Thursday, August 23, 2007

Adventures in Horsekeeping

Aaaaah, I am a glutton for punishment.

If you remember from my last blog, I injured my heels (“Your last thought before darkness... and other tales”). Since you cannot wear any real type of shoes when your heels back and blue and feet swollen, you must find other things to occupy your time (besides house keeping, yuck!). If you can't work with (a.k.a. torture) your horses with your human agenda, then you must re-direct your energy to something else. Which in today’s case would be the Beanie the sheep.

One may wonder why a mild mannered sheep would need a torture session and what this may have to do with horses. Last weeks adventure in horse keeping was the direct result of a horse in need of a friend. Molly, my mustang mare’s poor behavior had to do with her not having a "herd" with which to mingle. Now that Dutch, the Handsome, Smart and Really Busy Quarter Horse Gelding ™ is home having his newly unplanned notched ear doctored, I decided to house the pygmy goat, Frito and the sheep, Bean Dip (Beanie) with him to keep him company. In the past, Dutch has been none to excited to have the sheep housed in his paddock, but this time the sheep is his life long friend.

This would be a fine and dandy arrangement, except for the fact that Dutch is eating Beanies wool (?!?). Since I'm reasonably sure that wool is not good for horses, I decided to remove Frito and Beanie from Dutch's paddock only to realize that he immediately became depressed.

I bought Beanie to keep Frito company, which works after a fashion. Beanie loves Frito but Frito only tolerates Beanie and is rather mean to her when I am or other "scratchful" humans are around. Frito is a very jealous and self-centered animal. The *only* reason I bought Beanie is because I was told that because she was a Barbados sheep that she would shed and since I was not interested in learning to shear, shearing a sheep, or finding someone to shear a sheep, I thought this would be a viable alternative to acquiring Another Goat. If you have not ever had A Goat, you may not understand the impact of Another Goat, but one goat is a real threat to sanity, let me tell you. Two goats would be unthinkable.

I had always marveled at the "fact" that sheep don't shed. I mean really, how practical is it to have big mounds of wool that never fall off? You'd get bugs in it and parasites on your skin. I've recently begun to consider that maybe typical domestic sheep do shed and that we shear them prior to their shedding. This would explain why they shear sheep in the early, early spring before they shed. I have ready memories of newly shorn sheep grazing in early spring snowstorms and have thought, “Oh poor sheepies, it’s soOooo cold.”

Anyway, Barbados sheep do shed but IT TAKES A REALLY LONG TIME. It's near the middle of July and Beanie has most of her wool that, I'm lead to assume, tastes good to Handsome, Smart and Really Busy Quarter Horse Geldings™. I decide that today, Beanie will get sheared. Which is where the "torture" reference comes in. Beanie, unlike my other animal partners is not a willing volunteer for anything having to do with me. She will eat oats from my hand but beyond that, she turns into a sheepy pogo stick. Her ability to jump straight up into the air is practically pre-natural. NASA has nothing on her when it comes to a launch event. I figure, however, that it must be natural predator escape behavior for a sheep. I often imagine how well we'd be able to handle a horse that jumped proportionally as high... just think the stadium jumps.

I catch Beanie and put on her sheepy halter. For those of you who do not know, sheep halters are not really like a horse halters. It slips over the ears and has a nose piece that is adjusted by a slip lead that tightens up on the chin (which will become important later). I tie Beanie to the hitching post so that she's barely able to stand naturally but if she moves more than four or five inches her head will be raised. I grab the scissors and start trimming. She moves about a bit and I studiously ignore her bad behavior and randomly allow her minute amounts of grain for good behavior.

As I move more towards her stinky bits she gets more and more agitated. Obviously, if you are a sheep (prey) you don't won't someone (a predator) around your tender stinky bits with scissors (teeth), but believe me her stinky bits need the most trimming. This is when she slipped her halter.

Now I've got a frantic sheep running around for dear life. So I grab Frito out of her pen to lead Beanie back where I can catch her again (and hence the origin of Judas Goat). But by this time, Frito is A Very Angry Goat, because Beanie has been getting Attention and Grain. This is very frustrating for a smart goat. So every time I'm about to nab Beanie, Frito starts butting and goring her (Note to self: Get Frito's horns cut). Now I'm focused goat torture (must keep goat from sheep), which involves a riding crop ( sorry to all you pacifists).

Since the sheep halter is not perfect restraining aid for a non-compliant sheep, I use a dog collar and a lead rope. This also turns out to be a bad idea, because when Beanie fights, she hits the end of her lead and the collar is hard on her neck. Besides starting a choking event, I'm afraid that she'll break her windpipe. So I put her halter back on, tie it close and tie the lead rope and collar loose so that if she slips her halter, she'll still be tied.

After a lot more bad behavior on Beanie’s part, which includes a hopelessly entwined lead rope and sheep halter lead and many a sheep launching event, Beanie has significantly less wool than before (although her stinky bits need a bit more help). Therefore Dutch no longer has his alternate food source.

This was even more bizarre than the time I shaved a cat... What we do for our horses...

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Your last thought before darkness… and other tales

Jeez louise... I'm just about crippled. Lord love a duck, what a moron I am.

I've been around horses since I was 11 years old. So we're talking 41 years experience here (yes, add them up, I'm 52) and it seems like every single time I think some thing like "Gee, maybe I should/shouldn't... " I don't even get to the what it is I should or shouldn't be doing before life takes an evil turn and I'm hurtin'

Background: I got a call last year and a person said without preamble or introduction, "I hear you have horses." Whereupon I said, "Uh, yes. Hello, I'm Dianne." He replied, "Oh, yeah, I'm a friend of Chucks and I played guitar with your husband in college and I have 2.5 acres of irrigated pasture with grass three feet high and I need it grazed. I used to have an old rancher who kindly mowed and baled it up (= free cow feed), but he passed away and I need something to eat this pasture before my wife loses her mind with the bugs from it." So all last summer and fall, two of my three horses got to graze a rather lush irrigated pasture for free (=$9 per day savings for me). Not a bad deal for me.

Meat of story: This year Rover, my Tennessee Walking Horse Mustang cross gelding and Dutch the Handsome, Smart and Really Busy Quarter Horse™ gelding, got to go "out to pasture" first. This was Dutch's first year because last year we were getting to know each other. This year I decided against my "better judgment," to take Dutch out for the first rotation. Molly, my Mustang mare, got to stay home. Since Dutch is one of those busy smart horses who find trouble no matter what the circumstance, so I was worried that he'd get into trouble. Molly of all my horses is the most herd oriented (go figure, the mustang has separation issues).

Dutch, the Handsome, Smart and Really Busy Quarter Horse™ gelding, made is less than two weeks before he lead an escape. I found this out by receiving a strange and cryptic message on my voicemail that said "Your horses are out and they're not where they're supposed to be."

Uh, duh, if they're “out”, they're “not where they're supposed to be”, but even though I was on my way to an acupuncture appointment I started driving towards the nearest tack store (Translation: Vehicle I’m driving does not have halter; my son has my truck with required horse accouterment), where I buy halter (lime green and navy; very tasteful) and head towards the pasture. I finally find both horses in a pasture “not where they're supposed to be." Rover is happy to see me and looks healthy, but Dutch has skinned back legs and a split ear. Ugh. Rover, who I assume took the same escape route (jumping a fence), is unscathed.

I halter Rover and Dutch follows Rover and I back to "where they're supposed to be." I have to retrace my steps to the feed store to buy insect repellant medicinal salve and then I call my vet. Unfortunately, my vet doesn't respond for a week (because she rides H/J and is at a show) but when she does finally call, she can't make an appointment until 11:00 AM July 4. I decide that Dutch needs to be rotated out of pasture so his ear can be doctored and I load up Molly to trade places with Dutch.

Remember, Molly has been without horse partners for approximately 2.5 weeks (she has horse friends nearby; I'm not a total monster).

I wake my 19 year old son, Ian, at 8:00 AM to help me with the horse logistics but he throws a teen fit because I woke him “so early”. After I say something like "Fine, I take care of it, go back to bed" one go-gillion times, he develops some adult guilt and forces the issue and comes along (which I was happy for later).

After arriving and causing the whole neighborhood to start horsie-yodeling, I unload "the Moll" and tie her to the trailer. I halter Dutch; load him easily and ask Ian to help me with the gate. Molly is being a pill; charging the line and swinging arcs in front of me, which I usually do not tolerate, but I do tolerate it this time because *this time* I'm acutely aware that I'm inconveniencing my son. To get through the gate, you must cross an eight (8) inch streamlet. And as I'm walking through I'm thinking, "I probably should..." and the next thing I know both of my heels hurt like crazy; one of my sneakers is pulled off; and I'm pitched forward as Molly swings in an arc in front of me. !#@$%#! Even though I'd crossed near and stepped inside of the gate post, Molly decided that since I had taken that track, it must be the way to go and jumped the "raging rivulet" by three feet (something she never did last year, but it doesn't excuse my behavior) and she landed ON, not near and not grazing, but ON my heels.

My son immediately asked if I was okay and what I intended to reply was,

"I'm sorry my son, but no, I am not well."

But it probably came out more like,

"&!#% no, I'm nearly crippled!"

I put my shoe on and did what I should have done when Molly started bullying me: I made her pay attention to ME. After she crossed the raging rivulet about 8 times I let her go.

End of story: Dutch had a portion of his ear removed, my heels are almost black and blue (more like blue and green, but ya'll know how this story will end) and my Achilles tendon is swollen. My son learned how to haul a horse trailer because I sat with my heels on a bag of ice on the way home.

Moral of Story: Please DO the thing that your thought to do PRIOR to thinking " I probably should/shouldn't... ".

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Life is good

Leaning in, I lightly pressed my shoulder to the horses shoulder. While the big red gelding brushes his lips over the back of my coat, I slip one hand under the stirrup. Hoisting the leather over my arm, I deftly loosened the girth. Not enough to let the saddle slide off, but just enough to give Red Rover a break from the tension.

I turn to face the horse, gently moving his curious mouth away with my hand and walk around to the right side of the saddle and remove a halter and long lead line. Rover, lowers his head, anticipating my actions. The buckle on the bridle is old tarnished fine silver and the leather is dark and butter soft from years of saddle soap and oil. I contemplated the last time I’d actually polished the silver on the bridle as I the slip the halter over Rover’s nose and buckle the crown.

As the Rover forages around for bits and pieces of grass and forbs, I sit down and rifle through my saddlebag. Rover pricks his ears forward at the sound of a rustling baggie.

As a long yearling, Rover was greatly frightened of the crackling rustle of plastic. I, ever aware of just how many plastic bags find their way into the Nevada desert, took extra pains to inure the rawboned youngster to the ever-present baggie “danger.” Often, I would carry bags of sweet cornhusks and watermelon rinds, luscious treats to any equine, out to him in grocery store bags. In order to get his mouth around these mouth-watering treats Rover had to overcome his fear of the horse eating baggie.

Now as I open my peanut butter and potato chip sandwich he is intent on divining whether I’m going to be generous or stingy. The sight of the horse with his intense look, big white blaze and bright eyes, his head paralleling mine, makes me smile. The once frightening sound has been transformed into a horsey dinner bell.

I briefly mull over the notion that a 1,350 lb horse truly believes that he needs half of a relatively small peanut butter sandwich. Rover has not moved a muscle, not twitched his skin or swished his tail. His eyes, hypnotized by the sandwich, are still brightly focused; his ears are still pointed towards the area of the sound.

I sigh, look out over the high mountain lake in the distance and tear off a piece of the sandwich. Rover takes a step forward and gently takes the piece off my hand. As always he touches the palm of my hand with his tongue.

Rover eats his sandwich, rightly discerns that I’ll offer no more goodies and begins to sniff the forage near my knee. I rub his forehead, take in a big breath of clean mountain air and consider that life can’t get much better.