Category Archives: Horse life

Happy belated birthday, Mocha

For some reason I was thinking that Mocha turned 17 today. No, it was last Saturday. Still, she’s doing quite well with herself and is the picture of a content horse living outside 24/7 in a herd.

Three years ago, I wasn’t sure she was going to make it this far. The white line disease had affected her mentally, and she really didn’t start bouncing back from that until the fall of 2015, when we finally figured out what was wrong with her feet (mild long-term rotation which meant that the way she had been shod and trimmed up to that point had contributed to a quarter inch erosion of the tip of the coffin bone in both her forefeet). Even with that, she was still hurting and not completely over it until late last fall. Some of that had to do with moving her toe back and raising her heel a little, which is resulting in her feet getting a little bit bigger so that she will soon be a genuine 0 front shoe instead of a 00 in a 0 shoe in order to give her support. Another factor had to do with something fusing in her rear end besides her hocks–SI joint, stifles, something–so that she naturally stands upright in her hind end and doesn’t walk by placing one hind foot in front of the other (ropewalking). I had noticed late last fall that she wasn’t ropewalking any more. Then we had two and a half months of cold and snowy weather. When the weather cleared, I noticed that she was moving better, lining out bigger and faster in a bold, strong walk, and while she wasn’t spinning like she did as a young horse, neither was she resisting it like she had been for a while.

More than that, she grew a thick hair coat this winter and is shedding it out. What little I can see of the spring coat underneath has me hoping that she’s going to be sleek and shiny this year. She’s also had almost two years of some of the best grass and hay in the region, and it shows. I also upped her grain ration (mostly forage-based with alfalfa, beet pulp, and hay fiber) to 3 pounds from 1 1/2 pounds. She’s filled out and calmed down quite a bit, while still having a bit of spark and sting about her. That said, I have to feed the grain before and after a ride in 1 1/2 pound increments because she stops wanting to eat it after 1 1/2 lbs. But she’s doing well on only grain while being ridden.

She’s getting to the point where crossing the ditch is no big deal. I point her at it, she negotiates her way down, then leaps up the bank on the other side.

Meanwhile, we’ve been having nice riding sessions in the big pasture with long straight lopes and trots. Today I asked for flying changes on the straightaway and there was no fuss or bother about it.

We’re coming to an end for the pasture season, though. Soon it will become a grain field and we’ll be back to arena and road riding until October. This summer, we’re planning to take her out hiking with us–husband wants to walk while I ride, probably us riding ahead for fifteen minutes, then riding back. Guess I’d better put the strings back on her Western saddle so we can tie things to it. Right now, though, I’ve been riding her in English tack. For the first time in ages, the saddle seems to fit her and it’s nice for this stage of her conditioning. It’s time to move toward reestablishing her proper muscling. Not that I plan to get too crazy about it–at age 17, especially after she had some rough times, she’s mostly a hacking horse. But that doesn’t mean we might not decide to hit a show or two, either….

I’m hoping to get another seven years or so out of her as a saddle horse. It seems like changing her life from stall horse to pasture horse has given her a new lease on life. At least this spring, it’s been awfully sweet to have my good little saddle mare back, feeling her energy and forwardness underneath me. I’m also daydreaming about the possibility of riding her from the barn to town, hanging out around the house for a couple of hours, then riding her back. We’ll have to see if that works. It is a fun idea, anyway….

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Horseblog 101–tack, guidance, and basics of the aids

One of my friends made a comment the other day about English vs Western riding that rocked me back on my haunches, so to speak–an observation that based on her experience, she felt that English riding was gentler on a horse than Western. A few questions, and I realized that this perception was based solely on how horses were guided at the beginner level, especially with the use of words such as yanking and tugging to describe rein effect. Now I know that many of my friends already know this stuff, or they’ve been reading horse information spread throughout the speculative fiction world–but the knowledge isn’t as wide as I thought it is. So I decided that perhaps I’d do a little refresher on reins, tack, guidance, and basics.

The first thing to consider is that while someone who is a beginning horseperson or has no experience at all looks at the reins as acting as a major means of controlling a horse, in reality, reins are merely a steering mechanism–and ideally, more of a backup method than the primary means of controlling a horse. A determined horse can and will run through the severest bit and tightest hold you can have on its mouth, if given sufficient motivation–whether anger, frustration, or fear. One of the goals in creating a fully-trained horse–what we call a “finished” horse–is to end up with a horse that will respond to almost telepathic levels of communication through seat, leg, and then hand. The ideal is that by shifting weight, you can change a horse’s direction, slow the horse, collect the horse into moving in balance, or stop it. Leg cues add more options, such as sharper turns, bends, body angle in relation to direction of movement, or gait changes. Hand cues aid with collection, provide guidance, and maintain a line of communication with a horse.

These goals work no matter what the tack is or isn’t on a horse. English or Western, the mark of a good rider is the degree to which you can’t see the cueing going on. That said, if you are working at speed, or things go weird, the ideal might not happen. But ideally, what you want to be able to do is shift weight, touch leg, squeeze a rein to communicate with a horse underneath you. Or even less. Turning your head can turn the horse, even with dropped reins and no leg or seat cues. It’s a shift of weight, and a sensitive, well-trained horse will respond to it.

The problem comes when dealing with either green (minimal or no training) horses, green riders, or horses who have been desensitized to subtle cues by inexperienced or heavy-handed riders who yank, kick, and tug. Green horses need repeated, gentle, soft communication to teach them appropriate responses to cueing. Green riders need to learn how to stabilize their bodies and control them to provide the more subtle methods of cueing. Desensitized horses need repeated, soft, consistent work to bring them back to lighter response.

Ideally, happy horses and happy riders communicate with minimal force–and that all comes back to communicating in whispers, not shouts. Which means a light touch on the rein, balanced seat, and reading what the horse tells you through hand and seat. Yes, you can feel what the horse is doing through the tack–English or Western.

This isn’t the ideal post for this, but it’s what I’ve got for tonight.

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A Mocha update

I’ve been postng bits and pieces over on Facebook about how Mocha’s been handling this winter, but today’s ride has kicked me into actually musing for a bit longer than a Facebook post. Despite a very cold and snowy winter, the little mare is thriving out on pasture. She’s maintaining her weight, hanging out with the herd, and appears to be content for the most part. This year her movement was more confined than last year due to snow depth and a couple of freezing rain spells which turned the snow into crusty stuff she had to posthole through. The barn owner hasn’t been able to feed as widely in the pasture as usual due to snow depth, and they’ve had to tamp down part of the snow to give the horses a chance to move about without having to fight the snow too much.

December and most of January, it was simply too cold to ride. I’d go out to the barn and bring her up for grooming, check on how she’s doing, and a feed of grain. The “grain” is more of a forage supplement, a senior feed with more pelleted grass, beet pulp, and other stuff rather than sweet feed to make her hot. Unlike last year, she’s not the farthest horse out, but is generally close in or in the middle of the herd. I’ve still not gotten her to come up to the gate but some of that is her own wish not to go by other, more dominant horses in the field. Once the way to me is clear, she’ll usually walk up to me. A big improvement over last year. However, there just wasn’t much to do, and she radiated the attitude that if we weren’t going to ride, she’d just as soon be back out with the herd.

A lot has changed from last year. She is overall happier in how she relates to everything. I don’t think she’s in pain any more; not sure if that’s a result of monthly Adequan shots or if that means between her feet finally getting to where they should be and something more than her hocks fusing or what. Her fore feet are getting wider–non-horsey husband noticed this yesterday when he came out to administer her shot. His comment was that “her feet look like horse feet should look now.” Even on wet ice she moves more confidently. Today she was doing a better job of keeping her footing than I was.

She has become more confident and independent-thinking. I’ve noticed that in how she observes things around her. She notices different things, but doesn’t get as fazed as she has been in the past. Oh, Mocha is still a good equine citizen. She respects human space; she hasn’t turned into a reactive idiot. But she has learned to fend for herself without human support and has become more of a horse over this past winter.

The other piece is that she still likes to work under saddle, and has been chafing at the restrictions ever since I started riding again at the end of January. Until this week, we were limited to the spaces cleared for feeding and a couple of tractor tracks through the snow. The arena was buried under deep snow, and the road was just too iffy to try riding. Even with riding the tractor tracks, any chance she had where the footing was semi-decent, she wanted to move into a trot. I did try doing some ground driving with her in January but gave it up because she made it clear that she really wasn’t into it, and wanted to do more. Oh, she was compliant, but I got a lot of disapproving grunts and sighs as we worked in the barnyard. It wasn’t what she wanted to do and she was quite vocal in that disapproval, complete with longing gazes toward the road. Throw a saddle on her back, though, and even with our restrictions, there were no grunts or sighs.

So. Today. The weather was cloudy with a sunbreak that promised some decent riding conditions when I headed out to the barn. Um, well, the weather was moving in a different direction, and it started sprinkling when I got there. But I was determined to get some saddle time, and had put on rain clothes to stay dry. There wasn’t any deep snow left in the pasture, but there were slick icy spots and I decided that nope, pasture ride wasn’t going to work. Especially since the last time I rode, she kept trying to break into a trot where she could. The arena was snowbound and had melted icy spots. That left the road.

Once I got up on Mocha and turned her toward the road, she was up on her toes. Not like a spooky horse looking for an excuse to bolt, but a winter-fatigued horse eager to get out of the pasture rut and someplace where she had solid footing that wasn’t ice and snow. She marched down the road at a pretty good walk, with the only catch coming when we passed the house with the big German Shepherd. That made her want to turn back, so I dismounted and led her by, then remounted. We got to the little gravel lane that ties into the road network I like to ride, and the moment her hooves hit that gravel, she wanted to prance and trot. Of course, at that corner is where a dude and pack string lives, and they were winter fatigued, bored with winter pasture, and very happy to talk to a visiting horse. We minced by that herd, and then she wanted to line out in a serious long trot. That would be fine, except after about 20 yards she started to try to slip a lope into the mix. Um, no, not at this phase of getting back under saddle. We settled on a nice little working trot, though I did have to stop her every now and then to let her settle. Again, not running away…just exuberant energy at being able to move without ice and snow.

I did make her walk a little, worrying about her overdoing. At least she wasn’t overheating because about halfway through, the skies opened up and we got pelted with cold rain and wind. That was probably a good thing because she did want to GO, and she still has a long coat. Due to her energy, there were comments along the lines of “WHOA, DAMNIT.” “QUIT, DAMNIT.” “Silly mare, stop being an idiot.” But I was grinning the whole time, simply because she’s sound, she chose to round up under me and use herself, and she had all that energy but was still listening.

I’ve got my good saddle mare back. YAY.

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The difference a year makes in the horse’s life

Last year at this time we were two days into moving the horse from fifteen-some years of stall life in Western Oregon near Portland to outside life in far Northeastern Oregon. She was anxious, freaked out, and angry; pacing her pen, afraid of her tire feeder, and unwilling to drink from the ditch. In the arena she wouldn’t go anywhere near the pigs or their pen and she’d nearly run me over trying to get away from them. We had to stand with her to get her to eat and she was dropping weight. Not only that, she developed a short-term defiant streak where she challenged me on almost everything I asked her to do. It wasn’t until I tied her to the hitching rail and let her blow up that she finally got over that. Then we got hit with myriad health issues on top of the white line disease we’d been struggling with for a year and a half at that point.

This year, today, I rode her in the arena with bareback pad and Pelham (since it was the first time this spring with the pad, I wanted a little more authority). I didn’t need the Pelham because she worked in a very relaxed mode. And as for the pigs….

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well, the image speaks for itself, doesn’t it? I took that shot from horseback. She accepts the pigs but doesn’t like them. They’ll always be an excuse for skittery behavior in that corner, but most of the time I can ride by them on a loose rein and (except perhaps on a cold and windy day) she’ll maybe tense up a little but now doesn’t even speed up.

But more than that has happened this year.

We discovered the cause for her intermittent front end lamenesses and, though we’ve still got X-rays to happen in June, it looks like the change in shoeing has addressed it.

Mocha learned not only how to live outside and drink from creeks, she learned about 24/7 herd life, surviving cold and snowy winters outside without blankets or shelters, and how to be a real horse. As well as about fences that aren’t pole fences.

Remediating her front end lamenesses and full-time turnout seems to have given her a lovely soft working jog. It used to be that riding her jog trot bareback was a tooth-rattling experience. No more. While she’s not slow enough to pass for a Western Pleasure horse, as far as a working jog goes, it’s nice to be able to sit it bareback and not get shaken to pieces. I hadn’t asked her for a slow jog all winter, but once we got back into the arena, my main reaction was WOW.

Full-sized stallions no longer frighten and worry her. Today she drowsed while tied to a hitching post near a young stallion penned nearby who was screaming at her. She’s observed breeding going on, and been part of a group of mares VERY INTERESTED in one of their own who just foaled in the pasture.

She’s gained weight.

Overall, things are good now. And that’s the way I like it in horse world.

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That moment of epic earcamness

So this happened today….

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Ten feet away. We rode by him (from the size, I’d say it’s a male) twice. On approach, Mocha was all ears.

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I had one thumb bare and my phone in my pocket, so I was juggling snaffle reins, doing everything on a touch screen with only a thumb, dealing with a Very Alert Horse who was suspicious of the eagle…and sidepassed by him the first time. I was sure he was going to take off but we never got closer than ten feet and he showed no real inclination to go. Just as well by me as a certain little mare was on her toes and ready to go.

After four trot lengths along the back fence, she was somewhat quieter but still energetic, and wasn’t at all thrilled about stopping. But we got within ten feet and I got that first pic–which was the last one I took. Then we headed back to the barnyard to beat the snow shower blowing in.

I don’t think I can top that earcam.

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Horse update

Holy cremoly. I think pasture life agrees with Miss Mocha. Granted, we’ve got brisk weather but even so…she was more energetic when I brought her in than she has been for AGES. Years, even. Since before the white line stuff started. Hacked her in the field and while living in the field has revealed Scary Horse-Eating Stuff (she was tracking the flight of a ring-neck pheasant as I mounted and was on the muscle as we rode by where he went to ground in a fence row; I know where she saw elk as well; neighbor horses came thundering up which set her off), she still had a lot of energy. We jogged a lot of the distance, working in small serpentines so that she didn’t decide to take off with the neighbor horses. When we were done, she wasn’t winded, either. Crossed the ditch with water–she sucked back once, then went ahead as I pushed her on. I needed to *ride* today which we’ve not had for a while.

However. I think she’s definitely arena sour. I took her to the arena and the same mare who was full of energy? While she walked better than she has before in the arena, all of the energy went away. She did not want to go faster than a slow, careful walk that could win a WP class. Ride her down the alleyway, which has big rocky sections? More energy. Ride her in the county right-of-way (there’s a big triangle patch created when the road was straightened)? More energy. She had more energy on the lead outside of the arena as well. I suspect this is the consequence of that fall in the show, and right now is probably not a good time to deal with it. We’ll do other stuff besides riding and cool her off there. We’ll see what she’s like in the springtime. There’s a lot of little stuff we can do in an arena that isn’t riding, and that may help her rebuild confidence in arena footing.

Overall, she just looks better. Her front end is filling up and looking like it should be. Her hind end is muscling up as well. Mentally, her affect is bright and a wee bit hard-headed with wanting to GO. Yeah, she’s rough and hairy. Her mane’s a bit sun-bleached. She’s got a few marks where she’s been negotiating herd position. She does not look like a pretty and shiny show horse any more. She looks like a ranch horse.

But when I turned her loose, instead of trying to follow me back to the gate or wander over to the barnyard to issue plaintative nickers begging for hay, she ambled off to join one of the other horses and fell to grazing. YAY. And the only place she gimped under the saddle was in the arena. I think we’ve finally made the transition.

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