Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas

First of all. Merry Christmas!!!! Meet my new christmas reindeer, aka the wild horses.

The wild stallion, Matai, and his buddy Coco, the shetland pony.

Sonny went a bit rogue and decided his antlers looked better a bit askew.

Monday, December 20, 2010

wild horse update

I find working with horses, it feels like such a failure on my part, every time something bad happens. Even when you logically know, that there is nothing you could have done to prevent an accident/ injury from occurring. Id say eighty percent of the time it is actually unpreventable, still i mentally kick myself every time any of the horses get hurt, or when things don't go to plan. Sometimes because you remember the bad events so vividly, it can feel a bit like everything is falling down around you, and nothing is going right.
but really most of my plans do work, and even though heartbreaking accidents, like what occurred on Friday with Viva, do happen. All my other horses are doing great, and are still alive and thriving. It is important to remember success, and not dwell on failure, otherwise it all becomes to hard.
So it is with the wild horses. It has been pouring with rain for the last five days. The saying 'it never rains, but it pours' seems quite appropriate, as the drought has definitely broken. not being able to ride the last few days, has given me time to flick back through some of my photos from the last six months, with the wild horses. These horses are doing fantastic! It makes me feel so happy to see how much they have changed, from the those horses that arrived in the stockyards six months ago (top photo). Matai is hardly recognisable as the same horse. Fern too, has shined up well, and Sonny is no longer a bump in his mummy's tummy, but a handsome wee man.
I having been meaning to put monthly update photos on the blog for a while, but been busy and missed a month, here and there. But the last two photos are from November and the Horses haven't changed much since then. Except Sonny, who continues to rocket up in growth.Hope you enjoy.

Had to add this bit. Went outside after writing this post, to feed out hay. Sonny and Fern have been moved into the 'Fatty' paddock with the Shetland and Milo the pony, so they don't founder with all this new grass. Sonny is in heaven, playing boy games, with the two geldings all day. Anyway fed out hay in two piles, one for Fern and Sonny, one pile for the other two.
what could be more fun for a wet foal than to roll in dry hay? Sonny the second i put it on the ground, was rolling around in it, kicking his mum in the face twice as he went from side to side. then back to his feet, galloped over to the gelding pile, and before they could stop him, he was down rolling in their pile, smearing it all over the wet ground. This was not appreciated, Sonny received a prompt reprimand for his rude dinner manners, from the boys and sent back to his mother in a sulk.
Looking out the window now. Sonny is sitting spread out again, in Fern's hay pile. Not only sitting but completely cover in hay from head to toe, hay over his body. To make matter worse he sitting there eating they hay bed he has created, while Fern stands in defeat, watching her sons antics, not able to reach any of the hay squashed underneath him, for herself. To cute, I'm having a good chuckle over it

Saturday, December 18, 2010

R.I.P Viva

Sometimes things just suck. I don't think its bad luck, or a jinx, or unfair. Life is hard at times, and sad, but also great and filled with joy at others. But i think the real tragic events leave a mark that is harder to forget, and those really emotional events provoke such strong depth of feelings, we remember their imprint all the more.

I lost by best filly yesterday. My only two year old, and little Hope's sister, broke her leg. I love all my horses, but there are some that have more of a place in your heart than others. This filly, Viva (Vivacious) was one of them. For us we don't breed big numbers of horses. Usually one every two years or so, so each one is precious. This year is unusual in the fact that we had three mares due to foal. Viva, when she was born, was a stunner. We were just blown away by her good looks, and athleticism, she was the first truly talented and special horse that we had bred. Never have i looked forward to riding a horse more. As she was a competitive riders dream, talented, brains, and super sharp and quick to teach.

At 6.30am yesterday i heard a horse neigh, i was having a rare sleep in, and even commented to the boyfriend that " it was weird to hear a horse nay in the morning like that". By 7am i dragged myself out of bed, as it niggled at me, that neighing in the morning. Looking out the front room window, there was Viva grazing by herself in the paddock in front of the house. This set alarm bells instantly. As the horses always graze together in a herd you never see one off by itself. I looked closer, started swearing, and throwing on socks and a jacket. when you have been around enough horses for a long time, you know that sometimes you just don't want to go and look because you don't want the bad news. this was how i felt. As i left the house, i heard the boyfriend start swearing from inside, and i knew whatever he'd seen was bad.

My lovely little filly, was standing grazing, almost peacefully. Except that a good few inches of bone in her forearm was jutting out through the skin at her knee. From the knee down her leg was just hanging out at an odd angle..And that was it, horses do not survive these kind of injuries. Anything to do with horses bones and their legs is pretty much without a cure. It was the end of the road for the horse, as well as all my hopes and dreams for her, and i knew it, the second i saw her. Your heart just drops.

But like anything with horses and farming, there is no alternative but to get on and deal with it. You have to do what needs to be done, for the good of the animal. Because when you choose to own them, you have to accept that their will be tragedies, no matter how hard, your the one in charge of getting things done, when its needed.

The Vet got their an hour later, luckily my lovely boyfriend was their to help and got all the other horses out of the paddock, the dogs and geese locked up, so i could spend the last hour with my girl. To be honest it is sometimes easier, when an injury is this horrific. There is no alternative, no cure. You have just the option of giving the horse and end to the suffering. Little Viva, was so good the hole time, just standing there quietly, but by the time the vet arrived, she was defiantly going into shock. you know the vet desperately wants to help, but even had i been next to the best veterinary hospital in the world, the result wouldn't have changed. Two injections later, Viva lay down, and peacefully went to sleep, for good. At least for her the whole ordeal was over, and for me, although heartbroken, i had survived the worst, and it was a relief to know that the horse wasn't suffering anymore.

There is no time on the farm to sit and cry. The other horses that are still alive, need feeding, and attention, there is stables to clean, and a million other jobs to get done. There was a digger and burial to arrange, and although i was heart broken, i managed to keep busy enough, with the help of a friend, that i wasn't completely overwhelmed by grief. Life goes on, it just suck for a little while at times.

There is always a silver lining, the vet knows Fern and was happy to see little Hope to. This is the great thing about small communities and rural vets. They always know all your animals and what going on, and most seem genuinely interested. She asked after my wild horses, and so i took her to see Fern and Sonny. I had to laugh she definitely agrees with me, that not so little Sonny, is the fattest foal she has ever seen. Although she politely described him as "solid" and "you can be pretty sure his legs wont break so easily" then asked if Fern did in fact have Sonny's twin inside, still waiting to be born. With all the tragedy, i still managed a laugh, Wild horses therefore are definitely good for the soul.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Nature vs Nurture

I'm sitting perched on a window sill, trying to get internet reception, watching two very different foals, as they experience the first real rain of their young lives. We have had the driest spring ever recorded; our area is officially a drought zone. But today the rain finally came, and down it pours. I swear everything is greening up before my eyes. The weather has also given me the chance to sit/ perch and write something down that I have been thinking about for a while now….

How much of our future is determined by our experiences in the past?? How much of our ability to succeed, our skills in overcoming challenges is determined in our DNA?? How much of our personality is genetic, how much is our upbringing?? How much is nature how much is nurture?? The old nature vs. nurture debate.

In the paddock are two very different foals. Physically they are different, but even more striking, is the way they emotionally react to new experiences. There is Sonny the wild foal, his father would have been the fittest wild horse in the area, and his mother survived in good enough condition to carry a foal to term. Sonny bloodlines are selected by Mother Nature, the fittest and strongest reproduce, while the others struggle to survive. Then there is Hope, who comes from the best racehorse and warm blood sport horse bloodlines I could find. Her mother carries the genetics for speed, lightness of build and hot blooded temperament her pedigree can be traced back many generations and her lines go directly to some of the best racehorses in the world. Her dad's lineage can be traced to, but his to the best jumping and sport horse bloodlines of Europe. The Father himself jumped at Olympics and world cup level many times. The warm bloods are bred for athleticism, power and their slightly calmer attitude. There is no natural selection little Hope's breeding she is created by human selection… But both Hope and Sonny though, have had exactly the same handling, same daily routine and pretty similar life experiences. So are they the same in their behavior, despite their differences in breeding? I think not. There are so many differences between the two, both physically and mentally in their attitude.

Now how much is affected by their mother's behavior vs. the actual genetics they inherited would be hard to say, but I think the two kind of go hand in hand. But it is interesting to see the difference in maternal behavior and how it affects the offspring.

Sonny is the fattest foal I have ever laid eyes on. A compact and well proportioned boy, with good strong legs, and well muscled. He looks like he could power himself up and down a mountainside easily. Fern is also the fattest broodmare, and produces the most milk of any horse I've ever seen. All of this is on the absolute minimum of grass. But this is exactly how nature designed her. If you think of a horse in the wild, there would be times of very little or no food at all, like in winter. So therefore when food is readily available, their body goes into overdrive turning grass into fat, ensuring they have enough stored up to survive the lean times. The horses that were the most efficient at turning the grass available into body fat, in the wild, would be the ones to survive, therefore more likely to carry a foal to term the full 11 months gestation period... Therefore their genes would not be passed on to the next generation. On the same principle these mares would go on to produce the most milk for their offspring, giving them the best start in life, and the best chance at maturing into bigger stronger horses, than the ones not so efficient at food conversion.

Hope is like a little ballerina, she's is incredibly leggy a lean, a small body with delicate head and neck. She is athletic and graceful, and springs across the ground with every step like a little dancer. She does however lack the look of raw power that Sonny possesses. Her long legs and small body can be attributed to the fact that her mother is a racehorse, built for maximum speed and light weight. Racehorses are known for the fact that once finished racing they can be incredibly hard to get to a good weight. It's harder to keep them fat as they have a smaller body mass, higher metabolism and are prone to being slightly overactive in the paddock. Hope's mother gets three feeds a day, just to keep her from becoming skinny, and to make sure little Hope gets enough milk to grow big and strong. Fern gets literally a handful of feed, just to ensure she gets enough vitamins and minerals .While Fern uses the minimum amount of effort in her daily routine. Hope's mother spends a good deal of her day wandering and pacing aimlessly. She produces far less milk than the wild horse as well. Sonny spent his first week, sleeping flat out on the ground, or eating. It was rare to see Hope lying down, even her feeding was less frequent and less amounts consumed, and she spent her time wandering after her mother. I'm quite sure that little Hope chances of survival in the wild would be far less than Sonny's.

Both Foals are lovely and sweet, friendly, and love to be scratched. Sonny though if not enjoying attention will quietly move away, while Hope usually bounds in the air, bucks, or kicks when you haven't scratched the right spot (something she is getting constantly corrected for). Hope is flighty, whirling and leaping when something frightens her, although she does this in the most elegant and graceful way, it beautiful to watch. Sonny is bolder, more willing to wait to see if something really is scary before he flees. His days are filled with three activities, playing, sleeping or eating. He takes s his job of helping Fern eat her hard feed each day, very seriously. He runs and jumps and whirls and kicks, bucks, rears and tackles his mother in plat, but this is always followed by a nap in the sun. Little Hope doesn't play quite as hard as Sonny, but does spend her days trotting back and forth across the paddock after mum; it is still rare to catch her sleeping for any length of time.

This brings me back to watching them both in the rain. Sonny was excited for the first few minutes bucking and playing, but is now backing to drinking milk. Fern never stopped eating an ignored all of her sons antics. Hope is still prancing back and forth, in a little foal tantrum. She is trying to shelter under her mother's neck and belly, shivering and nipping her in frustration.

So while I think nurture plays a huge part in what a horse will become. By taking away natural selection, man has created horses that are amazing athletes, but has moved away from attributes that help a horse survive easily and naturally. As well as their ability to cope with challenges, and also lost some of their physical sturdiness.

I love both babies equally, but I do find it fascinating to compare the two. You can learn so much just from watching.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

I don't know when I'm ever going to have time ti write what i want about the wild horses. There is not a spare second in the day. Tomorrow I'm off to a three day event, with my big warm blood gelding. A three day event that actually is run over five days, when you take into account that i have to be there for the arrival inspection tomorrow, the trot up (vet inspection) Thursday and then don't actually do my dressage until Friday, cross country Saturday, finally showjumping Sunday. Oh and I'm taking my calves to auction first thing tomorrow morning before i leave for show. Jesus so much to do, get all the horses prepared for my absence as well as the other assortment of creatures, pack for the five days away, load cattle, take to auction, home to load horse,drive 4 hours, unpack and set up for the next 5 days. The good thing, is that my boyfriend flies back into the country tomorrow, and luckily the airport is right next to the horse show venue. Woohoo i have a boyfriend in the same country again!

So here's a quick update before i go.

Fern and Sonny are now in with the other broodmare and her filly foal, Hope. Was to cute to watch when they were introduced. Sonny has learnt to buck, and this is what he does constantly. he bucked and twisted and jumped, performing every aerial manoeuvre he could, with as much force and speed as he could be mustered. Around he went going as far from Fern as the paddock would allow, circling little Hope and her mother. It looked identical to a kid showing off on the playground, pulling out the biggest flashiest trick he knew. Hope, only watched shyly from her mothers side, every so often braving a few metres distance, before whirling like a ballerina and cantering back to the safety of mum. She is getting braver, I'm sure soon she will get enough courage to join Sonny in his playful exuberance around the paddock. She is like a fine willow limbed, dancer to Sonny's raw power and spirit.

Matai, the wild stallion, has become the most mellowed lovable boy. I cannot avoid his doe eyed looks, as he waits by his gate to come to the stable each night. Unfortunately his paddock mate Milo is injured at present, so hes stuck on his own all day. The one bonus of this is that, suddenly he cant get enough human contact. Being probably for the first time in his life alone, as horses are herd animals, he obviously feels slightly lost without companions. He does in fact have the Angus calves in his paddock (until tomorrow), and spends most of his days standing over them as they sit chewing cud in the sun. Think as soon as this, last show of the spring season is over, i will have to break him in. The temptation to sit on him is getting to strong, and i think he needs something to do as he is very obviously board at the moment.

Oh and Fern is getting obese, time for a diet again, as now she is in with the other mare where there is more grass. I swear to god she barely even lifts her head she is so busy vacuuming up grass, hay and anything else that may be edible. Wild horse survival skills coming through, making the most in times of plenty so she can build up fat for the lean winters. Except that hopefully, she will never again find herself wintering in the mountain ranges and snow for the rest of her life.

Anyway hopefully soon i will get to sit down and organise my thought enough to write what i want.....

Sunday, December 5, 2010

My article

Opps i put this post up last night, and its a good lesson in why you shouldnt be writing things late at night without proof reading! i made a mistake. it is the New Zealand Kaimanawa Wild Horse Welfare trust Inc ( not the preservation society like i said in the first paragraph, that put out the magazine with my article. Sorry about that. its is also the welfare trust that i adopted my two wonderful wildhorses through. They are a great group of people, and have been very helpful and supportive in all my dealings with them. I know they really care about and look out for all the horses that place in adoption, and are a great group of hard working people.I have never had anything to do with the preservation society. My mistake, was just a bit of a typo! But please let me know if i ever do anything like that again. i love getting any feedback!

So a few weeks ago, i got asked to write an article about my wild horses, for The Kaimanawa Wild Horse Welfare Trust (not the preservation society as i had written before) They publish a quarterly newsletter/magazine, so i was asked to write something up for the December edition. Secretly i was absolutely thrilled to be asked, as it means i must be doing something right, Anyway i just got my magazine in th post last week, and was very excited to open it and read my first ever published article, plus all the other great stories about other peoples experiences with their own wild horses. Some awsome stories about how much people truly love theses horses and what they will do to save them.For those of you who don't get the newsletter (you should) i thought id put a copy of my article up, you can tell me what you think. published article is as follows in blue.....

As I sit here writing this, I realize it has been just over six months to the day since my Kaimanawas arrived. Time seems to have flown by, but looking back I realize that there has been a huge change, both mentally, and physically for the horses, a great learning curve of experiences, for both myself and them... It's been a fast few months, but a long and incredible journey. It would be hard to sum up all the highs and lows, the milestones and achievements. It is also hard to describe to people just how awesome these horses are. For me, it's been a truly fantastic experience to be able to work with horses that are just that. Horses. Not interfered with by people, with no human taught behaviors, or experiences good or bad. Training and working with them for me is like giving an artist a huge blank canvas rather than something that's been already painted on. There have been a few key moments that exemplify these wonderful creatures and how far they have come.

On the 7th of June at around 11am two bedraggled, hairy and tired looking horses, stepped down the ramp of a cattle truck and into my stock yards. A tiny looking clothes rack, bay colt, and a bigger and pregnant, solid, grey mare. They wandered around the small pen, slightly wide eyed but calm. No tearing around, snorting, or panicking. No drama. They were soon tucked in and eating hay. They had the appearance of small, but tough and calm, lost orphans. As soon as I had a halter on them, and they could respond to pressure on the lead rope, that was it, they were caught and followed me to their new homes. Up the driveway, past the neighbors peacocks, pack of dogs, and through a creek. On the two separate trips they both just followed me. The mare, eating at every opportunity, along the way. The colt, sticking with me like a lost lamb. So, within a few days, they were both in new homes again. The colt, Matai, was in with my geldings, stabled at night and in the paddock during the day. The mare, Fern, being pregnant , got her own paddock. The thing that struck me, as soon as I laid eyes on them, was their calm sensibility, and easy to train intelligence. This attitude has shone through and never changed in the six months I've had them.

In training, I have noticed, although they are both calm, stoic, little horses they have very different personalities. The colt sensitive and timid, but quite extroverted and reacts quickly to learning new things. From the get go, he was happy interacting with people, even if a little nervous to start with, always trying to please. The mare was super introverted. She was never naughty, but for months gave the bare minimum response, staying in her own little shell. Never wanting to interact, but more, tolerating people around her. She would be very un-reactive, it was hard to get any response from her, but she would think things through and once she learned a new lesson, never had to be reminded. I feel she has travelled the furthest on her journey into domestication. Now being the most affectionate horse on the property, that calls out to you every time, loves people, and can be handled by anyone. She has had trips to town in the trailer. She had an unfortunate fence incident where she slipped going down a hill, falling into a fence. She lay totally still, while we climbed all over her to free her from some entangled wires only suffering one cut on her upper front leg. She had subsequent vet visits, where she stood quiet and calm through injections and prodding from the vet. She really blossomed into a lovely kind horse.

In fact, the moment that has really stuck with me, over the last six months, happened one week ago, with the arrival of my third Kaimanawa. Fern gave birth. I have always played around with breeding horses, but never once have I actually made it there in time for the birth. Always getting there, five minutes to late. Not this time. Fern and I had gotten very close over the last few months, she neighed every time she saw me, was always waiting at the gate, and, in the last two weeks of pregnancy, had morphed into a big affectionate, cuddly, teddy bear. So it was easy to check on her through the night when I thought she was going to deliver. At three in the morning, when I had almost given up hope of her foaling before daylight, I went to check on her one more time. She walked toward me in the night. With a big whoosh, her waters broke. Five minutes later she lay down a few meters from me, and delivered a big healthy colt. So, now, Sonny makes three little Kaimanawa's. Fern has been the best mother possible, and I feel so privileged that she felt comfortable enough, to give birth right at my feet.

Having worked in top dressage stables, both in New Zealand, and Europe, I know how important it is to have horses that are trainable, and actually want to work for people. The Kaimanawa's lovely nature, shine through in this aspect. I have never worked with horses that are quite so easy to teach. But, the other gift they give is the thrill people get, being able to interact with an animal that was born wild. The children I give weekly lessons to go back to school telling stories of being able to pat 'the wild stallion'. My mother enjoys being able to just catch and groom Fern in her spare time. Friends and family, especially the otherwise non-horsey, always comment on the fact that the horses they saw as so wild to start with, can now be treated like normal domestic horses and interact with and accept any human who wishes to meet them.

In the next few months, Matai, the colt, will soon be broken in to ride. Fern gets a bit of time to be a mother before she too will be broken in. Little Sonny, gets to enjoy his mother's company, and hopefully soon will have some new friends to play with. For anyone interested I have a blog that documents all the progress, adventures and milestones that go with training these awesome wild horses.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Good horsemen are always good

I am running on adrenaline, one of my young horses did his first 1.20m showjumping round and he was awesome. But this is probably in part because i spent the two day prior training with Mark Todd. AS in Mark Todd the living legend, voted rider of the century in 2000. The double Olympic gold medalist, who has taken more horses around international three day eventing courses than i can count. he is the absolute master, of the sport. The Roger Federer of three day eventing.

he is known for his ability to get on any horse and get the best out of it no matter what.

incidentally the Dressage trainer that i worked for straight out of high school, trained Mark, before his Olympic win, and has himself produced many,many horses to Grand Prix. The thing that struck me most with my two lessons was that this guy was a great horseman. he understood horses and understood how to train them. i have never taken so much away from a lesson. It was amazing.

Do you know what i have found though, good horsemanship is the same no matter what discipline you choose. Mark Todd, the dressage trainer, a couple of cowboys whom i greatly respect, they all have the same philosophy, in the end want the same results. They just apply it to different aspects of the horse sport. Horses have to be soft, responsive. the rider has to be focused, kind and consistent.

Secondly there is no magic button. The difference between those who get to the top and those who don't. Is that one group puts the hundreds of hours and consistency, accuracy and understanding into producing a horse, the other group doesn't. Every rider i have met that can keep training horse after horse to the top level, no matter what sport, has the same principles.the horse has to be
  • responsive to the aids( as in react as soon as you ask)
  • adjustable/supple (as in speed, direction, length of stride etc)
  • the horse has to do this work happily

this takes hundreds of hours in the saddle.No matter how talented, how big a piece of metal you stick in their mouth, your bank balance, or what saddle you use, is going to replace the training you put into your horse.

There is so much you cant control with horses. But the rider, no matter how untalented/ talented the horse (whether it was born free on the ranges or in the best European stable), no matter how Little natural ability it may have for its chosen discipline, can control how well the horse understands what being asked, how responsive it is and how soft and happy it is in it s work. The great horsemen prove this again and again, they improve with training any horse they sit on. no matter what the horse was like to start with. This Inspires Me. Unfortunately i am too broke at the moment, to have afforded a private lesson, but going in a group one i watched Mark Todd get 5 very different horses and riders improving and going a lot better than when they started. This is the mark of a true horseman i think.

could go on and on but...i think i get a bit off topic

One little thing annoyed me though. someone asked me how my wild horses were going. i said great and went into detail about how happy i was with them, that i thought they'd both be able to jump etc etc. Then one girl piped up that she had had been to look at buying one from a different muster, except when they went to look at it, it jumped a 7ft fence to get away from them, and that therefore wild horses were all crazy......grrr grinds my gears. sure if you chase a horse that has been wild around a paddock, and nobody's bothered to handle or train, it going to jump the fence. I would too. it probably thinks you a monster coming to get horse steak for dinner....