Thursday, 5 December 2019

Desensitizing

Just some winter ponderings...

A riding buddy and I were chatting the other day and contemplating some winter and spring events. Our trail challenge courses seem to be a thing quite a few people enjoy, and there are one or two clinicians that enough people like that we can make a go of booking them and combining that with a fun trail challenge day (sadly, my favorite coach is "english" and therefore not one of them ;) )

Although I do have to say, low level eventing kind of equals a trail challenge, no? 


Like all events and clinics, there are goals and things people want to accomplish. And we have a lot of fun. BUT, being kind of an outsider to the western world, some of the extreme/spooky trail and desensitizing stuff raises questions for me. Honestly some of the opinions and personalities make me a bit uncomfortable. I'm not sure I have the words or my thoughts in enough order to make this concise, but here we go:

I don't think it's fair for me (or anyone) to TRY to push until there is a reaction. I'm good with stuff being there that's potentially scary. I'm not a fan of things like people waving tarps and plastic bags around trying to get a reaction...I'm pretty sure my horse is smart enough to tell the difference between me scaring/annoying her on purpose vs a random event or person doing so without a focus on her. Taking it a step further, if I ever did approach a horse with that much intent, energy and noise, I kind of want and expect them to be aware of it, not tuning me out.

Unless it's Bridget. Then do whatever you gotta do to make her put her ears up for a photo :D

I 100% believe our horses can easily read our intention. I want to be reliable and trusted as far as the relationship with my horses go. They don't scare or annoy me on purpose, why would I scare or annoy them on purpose? We don't avoid new or scary things, but they're never the focus of the day, either. If something unexpected happens, we trust each other and figure it out. I think that's a fair deal.

I had an interesting chat on this very subject with a clinician after people asked me why he didn't push Sophie further. (They've seen her react and spook and I get the feeling that they think a lot less of us for it and that clinician should 'fix it' and help me more) The short answer is what you'd expect: always ends on a good note, give the horse confidence and quit while you're ahead.

Master of the pool noodles. They're just like navigating a narrow, bushy trail, right?

Then he added quite a bit more to his answer that I thought was interesting. As always, please take this with a grain of salt as I'm paraphrasing my understanding.

A lot of people fall into a trap of desensitizing and doing ground work to death, because "that's what you do". He mentioned learned helplessness, and was quite vocal about keeping things fun for the horses, while still giving the people confidence.


He also mentioned that there are lots of horses out there that won't be a good fit for a program. In his younger days, he would have worked harder and made it happen. Now, though, he's much more likely to leave it be and suggest a change in job or rider to suit the horse better. His advice now is that if you want or need a brave and bombproof horse, buy one with the mind to be trained to be so. He likes a thinking, reactive horse, and for the riding he does, that's what he needs. He can encourage whatever aspect of their personality he needs, but when it comes down to it, there are always going to be jobs some horses aren't mentally suited for and shouldn't be pushed in to.

Baby Bridget had zero issues with water
or bridges. She just naturally didn't care too much. But the times I picked a fight about doing it 'faster' didn't work out well for me.

In the nicest possible way, he was telling me Sophie is probably not going to be the dead quiet horse walking through the trail challenge. And that's really OK, we don't need her to be! She needs to trust me and do the thing, but she's allowed to look and think and ask me questions about it, too.

For my purposes, his input was that I don't ever want to "dull" my horses down and he'd actually prefer them to be a bit more reactive and quick thinking than I am currently allowing (Sophie wants to be super sensitive to my cues and that's a gift, I need to have the confidence to use it) so my thoughts and questions aren't out in left field for my dressage goals and (average) riding ability. Cool.



So that all seems very common sense. But also very much at odds with other clinicians, when you think about it. There seem to be a whole lot of them that will fix anything and advocate for you as the rider being the boss and the horse doing whatever you say without question.


Anyway, it's a grey, windy, and rainy day out there, and I need to take my horses for an outing.  I think I'll just keep doing what I'm doing and trust my horses are OK. Enjoy the weekend!


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Saturday, 30 November 2019

Winter Feeding Challenges


Not that I would know for sure, but I highly suspect it's way easier (and cheaper) to acquire illegal drugs in his town that it is to buy hay.

Border security found all the hay the smugglers tried to hide in this coke shipment.

This year's been especially bad...often you can't even buy it at any price because there simply isn't any! Current pricing for a ton of timothy delivered here is $675, if you can get it. There's a waiting list, apparently limited to previous customers only. I'm lucky in that I found some local hay last summer and that I work in the same town as the timothy supplier once a week and can bring back 4 bales at a time in my truck on the ferry without a hazardous goods permit.

So, I've been doing everything I can to stretch the hay out, and surprisingly, I feel like my horses are looking better than ever this winter.

Bridget. I'm happy with her weight this winter. (One of her previous barn kids taught her to smile :)
Nothing groundbreaking here, but here's what's working for me.

- A FeedXL subscription. I think the one I chose was $50 for the year and it's the best money I spend on feeding. I can add a profile for each horse, and easily edit and plan their diets virtually each season as they get more or less pasture or a change in hay, and still ensure their dietary needs are being met. It's saved me money because I was previously feeding more hay than I needed in winter and a more expensive supplement/grain combo than I really needed year round.

Yum yum.

- Alfalfa cubes. They're more easily and cheaply acquired here than bales of hay, so I've been adding 2lbs/day for Sophie, and 1lb/day for Bridget for about a year now. I soak them to mush and hide their vitamin/mineral mix in there too. Depending on hay availability, I've previously tripled that amount and still had happy ponies. The con to these as hay replacement is of course they eat it much faster, and I've seen some studies showing the longer stems of traditional baled hay are more filling and a better source of fibre. I feel better about feeding soaked hay cubes than I do other options like beet pulp or rice bran since I'm just looking for straight up baled hay substitute.
Pictures of ponies approving of my dinner selection. You can see Bridget's funny white spot under her neck here, too. So cute.


- Hay nets. Less waste, and spreads eating time out. I can't not use them.

Bridget is savage if you don't give her some on the ground to stuff her face with first, tho.

- Taking advantage of any pasture time. Sometimes it means multiple trips to the barn in a day, but this time of the year if the horses can get out of their paddocks and onto better grass even for a couple of hours on a sunny day, it's free forage (and a nice mental break for them too, I think!)

Am happy with Sophie's weight too. She's really filled out!

- A locally manufactured vitamin/mineral supplement. I was previously buying ration balancer grain, but there was a whole lot of filler and stuff in there they didn't really need, plus feeding the recommended amount meant multiple bags per month. I'm liking just feeding the vitamin/mineral powder that is balanced for our local pasture and hay. The bag lasts way longer, too so it's a lot more cost effective.

(Sidenote: chatting with the vet last year, she was fairly vocal about researching the grain I feed and making sure the ingredient list was available and there was no clay or other binding agents, no unidentified protein sources, no molasses, etc. It had never occurred to me as I usually just read the nutrition label, and buy the low sugar grain but yeah...there's some interesting stuff in some of it and low sugar is sometimes subjective. As mentioned above I opted to switch it up, but do your research and make up your own mind, of course.)


- Owning big ponies. I know that sounds like a joke, but I'm halfway serious. I couldn't have a really hard keeper and live here. We don't have year round pasture, or an unlimited guaranteed supply of hay, and the closest feed/grain supply comes via the ferry once a week. Our local feed store does an amazing job, but in my experience there is no guarantee they'll have what you need in stock on any given day and space on the weekly truck is limited. Currently, Bridget gets by on 10lbs of mixed local and ttimothy hay daily and Sophie gets 15. I'm really lucky!
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Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Early Winter Resources

Finally!
 I'm back with some of the things I've enjoyed reading, watching, or buying in recent months (the small consolation to losing daylight so early - a little more time to peruse the internet!)

It was 4pm when I took this.That's all I can say.

 - Let's get controversial right of the bat: The Rider Weight Debate. As a not so small rider of ponies, you know this was a link I had to click. It's a very small study but I still thought worth a read. I liked the calculator links at the end of the article...like most there is a minimum suggested horse weight, but they break that down further. For example someone of my size should be good on any draft horse, average horses, or small horses/ponies over 14.1hh. Cool. Time to lose weight, because smaller ponies would be nice to see on the list :)

- Bucas Freedom Riding Rug.This thing is perfect for my needs. Waterproof, and attaches over the saddle so I can put it over my legs and stay warm and dry. It's got reflective stripes and has a tail flap too so the ponies stay dry and safe. Oh, and the lining is nylon, so no static shocks.

I ordered hot pink, but this grey-blue color came instead and I like it.
- Recognizing Subtle Lameness. The link is to part 1 of a video series on YouTube. I haven't watched the rest yet, but I found the first one useful - lots of points brought up I hadn't considered and good visuals for what to look for and how to see which part of the body it may be originating from. Some of the stats they mentioned were rather alarming to me but I'll let you make up your own minds.

-AnnaBlakeBlog. How have I only recently discovered this? I'm enjoying reading through. Some of the topics resonate immediately as things we intuitively know about our horses, some I think I might mull over further before I commit one way or the other. Whatever the case, it's got me thinking and I like that.

-Keystone Equine. I've been a fan of this facebook page forever because she's Canadian and trains ponies so obviously she's awesome ;) Seriously though, if you don't follow her already, she's worth a look and I see she has a new book to tempt everyone with too. I've added it to my Christmas wish list.

-This Bit. I took a chance since it was marked down 80% off  and the only size left was the hony size I seem to need. (It's feast or famine with these sized equines, I swear - either the thing you want simply doesn't exist in their size and you need to order custom, or you score because the size you need is the same one no one else wanted and it is on super clearance sale. ) I've never found a magic bit for Bridget and Sophie needs one, so why not? Sophie is SO dramatic and fussy...the rest I tried on her were immediately met with a big gaping mouth trying to spit it out. This one is not loved either but it's acceptable and she carries it quietly, so it's a win. I need to try it on Bridget and see what she thinks.
Sprenger Dynamic RS



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Sunday, 24 November 2019

Why?

I so wish I could find the link, but recently I was reading a facebook(?) post on the importance of asking why.

Bridget: Why does T take so many pictures?

In a nutshell: Whenever you say "My horse needs to..." stop and ask yourself why. If it turns out they don't really need to, consider giving it a pass and reprioritizing. If it's something they do need to do, consider why and break it down so you can prioritize the important pieces of the goal.

Here's a couple I'm reconsidering:

Sophie needs to be as good as Bridget on the trail. Why? Because I always own good trail horses. I like to think I'm good at making them.
That's such a dumb reason :) Reality is, she doesn't need to be. I only trail ride once a week or so.  I own a Bridget. I can longe Sophie first, and she just needs to get me from point A to B safely. Its fine if she's a bit more spooky and energetic than the stereotype - I bought a quick thinking dressage pony, after all.

Note the lack of fancy dressage pony grooming and attire...we've deemed that unnecessary this winter too :)

My horses need to load in the trailer with minimal hesitation. Why?  I was just involved in an emergency planning project and it was emphasized it could literally be the difference in getting them out alive or not.
So, we will keep our skills up.

We walked around the block the other night. Barnmates were like " That's it?" Yep, that's all :)

My horses need to stay in work all winter. Why? Because...reasons...OK, I have none, besides I feel a teeny bit competitive with others progress, and I feel lazy if I don't do things too.
So, we know that's dumb. Its dark out, the weather stinks. Sophie really could take some time to grow,  B is awaiting a saddle change to hopefully solve the mystery stiffness, Sophie is also getting a saddle that fits so we can be a bit more serious. Both have very large turnouts with room to run and burn any energy they might have. So, I should stop feeling guilty already and just enjoy a small vacation too.


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Monday, 18 November 2019

Fluffy


Is it a bad thing that I want to clip both ponies simply for aesthetics?

Fuzxy, fuzzy pony. I clipped her jawline and now it looks weird. But her halter wasn't fitting before, so still winning?

Oh goodness are they hairy and rough looking right now in their natural winter state. I'll leave them be, but they are beyond fluffy and it seems to have really come on just in the past week.

So much hair! It's been so warm and mild out too, let's hope they don't know something I don't re: the coming weather.

Sophie especially looks bad...her winter coat is really light colored and there isn't much of a shine to be found. Add in true pony level coat thickness and some generous helpings of dirt and it looks like she's not been groomed for months.

Can't even. It's all mucky INSIDE her ears too
Forelock decor


At least Bridget is the color of dirt. Also, I feel like Bridget is kind of an oversized Thelwell pony anyway and it kind of suits. Sophie is more of a small sport horse build so the pony level fluffiness makes her look like she's neglected.

I photoshopped her to be more gold colored, and definitely smoothed out the more moth eaten looking parts,  lol

I guess this is the trade off for those lovely glossy dappled coats ponies seem to so easily have in the summer?

Anyway, not much of a point to this post....TLDR: My ponies (especially Sophie) are looking feral, despite all my best efforts. I used up my riding time on Sunday just grooming them. They looked only marginally better. The end :)
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Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Dancing Like No One Is Watching

We had some nicer weather and the horses were able to go back out into the fields again. It makes me so happy to see how much they enjoy the extra grass and room to run. I took some pictures of some friend's horses enjoying their turnout this past weekend and they looked so pretty, one might even go so far as to say majestic. Then I took some of Sophie. And, well:









I saved the best one for last :D

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Monday, 11 November 2019

Flying Fridges!

I did pretty well in working towards my goals for Sophie this past week, if I do say so myself.


We checked off Intro To Night Riding 101 by getting her out just before dusk one night so we were passed by vehicles with headlights. Now to add my headlamp and her reflective quarter sheet and LED lights to the mix in the actual dark and we'll be good to go!

Rainsheet back on last week with the usual drama because she hadn't seen it in at least a week. I think the quarter sheet will be fine though.
She also had a good visit at Aunty Bridget's School Of Equine Etiquette.

Bridget looked at me like "Why?!" when I put Sophie in her field. She secretly loves her, though and likes the bossy mom role. Sophie is noticibly taller than B now!
Sophie thought it was all very fun and exciting. I'm pretty sure she's contemplating kicking the fence here, but she made the right decision.

I even got back on after however many weeks off. Actually, I got back on twice, the first time without a helper, that's how confident I was that she was going to be s good girl.

Obviously giving her all those weeks off hasn't resulted in any progress, but I'm impressed she's game to pick up where we left off. For the record, in the round pen we're kind of able to walk circles to the left... and sometimes we sort of turn right too! :D The feet get stuck often, so there is a lot of disengaging hindquarters and shoulders to keep her moving. Which for an ammy like me is fine... it's all calm and cool,  please take a step forward here, good girl. No speed demons are required now, we can always speed it up later!

It's a bit easier on the trail, given there's only one path to follow, and it goes home! It's probably sketchy as anything  to ride her there given I have such little steering and questionable braking, but honestly she is already showing a bit of boredom with the round pen/arena, and we want to keep this all fun and positive! In order to mitigate the potential for disaster, my husband accompanies us on foot, and has a lead rope handy! Also, if anything weird were to happen, it's a quiet trail right to the barn so there are no worries about traffic or anything like that.

Sorry for the lack of media- it was pouring rain! Here's a picture of Bridget's ears instead on the same trail.

And finally, our big challenge for the week. I feel like I need to give a bit of a back story here so bear with me a moment. There is a metal recycler guy halfway along the road between the barn and the arena. He's super nice, and lets us use his other property to graze the horses and access the trails. We like him! But, I'm afraid I've not been the best at teaching him about horses. Often he's smashing stuff or driving his forklift or using a grinder or welder or whatever. He used to be nice and turn off whatever machinery he was using and wait for us to go by, but over the years that's been forgotten because he didn't need to with Bridget, and I go back and forth sometimes multiple times a day .

A more normal day at the recyclers, again with Bridget ears. 


So, the other night, I was leading Sophie home, and he was out on the road with his forklift. I think he saw us and tried to back up to give us space, but the fridge he was carrying rolled off the forks and started tumbling towards us. Poor Sophie! Lol, she's already a bit suspicious of him and now he's throwing fridges in our path.

Dramatic reenactment. She's spooking at the neighbour's cows here :)

No worries, he came and scooped it up again, and by now Sophie was fascinated. As we passed by him, that fridge was again teetering on the edge of the forks, hanging over a giant metal bin. He shut off the forklift, which I thought meant he was letting us pass. Except no, we were barely past when he simply pushed that thing by hand into the bin. You can imagine the noise a fridge falling from about 5 feet in the air, into a bin of metal makes. About 20 feet behind us, too  :D

If this guy can't bombproof my horses for me, no one can. He should be charging big bucks for the extreme despooking clinic :)

In all fairness, he'd 100% stop or wait if I asked...but for a few years now I've kind of been of the opinion that it's free training and I've been expecting the horses to just deal with it, and they haven't let me down yet.

Bridget couldn't give a flying fridge about any of it.

So there you go, we got stuff done and even have a The Tale of The Flying Fridges (In which no one dies or is even seriously disturbed). For all my talk about what a good girl Sophie is, I have to say honestly, she's pretty hot and sensitive and super opinionated. So, I feel like all of this stuff is especially important for her if I ever want her to be a safe all around pony.






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Thursday, 7 November 2019

In The Dark

Every year I'm somehow surprised when the clocks go back and it's dark after work.

Wait, it's only 4:30!!

I had some plans to take Sophie down to the indoor tonight and quit working at 4:00, but I hadn't even finished mucking out before it was really dark out (5:00, for the record) So, on the to do list: Get Sophie used to the assorted lights and reflective gear she'll need to wear to head down the road in the dark. Her very own brand new reflective quarter sheet and some reflective bands and clip on LED lights arrived in the mail yesterday, which is exciting, but I'd rather try all the stuff on for a practice run before I head out on the road in the dark :)

"It's my bed time now" - Sophie

I rode Bridget all last winter with zero issues (besides that one time it got REALLY dark and my headlamp died and I tried to finish up in the unlit outdoor arena to avoid paying the fee for the indoor. I learned that I get motion sickness at anything past a walk if I can't see where I'm going, ha ha)

Bridget being Bridget, the first time she thought it was weird that my headlamp makes a moving light in front of us, but didn't fuss too much. Vehicle headlights on the other hand were definitely worth some worry. She's rock solid now though.

New camera lens is magical...It was dark out and I couldn't see much and yet here is a cute Bridget only the camera could see :)

I'm no expert in equine vision. They do seem to navigate quite well in low light (way better than me!), but my sample size of one says she's less confident in the pitch black....she definitely chooses to follow any lit pathway then and I feel like she really likes my headlamp lighting our way!

It's going to be interesting to see what Sophie thinks of it all. One day I'll have my own place and an arena with lights, one day sooner than that I'll have a trailer. For now though, if we want to keep getting out on weekdays, it's either mornings or evenings and part of the outing is going to be in the dark.

I spy a rotten banana! She's still in pony jail, hence my extra initiative to get her out on weeknights too.

For now, it's only about a 15 minute hack down a very quiet road to get to the equestrian club grounds so we gear up in our best safety and hi viz apparel, and enjoy the quiet evenings with the grounds all to ourselves.


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