Happy New Year. In early January, the girls enjoy a little winter sun.As I put out the hay, I notice Luna is messing around over by the fence. What the heck is she doing?
January 15 ~ Well, I am finally far enough past Gary’s surgery that I feel like I can get back on some sort of schedule. I get up very early today and work on this blog. Instead of my usual routine of giving the horses their grain first, I just give them hay to keep them busy while I pick the arena. I want to bring them into the tack room, so I tie Luna in the corner, by the feed room door. She is definitely not happy with that; but she needs to learn to sit quietly when I have a horse in there. This morning, I bring each girl in for her grain and a rudimentary groom. I am mostly interested in having them and Luna become comfortable together in the closed space.
My evening plan is to enjoy quiet time in the tack room with Ruby and Luna. But, Luna is having great difficulty being quiet. She is again on the end of a leash and not happy that she cannot reach Ruby’s hay. I am trying to quietly read a passage from Ashley Montagu’s 1952 book, “The Natural Superiority of Woman.” In what better company to read this book than with my girls?! Early in the text, Montagu references women’s anthropological advantages. Now, he is explaining why we are superior based on the size and substance of the X and Y chromosomes. But, right now, Luna seems to be missing the “quiet gene.” Ruby, on the other hand, is behaving like a big girl. Good for her. Before long, I will be saying, “Good woman.” After consuming a good measure of hay, she turns around to investigate the brushes and bottles left on the window sill from this morning; before turning toward the saddle racks. She removes a turquoise pony pad from atop Sparky’s western saddle and hands it to me. I have no treat but, instead, place it on her back. It has been a long time since we have done this. She bends her neck around to contemplate. I return the pad to the rack and walk her out to the arena. Passing through the causeway, she grabs her bag from the toy bin and hands it to me. I have no treat, but grab the entire bin, take it into the arena, and dump the toys. I quickly return to the tack room for treats – and Luna. What to do with Luna? As Ruby walks toward me with Bag, Luna jumps up, rips it from her mouth, and runs off. Ruby just looks at me pathetically. I give her a conciliatory treat.
January 16 ~ I repeat yesterday’s morning routine. Luna still does not like being tied nearby as the girls eat their grain. I try to convince myself that her behavior is a teeny bit quieter. I clean all sixteen feet with nary a complaint from anyone, and perform a sloppy scissor clip on their bridle paths. Ruby pulls two lightweight English pads off the racks, and gives them to me. I give her a treat and flip them onto her back. She is a bit hesitant about walking through the tack room door with them but, still, offers a pleasant walk back to her stall – where I remove them and wander off to pick the arena.
In the evening, I again want to say that Luna is quieter on her chain – but, that would be a fib. She cannot tolerate Ruby eating grain without her, and strains to scarf up the morsels that fall to the mat. There is that part of me that wants to just leave her in the house when I am sitting with Ruby in the evenings. But, that will not help her learn to be quiet. I will give her more time. When Ruby abandons the available hay and lifts Sparky’s saddle pad off the rack, I put it on her back and lead her to the arena. I let the other girls out of their stalls, but Ruby wants to play. It is dark, and quiet, and cold – and I just cannot get my brain around being creative or consistent. So, I defer and head up to the house.
January 18 ~ I find it is impossible for me to work with the horses when Luna is with me. We really need the quiet. In the evening, I pull out my old Parelli Level One DVD and booklets. I review the friendly, porcupine, and driving games. After spending the last couple years studying the horse-conscious community, I now read the booklets with new eyes. At least in writing, if not always in practice, there is much in common. Parelli professes that it is reward that works – not punishment; that limitless patience is the key; and that we must spend much down-time just being with our horse. I realize that we do not always see that in practice – in his videos and at his clinics. He suggests that we trade our flat nylon halters for thin rope ones, because the rope applies more pressure to the horse’s head – and that is supposedly sometimes necessary. But, I laundered and packed my Parelli rope halters away. If I think I need a halter at all, the old (and prettier) flat nylons will work well enough.
January 19 ~ This morning, I put Luna back up in the yard before taking the horses out. Every so often, I hear her whimper, but no barking. I suspect she is spending most of her time exploring the yard. Per my Parelli review, I take each of the horses out and ask them to back in response to a slight bounce of the stick on their lead. It is an unnecessary cue because they all already back to both my voice request to “back,” and my non-contact finger cue. But, it is the first step in Parelli’s driving game, so I will review. Sparky and Sara already know this, so readily back. Zena gives me a bit of a heads-up before taking a step. Ruby catches on pretty quickly and I reward her smallest step. But, when I move on the the porcupine game, she is not so eager to turn on the forehand or haunches with the stick in my hand. She would simply rather mess with the stick. She turns her hips away well enough; but it takes me a bit of level two or even three pressure to get her to turn her shoulders away. I have read that asking a horse to turn her front end away is a dominance move.
In the evening, I repeat the same games. The friendly game comes easy to Ruby. She is not afraid of the stick one iota; anywhere on her body. To her, it is just another toy. I am using Parelli’s old Level One Program (the red box for those of you who have some of his stuff). The “games” we played today complete his little red pocket guides #1 and 2. Before heading to bed, I watch a bit of his First Level DVD, and review the driving game (#3) in red pocket guide #3.
January 20 ~ Luna helps me feed and pick before I return her to the house. This morning, I repeat yesterday’s routine with each of the girls – backing to the tap on the lead, and non-contact driving in both directions at the shoulder and hips. They all do better. At some point, Ruby wants to trot circles on the lead. I am surprised to see her just cruise right on around four or five times with steady momentum. When did trotting on the longe suddenly sink in? After reviewing last night’s DVD, I add trotting the horse on a straight line at my side. I am wondering what Ruby will do if I need to flick the stick and string behind me to encourage forward motion. But, the slightest movement of the stick off to my left lifts her pressure off the rope as she catches up with a nice trot down and back.
Because it is relatively warm today, Kim brings Ava and Lucca over to play with the horses in the afternoon. It is the last I will see of Kim before she leaves for a month in Florida. We walk the kids around the ten on Sara and Sparky and, because it is late enough, we feed for the night. I do not return to the barn for evening games. But, I do review my pocket guides before bed. Still in booklet #3, I will ask the horses to lower their heads to poll pressure; and to walk forward from a tap on their backs while I am standing at their rib cage – rather than their head.
January 21 ~ After morning picking, I walk Luna around the ten – well, she runs every which way, nose to the ground – and put her in the house. Back with the girls, I tap the lead for a back, and drive the head and hips in both directions. They all do well; as they do with their trotting down and back. Sara and Sparky lower their heads easily because they have past experience that they have not forgotten. But, when I originally taught this, I never followed the exercise to completion – moving my hand to their withers and asking them to keep their heads down to the count of ten. I work on that with Sara and Sparky now. Ruby is not at all interested in lowering her head to pressure, but we work on it and find a good place to stop. Sara and Sparky complete the drive-to-various-objects with nary a tap on their backs; but Zena has to learn this. Ruby does better than I expect.
January 22 ~ I do not have time to play with the girls in the morning; but enjoy evening time. I repeat the friendly game, backing in response to a tap on the lead, porcupine/driving in a circle, lowering the head; and my standing near their rib cage while tapping on their back to guide them toward objects.
January 23 ~ It has been surprisingly warm for a number of days – warm enough to thaw the manure in the pens. When I tell Wende I am going to skip our basement yoga this morning, she opts to join me in the barn – spending better than an hour helping me move ten barrows of heavy wet manure. Now, what kind of friend is that?! I finally cry uncle when it starts to drizzle, and we head up to the house to indulge ourselves with hot oatmeal with warm fruit in almond milk.
I drive Gary in for his first cardiac rehab therapy in the afternoon. The clinic is located across from the hospital so it is a good half-hour drive each way – three times a week for the next three months. They have the same equipment we have – treadmill, rower, and bicycle – but they can wire him to monitors that send cardiac feedback to the therapists. And, it keeps him on a schedule. But, they only have him work for five minutes on each piece of equipment. He is already doing more than that at home.
In the evening, I just sit in the office while Ruby eats her grain. She is not much interested in the hay, so we play peek-a-boo with a white towel before I put her out for the night.
January 24 ~ It is a good thing Wende and I pulled all that manure from the pens yesterday because it is cold again this morning and what remains is frozen. The temps are supposed to go back up into the 40’s for the weekend, so I should be able to finish the job then. Michigan usually has a couple days of what we call a January thaw; but this year the temps are, in general, surprisingly warm. I am not planning on going anywhere today, so I put hay behind the barn and in the parking lot, and let the girls out for the day. They don’t have any interest in wandering onto the back ten, but it seems to me that it would be nice to just get outside of the building and pens. While watching them later, I note that Sara is eating everything that I put in my compost bin this morning, save the coffee filters. Silly girl.
January 25 ~ Today is shot. I need to drive Gary for two medical check-ups. We enjoy lunch out and a movie and do not get home until after dark. I take Luna with me for evening feed and grab a couple of cute photos of her with the horses.
January 26 ~ Today, I add the squeeze game (walking or trotting between me and the wall) and side-ward (side-pass) game to the girls’ activities. Sara has them down pat, and the others give it a try. These are the two skills that make it so easy for Sara to open gates, both at liberty and under saddle.
January 27 ~ I wake to a balmy 45-degrees and take Luna for a romp around the ten before feeding. While the girls finish their grain, I manage to pull three more barrows of manure out of the pens. I ask each girl to walk out of, and to back-back-into, their stalls three times, being careful to not bring their hips so far out that they have trouble aiming their way back in. After a quick yo-yo game, and one turn on hips and shoulder, I ask each of them to side-pass over a white pole along the wall (nose to wall). With little confusion, Sparky manages it. So we walk to the center of the ring and attempt to side-pass along another pole – i.e., front feet on one side of the pole and back feet on the other. Sara aces both on the wall and in the center of the ring. Zena finds the wall confusing with the pole beneath her, so we attempt along the wall without the pole. She manages to side-pass a distance of six feet and I say that is good enough. She was a show ring and then buggy horse so this is new for her; and the old leg injury that caused her to become a rescue horse gives her trouble turning on her back feet, so I expect less of her. When I ask Ruby to side-pass along the wall with the pole, she wants none of it. She is more interested in turning around and playing with the lead. At some point, she turns in the opposite direction I am asking, pulling the lead out of my hand. So, I just put her back in her stall – where she sulks, really, while I put out the hay.
The weather is so pleasant that I encourage Gary to try walking in the yard with his cane. He plays a bit of catch with Luna and a tennis ball. It is good to see him outside. We spend the afternoon at the movies and, in the evening, I pull out two more barrows of manure before it gets dark. That just leaves the west pen, but it is too wet to get in there with the barrow. Ruby is the only horse I work with tonight; asking her to walk out of, and back-back-into her stall four times. I want her using her noggin. We then back up with me at her side, turn on the haunches, and the head. She needs to become more attentive and responsible to these requests before I ask for more. It is not that she does not understand. She just is not, like, one-hundred percent into obedient yet. For example, this morning, she tried to turn away from me, wrapping the lead around her hips as she did. I held on, following her with, “hey, hey, hey, don’t you do that.” She came back around and I felt pretty good about not giving up the lead.
January 28 ~ The temps are again in the low 40’s today – a pleasant morning. Luna and I take a spin on the ten before I feed the horses. The girls and I practice in and out the stall doors. We side-pass on the wall and I lead from the ribs. Spring fever is in the air and I am thinking about spring training with Ruby. She will be turning three in May. With a loose lead over my arm, we stand in front of the stalls as I saddle her with the old Abetta. She handles it surprising well, and keeps the saddle on while I pull out Redball to play fetch. This is the first time I have asked her to concentrate on anything while under saddle. We are supposed to get an inch of snow overnight. I am torn between needing a normal winter and wanting global warming. Not that I would be interested in hundred-degree summers!
January 29 ~ OMGoodness! We wake to seven inches of snow! After morning feed, I clear our drive with our little sixteen-inch snow blower before heading over to plow the rental house drive. I am not tired when I finish, so I head across the street to blow Amy and Allen’s. They are late-nighters and will not wake until noon. This will be a pleasant surprise. This is not the same Amy that used to spend wonderful evenings playing with my horses in the barn – the one who sat on the starry blanket for a horsey pajama party. When she and I realized that we had voted for different presidential candidates, she decided that was enough to end the friendship. We never talked politics in the barn. It was when I invited her to a NOW meeting that she realized she was the only woman in the group who had voted for Donald Trump. It is truly a shame because I am sure our core values are the same. My oldest sister and I belong to opposite parties and we know our core values are the same. We just see the paths to correcting national problems differently. Alas, I do miss Amy. At any rate, I have done enough snow-blowing for one day. Even Cat says the remainder should be a comfort day.
January 30 ~ Gary has two medical appointments today, and it is cold, so I do nothing other than feed and pick. When I feed the horses inside the arena, I put the hay in the two web feeders that I made with the half-moon window wells. But, Zena is often left out as Sparky commandeers one hay bag for herself, and Sara and Ruby feed from the other. So, I put a couple flakes on the ground for Zena – but the others come and take those easy-pickings. Zena is a big horse and I want her to get her share. It is not like she is showing ribs, but Sara and Sparky both have hay bellies. It is pretty easy to see that they routinely get the lion’s share of the hay. So, today, I make two changes in their feed program. First, I double Zena’s grain measure to be sure she is getting the calories she needs. She will now get as much of her maintenance pellets as Ruby gets of her growth pellets. Second, I cut back on hay to see whether I can shed Sara’s and Sparky’s hay-bellies.
January 31 ~ The weather is pleasant today. Wende and I take a walk in the park instead of doing yoga in the basement. I forget to grab the gate key from the tack room, so I tell Wende that she will have to climb the gate. She laughs and says she has not climbed a gate since she was a kid. I tell her that three of my other friends have said the same thing when I have suggested that they climb the pipe-iron gate in the arena. But, none of them took me up on it. Wende does. We walk maybe two miles down the park road and around the upper river trail. Wende says she would never feel comfortable walking in the park alone. This is a quiet park and I have always felt safe on a horse or bike. But, I carry pepper spray when I walk. It is sick and sorry that women have to worry about being prey.
Back at the barn, I am still teaching the girls to walk into their stalls backwards – an extension of Parelli’s yo-yo game. It is a thinking exercise.