Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Boone & Khyber Update

Boone and Martina
We are still working with Boone and Khyber on a regular basis.  Both horses went to a trainer for a few weeks to settle them down and make them easier to work with.  Khyber was the favorite of the trainer and was much easier to work with than Boone.  

Boone had to leave training early due to a persistent lameness in his right hock which we finally assessed.  He had some residual arthritis in the joint due to an injury he suffered getting out of the trailer when he arrived earlier in the year.  He was given a steroid shot to ease the pain, but eventually we are hoping that the joint will fuse and he will no longer feel pain.  If it doesn't fuse, we can help it along with another injection that will fuse it for him.  

Both horses tend to buck when unhappy, but Boone was the more aggressive in this.  Martina has been working with him very patiently for weeks and he is progressing well.  Today, however, he resumed some of his bucking behavior, which may be a sign that the hock is hurting again or that he is just getting bored with the routine.  Neither he or Khyber really didn't want to work today, so it may have just been a mood issue.  

We will take our time with them and bring them on slowly.  Neither are particularly concerned about obstacles or training pistols.  Considering how spooky they were when they arrived, it is amazing to see how calm they are now.  Much of the credit belongs to Martina, who's persistence and patience has helped both horses adapt to their new environment. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Never Really Retired

We go to a lot of trouble to find good homes for our retired horses.  We feel that if a horse gives the Army the best years of his life, he is entitled to spend his final years in pasture just being a horse. One of our former horses, named Peanut, went to a former trooper's ranch in Texas about ten years ago. 

Peanut, a quarter horse, was a favorite of many troopers while he was in the Army as he was fast and fearless, yet could stand still during an hour-long ceremony.  In fact, I remember he once fell asleep beneath me during a ceremony.  When the band suddenly started up, he woke suddenly and whinnied in alarm.  Once he realized where he was, he settled down again.

Even though Peanut is retired, he donned his Army tack one last time for a funeral to honor the man who owned the ranch he retired on.  The man leading him in the photo is the son of that man and a former trooper.  Although saddened by his loss, we are glad to see them both in uniform.  

Until we all meet again on Fiddler's Green.    

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Dances With Horses

Cavalry ballet
Photo by Dawn Hill
Riding for the Army has its hazards.  You just never know when your horse is going to react to something in the air or on the field when you least expect it.  Last Friday, one of our troopers was surprised by his young mount, Ruger, who decided he didn't want to play during the charge.  His lack of cooperation was enhanced even further when the cannon went off.  Luckily neither horse or rider was hurt, but you sure couldn't tell by this photo.  

Monday, June 16, 2014

Cal The Lion Fighter

Wounded warrior
Debbie and I picked up Cal from Phoenix today and brought him home.  The staff at Arizona Equine was very good with him.  The interns groomed him daily and loved on him every chance they got.  Cal is not a great patient, so I'm sure he appreciated their efforts to help relax him.  

The wound is looking better, so they say, but we haven't taken the bandage off yet.  It will be changed tomorrow.  He may still need a skin graft at some point, but the wound is doing well right now.  The tendon and bone did not lose there blood supply, so he didn't lose them as we feared.  

He withstood the three-hour trip back to Whetstone in the trailer without a problem.  He was a little nervous when he got out, but he soon settled down.  He knows where he is and that he is safe.  

We will have to change his bandage every two days for a while until the wound heals over and stops draining.  It won't be pleasant, but we will have help and hopefully everything will go okay.  

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Un-exploded Ordinance In The Horse Pasture

The hazards associated with working with horses are numerous. Over the years, I've been injured in just about every way you can imagine--bucked off, thrown, trampled, stepped on, rolled on, dragged, and bitten. Normal horse stuff.  However, since I manage horses in Arizona, I also have to deal with poisonous insects, plants, and snakes, plus mountain lions, bear, and wild fire. Well, now I have found a new hazard--unexploded WWII ordinance.  
Bazooka round.  

After the incident with Cal, I decided to go out into the pasture to see if I could find any mountain lion tracks or sign of where the attack occurred. While hiking through the grass, I saw what appeared to be a length of rusty, old pipe.  I went over to pick it up and noticed the rusty, old pipe had a conical warhead attached to it. It was an old bazooka shell.  I stared at it for a while trying to figure out what to do.  The temptation to pick it up was pretty strong.  It would make a great souvenir for the office.  However, a little voice in my head reminded me that we aren't supposed to pick up unexploded ordinance or UXOs.  

I did not have any flags to mark it with (like anyone would be walking around with UXO marker flags), so I stacked some rocks around it and then laid a line of rocks across a nearby horse trail pointing to the UXO. Satisfied I would be able to find it again, I returned to the stables and promptly forgot about it.  I didn't really forget about it, I just didn't have time to deal with it.  The horses were out of the pasture and it wasn't likely anyone would be walking around out there except, maybe, illegal aliens. And, since the shell had been sitting there for about sixty years, I didn't think another day would hurt.  
The EOD convoy.

The fifty-eight acres of land that is now our horse pasture was once a training ground for soldiers on their way to Europe during WWII.  There are all kinds of interesting artifacts and ordinance scattered throughout the foothills of the Huachuca Mountains.  I had found old rocket casings before, but not an unexploded shell.  

When I called the range control people, they came out pretty promptly with the military police and representatives from the Safety Office.  I took them out to the location of the bazooka shell and they decided that there was no way to determine if it was still live and that they would have to call the Explosive Ordinance Disposal  (EOD) people.  However, it would probably be the next day before they could come.  They told me to close the pasture and they would be back.
The C4 crater.  
 The next day an entourage of range control, safety office, military police, fire fighters, and medical personnel showed up at my pasture.  A convoy of all these vehicles went trundling out into the pasture to go deal with this bazooka shell.  A police vehicle blocked the gate after the convoy had passed through.  About thirty minutes later I heard and explosion.  About thirty minutes after that the convoy reappeared and went back to wherever they came from.  The range control people called me and said the UXO was destroyed, but that they had caused a small fire, which all the fire trucks put out.  

Sometime later, I went out to the site to see what they had done.  I was disappointed to see that the C4 they had used to detonate the bazooka shell left only a small dent in the ground.  The grass had, indeed, caught on fire, but they kept it from spreading too far.  
The remnants of the brush fire.  

Now that the area was safe, I resumed my lion hunting expedition.  I didn't find any lions, but I did guessed it...another UXO. Fortunately, this one was already exploded, so it was only an XO.  

Just another boring day at the office.  

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Lion Attack

Debbie and I were getting ready to put some steaks on the grill Saturday night, when I heard the hated warbling of the Bat Phone.  As it was just after 6 PM, it could only mean that the weekend pasture feeder had found an injured horses.  Sure enough, it was trooper Mike calling to inform me that one of the horses had a badly injured rear leg.  I asked him to bring the horse in to a stall and I'd be there as soon as I could.  
The wound prior to being cleaned.

As Mike is a new trooper, he didn't know which horse was injured.  As we drove to the stables, Debbie called Mike and asked to describe the horse.  Based on his description, we decided it was Cal, a notoriously difficult horse to treat.  

When we arrived at the stables, Mike's wife, Stephanie, was waiting for us.  Mike had been unable to move the horse out of the pasture and was somewhere in the wash that runs the length of our horse pasture.  After about five minutes of searching we found him and, as we suspected, Cal, down in the creek bed.  The wound on his left, rear leg looked bad, but Cal was able to bear weight on it and Debbie walked him out of the ravine.  She put him into a stall to give him some water and bute, while I contacted Arizona Equine in Phoenix to see if they could take Cal.  They said they could, so we loaded him up and began the three-hour journey to the clinic.  There were no local equine vets available and they would not have been able to handle the wound as severe as it was.  We suspected an animal attack as there were recent bear sightings on Fort Huachuca.  
Claw marks.

The trip to Phoenix was uneventful, but we received numerous calls from the military police and US Department of Agriculture (USDA) about the possible bear/lion attack.  I'm not sure how we arrived at the conclusion that it had been a lion attack, but the USDA agent said that bears attack from the front and not the rear where Cal had been wounded.  They searched the pasture with infrared optics, but did not find anything but deer out there.  They did find lion tracks, but they were old.  

When we arrived at the equine clinic, Cal was immediately tended to.  There was another horse there for emergency care with a similar wound (not caused by a lion), so we didn't feel as bad about getting everyone out to work on a Saturday night.  Cal's was heavily sedated so the doctor could clean and examine the wound.  The claw marks and teeth marks were much easier to see and it was clear that a significant amount of tissue was missing from the wound.  Both the tendon and cannon bone were exposed.  

It was determined that Cal wound have to stay at the clinic for continued treatment as there was a risk of infection to the exposed tendon and bone as well as to the soft tissue around the wound.  AZ Equine provides the best care possible in Arizona, so we left Cal in good hands and returned home.  It was 4 AM before we could get to bed, but there was no other course of action we could have taken.  Hopefully, Cal will recover in time and eventually return to work.  

Me trying to hold up Cal's heavily sedated head.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Boone & Khyber Update

The boys are still doing okay, but since I haven't been able to spend much time with them, they have regressed in their training.  That's hard to imagine, since they didn't really know anything to start with.  Both of them have managed to put me in the dirt recently, plus Khyber managed to smash my foot.  

Boone had been slowly regressing for while as he went into a bucking phase and then a, "I don't want anyone to get on me" phase.  One day, while trying to mount him he lurched forward as I put my foot in the stirrup.  My glove got caught on the brass peg on the back of the saddle, which caused Boone to take off in a panic.  Fortunately, my glove ripped before he dragged me too far, but I landed hard and not well.  I drove him around the pen for a while, but he wouldn't stand still after that and became increasingly agitated.  Some days it's just best to back off.  

A few days later, on a rainy day, I was feeding the boys out in the small pasture, when they started running around playing grab-ass, the way horses do when its raining.  Khyber started galloping toward me as he tried to get away from somebody else.  I threw up my hands to ward him off and he stopped pivoted 180 degrees and galloped off in the other direction.  The only problem was that he was on my foot while he was pivoting.  He didn't break my foot, but it sure felt like it. 

The following week, I tried riding Khyber and didn't have any problems with mounting and dismounting and he did well at the walk.  He started picking up the rein and leg cues and since we had been over this ground previously, figured it was time to try it at a trot.  You know, just a few yards, and then back to a walk.  Khyber took about two steps and then squealed and starting bucking.  Thinking this was the easy horse,I was unprepared and he caught me off balance and put me in the dirt again.  At that point, I decided I needed to hire a trainer.  

Boone and Khyber are young horses and, although they are good horses, they need more attention than I can give them.  A couple months of training should bring them back to normal.  

However, I decided that I would continue with ground training, including loading into a trailer.  So today, I practiced putting them into our stock trailer.  I took Khyber first as he is the braver of the two, and after a little hesitation, he loaded.  Boone stepped in a little quicker since Khyber was already in.  Then, I removed Boone, who got nervous and vaulted out of the trailer.  Okay, fine.  At least he had gone in.  I got Khyber out and then tied them to the side of the trailer and groomed them.  Then, I loaded them both back in. Khyber went first again, and this time loaded without hesitation.  Boone went in just as easily.  Unfortunately, Boone wouldn't come out again.  He was afraid to step down out of the trailer even though it was only about twelve inches high.  I took Khyber out, thinking that Boone would follow.  Nope.  He looked at the edge and stuck his foot out a couple times, but couldn't make the step.  He even tried to back out like he had in the trailer he came in that had a ramp.  He was probably thinking that maybe if he backed out a ramp would appear.  

I eventually took Khyber away and put him in his pen, leaving Boone to stand there looking forlornly out of the back of the trailer.  He may as well have been standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon.  I even tried coaxing him out with horse treats. No way.  He just wasn't coming out.  I finally had to back the trailer against a sloping piece of ground so that there was no step.  He came out with ease then.  Unbelievable.  Who ever heard of a horse that wouldn't come OUT of the trailer.  God help me.  

You think you've seen everything and then something like this happens.  This job never gets boring.  

Monday, April 14, 2014

Hard Luck Charlie

Charlie is one of those horses that always seems to attract disaster. He is partially blind in one eye from being hit by debris during a wind storm, he has a huge scar on his cheek where he had a sarcoid removed, he has a large scar on his abdomen from colic surgery, and now he has been bitten by a snake.  Not just a small snake, but a snake with fangs two inches apart.  Probably the same one that bit Cal last year.  

Although Charlie's luck is poor, he is lucky in that he manages to survive the bad luck.  The snake bite was on one side of his face and the swelling didn't close off both nostrils.  He can still breath through the right nostril.  Thus, we didn't even have to put a hose up his nose in order for him to continue breathing.  

Of course, today was a day off for me and there were no military vets available.  Fortunately, Debbie was home to help me organize a rescue mission and medevac for Charlie.  I asked the pasture feeder who found him to put him in his pen and that I would be there in thirty minutes.  When we arrived, Charlie wouldn't let anyone touch his face, so we knew we couldn't treat him without sedation.  

We managed to find a civilian vet who was available, but she asked us to meet her in Palominas--a forty minute drive from the post.  We loaded Charlie by putting a halter around his neck as he wouldn't let us put it on his face.  He trusts us though, and grudgingly he climbed into the trailer.  We removed the halter and just let him stand freely, which he was fine with.  We got to the designated location in Palominas and then waited another thirty minutes for the vet to get there.  We were lucky that Charlie could still breath through one nostril and that he had been bitten by a Diamondback instead of a Mojave, or he probably wouldn't have survived.  

The vet loaded us up with medications and instructions and we loaded Charlie back into the trailer and brought him back to Debbie's horse spa for continued treatment.  He will probably be okay as long as we can keep him hydrated and fed. He has a history of colic, so we have to watch him closely.  

Meanwhile I discussed the snake issue with the Animal Control officer on post, since I'm not allowed to bring a weapon on post and dispatch the serpent in the way I prefer.  The officer said I should just call them when I find the snake and put a bucket on it until they arrive.  I pointed out that the fang marks on Charlie's face were two inches apart and that I didn't think a bucket would be large enough.  In any case, I've learned from previous experience that until I find and remove this snake, I will continue to have snake-bit horses.  Hopefully, I will find the snake before it finds another horse.  

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Picacho Peak

Our lonely mess tent in the desert.  
Last weekend B Troop returned to Picacho Peak State Park for the annual Civil War in the Southwest re-enactment.  We had missed it last year due to the sequester business.  We weren't permitted to participate in an off-post events for a period of time.  

This year we returned in force.  We were able to field ten riders and two cannon crews.  It has been a long time since we had that many people on the field.  We invited our riding students to participate on the cannon crew as they hadn't been trained yet to ride in full campaign gear.  

We set up our camp in the traditional spot which was just as dusty as it always is.  Maybe more so this year because of the winds.  Pretty much everything we took out there came back a dusty brown color.  We set up a corral for the horses, pitched our mess tent, dug a fire pit, and settled down for a big pot of chili.  It was wonderful.  
Are fielding of ten riders at Picacho. 
The next day we went up to the battlefield for the three re-enactments of the day.  First was the battle of Valverde, then the battle of Glorietta Pass, and final the battle of Picacho Peak.  These battles are probably only known to the most ardent Civil War buffs.  They were fought in 1861 to determine who would have control of the New Mexico Territory, which at the time included present day Arizona.  The Union eventually won as they managed to destroy the Confederate supply train at Glorietta Pass.  
Blade and I riding into battle.

We introduced three new horses to the battlefield with predictable results.  Bob, who is an experienced Cowboy Mounted Shooting horse, did the best, although he had trouble with some of the cannon fire.  Blade did the job, but spent most of his time spinning in a circle as each musket and cannon went off.  Ruger, just about came unglued in the first battle, but settled down enough to finish the next two battles.  His rider, however, decided he had enough of a work out and declined to ride the next day.  I took the same precaution with Blade as he was struggling with the whole thing.  One day was enough for these newbies. Bob finished both days.

As always, it was a good time with the usual (or unusual) campfire antics in the evening.  The new students treated us to an interpretive dance of my riding school instruction which had everyone in tears.  There was much toasting to the cavalry and other things and at some point a bag piper from another camp showed up and serenaded us.  The stars and moon were bright, the fire warm, and the conversation ridiculous.  A good weekend all around.   
The cannon crew in action.  

All photos by Dawn Hill

Friday, March 21, 2014

Boone's Bronc Ride

Boone, when he isn't a bouncing cat.
I haven't been able to do anything with Boone for a long time due to a series of injuries that he has had. Amazingly, he managed to get through an entire weekend without injuring himself, so yesterday I pushed the paperwork aside and went outside and saddled up Boone.  

He stood nice and quiet as I groomed him and put his tack on.  He gave no indications that there would be any problems.  However, once I got him into the round pen and stuck my foot in the stirrup, he bounded away from me and commenced to crow hop around the pen for several minutes.  He roached his back and was bouncing off all four feet like a giant, pissed off cat.  His reins had slipped off his neck and were dangling dangerously in front of his front feet.  I thought for sure he'd step through them and lame himself, but miraculously, he did not.

I watched this behavior silently (struck dumb, I guess) until he stopped bouncing around and decided to stand and snort for a while.  I inched close enough to him to snag his reins and speak softly to him until he calmed down.  I had no intention of getting on him at this point.  Instead, I secured his reins to the saddle and left him to go find the whip.  Returning to the round pen, I drove him around for a about ten minutes, changing his direction several times. 

Once I felt I had regained a little respect from him, I stopped him, let him join with me and, after making peace with the Lord, stuck my boot back in the stirrup.  He stood stock still as I mounted and he stepped forward with little leg pressure. Then, however, he stopped, refused to move forward, and began to walk backwards.  The more leg I gave, the quicker he backed up.  Not wanting to stick my heels in him for fear that he'd turn into a bouncing cat again, I dismounted and drove him around the pen with the whip some more.

After another ten minutes of this, I again mounted.  Same thing.  He would only walk backwards.  Dismounted and chased him with the whip for another five minutes.  Remounted--again he walked backwards.  This time I just let him walk backwards--even gave him the backup cue.  We walked half way around the pen until he suddenly stopped. I gave him some leg and finally he walked forward--with energy, no less.  I walked him to the gate and dismounted.  Better to end on a good note.  

Can't wait until our next session.  Horses.  Geez.  

Monday, March 10, 2014

Journey Update

Journey's hock injury after the old bandage was removed.
Journey injured his hock about three weeks ago and it has been a painful healing process for him.  The skin on the inside of his hock had been scraped off when he got his leg tangled in the fence, so the vet sutured it back in place. Unfortunately, the flap fell down inside the wound and wouldn't heal.  We thought we would have to splint his leg, but the vet found a way to suture it so the flap wouldn't fall back down again. Still, we had to change the bandage every two days and the vet had to scrape away a lot of proud flesh that had built up on the wound.  Last weekend, it had rained very hard one Saturday which caused Journey's leg to get wet and the bandage to fall down.  He also developed a bad shoe-boil abscess in his front, right leg.  This required more surgery and a series of penicillin shots.  
The alternative to sedation.  

Since we couldn't keep Journey out of the rain and weather, we decided to bring him home where he could stay in an enclosed stall.  The hock wound has improved enough now that we can change his bandage without sedation--or at least Debbie can.  I'm not sure Journey would let anyone else do it.  The wound is looking good.  He took his penicillin shots pretty well, also.  Debbie just sticks his nose in a bucket of grain and carrots, and Journey then doesn't mind the other stuff so much.  

Journey has know us for over ten years now, so he has developed a good bond with us.  The wounds are very sensitive and painful and it is amazing that he trusts us enough to treat him without sedation. We expect him to make a full recovery, but it will take a while longer and then we will have to recondition him for Army work again.  

Journey's leg with a new bandage.  

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Hock Injury

I had to travel to Tucson on Saturday, so I left the "bat-phone" with Debbie in case someone called about an injured horse. When I returned from Tucson, she was gone, so I knew something was up. It turned out to be that one of our horses, Journey, had gotten tangled up in an electric fence wire and injured his hock pretty badly. I'm not sure how he managed to get into the wire as it was on top of the fence. The wire was actually one of those poly-cords that is thick enough to see, but doesn't catch the wind like tape does. Surprisingly, the cord did not break, although in this case, I wish it had. 

Journey resting in the shade.
Journey had to be heavily sedated by the mil vet so that the wound could be cleaned and sutured. Everything went wrong. None of the lanterns or flashlights worked, so Debbie had to use her car lights to illuminate the operating area. The clippers were not fully charged, so they kept dying while they were trying to shave his leg. They had trouble keeping him upright due to the sedation, and at one point, he fell and rubbed dirt into the wound that they had just spent an hour cleaning. After several hours of working in the dark, they finally managed to get him bandaged and put away for the night. Not a great way to spend a Saturday night.  

Today when I arrived at work, Journey was laying on the ground. He would occasionally try to sit up, but would just lay down again. I could tell that he had been laying down for quite a while based on the marks in the dirt and because he had manure under his tail. I put a halter on him and compelled him to get up, but it was extremely painful for him. He couldn't put any weight on his injured leg and just stood there trembling. I gave him his medicine and breakfast and left him alone.  He manged to eat some and drink, but just decided to stand in the shade and rest. I could tell he was in pain because his respiration rate was high.   

The unwrapped wound site.

This afternoon the vet and Debbie returned to change the bandage. Debbie managed to get most of the bandage off before the vet arrived, but the final wrap required a little sedation. Journey took it pretty well and the wound is looking okay. He will be down for a while, but hopefully will make a full recover.  

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Khyber Rides Again

With Boone out of action temporarily due to his leg injury, I continued my work with Khyber today.  He is getting much better about picking up his feet and tacks up without a problem.  I took him to the round pen so that he could still see his cousin, Boone.  The two are so close, it is like they are twins.  Sometimes I think they are communicating telepathically.  
Khyber after his training session.
I continue my work in teaching Khyber his cues.  He has been taught direct rein cues, but apparently not much in the leg cue department.  When I tried to push him to the rail with my leg, it was like pushing on granite.  However, with a combination of direct rein cue and ample use of leg, he soon figured it out.  Before long, I could adjust his distance from the rail with the use of my legs.  He is also getting better with rein cues and it is easier to change his nose direction.  

Khyber got a little snarky a few times--wanted to turn without being told and would occasionally stop.  I'd give him a second and then would gently urge him forward and he would soon comply.  I'm amazed at how easy he is to work with.  Comparing him to Apache is a world of difference.  Apache would stand on his hind legs at the slightest offense.  I endured that for several years until he calmed down.  Working with Boone and Khyber is scary for me because it is so easy.  I only wish that my schedule allowed me to work with them every day instead of just once or twice a week.  

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Wonder Nap

Walking through the stables this morning, I heard a strange noise coming from Apache's pen.  He was sacked out in the warm sun, snoring like a drunken sailor.  Being the Wonder Horse must be exhausting.  

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Poor Man's Arena

Last year one of my neighbors put their house up for sale.  In addition to selling their house they decided to sell their riding arena panels.  Seeing an opportunity to build a small practice arena for B Troop, I  acquired them.    

Storing the panels out of the way for a while, I commenced to groom a decent piece of ground on which to place the arena.  An area of our stables that had previously had horse pens on it was cleared and was available.  I dragged the ground for weeks to try and smooth it out.  It was uneven and was full of rocks and metal spikes that people had driven in to it to hold retaining boards in place.  The boards had rotted away long ago and the spikes were buried just below the surface of the ground.  I punctured two tractor tires before I realized what was going on.  Then, I used a metal detector one day after a heavy rain and dug those suckers out of the ground.  
Poor man's lighted arena.  Note the yellow work lights.  

With the help of the troopers and my own family members, we erected the corral panels and created a 160 x 60 foot arena.  The ground was still uneven, but over time, the weather and people riding horses on it gradually flattened it out.  

We held our first riding school class in it last summer and it worked very well.  Fortunately, the sun sets so late in the summer time that we didn't need any lights in it at night.  We could ride until 7:30 pm without a problem.  However, with our new riding school class beginning now, when the sun sets at about 6 pm, I needed to come up with some lights.  

Using end-of-year money, I picked up four halogen work lights with telescoping poles that could lift the lights up to six feet in height.  However, we determined that it would be better if we could get them higher to prevent blinding the riders.  The troopers tried lashing them to the panels which kind of worked, but it occurred to me that by taking the legs off the work lights I could slip them into the pipes that I was using to rebuild horse shelters.  So, I bolted the eight foot long poles to the arena panels and slipped the lights into them.  With electric outlets located within 100 feet of the arena, a few extension cords provided the power.  Viola! Poor man's arena lights.  They don't give great light but enough to illuminate the arena well enough to work in.  

So, with a little luck and some ingenuity we now have a year-round practice arena.  

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Boone Meets His Match

On the continuing task of integrating Boone and Khyber into the herd, I added Journey and Ruger to the mix. Ruger is a low-ranking horse, but Journey is near the top.  I was interested to see how Boone would get along with a horse with a much more dominating personality than what he has encountered so far.  

When I arrived at the stables Saturday morning to feed the horses, Journey began to chase Khyber. Every time Khyber moved anywhere near the feeders, Journey would viciously attack him. It was so bad, that I had to take a flake of hay out to Khyber so that he was well-separated from the rest of the herd while he ate. Then, to my surprise, I noticed Journey standing next to Boone at the feeder. As I have noted previously, it is not normal for horses in our herd to stand side-by-side at the feeder. Usually, they position themselves so that they are on opposite sides.  Boone and Khyber are unique in that they do this routinely. Seeing Journey standing next to Boone was an absolutely extraordinary development. The two had become fast friends.

However, as I checked the horses for injuries, I realized that this new-found friendship had come at a high price.  Boone's front, left leg was covered in blood. He had a nasty wound on his knee, which I suspected might be a puncture wound. Journey also had a wound on his chest in a spot that Boone likes to go after during a fight, but it was only a minor injury.  
Boone's first serious battle injury.

I decided I would have to remove Boone from the pasture, but that I would take Khyber out first so that Boone would have a battle buddy. After I safely removed Khyber, I haltered Boone and began to move him out. At this point I realized something that I hadn't figured out before. Journey is as hooked on Boone as Khyber. Journey hadn't been driving Khyber away from the food, he was driving him away from Boone. It was a total jealousy thing. Journey came running after us as I tried to move Boone through the gate. I had to wave Journey off with my hat.  

Debbie came and treated Boone as I had a riding school class to teach. She determined that Boone did have, in fact, a puncture wound (can't imagine how that happened, unless Journey pulled a shiv). Fortunately, it was upward-tracking and it was easy to flush and drain and the wound did not enter the joint. I made my riding school students watch as Debbie probed and cleaned the wound, which they were thoroughly disgusted by, even though they are soldiers. Boone got his first bandage which was a new and confusing experience for him, but he was overall a very good patient.  

He is healing well, being a young horse, and we may put him back out to pasture tomorrow if all goes well. Welcome to the Army, Boone. 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Horse Feet

Boone and Khyber were never particular good at lifting their feet to be cleaned. Boone had a little bit of an excuse because he had a minor hock injury when he arrived and it hurt to lift his left, rear leg. Khyber, not so much. Of course, Khyber is the worse of the two from my perspective. Boone lifts his legs without much trouble now, while his cousin continues to glue his feet to the ground. Oddly enough, Khyber gives me more trouble with his front feet than his back feet. hat is preferable from a kick-in-the-face standpoint, but it is odd.  Usually, it is the back feet that horses struggle with since that is their primary escape engine.  

However, I think I may have found a way to get Khyber to lift his front feet more readily now. I cue the horses to lift their front feet by pinching the back of their legs (the way I was taught by the troop years ago). When a horse is reluctant, I will continue pinching until they get annoyed by it and finally lift their foot. Khyber is so stubborn, though, that my hand gets tired of pinching before he gets annoyed. Thus, I now tap his fetlock with the hoof pick, which annoys him much more quickly. At least for now. When he lifts his foot without out a hassle, he gets positive reinforcement with a cookie. He is improving, but it is still a bother at the moment.  

Cal, on the other hand, is a different problem. He was taught by a previous owner to jack his back legs up really high. Once he gets his leg up there he starts to tremble and loses his balance. When we first got him we thought he had some kind of neurological problem. Over time I have taught him to keep his back legs low. He is much better now, but still tries to lift his legs high at first. I have to hold his hoof down until he relaxes and lets me set it on my knee. Funny horse.  

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Khyber's Pass

Today was Khyber's first test under saddle, and he did pretty well.  Like Boone, he stood still as I put the tack on him and he accepted the bridle without too much trouble.  Both horses require a little encouragement with the thumb to open their mouths, but don't engage in any of the usual shenanigans of lifting or lowering their heads to avoid the bit.  

Both horses also stand still during mounting--a testament to the skill of the trainer who first worked with them.  However, Khyber did start moving a soon as I was in the saddle and before I got my foot into the right stirrup.  Something I will have to work on.  He is quite a bit more energetic than Boone.  Khyber would have easily gone to a trot if I'd asked him to, but I want to make sure I have control of his head before we pick up the pace.  There's no hurry to get him trained and I prefer to go slow and make sure there are no set backs.  

We worked on turns, halting, and starting, just to get him used to my cues and to figure out how he has been previously trained.  It is sort of like unraveling a mystery.  What does the horse know and what does he not know.  Neither of these horses have been taught how to neck rein, so I will have to go through that process later, once we get used to direct reining cues and all the leg cues.  

Both these horses have good temperaments and for only being four-years old, are fantastic horses.  It will be great fun working with them. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

First Ceremony of the Year

Boots and saddles.
Today was the day of the quarterly retirement ceremony, which B Troop always participates in.  The number of soldiers used in the ceremony has gradually receded to the point where only the honor guard and the cavalry are on the field.  We had seven riders today, plus the mountain howitzer crew.  
Apache trying to exit, stage left.  

The plan was for the CO to ride Blade, but Blade got a skin infection and had to be replaced by the Wonder Horse.  The results were predictable.  This was also the first ceremony for the new XO.  His horse, Cochise, has a tendency to act antisocial toward Ruger, who was going to be in the #2 slot, so the XO traded with the 1SG for his horse, Monte.  It has also been three months since the horses were last on the parade ground, so that always ads to the fun.  
Ruger (with colors) reeling after getting bumped by Charlie.

Apache demonstrated his usual dislike for the whole thing by constantly moving while on line. Normally, when he is in the line, he just stands there and paws the ground.  However, since he was on the end, he constantly separated from the line instead of standing there and digging a hole in the ground.  Cochise was in line next to Journey who kept the little rascal under control.  Monte, who was on the right end of the line, was fairly steady, but getting irritated at times with Ruger, our five-year-old newbie, who was fidgeting too much for the old veteran's tastes.  It is one of the traits of the older, calmer horses to keep the younger ones in line. 

At the end of the ceremony, the troopers lined up to do there charge, but as they were lining up, Charlie backed into Ruger (carrying the guidon) delaying his take off.  Unfortunately, the howitzer crew pulled the lanyard before Ruger was moving and he decided right then that he had had enough and needed to get away from the whole scene.  I didn't realize what had happened as I was trying to snap photos of the charge.  However, as the troopers reassembled up at the top of the field, I heard the crowd laughing.  I looked back down the field to see Ruger and his rider, still carrying the colors, trotting up the field behind the flags.  
Troopers thundering up the field.

The rest of the horses did well enough and no bodies or hats were left on the parade ground after.  And, of course, the crowd loved Ruger's antics.  People watch cavalry charges for the same reason they watch NASCAR races.  It's the accidents, they live for.  For years, now, I will hear about the horse that stayed behind during the charge.  But, as we say in the cavalry, any charge you can walk away from is a good one.  

Ruger trying to sneak up the field without being noticed.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Boone's First Ride

I tacked up Boone today and rode him in the round pen for a little while.  He accepted the tack well and didn't fight me when I put the bit in his mouth.  He stood completely still while I mounted and was responsive to cues.  Since I've never been on Boone, my first task was to figure out how he had been cued.  I knew he'd received some training under saddle, but had no idea how he had been taught.  I quickly learned that he responds to an opening rein as opposed to a direct rein.  That is okay,but I will have to teach him some other reining techniques before he can be a cavalry horse.  We kept it at a walk today, as he was clearly a little nervous about the whole thing.  Everything is new to him and he tries to comply, but doesn't always understand.  He is a blank slate, but because he has such a good nature, it will be a pleasure teaching him. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Battle Scars

Boone and Cochise continued working things out over the weekend and both are covered in scrapes and scabs.  Both had a pretty good chunk of hide missing.  Cochise on his cheek and Boone on his chest.  When I arrived at the stables Tuesday morning they were "playing" with each other.  I'm not sure who emerged from the weekend the dominant horse, but Cochise may have a slight edge.  For the most part it looked like a draw.  I will try a different mix of horses this weekend to see how that goes. 
Cochise' battle wound.
Boone's battle wound.

 Khyber didn't get involved in any fights and didn't have a single mark on him--although he did have a lot of tree sap on him.  However, he doesn't need to fight as long as Boone is around. As soon as the hay comes out, Khyber sticks his nose into the feeder right next to Boone.  I have never seen two horses behave this way.  It is like they are twins.  

I worked both horses in the round pen today.  I got both of them up to a gallop.  Khyber still kicks at me, but bears no malice afterwards.  Both horses are very friendly and like having their big heads stroked.  I have to say I really like them.  Hopefully, these feelings will continue once I start riding them.  

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Herd Integration

After working with Boone and Khyber in the round pen again yesterday, I put them in the quarantine pasture (QP) with Cochise and Duke.  The QP is where I introduce new horses to the herd.  If you put new horses out with the entire herd all at once, the herd will gang up on them.  It is better to introduce new guys to a couple horses at a time to cut down on injuries.  
Khyber and Boone eat under the watchful gaze of the herd.

I put some alfalfa out for Cochise and Duke, to distract them, before putting the new horses in. This gave the horses a chance to stand together and eat without fighting.  Just as I put Boone and Khyber out, the entire herd in the main pasture showed up to get some water, saw the new horses, and lined up along the fence to watch the show.  

Once the alfalfa was gone, Boone and Khyber went for a walk around the QP together to check things out.  Then then went back to where Duke and Cochise were finishing up eating and began the process of establishing where each horse stood in the pecking order.  Duke is dead-last in the herd and was delighted to find out that he could push Khyber around.  Khyber had no interest in challenging either Duke or Cochise.  Boone, on the other hand, held his ground and got into the dance with Cochise.  Apparently these horses are very close in the rank structure and spent a lot of time working things out.  
The boys checking out the QP.

When horses are introduced, they stand next to each other with heads bowed.  Eventually, one will start to squeal and paw the ground in an attempt to get the other horse to move.  I have come to believe that the horse that is making the most noise is losing this battle.  After a while they will test each other by placing their mouths near various parts of the other horse's body to provoke a reaction.  I call this the "bitey" game, as each horse will feint at biting the other one.  Horses do this when playing with one another, but it is always a part of the initial establishment of who is higher ranking in the herd.  Between Cochise and Boone, it was Cochise making most of the noise.  Boone stood his ground and made no noise, which causes me to believe that he was winning.  We will see.  
Duke (r) trying to see what Boone (l) is made of.

Khyber wanted no part of any of this activity.  He wanted comfort, but since his cousin Boone was engaged with Cochise, he kept coming to me for affection--placing his head in my chest so I could pet him.  I did notice that at one point, Khyber and Duke had paired up and were standing peacefully together, so maybe they will buddy up as Boone establishes his place in the herd in coming weeks.  

I will match them up with different horses each weekend until they have worked things out with each horse before I put them together with the entire herd.  It is a fascinating process to watch, but has to be done carefully or you end up with injured horses.  
Khyber coming over for some affection while the others work thing out.  

Thursday, January 16, 2014

In the Round Pen

I gave Khyber and Boone their first round pen sessions today.  I couldn't work with them yesterday because they had their teeth floated by the vet.  Both horses were very energetic in the round pen.  I had no trouble getting them moving, in fact, they often would gallop without me asking them to.  It was anger-galloping as they were not happy with me bossing them around.  Both horses kicked out at me, although from a safe distance.  I use a whip with a bit of plastic bag tied to the end of it so I can compel them to move without making contact with the whip.  It is very effective.  

Both horses, on a number of occasions, tried to crowd the center where I was standing, but I just pointed the whip at them and they would fade away like it was a cattle prod.  I kept them both moving, changing directions periodically, for a total of ten minutes each.  Both horses were sweaty, but not lathered.  It will not take them long to become strong.  I will eventually get them up to twenty minutes and teach them to turn in the direction that I specify--that is toward me or away from me.  They both seem reasonably smart, so I think they will pick it up quickly.  The important lesson today was for me establish myself as higher in the herd then they.  Both horses joined with me when I was done.  For the rest of the day, both approached me for affection each time I passed by their pens.  It is funny how a short session in the round pen can completely change your relationship with a horse.  

I received a good report about Cal's training last night. The first sergeant rode him again, and he performed well and mostly without incident.  He didn't blow up at the tie up post or throw a tantrum like last week.  Cal is a long way from being ready for the show, but we have a good base to work with.  

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

New Guys on the Block

I finally moved Boone and Khyber out to the stables today.  They have been at the ZERF since they arrived in November.  Debbie did enough ground work with them in that time to make it possible to start the next phase of their training.  We had some trouble getting them in the trailer, but Debbie finally enticed them in with a flake of alfalfa.  Khyber went after the alfalfa in a few minutes, but Boone had to be encouraged with a tap of the whip.  

The rest of the herd was still out to pasture, so moving them into their new pens was uneventful.  By the afternoon, they had accustomed themselves to their surroundings enough so that I could begin their first session of learning the Army routine.  Neither of them is very good at lifting their feet, so we concentrated on that and, with a little coaxing, had a normal grooming session.  Oddly enough, they are no worse than Cal, whom I groomed at the post solo today.  

Boone and Khyber were fascinated by all the horses being brought in. They were curious about everything and everybody.  I think they will fit in well.  I'm looking forward to working with them and teaching them all the things an Army horse needs to do.    

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Horse Dental Work Day

The vet showed up today to work on teeth.  He managed to get eight horses done.  The biggest challenge was Blade, which I warned him about, but also Cal, Ruger, and Chili put up a good fight also.  The good thing is that most of the difficult patients are done and he can cruise with the remaining horses tomorrow. 

While the vet was working on teeth, I worked on repairing a couple of tie up posts that the horses had damaged.  The posts are old telephone poles that were buried in the ground years ago.  They are too low--about three to four feet high--and they are mostly rotten.  I had to get creative to get the ring bolts through the rotten logs, but managed to get the job done.  I then went around and tightened up the bolts on all the other posts.  I have put in two work orders to get the posts replaced, but can't even get a response to the request.  
One of the posts destroyed by Blade last summer.

I tried tying Cal up again with his battle buddy, Duke.  I left him unattended for about twenty minutes without incident.  I think I have broken the code on his panic problem.  However, I heard one of the troopers had trouble with him last night while tacking him up.  Cal reared up and then ran over and sat down in a sand pile.  He got up and was fine after, but unlike the panic attack he gets when left alone at the tie up post, I think this is just bratty behavior.  Working with Cal is going to be very interesting.  

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Horse Psychology

I mentioned yesterday that I would try tying up Cal next to another horse to see if he would remain calm instead of destroying his halter in an epic panic attack.  So, I tied Duke next to him today.  I hitched Cal to the post using a loop of bailing twine, so that if he did blow up, he wouldn't destroy anything valuable.  I then left him there to go muck out his stall.  He could not see me from where he was, so he was left pretty much alone except for Duke.  When I returned, he was still there happily waiting for me.  I will try this a few more times to determine if this was just a fluke.  If he continues to remain calm, I will try different horses and greater and greater distances between them to see if he can get used to being tied.  

I had a surprise visitor today while I was finishing up the horse shelter I am reconstructing.  The commanding general of the post showed up as he heard I was such an awesome guy and wanted to meet me.  Not really.  His sergeant major made him come down to see the deplorable condition of our horse facilities first hand.  We chatted a bit, he shook my hand, and then left.  You just never know who is going to show up down there.  It is ironic that I was in the process of rebuilding a shelter when he arrived.  

Debbie and I weighed all the horses today and were pleased to see that most of them had put on weight despite being out to pasture for almost three weeks.  Only one horse (Chili) lost any significant weight and he isn't showing any ribs.  Chili is old and has trouble with his teeth.  Fortunately, the vet will float teeth tomorrow, so hopefully we can make it easier for Chili to chew his food.  Unfortunately, Chili doesn't like anything getting poked in his mouth unless it is a carrot, so I expect a battle royal tomorrow.  

I received a call about another of our horses last night (Kidd) who had gone of his food, but didn't show any other signs of illness.  He was fine when I arrived this morning and had eaten most of his hay.  We give them bermuda hay when they are in the pens and many of the horses are not liking the winter, barn-stored hay. However, during the night when it is cold, most of them eat it anyway.  Hay digestion generates body heat, so most horses will eat it regardless of how finicky they are.   

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Exploding Horses

Cal, when he's not exploding.
I recently inherited Big Cal as a training project as he seems to have regressed in recent years.  He has always had a problem with jumping, but that is not a particular concern as he doesn't have to jump in ceremonies--in fact, we'd prefer he didn't.  However, he has developed a problem with setting back while tied up. 
I'm not really sure what has happened to him, but he seems to develop a panic attack while at the hitching post.  He starts out okay, but gradually becomes more and more nervous until he decides to pull back on the lead rope until something breaks and he can get free.  If we loose-tie him, he quickly recovers once he realizes he isn't tied, but you can't leave him unattended for any length of time as he will just wander off. 
Today, I tried to cross tie him between two poles to see if that would hold him.  It didn't.  He just put all his weight against one cross-tie strap until it gave out.  He fell backward and will probably turn up  lame tomorrow.  He ran off, but I enticed him back with a carrot.
I think the only answer is to not tie him, but not leave him unattended.  The rider will have to pre-stage all the grooming tools and tack so Cal isn't left alone for any length of time.  I will continue to work with him to see if there is some specific issue that causes him to panic and blow up at the post.  He doesn't seem to have the problem when tied up in the trailer or on the side of the trailer.  That may be because there are other horses there.  It may be a problem with being separated from other horses. 
I may try to tie him up next to another horse to see what he does.  Another horse mystery to solve.   

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Beginning a New Year

So far we have had a mild winter here in southeast Arizona.  The temperatures were in the mid 30s this morning, which was tolerable.  The sun didn't come up until about 0730, but since the stables are in the shadow of a ridge line, the whole valley was lit up with sunlight before the sun hit me while I was feeding the horses.  
The Wonder Horse helping me with one of the frame poles.  

After feeding the horses I went downtown to pick up some hardware for a pen renovation project I'm working on.  A bad storm had destroyed four of our horse shelters last summer, making the pens unusable, and restricting where I can put horses.  I decided to rebuild one of the shelters with materials I had on hand, but was running out of metal screws.  I need to get the shelter finished so I can bring in the new horses, Khyber and Boone, who are living at my house at the moment.  Unfortunately, I couldn't finish the project today as the wind kicked up and was blowing the sheet metal around as I was trying to screw it to the shelter frame.  
The rebuilt shelter frame.  
Instead, I spent the afternoon spreading manure.  I'm  making some progress in reducing the size of the manure pile, but it is so old that it is like an archaeological dig.  I may find some mastodon bones in there.  

We brought all the horses in from pasture tonight, even though it is Thursday and they will be going out again tomorrow for the weekend.  They have been out for two weeks and they were more than ready to come in.  My two, Blade and Duke, stood at the pasture gate and watched me the whole time I was spreading manure.  I bought them and the Wonder Beast in and they happily dove into their feeders.  There will be no leftover hay in the morning, I'm certain.