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.