Hi, I'm Ev. I'm training to become a horsewoman. These are my adventures and misadventures. I'm green as hell, but so far, so good. I'm now learning from Bo (and sometimes his wife DeDe) at D&D Ranch in Pope Valley. I am extremely lucky to have this opportunity, I feel quite blessed, and I feel that they, and horses, have really turned my life around.
Solomon is my baby- a big old flea bitten grey Appendix gelding who is very kind and way too smart! I love him so very much. He is a rescue and was meant to be co-owned rehabbed, and maybe rehomed to a good home. He turned out to be over 25 years old with injuries that ultimately do not make him riding sound, so he is retired.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Pasture fun.

The other day I arrived at the ranch to discover that Solomon was in the big pasture!

In the pasture with him were Kizim, Remmy, Sissy, Lena, Poco Joe, and the Little Bay Gelding.

Kizim, Sissy, and Lena are mares, and Bo explained to me that really generally in domestic herds, the mares run the show. The boys might go charging around trying to be in charge, but really it's the mares.

Kizim's form of leadership is to charge at the biggest baddest horse in the herd, snapping her teeth, and then spin and kick out. If the horse is smart, she'll get out of the way.

I decided that, since Bo and DeDe were going into town for the day, I'd use the opportunity to observe the new herd dynamics. That setup won't last a long time... Bo is just mixing things up for a bit. But it was interesting to watch.

I went out to the roundpen to talk to D___ (a boarder) and her mother, and to watch the herd from a distance. Solomon and Poco Joe were a bit exiled from the main herd, though LBG was also hanging around them a bit. Kizim chased Solly up to the top of the hill and then eventually lost interest.

After a while, either Kizim gave some far-away cue too subtle for me to pick up on, or Solly decided to have a run. He used to run up and down the hills at Hossmoor when he was feeling good, so maybe he just decided it would be fun. So he went tearing off down the hill, head high and tail flagging, Poco Joe glued to his side like a foal.

There was a time when Solomon was known for being a very fast horse. That time has passed, I have been noticing. He is not very fast at all now. He really seemed to enjoy his little run around the pasture, but he wasn't all that fast. When he was most of the way down the hill, the LBG came tearing after the two of them at speed. He made his choice, and he stuck with it for the rest of the day. In a less certain environment, the two young boys looked to Solomon for comfort and leadership.

DeDe came and took Kizim out before they left for the day. While Kizim went batty, pacing her pen and calling for the rest of the day, tranquility fell upon the main pasture at once. In the power vacuum, dynamics actually became a lot more clear.

Remmy wanted to own the two mares, but after having been cowed by Kizim he didn't really have it in him to pick on them much, and he kind of covered at the peripheral, as if to say "I am guarding my mares. I think?" After a while, he went over and hung out with Solomon. Usually he picks on Sol and chases him around a bit, but I think he actually kind of appreciated the calm at that point, and they grazed together, albeit facing each other instead of facing the same direction.

Eventually Remmy wandered off to the mares who had gone one direction while the two young boys had wandered to the opposite side of the pasture. Solomon looked at Remmy's band, then his own band. But instead of going to either, he turned around and looked at me. Nickering, he decided, and came to me. I decided the fastest and safest way to get him out was to just open the gate and let him through.

He came out the gate, blew his hot, sweet breath against my shirt, and dropped his head to graze.

You know, that's always a great feeling. I mean sure, he knows that coming to me means green grass and a feed pan. But he also could choose any spot of green grass on the property, and he knew I wasn't holding his feed pan. But he stopped and grazed right next to me. And he decided to come to me, away from the other horses at that moment. I think that I must be doing something right.

After I gave Solomon his massage (yeah there are a lot of perks to coming to mom) I left him to eat and got his feed pan and grooming supplies. When he saw what I was carrying, he came trotting over all excited of course. I've started feeding him probiotics, and so far his poop is way better. No more green apple splatter, yay!

But nothing excites him like his senior feed. He'll take it over alfalfa, he'll take it over apples, carrots, and cookies. He'll even take it over peppermints. It's such good stuff.

While he ate, I picked Solomon's feet. It's odd to see his back hooves barefoot after all this time. The farrier said he didn't think his rears being barefoot would hurt him one way or the other, and so far so good on that. Not sure if the slowing down is a bit of tenderfootedness or if it's just because Solomon has had a rough life and is getting older now. But he seems to feel fine. This is good, as anything that can save some money is really helpful right now.

As I was picking his feet and grooming him, I reflected on the number of people I'd come across who wouldn't do anything with their horse without putting him in cross-ties. And I was thinking, you know what, probably if they were less afraid of their horse and more willing to be calm and trusting, their horse in turn would become more calm and trusting, more trustworthy, and they probably could easily kneel on the ground and pick their loose horse's feet. If people didn't get scared and feel like they had to smack or punch their horse every time he showed that he wasn't an emotionless machine, they could have a much better relationship with him, and wouldn't have to worry about nasty behavior as much. Ramping down the energy really does work a lot of the time, I think.

I'm not a master horsewoman, and while Solomon is in my mind a special horse, I think that most horses are like him in that they just want to get along. I think that if you can really believe that your horse will be good for you, he will try very hard to do so. But you have to decide what kind of leader you are going to be.

It isn't enough to just be a leader. There are leaders who bully everyone around them to get their way. Kizim is that kind of leader. She loves to chase the other horses around and be the biggest, baddest, toughest mare in town. Breezey has a calm, orderly herd, and keeps everyone in line with a gesture or a look. Both keep control, both have a leadership role in a herd, but Breezey's style is much healthier overall.

That being said, I have a long way to go before I can really be an effective leader for Solomon in all things. I did a little work with him on the single long line, doing some ground driving, but I had a very hard time getting him to move away from me, and I didn't manage to turn him at all. I also couldn't move him out away from the roundpen at all. He was much more interested in eating grass, and I just could not get him to take me seriously. Bo, I am sure, could have done it.

So I got him out and trotting as I drove him, and decided to end things on a positive note. When I told him "whoa" he whoaed and stayed in the right place instead of running in to throw his head over me. I decided that this was a great place to end things. So I took him back out to the pasture, and went inside with him.

Solomon followed sedately behind me, and we walked around together a bit. We picked up Poco Joe at some point, and then we picked up the Little Bay Gelding.

Solomon is not a really strong leader. He's kind of a bit of a middle-man, though in a big herd he will form a sub-group of his own, usually made up of the really young and really old horses. But with his two boys out in the pasture, he was handling things pretty well. Just a little ear pin and head toss now and again got things settled, and all three were soon standing with one hip cocked in the "chilling out" position.

So I decided to do some observation and experimentation. I gave attention to each horse in turn to see how the other horses would react. Solomon was more okay with me loving on Poco Joe than LBG, with whom he is more strict. Poco Joe is a little Bodhisattva horse, however, complete with serene, enlightened smile. He follows Solomon around like a baby all over that big pasture. the LBG is a bit older and a lot more willful, but still seems to have decided that Solly is the best deal.

I crouched down on the ground, pretending to be at rest, and Solomon immediately moved closer, hovering over me and strongly gesturing at the other two boys to keep their distance. Lots of ear pinning and a tail swish or two.

Finally, I turned and faced Solomon. I backed him up a step or two, but then relaxed and let him come to me. He very very lightly, feather-light, leaned his cheek and muzzle against me. Slowly his head lowered in those gentle little jerks which told me that he was starting to doze off. His eyelids fluttered closed, he sighed, and fell asleep.

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