Monday, April 27, 2015

Spooky! (Mimi part 6)

Mimi, the opinionated walking horse has passed a significant milestone in her education.  She has learned that it is not such a big deal to leave the farm for a trail ride without the other horses.  We arrived at it incrementally, going a short distance down the road and turning back to the farm.  Now, the change of seasons has given us a bit more daylight to play in.  There is time for the occasional short ride after work. 

On one such afternoon, I saddled Mimi up and headed for the trails.  She behaved perfectly going down the long driveway and out onto the paved public road.  As usual, the cars and trucks on the road did not bother her at all.  Mimi left the farm and tooled down the road and into the woods as if she had been doing it all her life. 

We only went a short distance down the trail.  I didn’t want to be on the public road in the dusk.  But when we turned around, another problem popped up.  Since we were headed back towards the farm, it was Mimi’s opinion that we should get there as fast as we could.  She tried to speed up.  When I pulled her back, she fought the bit, throwing in a few dance steps for emphasis.  I simply turned around and started back the opposite direction.  She fought that for a while.  But when she settled down and accepted the change of direction, we turned back towards home.  We went through this dance several times before she would calm down immediately after I turned her away from the direction home.  After that, whenever she would get anxious going forward, I simply stopped her until she stood calmly before continuing on our way.  By the time we reached the last leg toward the farm and the paved road, she was walking calmly.

The following weekend, we took another solo ride.  Again, she behaved perfectly on the ride out.  We had the whole afternoon to ourselves, so we rode down the loop trail to the little lake in the state park.  The lake is a nice, relaxing place to be.  We took some time to enjoy the view, and work on standing still for mounting and dismounting while away from the familiar environs of the farm.  Mimi was a little fidgety, but nothing that won’t be improved upon with repetition. 
Stopping by the lake

Instead of continuing on the loop, we started back the way we had come.  I wanted Mimi to recognize that we were heading back in the direction of the farm.  This was to test how much she remembered from the last lesson.  Turns out she’s a fast learner.  She behaved so well at first I thought that she wasn’t aware we were headed back home.  The worst that she threw out was increasing her pace a bit once we were on the last leg of the forest trail.  That was solved by simply stopping and starting again to reinforce the previous lesson.  Then, Mimi really showed me her intelligence and value as a trail horse.  She spooked. 

Mimi has started at a few things before, but they’ve mostly been unexpected things popping up on the trail.  In those situations, she simply tenses her back muscles in preparation to move out if necessary.  Once she gets a good view of whatever it is, she relaxes.  She rarely even breaks her stride.  But this time, she tensed her muscles, planted all fours and took a sudden hop to the left. I could feel her getting her back end under her in preparation for spinning back the way we had come. About the time she took the hop to the left, I heard the crack and caught motion in my peripheral vision to the right. About 3 feet off the trail, a dead pine tree, about the size of a phone pole, had decided to fall just as we passed. The horse was spooking in the direction to keep us out of danger, so I never moved to correct her. The tree fell parallel to the trail, and she never executed the spin. Instead, she resumed her forward motion, keeping a wary eye on the down tree. I praised her, then walked her back past the spot again.  From there, it was a rather uneventful ride back to the farm.


Thursday, March 19, 2015

On the Road! (Mimi part 5)

Mimi, ready to go to work

Things are starting to shift a bit in the battle of opinions between Mimi and myself.  We’ve had her on the trail again, this time with minimal problems.  A small group of people had gathered for a Sunday trail ride and I saddled up Mimi to join them.  She has shown no problems when riding out with a group.  Her opinion is that she shouldn’t have to leave the farm alone.  I’ve had incremental success in persuading her otherwise, but we haven’t yet pushed out by ourselves.  The biggest obstacle is that the only way off the farm is out the driveway and onto the paved public road.  I’ve tried a couple of things to avoid having a fight out in traffic.  I figured that this was the day to see if it was having any effect.

I’m usually among the first to be saddled and ready, and so it was on this day.  While the other folks were taking the time to pamper their horses, Mimi and I saddled up and got to work.  We rode down the long drive to the road.  There was no traffic, and I didn’t give her time to think about it.  We pushed right out onto the road and turned toward the trail head.  Mimi never flinched.  We went down the road about a hundred yards and turned back to the farm.  About halfway down the driveway, we turned back and went onto the road again.  This time, I pushed her all the way to the power line right of way where we usually take the horses off the pavement and out of traffic.  Mimi handled it like she had been doing it every day.  I still wanted to join in on the group ride, so we turned back to the farm again. 

When we got back to the barn, the other folks were ready, so we turned around once more, and this time hit the trail.  Just as before, she never flinched at the cars, trucks or cyclists that we shared the road or trail with.  We did encounter one new problem.  Mimi has a nice little ambling gait, but she is not a fast horse.  The horses we were with were all long legged, eager trail horses with ground eating gaits.  When they moved out, poor Mimi couldn’t keep up.  In spite of our victory on the road, Mimi is still buddy sour. 

As the other horses pulled away from her, Mimi would break gait and try to canter.  Each time, I checked her stride and started over.  But the rest of the ride was a constant test of wills.  We still have to work on the buddy sour problem.  But now, we can get off the farm and work on it in a safe place.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Take the Lead (Mimi part 4)

Mimi, the opinionated walking horse, has made some incremental progress lately.  She has impeccable ground manners and rides well in the arena.  She also does well with a group on the trail.  Problems arise when she needs to be ridden off the farm alone.  Once she realizes she’s about to leave, she will balk and attempt to turn back.  If allowed to, she would also buck and rear.  I’ve pushed many a horse through that problem, but Mimi chooses not to make her play until we are entering the paved public road.  I’ve been trying to find a way to solve the problem without having a fight in the middle of traffic. 

On a recent Sunday, several folks gathered at the barn.  The winter had been mild so far, and everyone was up for a good trail ride.  I had been debating different tactics to get past her problem without putting the horse, myself and drivers in danger.  I had thought of putting a couple of folks out to block traffic while I got her started.  But once we were saddled and ready, the boss said “Why don’t you just take the lead and let’s see what happens.”

We started out, and the boss held everyone else back about 50 yards.  Mimi went out into the road with no hesitation.  And just as she had on other rides, she paid no attention to cars, trucks and motorcycles passing us by.  Once off the road and into the trail, the group stayed back 100 yards or more.  They say they caught glimpses of me from time to time, but I didn’t see them until we all got back to the farm. 

Mimi and I forged ahead, sometimes walking, other times at an easy amble.  We met several other people out enjoying the trail.  There were hikers, dog walkers, and cyclists.  As usual, Mimi shared the trail with them without any fuss.  At the creek crossing, she picked her way across calmly and confidently. 

There are several places where the trail comes near the paved road.  At each one, I took Mimi out onto the pavement for a short distance.  She never flinched.  This convinced me that it is not the road she is bothered by.  Rather, it is leaving the farm and her pasture mates that has her overly concerned.  And that is what we will continue to work on. 

Mimi standing ground tied at the barn

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Looking for Trouble (Mimi, part 3)

We’ve had a couple of good rides since Mimi, the opinionated walking horse and I had our little fight at the end of the driveway.  Her basic problem I believe, is that she doesn’t want to go off the farm alone.  The only route off of the farm is the paved public road leading to the trail system in the nearby state park.  Fighting with a balky horse on pavement and in traffic is never a good idea.  I had to devise another way to solve her problem.

It’s not good to work in a vacuum.  Discussing training problems with other folks is always a good idea.  I’ve been doing just that via the internet at site called .  The best advice I got was to set the horse up for a balk in a safer place and work it out there.  That is a bit problematic since the farm has only one way off the property, but I had some ideas. 

The perimeter trail around the property runs past a wooded area.  It also has a boggy place in it that bothers some of the horses.  So, on a recent sunny afternoon, Mimi and I saddled up to see what would happen.  The idea was to set her up for a balk in a safe area, then spank her backside sharply to keep her going forward.  In the barn area, Mimi was her usual well behaved self.  We walked down the long driveway, and before she had the chance to tense up at the road, I turned her onto the perimeter trail.  The front part of the trail is dry and fairly open.  The part we had started on bordered the pasture she is kept in.  Mimi walked out calmly and confidently.  The woods begin to close in on the back corner.  I could feel Mimi getting worried, but she continued to move forward.  The trail on the backside is a bit muddy and the tree branches overhang it in places. Mimi showed her agitation by getting a bit prancy but I insisted on a walk.  The deeper we got into it, the more she showed signs that she wanted to turn back.  Still it was a simple thing to keep her moving forward.  When she was walking calmly, we turned around and went back through it.  When we got to the front, Mimi made a halfhearted attempt to dodge back down the driveway, but we pushed past that easily.  The front section of the trail parallels the public road, but we had already dealt with that.  Around the corner, the bog awaited.

The farm property drains to this wooded area.  I think there is a seep spring here as well.  The place stays damp, even in dry weather.  But we’ve had a wet winter, with several heavy rains.  The bog is knee deep to a horse in places.  We approached it at a walk.  Mimi hesitated slightly but she stayed on track.  Once we were into it, I took a chance and gave Mimi her head.  She put her nose to the ground and picked her way through like a veteran trail horse.  We continued around, through the wooded back side and past the driveway.  Then, we turned around and made a complete lap in the other direction.  She stayed a bit nervous on the back side, but never offered to balk.  I took her back and forth in front of the driveway to reinforce that we only go home when I’m ready.  Then, instead of turning directly into the drive, we made a little half cloverleaf turn at the top and went back to the barn. 

While Mimi is proving that she will make a good trail horse, we were not successful in setting things up to correct the one flaw we’ve found in her.  We’ll have to get a bit more creative next time.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

She's ..... Opinionated (Mimi part 2)

When the boss asked me to work with Mimi, he had one main goal in mind.  He wanted her to be calm and rideable even when there were unusual and spooky things all around her.  Her primary job at this barn will be as a trail horse.  But riders and horses from this barn have been winning prizes at the local open horse show for years.  The boss sees that kind of potential in this little walking horse. 

He first wanted to see how she would act around distractions and “spooky stuff”.  We used a noisy plastic tarp as an acid test.  As I led her from the pasture toward the hitching rail, he pulled a tarp out and laid it on the ground in front of us.  Mimi walked over it with no problems.  After we passed by, he picked up the tarp and gave it a good shake.  Mimi jumped a bit, but it was a simple thing to get her attention back to me.  I turned her around and walked toward the boss as he continued to shake the tarp.  The little horse wasn’t fazed at all.  I took the tarp and drug and shook it as I led Mimi to the arena.  There, we went through the whole routine.  She walked over the crumpled up tarp and stood there as I draped it over her.  I made it a point to make as much noise with the tarp as possible.  I covered her as far as her head before she started to get nervous.  We worked with that a little bit, then called it a day.

The next session, I saddled up with the intention of taking a ride off the farm into the nearby State Park.  To get there, we have to ride for about an eighth of a mile on a paved public road before reaching a power line right of way where we can get off the road if needed.  Things went fine until we got to the end of the driveway.  Mimi stood perfectly still while we waited for traffic to clear.  But when the time came to move out onto the road, she refused.  I pressed her, but she got more and more agitated.  I decided not to have the fight on pavement and in traffic, so I turned her onto the perimeter trail that circles the farm. 

She continued to resist, but here, I could concentrate on the horse rather than traffic.  I kept pushing her forward and each refusal got a little less enthusiastic.  This portion of the perimeter trail parallels the road.  Several types of vehicles drove by as we worked there, but Mimi paid them no mind.  We rode back and forth beside the road, passing by the driveway several times.  She attempted to duck back down the driveway toward home at first, but after a while she realized we were going to stay here till I was ready to go home.  Each time she refused, I kept her facing the direction I wanted to go and pressed her forward.  She is very responsive, so I didn’t need to get harsh at all.  At odd intervals I would reverse direction, and she gradually settled in with the program.   

After a while I started looking for a way to end the session on a positive note.  She had stopped fighting about going back and forth along the trail.  I decided that the first time she went past the driveway without trying to duck back down it, we would head back to the barn.  When we reached that point I rode past, then turned her around and made a loop into the drive. 

When I got her put away, the boss and I sat and talked for a while.  He told me that he’d had a couple other folks riding her and that they had the same problem.  They had solved it by taking her out with other horses.  I need to get her to move out alone.  I’m still reluctant to engage in a fight in traffic.  I’ll have to figure out a safe way to do that.

Friday, January 9, 2015

A Christmas Surprise (Mimi, part 1)

All my horse gear has been packed up and readied for shipment.  However, the move to our ranch property in the Philippines has been delayed for a while.  Still, the last thing I anticipated was an opportunity for more saddle time here in the U.S.  All that changed with an invitation to the Christmas party at Beaver Hollow Farm, the barn where I’ve been riding for several years.  Folks were surprised to see me.  All indications had been that we would already have moved.  But all of us expressed the hope of a few more rides together. 

The barn owner sympathized with the delay, but I could see the wheels turning in his head.  He asked about my new timeline, then hit me with a welcome request.  “Since you’re going to be here for a while, I just got this little mare I’d like for you to take a look at.”  He knows just how to pique my curiosity.  He continued to add “she’s a good little horse, but she’s…. opinionated.”  He left it at that and we continued with the party. 

This past weekend, I went out to “take a look” at her.  Mimi is a 6 year old Tennessee walking horse, black, with a small white snip on her nose, and just a hint of a white spot on her face.  Bruce, a fellow rider, caught her up for me.  As they approached, I could see that she was a bit nervous.  She was not paying attention to Bruce at all.  Instead, her eyes and ears were focused on her new surroundings.  That’s normal for a horse in a new place, but I wanted her attention on me.  When I took the line from Bruce, I spoke to her and shook the lead to get her attention.  It took a couple of times, but she settled in by my shoulder and walked calmly with me to the hitching rail. 

Mimi has been to charm school.  Her ground manners are impeccable.  Before I mounted, I sacked her out with an oversized shirt.  She stood for all of it, obviously from prior experience.  She stood perfectly still for mounting, and I continued the sacking out from the saddle with no problems.  I tossed the shirt onto the fence and began working on the rail. 

The little horse works off of voice commands.  She turns with very little pressure, almost neck reining.  She stops and backs on voice command.  In short, she has none of the problems I’m usually asked to fix.  But, when I asked for a faster gait, she would start in a smooth running walk for a few strides, then switch into a bouncy pace.  We worked on that for a short time, stopping her when she changed her gait, then starting again.  Then I put her away.

A short time later, the boss and I were sitting in the garage lounge area, and he told me Mimi’s story.  He had bought her from a hunter / jumper barn, an unlikely place for a Tennessee walker.  She wasn’t working out for them there.  I suspect partly because walking horse gaits don’t mesh well with the way a hunter is supposed to move.  He has had two people ride her before I climbed on.  She bucked with both, and tossed one of them.  Both had immediately gathered the reins up tight and stayed in her mouth.  I pride myself on having a light touch on the reins, so that issue didn’t come up with me. 

The boss told me that he wanted to enter her in the local fun show next spring.  He also wants to see how she reacts to distractions such as tarps and obstacles.  So that is my next move with her.  We’ll see what develops. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Horses of our own

Horses of Our Own


It’s been quite a while since I’ve done any horse work.  We’ve shifted our focus to our upcoming move to the Philippines.  We have a house full of furnishings and such to sell off prior to selling the house itself.  Many of our smaller items can be shipped over, saving us the expense and trouble of locating and acquiring suitable replacements.  Included in this category is a quantity of horse and cattle related supplies and equipment. 
Much of this, as it relates to horses, is largely a mental exercise.  We are thinking on and planning just how to build our horse herd.  The easy portion of this is something every prospective horse owner should do before acquiring a horse.  That is to know just what you intend to do with the horse once you have it.  It does no good to buy an expensive and voracious animal, only to find that it is not suited for the job you want it to do.  The horse’s disposition and physical capabilities need to match the job it is expected to perform.  In our case, we need sturdy animals that can carry us safely along the mountain roads and trails of the Cordilleras.  They must be calm enough to safely negotiate through traffic in the barangays, or small villages that lie near our ranch.  At least one of them needs to have enough pep and intelligence to work with small bunches of cattle.  This makes it fairly simple for us.  We don’t need to look for an expensive, imported breed of horse.  The small, tough, “native” horses of the Philippines should work well for us.
These “native” horses are of no particular breed.  They are descended from the Asian, Spanish, American, and more recently, Australian horses brought to the islands over many hundreds of years.  Similar to wild or feral horses in other parts of the world, these horses are mostly small, tough, and able to thrive on coarse and varied forage.  Although the tendency is toward small bodied animals, there is some variation in size.  We will be looking for horses on the tall end of the spectrum, at least 14 hands (about 56 inches) tall.  If we get many visits from our European and American friends, we’ll have to consider adding some stouter, taller horses to the mix.
Another thing to consider is hoof care.  No matter what, a horse is only as good as the feet it stands on.  So far, the calesa horses in a couple of tourist spots are the only ones I’ve seen up close in the Philippines.  Some of the animals seem well cared for.  Others, not so much.  For the most part, the farriery seemed clumsy.  Rather than heating and shaping the shoes to fit the hooves, the hooves were trimmed and filed to fit narrow, mule like shoes.  The hooves seemed elongated and artificially shaped, as if the horses were walking on blocks of wood. 

There are competent farriers in the Philippines.  There is a well-established racing industry.  There are also many stables that cater to well to do equestrians.  Many of these folks are involved in show jumping, hunter-jumper equitation, or the high form of horsemanship called dressage.  These athletic horses can perform as they do partly because skilled and knowledgeable farriers keep their hooves in good condition.
In our location, we are an inconvenient distance away from any experienced farrier.    I have decided to keep our horses barefoot.  This involves allowing the sole of the hoof to grow out and become tough.  The hoof walls must be trimmed and shaped by both natural wear and with hoof nippers and rasp.  I can do some of this myself, but I have to remember that I’m getting old.  I’ll need to train someone locally to help out and eventually take over the job. 

Except for sending our saddles and other assorted tack ahead, most of this is just mental preparation.  Even though we’ve been making improvements on our ranch during our annual visits, it’s not practical for us to own livestock until we arrive there permanently.  In the meantime, I’m studying how these things are done in the Philippines and working out how I can fit into the mix.