Thursday, February 26, 2015

Post Poned

So we had the big DAY scheduled for Otto for next Tuesday. I was never so happy!

Castration day....

Things were melting nicely because we have been in the 40's with plenty of sun. It looked promising that the footing would be suitable enough to be able to exercise him which is key for the first week.   But the weather changed in the last couple of days . It got much colder and the melting has all but ceased.  We had  to cancel the appt and wait a little while longer..

Castration can be done three ways. Open, Closed or Semi Closed.  Otto will be having an Open castration procedure which means there are no stitches. Just like the name says.. the incision is left open. Most horses that are older and have been a stallion longer, or have other complications,  are better candidates for closed or semi closed procedures.  JB had to be a closed procedure because he had well, uh, ...big ones.. and the vet felt it was best to stitch things up..

I won't get into the gory details of the actual Open Procedure  but the post operative care requires keeping the wound open and draining, which is crucial for proper healing.  All in all, for the first week of so, it's a mess.  Usually there is a fair amount of drainage and along with that,  comes the scalding on the inside of the legs. Keeping things sponged and cleaned is part of the post operative care. It also helps to keep the inside of his legs lathered  in Petroleum Jelly to help increase comfort and minimize scalding.

It's been in the 30's and low 40's.  I don't think any horse would appreciate being sponged twice a day down there, even if it is with warm water..I have not had a chance to introduce Otto to sponging or water but I am going to guess he won't like it. Waiting until temps are a bit warmer might be to my benefit.

Keeping the wound open...

The key thing here is EXERCISE.. not just walking around the pasture exercise because that isn't sufficient. It will require  forced exercise like trotting for 20 minutes twice a day or  more.  Otto will be sore and reluctant to move.   Normally, the recommendation is to lunge or pony  in order to get enough exercise to keep the wound open.

Otto hasn't exactly learned to do either.. and trying to teach him  to do those two things while he is miserable probably isn't a good plan.

This is where the decision to post pone came in.  In order to exercise him, I am basically going to have to chase him around the arena or pasture . Too much ice for that. Had we stayed on the melting path, we might have been able to get by but now that everything is frozen hard again,  I can't risk him falling and injuring himself.

So we wait.. and wait ...

I am going to bake a celebratory cake for the day when it actually happens!!!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Every Horse Owners Dream??? NOT

I'm a classified ad, craigslist junky. I don't know why. I have always been that way.  Maybe something I got from Dad , who was always looking for a deal. I watch craigslist and a variety of other classified ads , including a variety of FB groups that have stuff for sale.  Someday, they will probably have a support group for people like me.

Crazy or not, I have sold and bought some great things. Part of the attraction is finding a steal I guess.

I think I also do it for it sheer entertainment value. People post some crazy stuff out there..

Every now and then I see things that I just can't believe my own eyes at what I am reading. And then I have to re- read.. and maybe re- read again.. and then stop myself from responding because I can't believe what I am reading!!!

Lots of people lease horses out. It can be a win win , in the right situation. As a horse owner, if I were looking for a home to lease  my horse to, I am pretty sure I would steer clear of this person who posted this ad.... unless ofcourse you want your horse to come back a total nut case..

Ok , humor me... (I can't help myself ...)

Dear Poster: Experienced Horse Owner?? really???

Let me try to understand then..

You mention the "likes to run" part a couple of times.  Clearly, you like to gallop a horse and this is your main interest.  Heck, who doesn't, but c'mon.. do you think that spending most of your time galloping your horse is going to be the best choice for the horses state of mind?? You did say your experienced so you MUST know that galloping a horse alot kinda makes most horses a bit , shall we say, crazy???? The Pony Express stopped running in Montana a very long time ago.. Maybe you would be better off to  try out as a jockey at a racetrack?? They run alot there.

And age doesn't matter??  Again, REALLY??? So you mean that if someone sends you their 25 year old arthritic old gelding to you to  "give it some exercise", or worse yet, their 2 year old to 'get wet saddle blankets and miles", your good with that??  Nothing good is going to come from that.

You have conditions as well I see. You don't want a horse that is a bolter or bucker.. I don't blame you.. it sucks to have to ride horses that have those terrible habits...

Surely the owner of the unsuspecting horse will get back alot more than they bargained for with this deal... I can just see the owner now , scratching his head and saying...

" I can't understand it..... Brownie wasn't a bolter or bucker when we sent him to you????"

What about you, the rider? What if during one of your Pony express tryout moments  you fall off and break your neck..???  The owner of the horse is going to feel terrible and worse, the horse will likely be the bad guy and maybe wind up at the auction.. because he was  too "dangerous"... a real bronc... untrainable.. crazy... blah, blah, blah...Or what if the horse steps in a gopher hole, and breaks his leg.. and ultimately loses his life because of your negligence?? Not really fair if you ask me..

(Why am I seeing a Fergus the Horse cartoon emerge out of this????)

Is it just me or can you think of a thousand reasons why this scenario could end badly for horse and rider..  I am pretty sure this person is the absolute antithesis of the kind of appropriate leasee I would be looking for..and probably MOST horse owners.. but there are people who won't or don't know better..

I surely hope no one sends  their poor unsuspecting horse to this person. I really do..

Now,  I am going to go ride my horse, quietly and safely...

Thursday, February 19, 2015

AERC Hall Of Fame

Did you all hear about this? I thought it was totally cool..

An Icelandic Pony was inducted into the AERC Hall of fame.

The story is here

See,  once again.. you really don't need an Arab to do the sport and be successful!!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Horse Shenanigans- Video Footage

We are surrounded by several other  "mini- farm", 5 acre properties. Most with horses of their own just like us. But I have noticed something. Our horses are the only ones that you ever see running and playing. It seems all the neighbors horses are happy to do nothing. Dull, lifeless, just hanging around , rarely used or visited by their humans. Rare is the case I see the neighbors horses running about yet our horses do their own version of victory laps atleast once a day, when the footing is decent , and sometimes, even when it's not.. (much to my chagrin) Neighbors have come by and asked what kind of horses we have , what kind of food we give them and commented on how much they enjoy watching some of their shenanigans.

It's kind of sad, really,  to see those other horses so dull. I have often wondered, does more human interaction make horses happier? Maybe its not  more interaction necessarily,   but the type of interaction? Does a regular connection with a person make them more active?

Even when it's limited riding time  ( or no riding time) for me because of weather,  I atleast take some time while doing evening chores to scratch on my horses, talk to them, sometimes groom one or two of them. If I go outside, out of any door, one of the horses is watching me, many times, one  of them will call to me.

It seems our horses are always 'Tuned" in to our comings and goings. When I was working at an office and would come home at approximately the same time every day, the would hear me coming. As I turned the corner into our road, they were watching and would often  run along the fence line as I drove in. I loved that greeting!! It's almost better than a dog greeting!

Our horses are even able to distinguish our diesel truck from the myriad of others that drive by every day. Our neighbor to the west has told us many times that  he always knows when we are about a mile from home with the truck because our horses will come to attention and start looking.

So  this time of year where thing are pretty inactive  due to footing, (but improving thanks to the unseasonably warm weather) the horses are bored, bored, bored.

We have made a few enhancements to help out.

The barn now has a plastic bottle filled with gravel hanging from the rafters of the shed.

Otto spent three days playing with that.. somehow it has managed to survive his attempts to kill it. Inadvertently, I realized it did wonders to teach him about seeing things up above his back, (like a rider) and behind his head. He would get that thing flinging back and forth and then stand underneath it while it was swinging around, sometimes bopping himself in the head.. or neck.. He apparently thought that was pretty cool.. because he kept doing it to himself..

But, the new has worn off and he is on to other things..

He found his long lost , half squished jolly ball now that alot of snow has melted away.  So far , that thing still seems to reign most popular.

There is a big blue plastic barrel out in the pasture.. the only time he is interested in it is if I am out there... and roll it towards him. He will try to bite it and pick it up but he can't get a good enough grip so he looses interest. I could probably use it to target with for clicker training and teach him to roll it with his nose.

The other day I grabbed a retired burlap coffee bean bag from one of the local coffee roasters and filled it with plastic bags, and other plastic containers. It makes all kinds of weird noises. Then I did a very fancy sewing job using a pair of needle nose pliars (needle) and  baling twine (thread) and tossed it into the pasture..

Here  is a short clip of Otto and Cassidy playing with their new home made horse Sized bean bag.

Cassidy is pretty sure if he shakes it hard enough , grain will come out. And if that fails, chew a hole in it.

Otto just wants to play get away with it. He routinely shakes it and hits himself in the head with it.

I think it's serving to desensitize him  on all kinds of things. He steps on it, and over it... ( wait, I though horses weren't supposed to like to step on squishy things????), he kicks it, he flings it, he bites it and so on. He is the most gregarious colt I have yet to meet.

I can see the bag is not going to last long. Within 5 minutes they already had a hole in it . I only throw it out to them when I know I am going to be able to keep an watchful eye on things. Otto was not happy when I took it away this morning but quickly went back to find his smashed Jolly ball.

In time, when the weather improves I will get Otto going with more training and things to keep his mind occupied.  I will start him in lines and over ground poles. I have plans to build a fake water obstacle. He will be ponied along on trail rides this summer.There are all kinds of things to do as the days get longer and the weather improved.

But in the meantime, I do wonder.

 Does giving him toys like this a  good thing  or bad thing ?  Does it encourage unruly behavior? Or does it give him a good outlet? Does it develop part of his personality that wouldn't otherwise?? It's hard to say. All I do know for sure is that if a horse is bored , they will find things to do, like chew on wood, or crib.
I guess the way I see it is that I  would rather try to direct that boredom to something other than having the horse develop unpleasant and unhealthy vices.

I can't imagine a horse like Otto being stalled. He would be a monster!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Banishing Boredom

It seems I have been lucky enough to acquire a colt that needs endless entertainment. Otto is a busy minded colt to the least. 

In spite of having  pasture mate, plenty of room to run, a couple of toys (jolly balls and half deflated basketballs) and  enough hay to keep the average horse plenty occupied, Otto is always getting into something.Yesterday, he managed to find a very long old baling twine from somewhere and  was running around with it like he was carrying a flag and using it to play tug of war with Cassidy.  I had images of him swallowing it and having to make a trip to the vet. 

This morning, I found him with a 6'  wooden post that once was attached to a wooden base. It’s a Horseback archery track marking post. How he got it apart is beyond me but he was dragging the post along in his mouth. There were nails sticking out and luckily , he didn't injure himself  in the process before I got it away from him.That was another task.. he didn’t want to “drop” it. 

Curiosity and natural playfulness is a characteristic that I tend to like in a horse however, I do worry that in Otto's case, he is not mentally stimulated enough. 

 Finding an outlet for this was part of the inspiration to start clicker training with the eventual goal to trick train him. I saw how easily he was willing to go chase a ball when I tossed it (still need to work on retrieval) and decided he probably has a natural talent for trick training. 

Our clicker training sessions have been brief and slightly sporadic since daylight is a bit of an issue yet but we have been doing a few things. 

(I wish I had photos  to share but it's too much to  handle the targeting stick, the clicker, the treats, and pay attention.. One of these days, I will talk T into doing photography duties..  for now you 'll just have to use your best imagination!)

There are three fundamentals for clicker training that I am starting with.  From everything I have read, the rest is built from these basic skills.
1.       Targeting
2.       Backing  (for respect for space)
3.       Head Lowering (calm down cue)

The first step was teaching Otto about Targeting.  This basically means having him touch a target item with his nose. A target can be practically anything, such as a cone, a dressage whip with a foam end, a Frisbee, even something as simple as a glove or the lid off of a container of some kind. My main target is a 3 foot piece of Pex plastic tubing used for water pipes in homes. At the end of it, I attached a 6 inch piece of pipe insulation foam and duct taped it to the end of the PEX to secure it. 

I chose this for two reasons. One of my eventual goals for Otto is to teach him to bow. The stick allows me to teach him to reach down for the Target without me having to be a contortionist. The other reason was that it was easy to find at the local Home Depot. I think I spent about $5 dollars. I could have used a dressage whip but I wanted something that was a bit more substantial, in the event I had to hit him over the head with it.. 

Just teasing:) 

He has figured out Targeting pretty quickly but he does try to cheat . He will try to get away with just touching the handle part of the target instead of the end of it.  I want to direct where he is targeting to,  so to clarify things for him I have to make sure I am positioning myself so touching the end of the target is the easiest option. This is easier said then done when he keeps getting closer to try to get the treats. Ideally I would have a stall and be on the outside of the stall but I don't so I am just doing it in the corral.  I have also started to experiment with different types of targets to help him generalize the behavior to different objects. Hopefully these tweaks will help him understand which part of the Target I want him to orient to. He is getting it but his tendency is to rush. 

Backing- To ask for this , I am supposed  to stand facing him so my left hand is where the lead rope connects to the halter and the right hand can move touch or move towards the point of his shoulder. My right hand doesn’t push the horse back, but it’s just a touch cue at the shoulder. Then I am supposed to wait for him to respond with even the slightest shift of weight. As soon as he does, I am supposed to give slack in the lead,  click and treat. Seems simple enough bit we are kind of struggling with this.  He is too busy trying to reach around and get his reward while he is backing at the same time . There just doesn’t seem to be a clear moment where he responds and I click. He is  kind of doing his own thing and not paying attention to what I am asking, so he can get to the treat. 

So now, I am I instead  working on the food delivery with targeting first.  I click him for coming forward to touch the target, but I have to back him to get his treat. In other words, instead of holding my hand in close to my body to treat , I put my hand closer into his chest so he has to physically back up to get to the treat. He has a pretty flexible neck so it’s tricky! The idea is that he learns the body language that accompanies backing without even realizing he is having a “lesson”. At that point I can turn in to ask for backing and he already knows what I want.

So what seems like two pretty simple tasks is presenting other unexpected “sub-module’s of training opportunities and teaching me a lot about Otto’s learning patterns in the process.

Last but not least: Lowering of the Head: 
This third fundamental of lowering of the head is especially of interest and importance to me because it  helps to resolve rearing tendencies, which Otto has,  and  pulling back when tied. (he hasn’t been tied yet so this isn’t currently an issue.. ) Teaching the lowering of the head is actually building from the targeting, once again. The next step is to move onto cueing for it by using poll pressure, and then eventually I will use what is called the shaping method. Basically, to use this method, all I have to do is observe and wait for his head to dip down, even a little to start, then click and reward.  There is no triggering of the behavior at all. As I selectively reinforce him for dropping his head, he will eventually begin to keep his head down more and more. Well, that is the idea anyways. Considering that he runs around with his nose in the air and looks like a cow elk (hope he grows out of this weird habit!) I am thinking this will be a key foundation to teach the young whippersnapper!
So far our progress is slow but I have already been able to get him to touch the target when it is at a low , close to the ground position. It seems finding the target when it is low is a bit more challenging so we are taking it slowly. Start high, and slowing move the target lower and lower. If he starts to lose it and no longer will bump the target in a low position, I move it back up to where I know he will.

I am hoping in the coming months I can use this Clicker training to acclimate him to the clippers and spray bottles without much worry for him. 

Clicker sessions are usually short, maybe only 5-10 minutes at the most. 
Short sessions like that don't really solve his overall boredom issue . I can’t be out there for hours a day working on these games to keep him occupied so we are working on coming up with some pasture modification to provide him with additional, safe entertainment. 

At first I was checking into toys for horses on line but found that most of what is available online is either a ball, which he already has,  or toys more geared toward the stalled horse that is bored like the treat dispenser on a rope toys. None of these will really work for a horse in a pasture.

Here is a list of things I am working on putting together.
  • 1.       Plastic barrels filled with rocks to make noise as they roll . He hasn’t shown much interest in this and can’t quite figure out how to push it along. I used to have a Warmblood colt that loved pushing the barrel and then he would leap over it as it was rolling away. He was a trickster too!
  • 2.       Milk jug hung on rope filled with water or stones- hanging from the rafter in the shed. It’s another noise maker.
  • 3.       Carrot contraption- this is like a plastic tub of some kind (like an ice cream tub) with holes all around the perimeter. The tub is hung on a rope and carrots stick out of the holes.  Otto doesn’t like carrots yet.. this might be something for down the road.
  • 4.       High way cones are always a hit. Not saying where to obtain these… I actually found a set of 6 small ones in multiple colors at Walmart for pretty cheap.. but ….I am sure you can be creative..
  • 5.       Grain bags , pieces of tarp or burplap sacks- Otto loves playing with an old towel or tarp but I don’t feel comfortable leaving something like out there in the pasture , fearing he might ingest it..
  • 6.       Stuffed animals tied together with rope  so Otto can grab the rope and toss it or just drag it around, which seems to be his preference. 
So dear readers, if you have any more ideas you would like to share.. comment on!!
Thanks for reading!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Patches of Grass

I am not sure I should complain. It's been "unseasonably" warm (40's) by all reports.  it's still cold.. if you ask me) As usual, the weather and media people are going into panic mode because of snow pack levels not being where they should be this time of year, in spite of the fact that we often get the most of our winter snow pack in the mountains in Feb - April. But they have to have something to talk about I suppose.

The rain , tiny bits of sunshine and warmer weather has started to make progress in melting things around here. The early spring mess has started once again. Conflicting times for horse people!  We can sense spring is coming but there is still such a mess out there and we know in the back of our mind.. that we still have the potential for snow storms.

Here are some ugly photos of what kind of mess we have at our place.

Back yard.. some grass beginning to poke through the ice and snow- Otto and Cass in the very distant

"Lake Lenard" in our pasture beginning to form its annual appearance.. 

Ice path out to barn and corrals now covered in a layer of  ankle deep water. The Palet is to keep from stepping in ankle deep mud when exiting the garage.. very high class. I know.. 
In spite of things being rather messy and hard to manuever with out rubber boots and ice cleats strapped on, I have managed to haul Brego over to a  nearby arena a few times .

I have been pleasantly surprised at how well he is doing. What a difference from last spring when I started working him in the indoor arena. He is handling things so much better.  We have started working over ground rails. He  is pretty sure the black paint on the center mark of the  rail tis a hole that he mustn't step over. Instead he has to come to a complete stop and smell it thoroughly .. and only then will he step over it. He is really good at putting on the breaks.. unexpectedly.. but we have mostly worked through that and he is happily trotting through four poles with good extension and cadence.

Most notable of his improvements is that he is doing much better with keeping his trot at a steady pace. He used to be very inconsistent.. he would trot quickly, then slow up , then speed ahead , the slow.. that seems to mostly be gone..

So while things are a mess outside, we will bide our time getting to an arena when we can..and pray for  sun and continuing warming trends.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Baby Otto is growing up !

If there is one thing I can say I truly just never tire of with having horses is watching young horses grow and develop. I love being able to provide a young horse with all the right nutrition and room to move (although I wish I had more acreage) to become stronger and better. It's so fun to watch how they learn new skills , become strong and run around because they feel so darn good!

Even more enjoyable to me to take a horse that has lacked nutrition and adequate care and  be able to provide an environment where they can flourish.

When Otto arrived here, I was quite shocked at his less than adequate body condition. His coat was dull, he was underweight, his energy reserves were low, and his legs were weak. I didn't waste any time getting him on a solid feeding program and as soon as his quarantine period was over, I turned him out to our pasture with a buddy. He was so uncoordinated with his legs, he couldn't even walk without kicking himself and interfering with his hind hooves. The scar on his back right pastern has not changed (there was  some thought by the vet that it could be a sarcoma early on) other than it's healed and does not appear to be bothering him anymore.

Getting out and letting him move was going to be key.  Within only a few weeks of turnout, his strength improved rapidly and pretty soon he was doing victory laps around the pasture. Much to my terror, he quickly learned how to  gallop up and over the archery back stop  which is a dirt mound about 4 feet high in the middle of the pasture. Not only was he doing this  at high rates of speed... he would  let go a huge buck at the top of the mound and stick the landing.

Training for his future eventing career maybe... ???

Since October , he has been turned out with Cassidy and it has been very rewarding to watch this colt develop. In spite of his studly habits, he is quite a character. He craves human interaction. He is one of the most curious colts I have seen in a while.

(oh, started the Clicker training too, more to come on that in a later post!)

Otto will be 2 years old on April 12th but to  look at him, he has gotten so big, he looks like he could easily be turning three. He is a solid 14.3 hands.

The other night, while feeding, I stood back and just looked him over. I see him everyday but I hadn't really looked him over closely. I was struck with how much he has changed in a relatively short time. In fact, I was struck with just how nice he is looking right now.  Yes, he is still gangly but he has filled out and I can begin to imagine what he will look like when he is all grown up.. someday..

While he still has some of the longest pasterns and cannon bones I have yet to see on a horse,  I have seen some positive improvements.

The pasterns have definitely strengthened and are more upright now. Judging from his abilities to jump straight in the air from an absolute stand still, and get several feet in the air, they don't seem to be hindering him at all.

His canon bones seem less long than they were previously as he has grown and developed.

His hind quarter has definitely filled out. More to go but moving in the right direction for sure.

He is appearing much less wasp wasted.. thank goodness because I hate this conformation feature in horses.

I can't decide if his head looks more Araby or more TB. It changes depending on the angle I look at it from. Either way, I don't think I would call it an "ugly " head!

The weather is foggy , and bleary with bad lighting so the images are not  great  but I am sharing just the same.
It was hard to photograph him because he insisted on trying to come in close to see what I was doing.
horse face

I will try not to close my eyes this time

To my right

To my left

Filling out nicely

Meaty withers.. but withers present nonetheless.. thank god!