to simply be comfortable with me.
May 12 ~ I swim my fifty laps this morning and groom all four girls. Ruby handles the brushing well, and allows me to clean both front feet. I left and hold the back feet but do not clean them. Tomorrow is Ruby’s birthday. I make her a carrot cake with three cups of chapped carrots and two apples and, after it is done, I top it with five carrots – with tops leaves still attached.
May 13 ~ HAPPY FIRST BIRTHDAY, RUBY! She is 14′-1″ hands and weights 682 pounds. She has only gained twenty pounds since February – like seven pounds a month? I think her food all went into vertical bone growth! This is a wonderful day. Morgan Sziksay and Amanda Richard come over to celebrate with us. Both of these young women are former riding students who spent time with Ruby when she was newborn. Morgan takes a ga-zillion photos; and Gary takes photos and videos. Enjoy!
May 16 ~ I enjoy feeding Ruby her breakfast in the tack room, grooming her, and cleaning her feet. She is truly pleasant. In the evening, I put all four horses out the front, red barn door, and put Allie out the back trail door. Yes, I know. I said I wasn’t going to put them all out together. Allie comes right back in and begs to go out with the other four. Her conversation is clear. I go off to complete some yard trimming and, an hour later, find that they are all mid-way back on the ten. Another hour passes and, after putting out the evening hay, I find them all waaaay at the back of the ten. Sara and Zena have been dragging their lead ropes with them, so I am thinking I will collect one of them. But, Allie sees me first and comes all the way across the property to meet me. I am surprised. We walk up to the barn together, she un-tethered, and the other four follow. Maybe, next time, I will let Zena and Sara out without leads. Tonight, they all walk, trot, and canter their way back to the barn where they enjoy their evening feed before heading out for hay – as if their stomachs were not already full?! This has been a very good day. Horses, morning and evening, were wonderful. I moved two barrows of sand, which is excellent exercise; and squeezed in a doctor’s appointment to schedule the repair of a “trigger finger” – my second.
May 17 ~ My granddaughter, Crystal, comes over after school and rides Sara in the outside pen. If she is going to enjoy Sara in the park untethered this year, they have to trust each other. That starts with Crystal communicating clearly and Sara agreeing to listen. We utilize a 40′ x 60′ area toward the back of the pen, where Crystal asks Sara to walk with an even tempo in both directions while remaining on the perimeter of the area – and then trotting the same. Her goal is to have Sara continue trotting for a full and continuous minute. But, Sara has not given lessons in three years and has not much interest in anything consistent. It takes a half dozen starts before they complete the minute. I ask Crystal if she would like to pick up a small canter before we finish. She has only cantered once, a month ago, and it was by accident. She had asked Sara to trot from the back of the pen into the arena but, heading in that direction, Sara opted for a canter. She is good about picking up a canter, and hers is not a big one. Still, it had taken Crystal by surprise. Today, Crystal completes three short canters – each requested as she rounds the corner of the pen and heads toward me. When her mom drives in, Crystal announces that she has a sore butt and thighs.
May 18 ~ Kim and Sara, and I and Zena trail ride again today. We are out for an hour-and-a-half, and Zena behaves perfectly for the entire ride. We ride deeper into the park, where she’s not yet been. When we come to a T-stop where the dirt road dead-ends into a blacktop cross, she stops, looks both ways, looks at a big garbage bin, at the stop sign, and waits for Sara to catch up. Kim turns Sara left onto the blacktop and Zena follows quietly. Farther along, we come to the big drive-over bridge. It offers a hollow concrete echo when horses walk over, and has two three-foot-wide steel plates that horses have to either step on or stretch over while crossing. Zena ventures over the bridge without stopping. It is clear throughout the ride that she is thinking. I am thrilled with her. Sara, as usual, is good as gold.
In the early evening, I let all of the horses out the red barn west-side slider. It is really quite interesting. I step into the arena with all five halters in my hand. The horses all stand quietly while i put each one one – Sara first, then Ruby, Sparky, Zena, and Allie. When they walk out, Zena and Ruby opt to stay on the wist side lawn. Sara trots around the back of the pen to graze on the backside of the indoor arena, and Sparky and Allie disappear into the back ten. I find it interesting that they do not stay together. I spend the next hour-and-a-half weed whacking, unloading grain and shavings, and picking the pen. After putting the hay out for the night, I open all the stall doors and dump the evening grain into the bins. I walk up to ruby, attach the lead, and walk her to her stall. I do the same with Zena and Sara, respectively. I let out three whistles that I had given the last two times the girls were out. But, during those times, there was no indication that the horses heard them. I close Sara into her stall and turn to head out for the last two. But, before I can reach the end of the arena, Sparky comes trotting in. By the time I close her stall door, Allie trots in. It is very cool!
May 20 ~ I let all five horses out to graze for a full two-and-a-half-hours. When it is time to bring them in, I figure I will have to walk to the back of the ten. But, lo-and-behold, all five were on the north side of the arena and came in as soon as they saw me. How nice! They must be ready for the evening grain!
May 21 ~ Ruby and i play a couple of the exercises from Vanessa Bee’s book, “Three Minute Horsemanship.” We are working on being quiet with each other. But, she eventually has to learn to be quiet when others are not; especially if she is to be safe around children. With the lead attached, I swing the end of it around both sides of me and over my head. I flop it across her back, around her front legs, and over her head. I originally learned this exercise from the Parelli program, and many horse handlers use it. I then set both of my hands on her left rib cage and ask her to move right. She does well. When I ask from the right side, she is not as responsive. I would like her to turn in response to the rope around her hips, above her hocks. I stand on her left, so she needs to turn to her right. She does it the first time immediately; but I am not sure that she is aware of what she is doing. When I ask a second time, she gives a little hop and, when I ask from her right side, she attempts to pull away. But, she managed one good one and I give her a treat. I ask her to lower her head by pressing lightly on her poll. She receives a treat for each measured movement. All total, she gets a lot of treats for what seems like not much performance. But, it is a nice start.
May 22 ~ Oh, My Goodness! Ruby collects and hands me halters today! When I walk into the arena with all five halters in my hands, the horses know they are going out to graze. Yesterday, after haltering the first four, they crowded me while I haltered Allie. But, today, when I ask, they all stand back and wait patiently. But, here is the big news – Always, Sara gets her halter first. Today, for some reason, she stands back a little. Ruby is first in line and sticks her head right in. I then pick up Sparky’s halter and put in on her. When I turn to get the next halter, Ruby is holding Zena’s halter in her mouth – and she gives it to me! Now, I have to ponder. Did she really give it to me? Or, did it just seem like she did? Well, I walk six feet away to put that halter on Zena. As i do, I feel a nudge on my shoulder; and turn to find Ruby holding Allie’s halter in her mouth! She CLEARLY is giving it to me! I have no treats with me so can only give her exuberant praise.
In the evening, with the horses out on the ten, Allie must have been near by, because she comes at the sound of my opening the stall doors. I walk way out on the back ten to collect the others. Sparky trots up with the others following. By the time they pass me, they are in a single file canter. It is so cool. I wish I had my camera on.
May 23 ~ Ruby comes into the causeway to get her ball. All on her own. After playing, I ask her to circle me in both directions, close up but without a lead – and she does! Marsha Clark stops in for an evening trail ride; she on Sara and me on Sparky. When we return, Ruby wants to play; so we pull out the ball and play fetch for Marsha. Ruby circles me in both directions and Marsha catches it on video. After she leaves, I end the evening by hammering together a huge three-compartment compost bin made of old fence boards and chicken wire.
May 24 ~ Kim comes for an early morning ride. She takes Zena for the first time; and I ride Sara. Zena seems a bit gimpy on her left rear, but trots just fine when she wants to catch up to Sara. We administer a dose of bute when we return to the barn. Ruby plays fetch and Kim catches a nice video. To make the day even better, granddaughter Crystal gets in an excellent after-school ride. I saddle Sparky and ride as companion while she rides Sara. We take up a steady job in the outdoor pen before walking all of the little trails on the back ten. We even trot a short distance on the paths – Crystal’s first trot outside the arena. We return to the barn and trot a bit more in the outside pen. She finishes by cantering from the back of the pen up to me; before removing Sara’s saddle to grab a little bareback time.
May 25 ~ No time for the horses today. I am meeting with a surgeon to consider repairing a second trigger finger – left ring finger this time. Can’t lose the use of my hands; and these snapping finger joints are a pain in the … hand!
May 26 ~ Ruby circles me in both direction – with Zena following! Funny. Gary and I go to the movies: The Jungle Book. Phenomenal animation for the animals’ faces. Oh, I’m sorry. According to our supposed horse industry leaders, we horse people are supposed to be decrying the “Disneyfication” of animals. Such movies, they say, lead people to believe that animals have conscious thought. Shame on us. SHAME ON THEM!
May 27 ~ I pick up all four of Ruby’s feet in her stall; and then all four again in the arena, on a lead line. That’s a first. I so realize, that traditional trainers would have their foals picking up their feet quietly by now, because they would have trained them through intimidation. Maybe, I’ll be proven wrong but I think, at this point, the only thing I’m doing wrong is not being consistent about practicing every day. My bad.
May 29 ~ Ruby comes looking for me today and walks at my side. This feels good. For the first time, she trots to the word “trot;” but only at the end of a lead line. I let Ruby out while I hose the arena for dust. She follows the spray with curiosity and, at some time, even gets a little wet. In the afternoon, I stop by Salvation Army and find a brand new TSC (Tractor Supply) brand blouse still sporting its label and price tag – $31! I pay $2.99; and pick up three bathing suits plus a couple of cute hospital scrubs with pockets for horse treats.
May 30 ~ In the evening, I finish up my new compost bin with the horses grazing on the lawn around me. I walk from the barn with four 1×6 boards and drop them on the ground. Ruby, who is about fifty feet away, startles at the noise but, in her worry, she runs right to me! Good girl!
May 31 ~ Happy Birthday to me – 64 years old today. I decide it is time to teach ruby to trot but, of course, she does not pick up a trot because she does not recognize the word. I trot with her on the lead until she picks it up and give her a treat. Boy, do I get tired fast! After all, I am sixty-four years old! Today! Still, we do this three or four times.
For my birthday, I treat myself to a half hour of practicing my piano. I’ve been trying to practice fifteen minutes each day, but often miss. Why? I have had this piano for thirty years and still cannot play much more than simple nursery rhymes. Inconsistency is my life crime against myself. I’ve been practicing less because of spring yard work, so I say. But, geezo-o-pete, it only takes fifteen minutes. What is the matter with me? On the bright side, Gary spends time working in the yard with me today, clearing limbs and brush. He has not done this with me in years. We also take time to ride our bikes on the new Columbiaville Rails-to-Trails path. And, my granddaughter, Taylor, has a flute concert tonight. What a good birthday.