Sometimes life sends you from one extreme to another so quickly that it takes your mind a while to catch up. Today was one of those days.
I was walking to the horses so I could feed them, accompanied by Vlassic, who was jumping around eating grasshoppers, chased a cow, and had a grand time. As I came past the bales of hay, I looked toward the cattle pen, to see how Apache was doing.
My heart stopped. He was lying motionless in the dirt. Fiona said hee-haw and he didn’t move. I quickly walked up and said, “Apache?” In what I’m sure was a stricken pet-owner voice.
He flipped his head up an whinnied. Whew. But, had he foundered? Could he stand up? Did I have to call the vet? He answered that question by hauling himself to his feet and shaking. He’d just been napping.
By that time, I’d called poor Sara, who said, “You do know they lie down, right?” But she understood why I’d panicked.
Actually he is walking marginally better today. He’s still not great, though.
Meanwhile, Fiona kept nudging me. I turned to see what her problem was just in time to see a little black butt slipping into her water tub. Vlassic was apparently hot.
Fiona was not amused to see him in HER water, but I went straight from my fear for Apache and his feet to laughing maniacally at the dog. That was great.
We fed the other horses, who are on their best behavior, then went back to chicken world to get today’s eggs.
All the ladies and Bruce were fine, but there were no eggs. Then, on the ground, I saw this:
What the..? I went to the Googles and found that Ginger had laid what is called a fairy egg! They are tiny eggs, usually with no yolk. They are also usually lighter or darker than a hen’s usual egg.
They happen when something disturbs a hen’s reproduction process. Well, of course! Ginger and Bertie were quite disturbed by being cut off from their pen and all those new pullets showing up.
We will have to see if Bertie pops out a fairy egg tomorrow. Little do they know, but tomorrow they get a new boyfriend. Oooh. Don’t tell them.
Ranch life. It’s always something. We get the chicken situation under control, and the horse situation goes bad, or worse. Here’s how the week with Apache went.
He was out in the pasture with the other horses Sunday and Monday. Tuesday I thought I’d try riding him. It was to be a big day! Nope. He just stood there. Crap. He’d had too much rich grass and was starting to founder. Panic time.
I got him moved over to the “dry” pasture where he spends most of his time. Next day, he was worse. Mandi came over and we decided to give him bute, the powerful horse painkiller. We gave a small dose, and he seemed more comfortable.
Since then, he got one more dose, but that’s it. Last night Chris suggested I move him to the cattle pen, where there isn’t much grass at all, and the ground is soft.
So this morning, after determining the keats’ water dispenser sucks and had soaked their shavings, I headed over to move him.
As always, Fiona was right by his side. He had trouble walking at first, but eventually made it to the pen. He was very sweet about it, and I let him take his time.
Once he got in, he found his hay dispenser and noshed a bit. I’d emptied out Fiona’s water tub, because it had mosquito larvae in it. He checked that nice clean water out and enjoyed the cool dirt.
Then he came over and loved on me. That’s when I called Sara to see if I was doing the right things. She remembered we have some natural anti-inflammatory stuff in the tack room, Bute-less. Aha!
Apache likes that stuff just fine and ate it up. Let’s hope that helps and isn’t dangerous like the big drugs. It takes a village!
The vet comes Thursday but if he’s worse, I may have to call sooner.
Why am I writing about my horse relationship issues? Surely very few people who read my little blog are well-meaning but somewhat clueless horse owners like me. Well, the growth you achieve when working with horses (or other animals) spills over to all other parts of your life. I’ve become much more confident at trying new things, secure that mistakes will teach me important lessons, and like I’ve been saying all week, braver. (I’m still me, but I’m learning to love my little quirks and care less if the way I am isn’t how someone else wants me to be…that’s for later.)
On to yesterday. I almost didn’t go do work with Apache yesterday, because it is so damned hot, and I was feeling bad that I was bothering the neighbors. Then I told myself that spending time with my horse is one of the most important things I could be doing right now, so Mandi and I just waited until later in the day to take a walk.
DAMN. After taking some photos of Mandi with Apache for some dating purpose or something, we headed off in a direction we’d never gone before. Now, bear in mind that prior to this, I’d never been able to take Apache in that direction farther than the big barn with the beef freezers in it. He has always gotten nervous, looked back at the other horses, and pranced around.
Not today. He and I walked slowly and calmly down the driveway, with Fiona and Mandi following at a respectful distance (to be sure he wasn’t relying on Mandi, who was so busy on her phone that I’m sure she wasn’t sending him vibes). We walked, I occasionally let him eat some plants, we talked.
I walked him to the big cattle tank/pond where he likes to eat the sedges, and he plopped his foot in the mud and munched away. We walked around the tank, and he didn’t even flinch when Fiona panicked due to not being able to see us and galloped to find us (a hilarious sight, I guarantee you). I never ONCE had to tighten the lead rope, and only once had to ask him to move over to the other side of the path (to avoid an electric fence).
When we got to the farthest I intended to walk, he looked longingly as if he wanted to keep going to the end of the driveway! Who IS this horse? We walked back, calmly. He was in no hurry to get to the other horses. We stopped to take some pictures. I dropped the lead rope and he just stood there, just as he’s been trained to do.
In other words, not only did he act like the “old” Apache, he acted BETTER. I’ve always wanted to be able to come out during the week and just walk around and hang out with him. I see now that I should have done what I did this week long ago (as Sara has repeatedly suggested and I resisted). It’s helped our relationship very much, and made both of us feel more confident. So, I say to Sara, “You were RIGHT!”
This weekend I’ll need to start riding again. I’ll stick to my plan of not using the bit again until his teeth are looked at (scheduled for the week after next). And next week I may try riding him alone, with Mandi, Sara, or Kathleen following along just in case I need them. The goal will be to feel safe to ride alone around the ranch at some point.
Apache and I are on our way. Thanks for listening.
Even though it was really, really hot yesterday, I continued on my quest to work with Apache on his issues with going where he is asked to go.
I really figure that just the time spent with him would do me good, and I was happy to see Craig Moore, a young horse trainer in May, Texas who I follow, echoing that. He wrote about how he’d never thought just hanging around with a horse would mean much, but he tried it yesterday, sitting in a chair and reading on his phone in the pen. The Mustang who’d only been with them a day or two came up to him and checked him out, even sniffing his face. Just the quiet presence helped. If it even helps people who win the Extreme Mustang Makeover, it has to help me and my champion grass chewer!
So, Mandi and I got together again last night, and after spending some time grooming Apache and Fiona (and feeding Big Red, the hen), we decided (with not much planning or forethought) to take him to the other place that gives him trouble, down the row of evergreen trees behind our “training pasture” or “outdoor arena,” which is towards the neighbors’ house.
He did better than yesterday, for sure, but did try to turn back, especially under those scary high-voltage wires. Each time he did it, I followed my plan and stopped him, then gently turned him in the direction I wanted him to go in. He always responded to my touch command, which was good.
Two things helped. I’d remembered to bring a carrot stick with me, and I used a shorter lead rope. I keep tripping on the really long one, because I can’t keep it all nicely curled up while walking, using the stick, and avoiding Apache’s feet. Both these things made a big difference. The stick helped keep him going the way I wanted, and after the scary place, he walked normally the rest of the way down the treeline, calmly turned around, and did not rush going back.
Unfortunately, we didn’t realize that the fact that Vlassic and Fiona followed us would be a problem, and we’ve been asked not to bring dogs down there again by Sara and Ralph. I didn’t see or hear their dogs, so I hadn’t realized there was a problem, and Vlassic stuck right with us, I thought. Anyway, we have plenty of other places to walk, or we can lock Vlassic in the tack room if there’s a reason to head toward the Wild Type Ranch area. We want to be good neighbors!
Since that had gone fairly well, we determined we would do the race again. At first, it was like yesterday, but this time I never let him turn completely around, and I used the carrot stick and my hand to get him facing forward again. If he got wound up, we just stopped for a while. It didn’t take too long before I realized he was walking normally again. HOORAY!
We made it through the scary puddles, past the scary gate, and down to the shady area. The wind suddenly whipped up and Apache went to attention. Mandi asked him what he smelled, and he answered her as best as he could.
We then happily walked back, enjoying a breeze and some dark clouds. Suddenly I looked up and there was a partial rainbow. It absolutely made our day complete, as we smiled and laughed with each other.
We got back, and once again marveled that Fiona now follows me when I hold out my hand, and goes nicely into her pen. I guess the donkey’s getting well trained, too!
And Chicken News
Meanwhile, back at the chicken coop, Chris finished our new watering trough for the hens. This will make it a LOT easier to give them water, since I just have to turn on the hose, right next to the coop.
This comes at a good time, since Jewel (the black one) seems to have somehow broken a leg! She can get around, but anything that makes life easier on her will be helpful, poor dear.
Fancy Pants is STILL broody, but we may have a new man for them, this lovely young Copper Maran who needs a home. I hope it makes Fancy Pants happy, and isn’t too hard on Jewel. If it is, we’ll separate them. We hope we will be able to get more chickens soon…
I’m looking forward to today and to the weekend, to see if I can keep building on the progress with Apache. I hope to have something good to show Sara!
One thing that happens when your circle contains a lot of former horse trainers is you get a lot of advice when you’re having horse troubles. I am fortunate to have not only Sara’s wise counsel, but also nephew Chris and my friend Mandi to help me think about what could be going on with Apache’s recent behavior.
I know there has to be something going on in his head that would make him completely freak out and refuse to walk down a trail he has gone down over and over again for years.
Chris offered many ideas, and later, when I talked to Mandi, she had many of the same ideas. First, each of them asked what had changed recently. That was pretty easy:
New gelding arrived
Started training with a bridle and bit
Been ridden a lot more by Sara
They offered some other ideas, too, some based on what has changed.
He could be in pain from something. Saddle? Feet? Bit?
Something he is eating could be affecting his mood (Chris is not fond of supplements and thought they could be “hot”).
He doesn’t want to leave Spice alone with “the new guy.”
The differences between how Sara rides and how I ride confuse him.
He’s gone back to testing me.
So, yesterday, Mandi came by to do some observation and maybe eliminate some of the possibilities. It was fascinating to watch her work. I swear she changes into a different person when she is working with horses.
First, she looked at his food and supplements. She checked the protein content and other ingredients. His plain beet pulp (no molasses) was deemed benign, which I knew. Then she looked over the SmartPack supplements he gets, which are for calmness, digestive health, and hoof health. None of them are “hot” supplements and are things that he needs. So, that ruled that out. Chris later said that was a wild guess, anyway, because he’s been on the same ones for years and had a great attitude.
Then, while he was quietly grazing, she brought his halter over to him and just held it next to his head. After she put it back she said he tensed up, stopped chewing, and froze up. I had noticed that, but thought he was being willing to put on his bridle. Aha. She also noticed a lot of teeth marks on the bit.
Next, Mandi looked at his teeth. It was funny, because that made Vlassic bark. I think he thought she was hurting Apache. She said he has two very sharp teeth next to where the bit goes. Aha. Even on Sunday, when I’d ridden him with the halter, Sara had wanted the bridle on so she could ride him.
After that, we went for a walk (and dammit, my watch had run out of juice, so I lost ALL those steps). Of course, it’s always a parade around here, with Fiona and Vlassic both joining us. Apache was better walking than he was riding, but he kept turning back toward where he came from. I would lead him into a circle and walk forward more. He was also rushing, not walking with me.
We made it all the way to the end of the race, though. At one point, he really wanted to go back and Mandi said, sternly, “No, you walk.” He walked. Aha.
We chatted about what she’d observed and her ideas for improvement. She told me Apache seems to think he’s getting his way when I let him turn all the way around. He’s thinking he got to head home. So, I need to do something else other than the circles I’d been doing.
Then, after some nice shade and grass, we headed back. Mandi was on the alert for him to rush toward the other horses or otherwise act up. Nope. The dang horse walked beside me like the well-trained horse he can be. Only a little nudging into my space happened. He was a totally different horse. That ended the day on a good note, so we were all happy.
We will try more today. At least I can be happy that Mandi said Apache obviously loves and trusts me, judging from how we interact. That made me feel good, too.
So, from what we’d learned and all the advice I’ve received (with gratitude), I have come up with a plan.
We are getting his teeth floated. That will help with the sharp tooth issue. That was already on the agenda.
I’m not going to ride him with the bit for a while. He does fine with me using a halter, and maybe I’ll get a hackamore. We have time to try it again later, after his teeth are happy.
I’m going to ask Sara not to ride him for a while, unless absolutely necessary. That’s not because she isn’t good, but so that Apache and I can concentrate on our relationship and getting it on track.
Rather than circle him when he doesn’t do what I want him to, I’m going to try two things. First I’m just going to stop him, pointed in the right direction. We will both breathe, then move forward. Over and over and over. Mandi had suggested I make him go fast every time he starts to go back, but I worry he’ll run back. I’ll try that if the first idea doesn’t work. It was MY idea, but it’s something we did when we were in training.
I’m going to walk around with him a lot with neither Lakota nor Spice around. I have been meaning to do it, but putting it off. I need to invest the time. I’m hoping that will help our relationship and develop more trust in me. Of course, Fiona will come along. She doesn’t seem to be a problem. She’s stopped running around or interfering, now that she knows she gets to come every time we go somewhere.
I know few of you readers are horse people. But, if any of you are, your input is welcome.
This is a two-part part 2. Looks like it will be two posts.
The Horse Part
Like a good optimist should, I got on that horse again today. I was a little concerned about my attitude, not because of Apache, but because I’d been reading Facebook and becoming more and more sad/angry/disgusted/insert other negative emotion here. So, I walked to the barn and put thoughts of calm, peace and love in my mind, buoyed by some deep breathing.
Sara and I had a backup plan today. She was going to ride Lakota, our boarder horse, and I’d ride Apache. If all went well, great (she predicted today would be wonderful). If it didn’t, we could switch horses (I am not competent to ride Spice, I’m told).
We started going down the Scary Row of Trees, where Apache has always tended to want to go back or rush. It took a while, but we got him calmly walking, did a bunch of practice circles, then walked in a serpentine formation all the way back. He did okay (not great), but he was paying attention. Everyone was brave.
So, I declared we would now try the race again. Brave! That lasted about 20 yards. Apache again was having nothing to do with walking down that path. I spent a rather exhausting 20 minutes where he simply didn’t do a darn thing I asked him to do. There was backing, turning, going sideways, head flinging, ear pinning. WTH?
Fiona, Lakota, and Sara just watched me patiently coax and prod, and urge him a LOT harder than usual. So, I got off again. I managed to only briefly lose my temper, so I consider that a success. Sara said I did way better in being patient yet persistent than most people. Probably those saintly natural horsemanship trainers would be more patient, but then, they would be better at “reading the horse” and figure out what’s up.
Sara got on Apache, and I walked Lakota behind them (so I got to hang out with a nice horse and get some exercise). I can’t say I was pleased, but I guess I was relieved to see that Apache acted the same with Sara, though she had more tricks she could do (because she would not fall off). She eventually got him tired enough that he went forward halfway down the race. She said that was enough, because he was still all worked up.
I got to a gate I could use to get myself up on Lakota, so I did get to ride him back. That was nice, and it was brave to get up on a new horse out in the middle of nowhere on a wiggly gate. He didn’t act weird or anything, and followed my cues just fine.
Meanwhile, Apache never did settle down, though he did at least walk back. He was coated with sweat and only calmed down enough to walk in one circle at a calm pace, which we declared SUCCESS!
Once Sara dismounted, he was his normal self, although sweaty. As I gave him a bath, I realized I felt nothing but love for him, and curiosity about what was causing his problem. I wasn’t angry at all! I wish I had that attitude when my kids were small!
Interestingly, Sara had read a post from someone in a group she’s in who said their horse started acting extra barn-shy and strangely when a new gelding was introduced into the herd. So, maybe there is going to be a time of getting used to Lakota. Hmm.
So, what being brave and doing hard things the past two days has taught me is that just getting through a challenge counts as success. I am not going to give up on Apache, but will work through the issue, however long it takes, so we will both feel good about ourselves and learn a lot.
Will this attitude hold for challenges outside my immediate community?
Yes, I didn’t write anything yesterday. For one, I had way too many meetings and errands to do. But really, I joined many people I know in being so overwhelmed, appalled, and upset about how black men and people of color in general are being treated in this country that I couldn’t find anything non-incendiary to say. So, I’m not saying anything else yet. I will, though.
Am I a Coward?
One thing about observing injustices in the world is I sometimes feel cowardly, like I really could be doing more to express the outrage I feel. Or take concrete action. (I have plans, though.)
This morning, however, I got a lesson that showed me I can indeed be brave, but that it helps to do so with a clear head and not from a place of anger.
Testing My Bravery
It was horse riding time on a very hot, cloudless morning. Sara and I met at 9 am, hoping that would be early enough for it to not be too hot. Wrong. By the time everyone was all groomed (including Fiona, who I am continuing to help shed her winter fuzzies) I was dripping with sweat.
Sara told me she’d had a great ride on Apache yesterday, though he exhibited some of his “druthers,” as she calls them, where he indicates he’d rather be doing something else, thank you. He warmed up fine, though.
Once I mounted, he began to hint that he’d much rather be over chatting with Lakota, the new gelding, who was not being ridden. I got him to do other things though, and we set out to go ride in our favorite pasture, where there is some shade.
To get there, you have to walk down a long “race” that’s used to bring cattle up from the far pasture. It’s mostly grass, but with the recent rains there are still some big muddy areas, which we usually just go around.
Not today. Apache had absolutely no intention of walking down that race like he normally does. He kept turning around. When I’d make him go the other way, he’d back up. He’d go sideways. We crept forward (poor Sara had to just walk her horse back and forth), and eventually got to an area between two slippery muddy areas that caused him to slip and slide as he cantankerously waved his head around and acted pissed off. No amount of urging, poking, bopping with the stick, and strong language helped.
After about fifteen minutes of this and I could see that I was losing my ability to project calm thoughts and not act angry. And Apache was slipping and sliding to where I was worried for his safety.
So I got off. He started to head back. Nope. We walked the rest of the way that we were going to ride. He was still agitated but at least went the right way, mostly. About halfway through the walk, he sighed and started acting completely normally. I was so glad I didn’t give up on him, managed to stay calm, and saw the day’s agenda through.
When we got to the end, we enjoyed the shade a bit, then I got back on (no easy feat with a hybrid saddle with high stirrups), and we walked sedately and calmly back. He didn’t break into a trot or anything.
There was a bit of druthers when we got to the end of the race, because we didn’t go straight to the barn. Sara and I wanted to be sure he had a clue who was in charge. Eventually he realized that prancing around foolishly was just making him sweat, and he did the circles he was asked to do.
Sara said we’d had a real breakthrough and she was very proud of me. I realized once again that I CAN push past fears and do things that need to be done so that I and others (including horses) can grow and do better.
Here’s another fine thing that happened this weekend; we added a beautiful new friend to our little herd of equines, Lakota the Perfectly Perfect Palomino Pony. That is NOT his real name (I don’t know what it is, actually), and he is also not a pony, though he is of the smaller quarter horse type.
Sara, my horse partner and ranch neighbor, and I had debated this for a while, with her doing the most debating with herself. We only have so much pasture and don’t want to overload it. But, I have been promised fencing that will allow horses to hang out on our side of the ranch, which will help a lot with that issue.
Besides, Lakota is a horse who deserves to hang out with us. He already knows Spice, since they were owned by the same person for a while, and had spent time together in training, I think. He is beautifully trained by the same Parelli Natural Horsemandhip Method* trainer who trained all the horses we own, Kerri April, and used to belong to one of her family members when he was a fancy equine athlete. This means we don’t have to learn new ways to work with him; he’ll probably help train ME.
Sara got Spice from her friend Mary when Apache’s occasional lameness issues made it hard for her to to the horsemanship activities she wanted to on him. Mary had found Spice to be a bit much too handle, but she loved Spice very much and only wanted her to go to a fellow Parelli-trained owner. Sara was it! I’ve enjoyed Apache, Sara has enjoyed Spice, and all has been well.
Now Mary is moving to the suburbs and won’t be able to keep horses at her place anymore. She sold her others, but there was Lakota,** too old to sell as a consistent mount. She just wanted him to have a happy last few years. We said okay.
Now, Sara had never seen Lakota before, and was just happy to help out, since Mary said she’d pay all his expenses. We had enjoyed our old buddy Pardner very much, and he kept the other horses calm. We had hoped Lakota would be similar.
On Saturday, Mary and a friend brought him in their trailer. Sara took him and brought him down to the horse paddock. I could not believe what I saw. This may be the prettiest horse I ever saw in person, at least conformation-wise. He is built to be a barrel racer or other show horse. Compact and muscular (even at his age). His palomino coat is soft and shiny and somehow smells like vanilla.
Now, I’ve always been told that you get a horse based on personality first and looks second. DANG. He exudes peace and kindness, just like Pardner did! He is wonderful with people. How would he be with horses, we wondered?
This is the next amazing part. He went over to Fiona, who was wandering around looking well-groomed (briefly). They touched noses and sniffed each other. Hey. Hey.
When we put him in the pens next to where Apache and Spice were, he was all excited, as were they. He and Apache touched noses, then nibbled each other’s shoulders. Hey. Hey.
Spice jumped up and down and made mare noises. She recognized him! It took her a while to calm down, but soon everyone was standing nose to nose, happy as they could be. We left them alone to get used to each other with a fence separating them.
Later that day, I got to ride Apache with the bit and bridle Mary conveniently sold to me, which was the same kind Sara was already teaching him with. I did not fail! I did it (and yes, I know there are other options; this stuff is all in Sara’s hands, not mine, since she’s training him).
After the ride, when everyone had eaten, we put everyone in the big pasture together. So much joy ensued that it brought happy tears to our eyes (yay, happy tears). They all ran around, then the paints showed Lakota all around the area. Then they suddenly realized they were in the GOOD grass and started eating away.
It appears that Lakota is in good enough to do trail rides with us, though he has some heat issues and we will have to watch him. In any case, they all bonded really fast and don’t like being separated. That’s not bad. We are grateful to Mary for letting us share this grand old gentleman. He may not be perfect, but his introduction to our herd certainly was!
*I do not endorse any particular natural method of training horses. I think they are all good.
**Why we end up with all these horses with Native American tribe names is beyond me.
Today’s word for UU Lent is play. Great choice, since Lee and I are taking a birthday present road trip to visit a new place and see some relatives. It’s my gift to him. We hope to get Lee relaxed and me out looking at water. Fun.
I’ve always tried to incorporate play into my life. Some of the goofy stuff I do, like weird hair colors and holiday-themed nails are play for me and a way to encourage others to bring some fun into their lives.
My two main sources of fun at this point in my life are the Master Naturalist activities and my animals. I learn so much in our MN meetings and classes, and I have fun sharing it with others.
The dogs and chickens make me play. They can’t help it. But true play is when I’m with Apache and Fiona. They both love to play, and I love going along with them. They just like to hang out together. Like yes, when Trixie the farrier came, we spent most of the time cuddling and nuzzling.
Apache loves when Trixie comes and he gets to get in those weird positions and then feels better. I think he thinks they’re playing.
Riding just exhilarates me. It’s the best playtime ever.
One More Way to Play
I must admit that some aspects of our work renovating properties is like play. I do have fun picking out colors, fixtures and such. And Chris and I tend to play pretty often. Yesterday, we decided to check out the well behind the Pope Residence.
It has water in it. We are now working on ideas for what we can do with that. We both admitted we had wanted to look in there for a long time.
I’ll have a Pope update soon. Until then, here’s a hint of what we hope will be the next project.
No, that’s not the name of a new musical group. It’s about why today’s ride was rather antsy for my usually patient steed, Apache’s Smoke Signal, AKA Apache AKA Patchy.
The morning went as usual. It was hot and I dripped sweat all over myself, but Sara and I got the horses (and Fiona) ready for a ride. We want to ride as much as possible, so we’re going early on weekend mornings. She goes more than I do, thanks to all my volunteering and such.
The entire time we were out in the pasture where the horses usually hang out, Apache kept turning around and heading toward the gate. I turned him back around and made him trot around, go over some logs, or up and down the “hill.” He kept turning around.
Getting in touch with your emotional truth, by processing feelings to improve the human condition in the 21st century. Living out loud by my motto,"Triumphing over Trauma" 🌈
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