Friday, February 14, 2014

Snow Play For The Ponies and When Good Horse Go Bad

 The Snow Must Go On!

       At least that's what Mother Nature is telling us.  Just when I was beginning to see traces of my dressage arena, enter snow storm Nika!  Another ten plus inches.  And another twelve added by storm Pax. Fortunately, I'm still able to use my large front paddock.  The plow comes in, pushes everything to the side, and then I take my trusty snow shovel--it's the kind skaters use to clear snow off their ponds--and level it some more.  Since the days are getting longer and the sun stronger, the snow melts fairly quickly.  Most of our students would be happy just to take galloping snow rides on the trail, but we've got to strike a balance for a couple of reasons.  First, the horses really shouldn't go out in deep footing for more than one lesson.  We can't risk the possibility of pulled or torn ligaments.  Second, we need to continue to work on horsemanship, proper core alignment, balance, and communication. 

    Here's Elementa in the front paddock just after the plow came through.  She is doing a great job with her own natural balance and alignment:

         But then sometimes, like my students (and me), you just gotta kick it:

      Onto the more sedate Dolly:


If you don't think horses have a sense of humor, take a close look at Dolly below.  I think that's smirk.

          I should have said, " . . . the 'usually' more sedate Dolly":

        If you look closely at the above you will see why we think Dolly either gave birth to a foal or miscarried very late in her pregnancy.  You can see the enlarged nipple.   If she hadn't had a nursing foal, at the very least she once had an udder full of milk.  I will never know what happened that terribly painful and, perhaps, sad day for Dolly. 

       Here taking a sun snooze--no pain, no sadness--just warmth and contentment:

       Here is the only reasonable shot I took of Firefly.  Her mane and tail were dirty, so not much was fit for publication.  In this shot, her normally glorious coif is thankfully on the other side of her neck, and I simply cropped out her tail:

                Firefly                                                                               Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2014 

       The Lessons Must Go On!

       I have been remiss in not blogging enough about my students, but I'm going to make amends right now.   You last met Caitlin when she went to the Cutter Farm horse show a couple of months ago on our little ten hand Kip.  Here she is more recently:

         This was taken last Saturday and, as you can see, we're not lacking in snow.  The question was how to teach Caitlin, an intermediate rider.  I couldn't take her out on the trails because I already planned to take Elementa out with two other students.  A third time in this snow would be too much.  Caitlin and I decided the best thing would be for her to go bareback.  I sent her out onto a trail by herself, though she was always in sight.  Her job was then to keep Kip at halt until I called them.  Then she was free to trot, canter, gallop and gallop back, whatever she wished.  This took quite a bit of skill, particularly since she was bareback.  Kip was not inclined to turn around and head back out on the trail,  nor was Kip eager to halt until I called, but Caitlin handled all this very well, as you see in the above photo.

             Next lesson was with Jenna, who's been riding at Windflower since she was eight.  Here she is at about age eleven:

      Kip and Jenna                                                                        Ainslie  Sheridan copyright 2014

       And here she is at sixteen, just six days ago, flying around the dressage arena--yes, it is there under the snow somewhere--on Firefly:

       Jenna's lesson started with lungeing Firefly in the snow.  This she did for two reasons:  first, it was cold and it really wouldn't have been in Firefly's best interest to toss an adolescent up on her back and immediately get her going in trot and canter.  Why couldn't Jenna just get on an warm Firefly up at the walk, you ask?
A reasonable question, which brings us to the second reason:  Firefly--as you can deduce from the picture above--is an energetic lady and would have declined to keep herself at walk. 

       Katie was next up on Quilly.  Like Jenna, Katie has been at Windflower eight years.  Here's a picture taken when she was thirteen:

       Snap, Katie, and Firefly                                                                                Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2014

          And six days ago on Quilly, our Welsh pony: 

        As you can see, Katie rides well, and though Quilly's ears are back, it is not that she's annoyed, but rather, because she is listening to Katie who is asking her to be a little more forward.

       Next in the Saturday lineup is Tess.  She is a beginner, but, boy, does she learn quickly.  She is already cantering Kip bareback on the trails:

       When Good Horses Go Bad

       I would like now to tell you a bit about Quilly, the Welsh pony pictured earlier with Katie.  About twelve years ago Quilly, like Dolly later, was headed for an auction, and while not strictly a meat auction, those who buy horses for slaughter houses, "the killers," would be there.  Why would such a lovely, registered Welsh pony with an established show record be sent to such a place?

       It wasn't because Quilly was part of a bankrupt enterprise, which I believe likely the case with Dolly and her feral herd shipped to a wholesale auction.  Quilly was well-fed and sheltered.  She resided at a large and well-known riding facility in Connecticut.  Initially privately owned, she was a successful pony jumper and did well at numerous shows.  But as children will do, Quilly's rider grew up and then went off to college.  Quilly was demoted to school horse, and it did not take long before she made it clear that she hated her job.  Quilly held to a zero tolerance policy when it came to inexperienced riders, their inability to balance and tendency to pull, sometimes rip, on her mouth.  She skillfully dumped them with sudden halts, bucks, or combinations of the two.  She also liked to bite those who came too near.

      Thankfully, however, this talented mare did not end up at that  auction.  A boarder at the farm agreed to take her home to her own place in a nearby town.  However, Quilly's bad behavior continued, one time resulting in a broken bone for her rider.  When patience and hope ran out, I was asked to take her.

      Quilly arrived at Windflower angry and aggressive.  As I first led her from the trailer, she tried to bite me on the arm.  We gave her a couple of days off just to watch her.  I could tell by the bulging overdeveloped brachiocephalicus muscle running along the underside of her neck that she had been trying hard to protect her body while being ridden.  Additionally, the splenius muscle just below her mane was not developed at all.  A horse will attempt to avoid a heavy-handed rider by inverting its neck. It was even more obvious when we lunged her over a jump.  She not only inverted her neck but her body as well.  In protecting herself she'd reversed the normal, ideal muscle development.  In the head shot below I've marked these two areas with 'x's.

      Before we put a rider on Quilly, we did a great deal of ground work.  She became less sullen and aggressive.  But when we put a rider on her--Juliane's older sister Laurene--she bucked, and bucked, and bucked!  Laurene, being an excellent rider, stayed on through the rebellious wave, but I had her get off immediately afterward.  Better to solve the problem on the ground.  We also needed to rule out possible back pain.

      With a clean bill of health, and after a couple of months of Natural Horsemanship, coupled with lots of fun--hunter paces, trail rides, and beach rides, Quilly became a mainstay in our riding program. 

       It is the Dykiels, Anne, Laurene, Hadrien, and Juliane, who deserve all the credit turning this pony around.  Hadrien did the majority of Natural Horsemanship work.  Here are some photos that his mother Anne took just after Quilly arrived here:

       In the above picture Hadrien is making it clear to Quilly that she must stay out of his space.  She may only come forward if he softens his posture and tugs gently on the lead.  He then will teach her to back up.  Backing a horse in hand is a valuable exercise.  It teaches the horse to respect the handler as well aiding in the development of back muscles.

     Here Hadrien is about to begin teaching her to lunge in a circle around him.  As you can see, Quilly's focus is elsewhere, but Hadrien's is not.  He will get her attention by standing straighter and wiggling the rope.  Then he will  raise and point his arm and hand.  Quilly, like all horses, will not understand this cue at first, so Hadrien will approach her just behind the left shoulder with the stick and drive her forward and out onto the circle.

      In subsequent sessions, Hadrien taught Quilly to change direction while on the circle and to come to him only when he beckoned her.  This is what happens in a herd.  The lead herd mare will drive another mare who is failing to demonstrate expressions of submission--a lowered head, licking of the lips, relaxed body posture--to the perimeter of her herd.   That horse is, in effect, marginalized.  That is not where any horse wants to be since that is where any horse is most likely to get picked off by predators.  Survival instincts tell her that she should yield.  However, a mare with a more dominant personality may think that she can upgrade and dethrone the herd leader.  Guess who became the dominant mare here?  The one who told so many humans to take a hike--Quilly!

    Here she is a few days later, ridden by Hadrien.  Her expression is soft, as are Hadrien's reins:

Quilly gets a hug from Juliane at Crane Beach:

  At the end of the ride we take the saddles off all the horses so they can have a good roll in the sand:

Quilly only kept getting better.  Here's Juliane riding her bridleless:

                                                                          Anne Dykiel copyright 2014

No bridle, no saddle:

       Quilly has become a Windflower favorite.  One of our students even sports her likeness in the form a a tattoo.

       Dana, Juliane's younger sister, standing tall: 

                                                        Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2014

Winning ribbons with our student Zoe:

      Taking a blue with Juliane, as well taking a little watermelon sherbert:

        It is painful to think how many horses come to a bad ending because those around them often have neither the requisite skill, education, or inclination to train them patiently.  We take our horses out of their natural world into ours.  It seems to me that, at the very least, we should try to do a better job understanding and caring for them.

                Juliane and Quilly                                     Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2014
Pax on Earth

       Now that's a bit of an ironic name for a snowstorm that dumped over a foot, on top of another foot, of snow here in Metrowest Boston.  And we're to get four plus inches tomorrow night.  There will be a lot of aerobic training on the trails for the horses.  

       Poor Elementa!  She has a high head and neck set, so snow tends to move underneath the front of her blanket, and then it melts.  When I went out to check on everyone, she was shivering.
I brought her in, put her under the heat lamp, and blanketed her anew.

                                                                  Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2014

       During the storm named Pax, Dolly and Firefly had the option of taking shelter in their run-in shed, but they preferred to stay out in the elements:

            Pax meets Dolly                                                        Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2014

                  Pax meets Firefly                     Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2014

Saint Valentine's Day 

       Today is Valentine's Day and the clouds yielded to the sun for a brief period this afternoon.  I usually have seven lessons on Saturday, but because it is now school vacation a number of my students have headed either north or south.  I have only three lessons tomorrow, but we'll have fun.  Not only will there be riding, there will be a Valentine box full of chocolates as well as cups of hot chocolate to keep us warm.  I may even have time to take Elementa out for a gallop in the woods.

      Later tomorrow it will snow again, but by then I will be snug and warm indoors with a fire, a glass of wine, and the loving company of my husband.  I wish you all love and happiness this Valentine's Day and every day.

      This from our dear little rescue Clem:

        Thank you for reading The Windflower Weekly.  See you soon--

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