Monday, March 31, 2008

Double the Pleasure, Double the Poo

There is a linear relationship between the number of horses you own and the volume of manure you are required to manage. The most common complaint I hear from lifetime horse people is that they are sick to death of shoveling shit. On the other hand, every horse lover loves horse poo because its presence means that all is well in the digestive world. Things go wrong very quickly when animals that go 10+ times daily stop going.

I honestly enjoy mucking out our paddock, but I am alarmed by how quickly it refills with two horses in there. When Tonka was solo I was cleaning it every 3-4 days (it measures about 165 X 50 feet) with 1 day's product reliably filling half a wheelbarrow (2.5 cubic feet). The addition of Raven means that I need to muck out at least every other day to stay on top of things. In my ideal world I could do it every day, but my professional world does like me to show my face at the office now and then.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Raven is not so Ravenous

Raven is currently about 150 underweight. This is partially due to weaning a foal in February, and partially due to having other horses steal her food at her former home. We are also having the vet out on Thursday to ensure that nothing deeper is at play. Despite being skinny Raven appears not to be hungry. At first I was feeding her separated from Tonka and she would nibble a little before wandering off -- very troublesome behaviour for a horse who needs to gain considerable weight. Granted, she was in heat her first few days here. But also granted, that horse should be *ravenous*. Since then I've discovered that if feed her in the paddock with Tonka she will eat with gusto while vehemently defending her fare. I don't know if she's actually hungry for it, or if she just doesn't want Tonka to have it, but I'm easy either way. The only problem is that if we feed her too much she will get bored/thirsty/distracted and Tonka will get food that he should not have. For now we have compromised on multiple small feedings (4 to 6) daily, which is probably better from a nutritional standpoint. When I removed her blanket (to groom and ride her) earlier today I was pleasantly surprised to see that she's already filled out a tiny little bit. Go Raven!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Wintec Windfall

I got Raven all ready for a ride this morning, but the girth that accompanied my light little Wintec AP saddle was too long. After establishing that the saddle is a perfect fit I was able to tolerate a quick ride up and down the street on her bony bare back. Tonka was less tolerant, running up and down the paddock and crying out to his lost lady love. Raven went along well. She is very forward under saddle and I had to remind her a few times that "whoa" actually means "whoa" and "walk" means "walk". She literally could not contain herself in the last 100 feet home to her lover boy, so we traveled at quite a lovely piaffe. Collection and impulsion are not a concern for Raven.

Later this afternoon I swung into the Abby Saddle Shop to get a shorter girth. As I was looking around my eyes fell on an old Wintec stock saddle, of the same era as the aforementioned AP. It is similarly constructed of cordura with light plastic poleys -- the whole shebang (stripped) weighs about 5 lbs. At $150 on consignment I couldn't pass it up, so saddle #4 will be crammed into the tiny tack closet. If I like this one I will sell the other. If I really like this one I will try to find another on eBay for Tonka. While I like the bigger stock saddle we've already got, 30 lbs of tack is a lot more than 10 lbs of tack.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Tonka in Love

Raven arrived early this afternoon. She is in heat and Tonka is in love. He spent most of the day acting studdy (while remaining a gentleman) with his "manhood" surprisingly ready for action on occasion. I did not observe any attempted mountings, but nor did I observe any real rebuffs from Raven. Overall I am thrilled by how well they are getting along thus far. He follows her around like a puppy dog and she doesn't seem to mind. Environment Canada is predicting decent weather tomorrow morning, so I will certainly be taking her out for her inaugural ride.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Variety is the Spice of Life

Like many founder-prone horses Tonka is an "easy keeper", meaning that it doesn't take much to meet his caloric needs. Here he gets free-choice, low-carb hay with a little alfalfa, whole oats, sunflower meats, whole flax or carrot mixed in on any given day. These bonus items are mostly to ensure that he's got some variety in his diet while keeping it as natural as possible -- I try to steer away from processed/engineered horse feed.

Raven, on the other hand, is a typical thoroughbred. She's that girl who can eat anything and everything without gaining any weight, and who sometimes has the audacity to *lose* weight. This is the only way in which I fear that Tonka and Raven are incompatible. Raven's former owner sent me a list of her daily feed today, and it goes like this:
  • 4-6 flakes of hay (she will free feed on Tonka's low-carb stuff here)
  • 4 scoops beet pulp
  • 4 scoops of high-fat Phase 3
  • 4 scoops of oats
  • 4 mini-scoops of Cool Calories
  • 4 scoops of alfalfa cubes

That's a lot of food for a horse. Raven is currently underweight because the pregnant mare she lives with has been stealing her food, but here I will feed her all of this separate from Tonka, who would probably keel over in heart failure if he dared to glance at it. I think we'll replace the Phase 3 with sunflower seeds and I'll avoid the Cool Calories if possible. There will be a period of trial and error, I'm sure, but we'll figure it out. Any suggestions?

Monday, March 24, 2008

At His Own Pace

Before last Wednesday I had never ridden a horse at a pace -- it's not common amongst well-schooled dressage horses. The trot is a two-beat gait in which diagonal pairs of legs move together with a moment of suspension between hoof strikes. It is relatively easy to ride because the topline of the horse remains level in both planes. A posting (rising) trot is possible, and experienced riders have no trouble with a sitting trot. The pace is also a two-beat gait, but lateral pairs of legs move together so that the horse's body bobs from side-to-side with a moment of suspension between. This motion makes it impossible to rise to the gait, and uncomfortable to sit to it.
The pace is also marked by a hollow back, high head, and quite stunning speed. Many harness races are run at the pace, and the animals are bred for their natural inclination to use this rather unnatural (i.e. not often observed in the wild) gait. Tonka is not such a horse, and his propensity to move from trot-to-pace or canter-to-pace under saddle is probably due to stiffness and lack of muscle tone. It takes a lot of a conditioning for a horse to carry a rider with balance and finesse, so I have started some bending exercises to help him along. Today I was asking him to stretch his neck muscles by holding him steady while pulling his nose towards his ribs by the halter. Once he understood what I was getting at he gave me a look that said "you're one crazy monkey, you know" but he played along. What a sweetie.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Bigger is not Always Better

Not when it comes to wheelbarrows, anyhow. David's parents bought us a sturdy 6 cubic-footer a few years ago, but I find it very difficult to navigate to our manure pile when it's full. The prow around the wheel sits low and gets stuck in the long grass and small holes en route. Yesterday I bought a light and maneuverable 5 cubic-footer with a higher prow and a more narrow barrow. It takes one extra trip to do the paddock, but it's worth it!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Waste Not, Want Not

My one and only complaint about our crusher dust paddock is that Tonka will not eat any hay that has come in contact with the substrate. This is mostly a good thing (we really don't want a case of crusher dust colic on our hands) but it means that we are wasting more hay than before. At $6/bale I prefer to conserve as much as possible, so we will be looking for some mats to put under the feeder(s) over the next couple of days. Thick rubber stall mats are small (4X6 or 5X7) and expensive ($80 each) so we might try some other options first. I'm thinking of buying one of the 12X17 garage floor liners they sell at Costco and cutting it in half -- if it can stand up to cars it can stand up to horses, right?

Note the ruffled girth mark on Tonka's ribs. I had him out for another couple of hours this morning, and I'm happy to announce that I didn't dismount once. With my handy Carrot Stick (TM) I was able to coax him through all sorts of obstacles (even sheep). We went for a quite an outing, and we even had a little trot and canter on the grass. He is getting braver and more confident in me under saddle, and he plods along quite happily when there's nothing scary around. This morning he came trotting to the gate when I went to fetch him, so I take that as a good sign. And now for a completely gratuitous picture from our dog walk along the Deroche dike this evening. I still can't believe that we live here.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Oh, the Places We'll Go!

Despite predictions of rain from the weather office, the sun was shining when I woke up this morning. I got Tonka groomed up (went over him with the shedding blade -- I am now white) and tacked up. The Aussie saddle fits him very well, but I need a longer girth for it, so we stuck with the Wintec today. After getting him cinched up I lifted his front left hoof for picking, but his right knee seemed to give out and he almost went down. He's generally an honest horse and I have never known him to pull a stunt like that, but he walked it off just fine with no sign of weakness or pain in either leg.

At this point I am thinking that I caught him off guard by doing his feet after tacking him up and that he was worrying about the girth and not prepared to hold himself up properly. I'll try it again next time to see what happens. It was obvious after a few minutes under saddle that he was walking fine and bearing my weight with no difficulty, so I'm viewing it as an interesting blip for the time being.

And oh, the places we went! It wasn't a long ride in terms of distance, but it was great in terms of experience. We watched two trains go by under saddle (he was definitely calmer the second time, but we will keep doing it) and we went over a bridge. I had to dismount to get him over it the first time, but after that he was tentative-but-willing under saddle. One of the guys working on the railway track shouted "you've got a good owner, big guy" and I felt good about my philosophy of persistent patience.

And everyone who saw us commented on how good Tonka is looking these days, which is nice. Today I noticed the huge improvement in his front right heel, and the left is coming along as well. I can't imagine what a year will bring. Now his blanket is in the wash in preparation for tonight's rain, and I am back to the grind.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Due Date

Raven will be delivered to Deroche on March 24th. In the meantime I have managed to become Facebook friends with Raven's current owner, so I can obsessively ogle multiple pictures online.

My time with Tonka has been limited to 5am feedings over the past two days due to our club's annual flyball tournament. The good news is that he spends a lot of time on the crusher dust, both eating and sleeping. He does not seem to seek out the softer ground under the trees, which I take as indication that his feet are feeling good and strong. If the rain lets up I will be trying the new saddle tomorrow...

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Big Dig

When I got home on Tuesday evening there was an excavator in our front yard. Early Wednesday morning I started heading down the hill with Tonka (so that he could stay at Wendy's place while construction was underway) and we passed Tom on the way up with his bulldozer. Things were humming along by 08:30 and Tom was finished up, packed up and moved out by 18:30. It was an expensive 10 hours for David and I, but the thrill of watching dump truck after dump truck arrive with loads of gravel was almost worth it. Tom was able to accommodate a late request to clean up our driveway, and the property looks much neater.

Tom also removed the huge dead stump of a maple that used to live in the middle of our front yard. I wish that I had taken "before" and "after" pictures, because now it looks like it was never there.

Most importantly Tonka's paddock is now 2/3 covered in good, hard footing. Christina was here to trim his hooves this morning, and she agrees that they have really improved over the past month. We're booth eager to see what the next month on this footing will do.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Christmas in March

(Or maybe an early Easter? Lord knows the bloody packing peanuts were like a pastel snowstorm in our mud room.) Just before leaving for Toronto I bought Raven. During my time in Toronto I bought all the accouterments for Raven. When I got home last night everything I had ordered was waiting to be unpacked and loved. The list?

  • The aforementioned Australian stock saddle, which is wider and heavier than I thought it would be. I suspect that it will fit Tonka, which is great because I mostly wanted it for David. I will find out tomorrow if the weather is decent.
  • This old-school close-contact Wintec that bought for Raven on eBay. It is even lighter than I thought it would be, and I am thrilled with the purchase.
  • Two collapsible saddle holders so that both of these purchases can be stored efficiently in the tack closet, along with my Wintec 2000 AP.
  • A bit and bridle for Raven. The bridle is allegedly "horse" sized, but it looks more "warmblood" sized to me, so I will exchange it for a "cob".
  • A rain sheet for Raven. I noticed today that Tonka has wrecked one of his shoulder gussets already, so I have some repair work to do.
  • Waxed cotton reins for both bridles. I never ride in gloves and I have always preferred the soft grip of these reins. Plus they are much less expensive than rubber.
  • A leather halter and lead shank for Raven.

Good thing a cheque I was expecting also arrived, eh? I am horse poor and loving it!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Crusher Dust

I'm headed back to Deroche this evening, just in time for construction to begin on our new crusher dust paddock. Neighbor Tom is going to excavate and level the front 2/3 of the horse paddock (the back 1/3 is too hilly), then backfill with ~6" of small stone. The result will be a hard surface that won't get muddy, will be easy to clean and, most importantly, will put more pressure on the lowered soles of Tonka's foundered feet. We will keep the feeder(s) on the crusher dust to ensure that he's standing there for much of the day. The shelter will go at the back, amongst the cedar trees, where the footing is more relaxing. It's a lot of money to invest, but I feel sure that it will pay off in the long run.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Hungry Hungry Humans

This post has nothing to do with horses, beyond the word "hippos" meaning "horse" to the ancient Greeks. I saw this article on the BBC yesterday evening, documenting the rediscovery of pygmy hippos in the wilds of Liberia. These little hippos measure about 30" high by 65" long and they weigh around 500lbs. In comparison, their full-size cousins weigh in between 3000 and 4000lbs. While your average hippopotamus is a formidable target for would-be hunters, the greatest threat to pygmy survival is hungry, hungry humans. A sad state, but a difficult situation to regulate in a region affected by years of civil strife. Thank goodness they seem to breed well in captivity.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Let it Snow

Still in Toronto and it is snowing. Again. David is holding down the fort in Deroche where it is raining. Again. Most of Canada is talking about the promise of spring as far as I can tell, and it seems laughable that we are flipping back to daylight savings time tomorrow. While I'm dreaming about leisurely summer rides along the river, I'm also excited about the first snowfall of our horse ownership next winter. Many acquaintances up north are still posting photos of their ponies playing in the snow, and it looks like fun.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

A Bit of This, A Bit of That

Continuing from yesterday's post, one often sees dedicated Parelli natural horsemanship (PNH) practitioners riding in hackamore (bitless) bridles, or completely bridleless. I find these feats moving and I aspire to this kind of partnership with our horses. For the time being I'll stick firmly to the philosophy of "least bit necessary" -- Tonka responds well to an eggbutt snaffle, and I have ordered the same for Raven. There's hundreds of variations on the bit, but they basically fall into two categories. Curb bits use leverage created by the reins to twist the mouthpiece while snaffle bits use direct pressure from the reins on the mouthpiece. Either can be uncomfortable for the horse (PNH argues that any bit is unnatural, though apparently sells them), but curb bits are generally regarded as more severe. The variety in both types is mind boggling, and I regard most as band-aid gimmicks advertised to solve deeper problems. What do you think?

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Carrot Sticks and Savvy Strings

The name Pat Parelli has been drifting at the perimeter of my consciousness for the past few years. While I am generally in favour of methods that require trainers to account for the natural state of the animal in question, I am also skeptical of any distilled and formulaic approach to animal training. Regardless of what species you are working with, the spectrum of personalities is huge and the same problem might need 10 different approaches for 10 different individuals.

With our dogs (and our foster dogs) we take a no-nonsense stance. Corrections for certain unacceptable behaviors are swift and harsh, undesirable behaviors are consistently and persistently discouraged, and praise for desirable behaviors is clearly communicated. This hierarchy is adjusted to individual animals based on their age, overall disposition, and day-to-day moods (not to mention our own day-to-day moods). Something tells me that I will default to a similar strategy with the horses, but I did buy a set containing the Parelli Level I DVDs (TM), a halter (TM), a Savvy String (TM), a 12-foot line (TM) and a Carrot Stick (TM) to see what it's all about. The Parelli price for this kit is an amazing $382 + shipping, but I managed to get it for $300 on eBay, shipping included. Furthermore, I managed to copy all of the DVDs and printed material so that I could resell them on eBay ($200) and distribute them to one other curious party ($50).

So far I'm feeling neutral about my $50 investment. Linda Parelli kind of makes me laugh, and the horses look genuinely confused about what's being communicated by some of the approaches. There's a lot of things I will probably never try because they look too ridiculous. On the other hand, some of the exercises do seem valuable for a cooperative-yet- skeptical horse like Tonka. I'd probably be less philosophical about it if I'd paid full price (we call this kind of racket "a license to print money" at our place). Please don't tell on me?

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Learning is for Life

It takes a long time to learn how to ride well. Finding and maintaining a good, balanced position while effectively applying and releasing multiple aids can be a lifelong pursuit. At this point I have no interest in training and showing like I did during my teenage years, but I still intend to take regular lessons with a rigorous teacher so that my riding is constantly improving. It will be good for me, and it is the least I can do for the horses who are forced to pack my ample ass around. We are fortunate to have a Level III eventing coach named Sue Allbrect living around the corner from us and willing to take on students with no real aspiration. If all goes well in Toronto I am hoping to start next week. Here's a picture that Sue recently posted on the Horse Council forums -- I will die happy if I can ride like this:

Monday, March 3, 2008

In the Land of Oz

The vast majority of my equestrian training has occurred in some type of English-style saddle, mostly dressage. Although I have bought Wintec all-purpose saddles for both horses, some research got me intrigued by Australian-style stock saddles. The position of the rider is essentially the same as it would be in a dressage saddle, but the seat is somewhat deeper and secured by poleys along the thighs. They are allegedly more comfortable for trail riding, and more intuitive for new riders. Today I bought a cheap one for Raven on eBay to see how I like it. If things go well the Wintecs might go on the chopping block.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

May I Call You Bob?

Yesterday afternoon David called Toronto from the home front to report that he was watching the local bobcat hunt something (likely moles) in our back yard. Tonka was blissfully upwind and unspooked, and the dogs seem disinterested if not oblivious. Without a zoom lens the photo-op was limited, but here's some bobcat bum for you, care of David:

The idea of adding a stock guardian to our menagerie has come up a couple of times. My preference would be for a Maremma dog as I have some experience with this extraordinary breed. Time to start doing some research!