Take Three

IMG_2617(Click photo for best resolution)

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Yesterday’s attempt to do a trial ride on the second alternate route to the barn didn’t quite work out as planned. It was another beautiful, albeit warm fall day. The leaves were gently dropping from the trees and the woods were just cool enough to be a welcome reprieve from the sun. I got a slightly later start than I’d planned and I didn’t actually leave my barn until shortly after 10:30. Not that it really mattered, but I usually like to get an early start if possible. Less people out and about.

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I hadn’t ridden five minutes when I came upon a vehicle parked on the Rails-To-Trails, better known in this neck of the woods as the Airline Trail. The SUV had a Department of Environmental Protection insignia on the door and there were three men and a woman milling around the car. (Technically, the DEP is in charge of managing the Airline trail since the land it uses is under their jurisdiction.. However, the word “manage” is probably a gross overstatement, but that’s a story for another time.) Since Dharla has only one speed when she’s alarmed, we approached with caution. Turns out, they had a bunch of video equipment set up and were shooting a promo video of the trail.

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The DEP folks asked if I’d be willing to be in their video and my response to them was only if they were willing to listen to my list of complaints about the problems equestrians encounter on the trail. They agreed. I put Dharla into “park” and spent the next few minutes telling them how rude bikers are and how dangerous the trail has become for most horse users. After we talked I consented to them filming Dharla and I as we walked on down the trial.

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This set my departure back another half hour or more, but I finally got underway. The route I planned to follow involved riding through the woods until the trail opened up into two large expansive fields that once upon a time, used to be a tree nursery. This large tract of land is affectionately called the Peach Orchards, though the tree business has long since been abandoned. A local sportsman’s club has been leasing this parcel for the last two decades and it’s used for field trials and training bird dogs. The sportsman’s club posted the land years ago, but we’ve more or less been given a  verbal OK to ride our horses across the fields during off-season. Bird hunting officially kicks off the third Saturday in October, so there was a 50% chance that my riding through the fields was still going to be OK.

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I listened carefully for gun shots as we rode along the brush-hogged lane that led to the first field. I didn’t hear any indication of other inhabitants, so we continued according to the plan. Years ago we dubbed the first field the “landing strip” because it was formally used for that by someone who owned a small private airplane. Twenty years ago when we first started riding up in the orchards the only thing that remained of the airport was a few wind socks and the long, smooth strip that ran down the center of the entire length of field. It was a great place for racing our horses, which we did with abandon. Well, mostly the guys raced and I loped along after them. This landing strip still remains and the club keeps the waist-high weeds cut back, but it’s surrounded by an expanse of fields that have become choked with small invasive trees and weeds. In other words, visibility is fairly limited to the landing strip and yet you have the feeling of being out in the wide open spaces. Except you’re surrounded by four foot tall golden rod and an assortment of long grasses and weeds.

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I knew Dharla would be somewhat spooky up in the Peach Orchard. We’ve ridden up there several times, but always with another horse and rider. It’s an intimidating place to be when you’re all alone. I’m not the least bit worried or bothered about being up there, but I sensed Dharla’s nervousness; she was wound up tighter than a bottle rocket. With hunting season coming up in a few weeks I had to assume the sportsman’s club had stocked the fields with pheasants and I fully expected that at some point we’d flush a pheasant up from the nearby brush. I also knew that might cause Dharla to totally lose her cool, but I didn’t dwell on it. I figured we’d deal with it if/when it happened. (It never did.)

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As we continued to walk down the center of the landing strip I listened carefully, straining to hear if there was any hint of anyone hunting or working their dogs up ahead. At the end of the strip the path bends sharply to the right and winds around a large stand of fully mature maple trees. I’ve been riding up in the Peach Orchard for so long that I can remember when the nursery planted those maple trees. They were barely knee-high sticks then. Now those trees are several stories tall. At the end of the strip I stopped and let Dharla munch some nice green grass; a reward for keeping her cool as we rode down the landing strip. She was still quite nervous and spooky, but in a controlled sort of way.

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We moved on and headed toward the part of the path that would lead us around a road barrier, then dump us out onto the dead-end of a paved road. From there we would need to ride along the shoulder of this back road for about ten or fifteen minutes. I didn’t expect much (if any) car traffic and we wouldn’t have to pass any cow farms, but I still wasn’t sure if there might come upon any issues that I hadn’t seen when I drove the route a few days before. Unfortunately, I never found out. As we approached the dead-end I saw two trucks parked there. My heart sunk. Seconds later I saw two men dressed in full cammo. They waved. I waved back, dismounted and walked toward them. We exchanged greetings and moments later I found out they were there to work their hunting dogs.

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We chat for awhile. Both men were friendly and not upset in the least that I had crossed their hunting fields, but when they heard my hopes to repeat this ride in a few days they were concerned for my safety. With hunting season about to go into full swing, there was no guarantee that I might not run into other club members working their dogs. That could prove to be disastrous as the dogs are not necessarily trained to ignore horses. (Some do, but the young ones? Not so much) I agreed and after a couple of minutes I remounted and returned home the way I’d come. Had I continued on toward the barn then I’d have to wait until these guys were done training their dogs  before I could return and cross the fields for home. That wasn’t a good plan.

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So back we went. Funny, how a horse can be so nervous on the ride out, but not the least bit concerned when going home! I was feeling pretty down. It’s starting to look like the only option left is to try to get my horse past the cow farm. It’s not the best route, but it’s the quickest. Perhaps with a halter and lead rope I’ll be able to get off and lead her past the cow pasture? From what I can tell, the fence-line is very overgrown and for all I know, we won’t even see any cows. But you can smell them, and that’s a foreign (read as: scary!) thing to Dharla.

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Today’s ride will be back to the first route. Oh, I could ride all the way around the Peach Orchard and access the other approach that way, but that’s a LONG ride and I’m just not up for it. No, I need to see if we can get past the cows. If not, then my plans to board Dharla will have to go on hold. I’m saddened and frustrated by this possibility, but that’s all I can do until I can come up with another plan.

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(Tia, above.)

The Wet Stuff

Something new! Hazer at an early herding lesson.

 

 

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 At the end of yesterday’s entry I mentioned a river crossing. We have lots of water in our neck of the woods and getting a young Arabian comfortable with a variety of wet encounters is always a challenge. For some reason, Arabians don’t much like water at first. They are desert horses and I suppose their aversion might come naturally. Needless to say, mine have never liked water much. Bean didn’t mind being hosed down and he loved blowing bubbles in the water tank, but the first time we tried crossing Salmon River with him was nearly a disaster.

At that time my husband was a relatively green rider and we were both riding young, green horses. I’d met an elderly gentleman, a retired Navy man who kept three horses and rode the trails in our neck of the woods. I happened upon him one day when I was out riding  on my day off and he invited me to join him. He knew his way around the forest like the back of his hand and I was glad to have someone to ride with. We exchanged names and phone numbers and from then on Lyle proceeded to call me bright and early every Thursday morning to see if I wanted to go ride. (My day off) So for the next couple of years we rode together almost every Thursday, and on the weekend too if we could arrange it. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

It was early the spring of ’90 when we met up with Lyle and rode toward the Salmon River. Previously, all our rides had been on our side of the river, not so much because we rode green horses who didn’t especially want to cross, but because we hadn’t run out of places to explore on our side. But for some reason on that day we all decided it might be fun to cross the river and try out some trails on the other side. Lyle was riding one of his more seasoned horses and knew Stormy wouldn’t hesitate to step into the river. And having ridden in this area for years, Lyle and Stormy knew all the best places to cross Salmon River. What they didn’t advertise too loudly however, was that the river was unusually high that spring … something you don’t always think about until you’re trying to cross a body of fast-moving water on a small Arab!

We followed Lyle and Stormy down a narrow trail that wound through a tall stand of White Pines and ended abruptly at the edge of the churning river. Thinking it best to keep moving, Lyle urged Stormy forward and began to cross. There wasn’t much of an edge to the river and it dropped steeply away from the bank in a couple of steps. Later, I came to realize that Lyle had chosen one of the less rocky crossings spots, but it still had a good deal of large, bowling ball-sized rocks under the tea colored surface. And as we were soon to discover, there were a couple of deeper holes, too.

I didn’t grow up in a place where we did a lot of horseback water crossings. We did occasionally ride our horses in the murky stream that bordered our hay fields, but when we did the whole point of going was to get wet. Needless to say, when we did that we wore swim suits, rode bareback and looked for the deepest places in the stream. But this ride with Lyle took place in early spring. The water was high, fast and cold and the last thing any of us wanted to do was get wet. The horses included!

After a few seconds Tia and I followed Lyle into the river. Lyle and Stormy went about 3/4 of the way across before stopping to wait and see if both Arabians would cross. I encouraged Tia forward as Lyle instructed me to pick a spot on the opposite bank and stare at it. Otherwise, you and your horse tend to drift downstream. Did I mention that the river was high and fast? It was, and Tia was only all of maybe 14.2 hands. With a super loose rein I was let her pick her own way across, only steering her when absolutely necessary. Suddenly she stepped into a deep hole. I scrambled to drop my stirrups and lift my feet up over her shoulders in hopes that I wouldn’t get too wet. Startled, Tia stood stock still about halfway across the river. As I let her process things I turned and saw Beanie frantically dancing in place back on the river bank.

Lyle calmly looked at Tia and I and said, “Cher, you’d better move that mare PDQ before the bay decides he’s going to use her as his personal life raft!” Without hesitation I squeezed Tia and we staggered out of the deep hole just as Beanie gathered himself to cross the river in one huge jump! Bean landed in the exact same spot where Tia and I had just stood only a nanosecond before. I have no doubt in my mind that Beanie thought we might be the perfect stepping stone to the opposite side of the river!

Beanie stood there a few moments trembling and snorting. I could tell by the big grin on my husband’s face that he thought that was probably the most exciting thing he’d ever done in his life! Greenhorns! (Roll eyes) However, as he sat there contemplating the thrill of the moment, Beanie gathered himself and launched again. This time the Bean succeed in getting himself almost to the bank and he quickly scrambled up onto dry land where he stood dripping, sides heaving. (The Bean always was a tad mellow-dramatic!) Lyle and I carefully picked our way across the rest of the river and joined my husband on the bank.

I never knew that a horse can panic and try to jump onto another horse while crossing water. Kind of like a drowning person. In due time Beanie grew to really enjoy water and he didn’t hesitate to step right into the deepest and fastest rivers. The guys also used to take the horses to the beach to ride and although I never went with them, story has it that Beanie was pretty darn brave. Arabians are desert horses and I’ve never met one that (initially) liked water. Tia also grew very dependable and level-headed at water crossings, but I wouldn’t say she really liked it. I think she simply tolerated water, but that was just another one of the many reasons why I grew to love her so. Tia always did whatever I asked, no matter what her personal opinion might have been.

So far Dharla’s deep river crossings are a bit like Beanies. She would really like to jump across in one fell swoop, but once she realizes she can’t do that she just tries to get across as quickly as possible. I know she’ll eventually be OK with this.  She used to be equally anxious about crossing small streams, but now that’s not such a bid deal for her and she doesn’t get worked up about it. Well, sometimes she still tries to jump a small stream, but that’s not unusual and sometimes I even encourage her to do that depending on the setting.

So what about your horse? Does it like water?

Easy Keepers

 

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My horse is an easy keeper. Above, you can see her summer condition, when there’s green grass to eat. At that point she get’s about a handful of Triple Crown Lite and some supplemental hay. (Lite as in: for Fatties.) In defense of Dharla I will say that she’s really not all that fat, but it’s her build that makes her look pudgy. It’s her Polish belly. My other Arab mare was built the same way, only Tia had that side-to-side chunky look rather than the Big Belly Below thing going on. I swear, sometimes Dharla looks pregnant. She certainly tries to eat for two. That girl rarely even picks her head up when there’s food around.

I kind of like the fact that my horse is an easy keeper. I’ve had a hard keeper before and you’re constantly at whits end trying to get and keep weight on them. You’ll practically stand on your head begging them to eat all their grain or trying to coax them to polish off their ration of hay. God, is that frustrating. And wasteful. I can’t tell you how many pounds of half chewed or slobbered on grain I’ve tossed out or how many different kinds of “tricks” I’ve tried to get our previous hard keeper to eat. I constantly worried that someone was going to call the SPCA and report us for animal neglect!

Now it looks like we have another easy-keeper. Bullet used to be chunky, but we put him on TC Lite last summer and that helped. And since his Lyme treatment in October his weight has gone down even more. In fact, I’m a little concerned about that and I’m thinking he should probably go back on a slightly higher fat grain. Dharla is still eating TC lite to which I’d decided to add a few supplements.

After a couple of conversations with some folks I respect and after doing some research of my own, I’m going to add a supplement that contains magnesium, some B vitamins and a bit of L-Tryptophan to her gain ration. It’s been said this combo can help decrease spookiness and may calm and soothe a highly reactive horse. Now normally I wouldn’t consider Dharla highly reactive or nervous, but when we trail ride alone she can be very spooky. So I think it’s worth a shot. I’ve also decided to try adding an herbal remedy to her chopped forage that’s supposed to improve hormone health. (She gets a very small amount of a chopped timothy grass mix which absorbs the herbal stuff quite nicely. Far better than pelleted grain.) This product helps relieve reproductive symptoms such as irritability, back soreness and other moody behaviors that pop up around their heat cycles. Last year I noticed Dharla was very nasty to Bullet just before she went into heat, then she turned into a whore once she was in full cycle. Poor guy. He never knew which end was up! I’m also putting Bullet on a supplement that has magnesium,Vitamin E and Selenium that targets muscle soreness.

Eventually I think I’d like to switch both horses over to oats and get them off the processed grain. If I end up doing that then I’ll need to add some supplements to their feed anyway, so I figure I may as well get them used to having them now. Dharla was very put out about having something strange in her grain. Bear in mind the dosage is very small, but it amazes me how horses can tell something is different and will find a way to avoid eating the offending foreign item. I had to cut the dose in half and split it between morning and evening feedings or she would just spit it out or flip her grain pan over. Bullet was a bit less dramatic, but he was hip to the change too. He gave me his best “Huh?” look, but kept eating, albeit slower. It only took him a feeding or two to forget there was something different in his grain. Dharla hasn’t been quite as easy, mostly because grain is still a new concept for her and she’s not nearly as ga-ga over it as Bullet. Getting her to consume the herbal concoction was tougher, but I think once she ate it she didn’t mind it as much as the grain supplements. The herbal stuff has apple cider vinegar in it which smells strong, but probably doesn’t taste all that bad.

I have to admit, I’m a bit of a skeptic about giving horses supplements. I sometimes wonder if it’s just a placebo to make pet owners feel better? I told myself I’d give it a try and see if I can tell if there’s any difference. I certainly don’t think it will do any harm to try.

Has anyone ever given supplements a fair shake and if so, what did you try and what where your results?

Left Behind

Holler, but don't stop eating!

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When we had three horses it was never an issue when someone went riding and left the other two horses behind. Even after Bean died, it really wasn’t much of a big deal if one horse got left waiting at home. But Dharla and Bullet have developed quite a love/hate relationship since October and Dharla’s not too happy when Bullet leaves on a ride.

We created a small paddock when Bean started going downhill. I needed to keep him apart so I could do a better job of monitoring his intake and output, which was next to impossible to do when all the horses were together. Bean was sneaky; he’d stand at the hay rack and crib, but he wasn’t eating as much hay as you thought. I’d spy on him out the kitchen window, knowing full well that he wasn’t consuming his full share. He was one picky eater, that boy. So we made up a small holding pen that had plenty of room to move about, a run-in shed with a stall he could enter at will, and water. Sadly, he died shortly after, but we never got around to taking the pen down.

When Dharla arrived we could soon see she was a hay hog. I guess she came from a farm where she always had access to hay and was turned out most of the day. I suspect their method of feeding was to toss flakes of hay around the paddock, which the horses would then consume at will. Obviously, the more pushy the horse, the more hay they got. Unfortunately, this can make some horses pretty bossy. I happen to think it makes their ‘survival of the fittest’ genetics kick in. So Dharla is downright nasty about “HER” hay. She’ll pin her ears and snake her head at Bullet if he even thinks about going near when she’s got hay in front of her. You can see the evidence of her antics below: She ends up hitting her head on anything nearby. Nutball.

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Dharla's facial skun marks

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Bullet was always low man in the herd when there were three horses, but I tend to think he and Dharla are fairly evenly ranked as a herd of two. Neither horse seems to be very much above or below the other in hierarchy. Sometimes Bullet seems to take the lead, other times Dharla is clearly in control. So when she starts trying to pressure Bullet at the hay rack, he usually just gives it right back. Unless she actually turns tail and tries to kick (she hasn’t) or goes so far as to nip him (she hasn’t) he pretty much ignores her. Believe me, she can and will move him if she wants, but he’s not a doormat for her like he was with The Bean. Often, he’ll just pin his ears and snake his head right back at her. Brats.

When riding together Dharla will lead or follow; position doesn’t matter too much to her. If the trail is wide enough, she’ll walk alongside Bullet, but then he can get a bit snarky if she starts to pull ahead. Odd, because Bullet will lead or follow too, but apparently he doesn’t like it when another horse makes a move to pull ahead of him. And leave either horse at home and you’re in for a hollering match. Never one to expend too much energy, Bullet will run to the paddock gate and stand there yelling for Dharla until she comes home. Dharla gets much more animated in her distress and runs the fence line blowing and snorting between frantic whinnies. Usually if we put some hay out for her that helps take her mind off her misery, but yesterday she simply stuffed her mouth and kept right on hollering. That girl is somethin’! When Bullet’s here she’s not too thrilled with his company, but when he’s gone …. woe is me!

Tia used to holler whenever one of the boys left for a ride, but I didn’t worry about it because she always had a pasture mate with her. Now that we’re down to just two horses, that’s not a solution. When Bullet leaves on a ride I usually put Dharla in the smaller pen and give her plenty of hay, but she’s still pretty anxious. I’m wondering what other people have tried to ease this situation or if they even think it’s worth the bother?