Feb 17, 2012

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Yup, it’s been kind of boring around here lately. Foul weather, miserly moods, spring fever. I did get out several days in a row to do some ground work with Dharla, but the footing is greasy and so we had to keep things to a dull roar. She’s done very well with what we’ve worked on so far and I’m pleased. Her attitude is very willing and she’s a pleasure to work with. I introduced the scary bag on the training stick. She was a bit blowy, but all I did was walk out in front of her while leading her around the arena as I flapped the bag in a big arc from one side of me to the other. She quickly figured out that the bag was OK and relaxed. The plan (once the ground improves) is to start working her around/over different objects like tarps and cones.

I finally got a chance to ride today. My husband came home early to ride as is his habit on Fridays. I asked him where he and his riding partner planned to ride. I wasn’t anxious to be out in the woods yet; the ground is much too slippery for my liking. He wasn’t sure, so rather than tag along and wreck their ride I decided to tack up and head out slightly ahead of them. If I waited until they left I knew Dharla would be pretty fired up. I’ve discovered that if I tack her up while the guys are getting ready to go, then leave about five minutes before they leave, Dharla does great. Thankfully, Dharla doesn’t get the least bit worked up or worried about where the other horses are. I’ve done this routine a couple of times now, gearing her up and heading down to the arena (which is out of sight and semi out of earshot) and it’s been a smooth transition. Once down in the ring I can do some ground work and warm-ups, then ride out on my own from there.

So off we went, down to the arena. I put Dharla through a shortened version of our regular ground work routine, then lunged her at a walk and trot both directions for a bit. She was a perfect lady, relaxed and smooth, making nice stops and changes of direction when asked. I spent about twenty or thirty minutes in the arena, then mounted up and headed down the dirt road. We haven’t ridden down the dirt road since fall, and Dharla had her super-cautious poky walk goin’ on. I wasn’t in any hurry and so I let her pick whatever pace she wanted as long as she kept moving forward. I was prepared for her to spook at every little rock and log, but she didn’t. She did give a few downed logs the evil eye, but she never once jumped sideways or tried to avoid forward motion. (YAY!)

We eventually reached the woods trail that cuts up to the AL trail. I’ve noticed that Dharla really relaxes when we transition from a more “open” trail to the woods. I think the openness of the wider, more open trails over-stimulate her senses a bit and she feels a little more safe in the confines of a winding, woodsy trail. That’s just my observation though. She just “feels” like a different horse in the woods. Less tense, less worried about what’s around the next bend.

We quickly reached the AL trail and Dharla’s mood changed again to slightly more tense and energetic. In short order we were at the “Big Scary Place” AKA the rock ledges. She approached the passageway carefully, then several feet into it she stopped, head high and looked around. Waiting I guess, to see if anything was going to make a move to hurt her. I let her stand and take it in for about twenty seconds before gently squeezing and asking her to step forward. Dharla responded with two or three steps forward, then stopping again, head up, looking. This time after I let her look then asked to to walk on, she tried to turn around. This is her default MO. So I backed her a good ten steps, then turned her around and asked her to walk on. Again, she tried to turn around and head the opposite direction. Again, we backed up, only this time we backed up a bit more and when I finally turned her around and asked her to walk on, she did. Slowly, but she obeyed. I was thrilled. She traversed the entire passage without one spook. She gave a few rocks and patches of ice the evil eye, but with my encouragement and praise, she kept moving. I was truly ecstatic and loved on her a lot for being so brave.

We rode across BH road and past the area where the logging was such an issue a few rides ago. Dharla never gave me any hesitation as we passed that spot. We did some nice walk/trot transitions and worked on getting her to lower her head and relax. She responded beautifully with a nice slow, controlled jog. This really was turning out to be one of our best rides yet! The temperature was dropping and the wind was really starting to pick up and since I estimated only about an hour more of daylight, I decided to turn around and head for home. I noticed Dharla shifted into her “Goin’ home” walk immediately and so I asked her to take her energy down a notch. She complied very nicely.

The return home was basically uneventful.  To avoid amping Dharla’s energy we walked the whole way. We never saw hide nor hair of the guys, though we did see a double set of tracks along the trail. I had no idea where they went, but knew they woudn’t return until well after dark, which is another reason why I didn’t join them. I’m not ready to ride my horse after dark yet and besides, as the sun slipped over the ridge it was starting to get downright cold. As it was, I was glad I decided to turn around where I did because my toes were losing their feeling!

Dharla did have one last big spook and naturally, it occurred in the very last rock ledge passage. We were spitting distance from home when we approached the very last rocky passage. I could feel Dharla’s wariness, so I gave her lots of encouragement and started humming a tune. This seems to help sometimes. About halfway into the passage what sounded like a twig snapping over the top ridge spooked Dharla so badly that she nearly dropped to her knees. We stopped and listened, but there wasn’t anything there. I let her collect herself, then we proceeded on. She was on high alert, but she was “with me” and that’s all I ask. I understand that she’s afraid. I do. I just ask that she chooses to stay with me and trust me, and she did.

We arrived home a few minutes later. I stripped off Dharla’s tack, brushed her, then gave her some supper. She never once hollered or worried about Bullet’s being gone, which still completely amazes me. Dharla’s willingness to walk away from the barn and go out alone or leave a group and continue on by herself just surprises me. She’s not nearly as herd dependent as I would have thought, having grown up on a large breeding farm where she was always surrounded by other horses. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled. This makes life MUCH easier for me since I mostly ride alone. I’m just not used to her lack of  …. well, fuss. It’s nice. I hope she always stays this way.

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On another note, Dharla’s breeder contacted me about Dharla’s sister. We test rode her when we were looking at buying Dharla. The mares are full sisters, a year apart in age, and look very similar. They are both super athletic, but they are very different girls! At 4 going on 5, Dezarae is already a seasoned winner in the Western Arabian circuit. I really liked her when I test rode her, enough so that when I went back with my husband we both rode both mares again. Dezarae was/is impressive, but her price tag was significantly (and appropriately) higher than Dharla’s. Dharla hadn’t had as much specialized training as her sister and unlike Dezarae, Dharla hadn’t been shown since she was a two year-old. (Sport Horse in hand) I actually liked the way Dezarae felt under saddle a little better than Dharla. She’s more naturally collected and rode more like my old mare Tia. But Dezarae’s personality was, well, a little bit standoffish. And understandably so.

Dezarae spent most of her life being groomed to show and has had little one-on-one time with any one special person. I talked to her trainer and he said that when she was at his barn for training she responded very quickly to having just one person work with her consistently. Unfortunately, I think a lot of show prospects must go through this kind of thing. They’re handled a lot, but it’s often all about business and doing job they’ve been bred and raised to do. They probably don’t get a whole lot of opportunity to just be someone’s buddy or pet project horse. There’s nothing wrong with being raised that way … in fact, from what I could tell, all of this breeder’s horses were very well behaved. You could see they’d been handled a lot since birth and were started properly. Their horses had impeccable ground manners, which usually comes from lots of handling and careful management. But one-on-one relationships? Well, these horses can’t all be nurtured the way they would be if they were the only horse or just one of few. With Dezarae, that missing link showed in her reluctance to “tune in” to people when she wasn’t under saddle. Dharla didn’t exactly exude sweet and cuddly vibes either, but she seemed tuned in to me right from the start. Again, her trainer said that was unusual even for her and he was pleased that Dharla seemed taken with me. Apparently another woman had come to test ride Dharla a few days previously and Dharla had remained aloof with her.

There was another thing that happened when we went to test ride the two sisters. As it happened, I rode Dezarae first. The husband and wife owner/breeders were present as was their trainer. Normally, I’m uncomfortable riding a strange horse and even more so in the presence of professionals, but I’d already been there once and ridden both girls once, which was enough to know that these people were not the least bit judgmental and their trainer was in fact, very helpful. As I rode he talked to me and gave me several pointers, both general and specific. I felt very comfortable on both mares, though I’m by no means a schooled rider. Over the years my husband has ridden a greater variety of horses and he’s got a lot of natural talent. He had no trouble riding Dharla and when he rode Dezarae, who was probably the more complex of the two horses, it was obvious that they were a great fit. So much so that the trainer and both owners were quite wowed. They kept asking if he had any interest in showing and the trainer mentioned that he could probably show that mare “tomorrow” and win with her. (Turns out later that summer Dezarae won Region 16 Open Western Pleasure with this trainer riding her!)

But we were looking for a horse for me, not my husband. I’m not sure why, but I never considered Dezarae seriously. I guess it was partly because I knew I wasn’t going to be itching to show and I felt that of the two mares, Dharla channeled an inner connection with me more so than her sister. Oh, and there was that big honking price tag. Yeah. That was intimidating. I really couldn’t justify paying show prices for a backyard trail horse. So I went home and fantasized about owning Dezarae, but we bought Dharla. Not that I felt like I settled in any way  … I’m happy with my choice. At my age I couldn’t see spending a small fortune for a fancy show horse.

That would be the end of the story except for one thing. The breeders have contacted me twice to ask if we might want to reconsider buying Dezarae. Argh! It was hard enough to say no the first time, but I really believed we made the right choice. When they asked several months later if we might reconsider Dezarae, they told me she was slated for more professional training, after which her price would surely increase. Basically, it was a nice way of saying, ” Hey, we know you liked her and if you ever thought you’d consider buying her, now’s the time!” Obviously they were going to have to try to recoup some of what they’ve spent on the mare’s schooling. I get that. But even though we knew her price was about to shoot past the point of no return, once again we passed. With winter not far off I was concerned about how much riding I’d be able to do. I thought it might prove hard enough to get one young horse ridden without having to worry about a second youngster. Besides, at that point we still had The Bean and we didn’t need another mouth to feed.

But the Bean died suddenly in October, leaving us with two horses for the first time in well over a decade. While there are pluses to that, there are some drawbacks to it too. Then a few days ago the breeder wrote again. Included in her note was a link to a new video of Dezarae and tactful inquiry if we might be interested in her. She sweetened the pot by reducing her asking price considerably. I suspect they have several new babies arriving any day now and with the slow economy and a new crop of foals on the way, they are probably feeling a bit squeezed. To say they are motivated to sell is an understatement; the mare is being offered at a steal. Well, to us.

If money grew on trees and if I could turn back the hands of time, I’d buy this mare in a heartbeat. Who knows, I might even grow a pair and show her! She has the makings of a really nice, well-rounded horse. And if bred to the right Quarter horse, I bet she’d produce some really wonderful foals … not that the equine world needs any more baby horses! Sadly, I’m not wealthy or young anymore and the amount of time and energy I’m putting into Dharla is probably my max effort for now. I don’t see my physicality changing any time in the near future and to have two young mares that need to get ridden often  …. well, I just don’t think I could do them justice. It would be close to having a full time job, which is totally beyond my physical reach. And then there’s the rising price of hay ….

I’d love to say yes. I really would, but I know I can’t. Dammit. I hate limitations.

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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?