Milo, the wild stallions paddock mate, was very interested in what was going on, coming over to say "hi" during the ride.
Monday, January 31, 2011
Milo, the wild stallions paddock mate, was very interested in what was going on, coming over to say "hi" during the ride.
Friday, January 28, 2011
You can no longer walk from the house to the barn. You can no longer leave the farm at all, the drive out, having stretches of water up to 6 metres deep. All the horses are on their own, they will just have to survive without me until morning. I moved the last three weaner calves, into the backyard for the night as they were huddled blindly under trees near the stream. I have done my best to make sure all the livestock, including the geese are locked up safe and away form water.
Unless you live in an area affected by flood, you cannot fully realise just how fast they can happen and how strong they can be....
crossing my fingers and toes now, in hope the rain stops, as i don't know what will happen if it gets much higher.
I haven't ridden the stallion again. All morning, i have been moving horses to higher ground, fixing fences and, yet again moving all farm equipment, vehicles and anything else on the low lying area to high ground.
The dumb mare who almost drowned her baby is locked in a stable until the rain subsides. The wild horses are on the hills, the stallion with his paddock mate Milo, Fern with her foal and the rest of the horses on the opposite hill.
This time last year, we were having the worst drought ever recorded, This year we have floods. What is happening with the weather? From my house i can see all the horses in the respective paddocks. I can see the water rise, and all i can do is sit and watch, fingers crossed.......
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
It was one of those things, i didn't plan it, and i don't recommend it, but for me it was either do it or it will never happen. I had all these grand plans, but like the car mechanic who permanently drives a busted up wreck on four wheels, because he has no time to fix his own car, i have no time to train my own mounts because i spend all day riding and training horses for other people. i know so many horse trainers in the same position though.
i came home and finally finished all the chores for the evening, it was one of those beautiful warm summer evenings where its just to beautiful to sit inside, after surviving the flood i was filled with with energy and enthusiasm for life again. so if the fading evening light, i decided to go out and have a 'play around' with Matai the 'wild stallion'.
I threw a halter and rope on, and after doing some basic ground in the paddock, i jumped up and down beside him, like i would if i was going to jump on his back. When he could handle that with out moving and was relaxed. i progressed to jumping up and lying across his back. He would swing his head around to look at me, take a step or two, to re balance under my weight, but otherwise was content to stand there relaxed. Next step after doing that a couple of times, i just swung my leg over. All of a sudden i was just sitting there, bareback and in a halter atop my wild stallion, who was standing relaxed and content with the world...
i used to do this as a kid, one day i would decide to "break in one of the ponies" and with the impatience of youth throw myself no saddle, on to whatever horse, usually by standing them on the side of a hill. Funnily enough, i never been hurt by this method, though again i wouldn't recommend it. I think the horses, without a saddle, don't panic or buck, because there is nothing restricting their movement.
Anyway I'm living on high at the moment, such an adrenaline buzz to have sat on my wild boy. I'm so proud of him, his sensible attitude and his love of working continue to impress me. After id finally got off him and set him free again. he trailed after me to the gate as if to say "was that it? I'm happy to do more" got to love him.
only thing disappointing...no one was there to witness his first ride or take photos.
Sunday, January 23, 2011
Sometimes I think my life would make a great Hollywood movie, not because I think I'm that special or interesting or anything like that. But because my day to day life seems to be filled with all the drama, suspense, and epic events that Hollywood movies seek to thrive on. Maybe a western or a Disney, natural disaster movie or something along those lines? Something where theirs drama and strife and then the actor just makes it through unscathed, after a few life or death suspense filled moments.
Its 7.30 in the morning, and I'm typing away on my computer, I have only just got inside after being out in rising flood waters since daybreak, moving horses. I had one of those moments where all my worst fears flashed before my eyes, as my newest and most stunning foal, almost got swept away too his death, in the whirling, brown, rising water . Anyone ever watch Black Beauty? I remember a good flood scene in that, where black beauty and his master were almost washed away.
I was out until dark last night getting horses onto high ground, but turns out, the weatherman didn't quite predict just how much rain we were going to get. Anyway the horses are as safe as I can make them for now. I've made it back inside, before the water rose over to the bridge to the house, it's still pouring, but now all I can do is sit and wait it out, and hope we don't get too much more rain. As the disaster of the recent Queensland floods in Australia and the stories of those affected are still ongoing and fresh in my mind.
The drama this morning also has given me something to think about. I have rambled on about nature vs. nurture before. But today gave me a good chance to see it in action, in regards to how the wild horses handle a bad situation vs. my (numb skull) ex racehorses. What I really noticed was the behavior the 3 different mothers taught there foals, about how to handle an emergency. Three foals watched their mothers negotiate the floods and then followed suit. It was not my wild horse or her baby that were ever in danger. Yet her paddock was just as under water as the other mare, whose baby almost got swept away. Because I don't actually think it's the breed of the horses that makes them unable to handle to cope with stress, I definitely think it has to do with the learned behavior and their experience as they grow...
Last night I moved all the horses to paddocks, where they had shelter and high ground, where I thought they would be well out of danger, if it did flood. But what the weather man told us vs. the amount of rain we actually got was very different. Light flooding we expected, the stream to have risen almost 3 meters an burst its banks, with water gushing across every inch of flat grounds, and streaming down the hills in torrents, is not what I was expecting to wake up to. But I awoke bolt upright to my mother's " we got to move that horse she's standing in the middle of the floodd waters with her baby!!" and looking out the window I let out a string of curse words that would make a sailor blush. Every bit of flat ground looked to be under water, by at least a foot or more. It was then a mad dash to throw on wet clothes from yesterday, and get out and move the horse and her baby.
This mare, who for now I'm going to call 'numb skull' because she has no common sense, or self preservation at the best of times, was by the time I got to where I'd seen her, had moved further down the paddock. Good to note, this mare had access to high ground, in fact 90% of her paddock was high ground, which also had big shelter trees, where she could have stayed safe and dry, but she was down in the only bit of the paddock affected by flood. So I went off after her, knowing that she needed to be locked up somewhere, where she couldn't make stupid decisions and get her and her baby drowned. I found 'Numbskull' and her beautiful baby, pacing around a tiny island of higher ground, only a few meters long, right next to the stream and surrounded by a good few feet of water, that was actually very fast flowing and strong in places.
I looked at this, and thought, I don't want to bring her back this way, my alternative was to go up the hill and around back to the barn, long and steep, but without the danger of trying to lead her and the baby through the deep water, which wouldn't have been a problem for her, but the delicate and wobbly legged baby, I was worried about, as the stream was only a meter from the fence, with ground dropping off very fast, so if he lost his footing, he'd be gone. But I didn't have time to do anything, the mare who already looked to be a shivering mess and not thinking straight, saw me let out a bellow of "saaaaavee me" and ploughed towards me. Baby forgotten by the wayside in her panic. She ran through the water with one great bound, and headed off past me back down the paddock, almost steam rolling me in the process. I jumped out of the way in time, just to feel the pit of my stomach drop to my feet, that absolute sinking feeling, when you realize a disaster is about to unfold before your eyes.
Sure enough the foal had tried to follow its mother, but was trying to cross right alongside the fence, where the water was deepest and the current strongest. As with any disaster everything seems to happen in slow motion, and you just can't move fast enough to help. I watched him as he staggered few steps sideways, and hit the fence, by this time he was in water up around his belly, and supported by one of the wires on the fence, at about the same height as the water. It really was the most gut wrenching feeling, knowing at that point I was too far away to help him in time, knowing that there was no lower wires in the fence to prevent him being swept under into the stream if he lost his footing, knowing he'd be gone in a heartbeat if this happened and knowing that really the next few seconds were up to fate, one of those moments where everything literally was hanging in the balance..
But luck was with us this morning, he gives two shrill cries to his mother, and instead of panicking and trying to speed after her, he set his little face in the most determined expression I have ever seen on a baby animal, puckered his little mouth, and inched his way along the fence, step by fragile tiny step, until he was out of the water.
Mother Numbskull, in the mean time was galloping around like a loon, making her way back to us, heading straight back to the water, from which shed just come. Not wanting to see baby follow her back into that raging torrent, this time I leapt directly in her path, waving and shouting like a mad women. It had the effect of stopping her in her tracks, long enough for me to halter her, and calm her. It had the funny effect that as soon as she was caught she calmed down as If she was thinking "thank Christ, the human's got me, my brain was hurting from trying to figure out what to do!"
I managed to lead Numbskull, baby in toe back along the paddock, through all the flood water, which was deep, but at least was just standing water not flowing with any force . Feeling our way along the driveway, which was completely submerged, we finally made it to the barn, which thankfully is on top if a hill. Another disaster survived. Mother and baby were tucked into a semi- dry stable, the driest we had, and I spread a thick layer of hay for bedding across the ground, and let them tuck into a big feed of grain to help warm them. So as long as the baby doesn't get pneumonia or anything from being wet and cold, crisis averted.
You know what though, Fern who was in a different paddock with her baby and the rest of the herd, did not have any of the problems as the other mare. After throwing hay out on the hill for them, I watched her come from the other side of the paddock, only taking the route that provided all high ground, Sonny walking at her side. The other horses in the herd came barreling through the water and up the hill. Not the wild horse, she was calm and sensible and kept her baby with her the whole time until they were well out of any danger.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
My day starts early, with scoffing whatever i can carry with me as i go to check the horses, feed the broodmares, make sure all foals are accountable for, see that everyone else is still in the paddocks where i left them. Matai, Milo and the Shetland are thrown out in the paddock for the day together. muck out stables, then its off on 45minute drive to where I've been holding the camps.
Teach kids from 9am-4pm, usually combine this with riding what ever ponies are being broken in at the time, leading the kids out on a trek while riding the new break ins to give them experience and mileage. Yesterday then involved driving to another location to ride another two horses, nice horses and I'm getting paid to ride them so cant complain too much. Home hopefully by 7pm. Do chores, check mares and give foals a quick scratch. Finally ride as many of my own horses as i can before it gets to dark..
Somehow water my vege garden, finish chores and stumble inside before 10pm, cook dinner check emails, pat dogs and neglected cat. Crash into bed, get as much sleep as possible before starting all over again At 6am the next morning.
Luckily though, i have just finished the last riding camp for the summer, so next week i have scheduled into my diary time to break in that wild stallion of mine. I cant wait!! once they've had a couple of rides, the fun stuff can really begin. Matai is looking every inch the gleaming, muscled, healthy and glossy coated stallion, he is alive with vigour and vitality, the way he should be. He is not the scrawny thing that arrived all those months ago, something so fragile looking, that you felt the wind could blow him over. He is however still the very trainable, intelligent, willing to please self, his good health has not affected his attitude and desire to work for you.
Fingers crossed i will have ridden him at least a couple of times by this time next week...
Monday, January 17, 2011
The place i go every year with my family is picturesque, remote and to me perfect. With its beautiful beaches, rocky shores, forested and bush covered peninsula's and windswept hills to me it is the one place i can unwind, relax and be free, in order to completely recharge my batteries. each year my family gets together, from all corners of the country is to go there and relax, camp for two weeks and basically go feral. Just good old camping, no showering or fancy utilities, its just swimming, diving, climbing, fishing and lying in the sun, followed by good wholesome camp food.
After the last few months of stress, heartache, and lack of sleep, i finally feel back to full mental strength again, and ready to take on the world. Unfortunately i decided to take up running again (i havnt done any since i finished school four years ago), the result being that after four days of early morning runs on the beach, followed by swiming in the surf, today i can barely walk.
Anyway back on subject. This holiday gave me time to think about this years goals and resolutions. Also, it gave me time to read a fantastic book, that relates very well to wild horses.
My father in a rare moment of sentimentality, gave me a book that he'd read as a child, and still remembers 60 years, and hundreds of books later. He found it, in a second hand store, its tattered and worn, and inside shows the names of every person, who had borrowed it from a school library in the past. It's called Elephant Bill. If you find it, read it. It said something that made me think "to be able to understand the nature of the domestic animal, you must study the behaviour and constitution of the wild animal first".....and i think this holds true to horses as well as elephants and probably all animals.
You can never see the true normal behaviour of an animal and understand how it learns, if all you see is the animal in a completely artificial environment, a riding school, competition stable etc. anywhere they are inhibited from being normal social animals and a herd lifestyle, then your not seeing the true behaviour a horse.
Now for New Years resolutions and goals
- Break in both wild horses, Matai and Fern to ride before September
- make the terrible decision of which one to sell and which one to keep at the end of the year
- Get around to filling out the paper work and registering all 3 of my wild horses
- Try to be better at putting up monthly photographic updates on the wild horse's progress
- Get at least Matai to a couple of competitions before the end of the year
- actually learn to use my stopwatch while riding xcountry on my eventing horse
- Actually use my diary to organise and remember dates for more than just the month of January
- Try to get my entry forms for horse shows in on time more often than not...
- as always try to continue to improve my horsemanship and riding and progress forward
OK so someone please remind when i stray from these new resolutions and i will strive to achieve them this year.
Thursday, January 13, 2011
As i was about to push the publish button, i looked out the window and saw, little Hope and Sonny stretched out fast asleep on the ground together. There mothers are grazing way off in the distance and these two are snuggled up together,asleep in the sun, in the longest patch of grass to be found. One of those "ohhh how cute" moments...
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
You would think that the wild ones, raised in a herd environment, would least like the to be separated from other horses. But this isn't the case, in fact they seem to seek solitude more than the others. They are independent, Fern, especially is least inclined to follow group, if she has found a better patch of grass, water or shade and the rest of the group are meandering aimleslly across the paddock, she will stay behind. Our paddock are huge a couple of acres in size each, and Fern will be at the opposite end and well out of site of the other horses, no worries at all. Why is this? being out of sight of the others would put my big Strong warm bloods into a panicking mess...
Yet she interacts with the other horses and is just as happy and content with them there, as when she is by herself, she's not bullied or chased, and little Sonny spends hours playing with the other foal and being babysat and fussed over by his 'aunties' in the group. What is it that allows them this herd behaviour but also the Independence that the domestic horse seems to lack.
Is it just they don't bond tightly with the other horses as they did with their wild herd? Or are accustomed to more space, from being free in the wild? Do we not realise how independent horses truly are, and do we have a misconceived idea about how horses actually live in a herd?
Is it just that we have bred out and raised our domestic horses in such a way that they have lost all Independence?
I would like to know the answer, its something that i spend a lot of time thinking about. One day i would actually love to spend the time studying horses in the wild to see how they really behave and interact.
Does anyone else have any experiences with this? Has anyone studied or observed horses in the wild and can shed some light?
Does anyone else have horse from the wild that exhibit this Independence??
Sunday, January 9, 2011
What a nice Sunday surprise, I found a beautiful little colt foal in my paddock this morning. Two weeks earlier than expected, the last of our three pregnant mares delivered her foal. What a gorgeous wee man he is too. Now with three foals on the ground, it is fascinating to compare all the similarities and difference between the little Sonny, the wild baby, and the two purpose bred, basically man made babies we now have.
I think with animals, when you have been around them long enough, you notice almost sub-consciously, any changes in behaviors and you learn to follow your gut instincts. It something doesn't feel quite right, it probably isn't. I was meant to stay over at friend's beachside house last night. But after competing horses all day in the hot sun, getting home and checking the mare, I just didn't want to go, and I procrastinated for hours before leaving. It's not that there was anything actually wrong with the mare, but she was restless and off her feed, she had lots of milk, but there was no 'wax' to signal a birth in the next few hours. Anyway the whole 45 minute drive over to the friend's house, I had that gut feeling that I need to be home. I even repeated again and again to the boyfriend that I felt I shouldn't be leaving the farm, especially as no one was there, if something were to happen.
As things turned out instead of staying at the beach house, I convinced the friends to come back with me to the farm instead. Arriving back, at well past midnight. Me feeling slightly guilty about making everyone have such a late night, especially as when I checked on the mare she seemed fine. It ended up being an even later night as the boyfriend and friends, with farm dogs in tow, went possum hunting around the house until two in the morning (possums are a major pest in our area and cause massive destruction to native forests as well as my orchid). Both boys and dogs ending up extremely satisfied with three dead possums to show for their hunting prowess.
It was a definite Sunday morning sleep in for all. But while everyone else was still asleep, I snuck out to check on the mare, thinking I'd just reassure myself all was well, and then go back to bed. But instead I found this little beauty, happy, healthy and suckling on mum in the paddock. It made me feel much better that all my instincts were right. The friends too were out of bed within a minute and down in the paddock, the little foal was fussed over and scratched and mum, was fed and checked and congratulated on producing such a fine colt. Not a bad start to the New Year I have to say.
Friday, January 7, 2011
This picture is taken literally about ten seconds after I first put the saddle on. Breaking in Horses is not rocket science. It doesn't have to be traumatic for the horse or rider, and it doesn't have to involve 'breaking the horse', although in the hands of idiots, both these things happen. Also like the saying 'there's more than 9 ways to skin a cat' there are definitely many different ways of doing things with horses. Some good, others not so good. You can also be too nice or 'soft' with a horse and turn them into spoilt monsters or you can be far too aggressive and terrify them for life. It's a fine line. But hopefully I have gotten it right with my wild boy.
For me it is never a case of just deciding one day to go out throw a saddle on their back, girth it up tight and see what happens. I like to know that all my ground work is good, before I add a saddle into the mix. Matai's ground work is very good, by this I mean he can go in a circle around me calmly at whatever speed I ask of him, walk, trot, and canter. He also knows how to stop, turn his hindquarters and front end away from me when asked, back up, as well as react instantly to anything I ask.
So when I go to break them in I always check the ground work at the start of each session. It's a good way to see just what kind of mood the horse is in, and get them focused on the trainer before you start anything new. Matai was his usual charming self, and completely focused on the work at hand. So it wasn't long before I moved on to getting the next stage of getting the gear on him.
The way a horses mind works, it learns not from what you ask them to do but when you stop asking them to do it. For example when you teach a horse to go forward, you keep giving them the aid to go forward until they do it, then you immediately stop asking. They learn that going forward gets you to stop give that particular aid. Well that's the rough idea anyway.
So using this idea, the first step I did, was to get my wild boy, used to the saddle blanket. First, allowing himself to just be touched by the blanket. As soon as he stands still, for the saddle blanket, I take it away again for a few seconds. I repeat this until he stands still every time, then continue with the same method until you can put the saddle blanket anywhere on his body and he just stands happily without moving. Then same process again with the saddle, until he's happy having that taken on and off his back. Like I said there are many different ways of doing things, and this is just my particular way.
Now the next step is where the routine changes a little bit. When you do the girth up for the first time, I don't take it off again, I leave it done up tight enough that the saddle will stay on and not slip, but not so tight that it causes them any extreme discomfort. Because once it's on, you don't want them to learn that they can get the saddle off, no matter what they do. The wild boy, good little thing that he is stood there relaxed through the whole thing, not minding the girth being done up at all. I took a quick picture (above), and then it was time for the real work to start.
It always vital to get a horse moving forwards, rather than standing on the spot, when they are first saddled, because moving forward they can't do too much injury to them self or others. But some horses if allowed to just stand, will panic at feeling a girth done up for the first time, bucking and rearing and throwing themselves over backwards in panic. By sending them forward in a goo d trot, they can't do this, they can buck, but that won't generally, cause them any harm, and they soon learn that it doesn't do any good any way.
This was the case with the wild boy, Matai, he was happy with the girth being done up, walked out a couple steps, realized there was something wrapped tight around his middle, tensed right up, and as I asked him to move forward, he let rip with a series of bucks, that for the first time made him genuinely look like a wild horse.
He twisted and leapt, hit the ground humped is back and leapt, like a cat on fire into the air, with a series of grunting noises, to express the effort exerted in trying to dislodge the thing wrapped tight around him. All I could do was keep him moving forward in a circle, until he relaxed stopped his aerial maneuvers, and was ready to take stock of the situation. Which he did by trotting a few steps turning his body in to face me, then stood trembling, with an expression of a lost child asking for help. Poor boy, I walked over gave him a rub on the head for a few seconds, to say all was well and going to plan, then sent him around me again in a new direction. This time no bucking, a little tense, one eye on me, one eye trying to keep track of the thing tied to his middle. A few circles of this and he relaxed, with blinking of eyes and licking of licks, he could bring his full focus back to me again, turns out the saddle wasn't going to kill him after all.
Another rubbing his head to show all was well, and a tightening of the girth, a few more circles of walk, trot and canter, in both directions, and the stallion from the wild looked like he'd had a saddle on his back his whole life. This relaxed behavior and being at ease with saddle on his back, was the behavior I wanted to reward, so as soon as he was calm and quiet I whipped the saddle on off, and the lesson was over for the day, back to the barn for a feed.
Fingers crossed I will be sitting on his back in a few more days, and then the fun stuff can really begin.