Relative Something

*this* John W. Hays' take on things and experiences

Posts Tagged ‘horse behavior

Best Thing

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It was a farrier day on the ranch yesterday. That is when the horses get the 8-10 week growth of their hooves trimmed back. One of the best things about farrier day is that Cyndie always wants to serve treats to the farrier and the two folks from This Old Horse who show up to facilitate the process. That meant I took off my “horse wrangler” hat for a couple of hours in order to wear my “baker’s assistant” hat in the kitchen.

The aromas in Cyndie’s kitchen when she is baking cookies always beats the aromas wafting around down at the barn.

Imagine, if you will, the smell of the ginger biscuit cookies, mingling with the almond spritz, and the chai spritz cookies fresh out of the hot oven. Really, the cookies aren’t the best thing as much as the aroma of the cookies is the best thing. Anticipation usually beats out a real event when it comes to our perceptions.

The satisfying crunch and the explosion of sweet flavors certainly deserve plenty of votes for the best thing, but that aroma is tops. Maybe it’s because the delicious smells show up first and hang around longer than it takes to finish baking them.

I was able to receive a moment of satisfaction after putting my “horse wrangler” hat back on, upon successfully getting halters on all four horses before the crew showed up at the appointed hour. I started with Swings but ended up leaving her until last when she made it clear she wasn’t interested. The other three accepted their halters without hesitation, much to my relief. Swings required my patient persistence before she finally stayed still long enough for me to get a strap over her nose and another one over the back of her neck to slide through the buckle.

She just needs to flaunt her bad self several times until she can convey that she’s choosing to wear the halter on her terms, not ours. There’s probably a term for humans who behave that way but I hesitate to assign any such labels to our mares, especially since Swings is the oldest.

She’s probably earned the right to demand a little extra respect.

I could argue that the best thing about the day was that the farrier succeeded in hitting all 16 hooves within the hour she had available because it might be the first time one of the horses (can you say, Light?) didn’t pitch a fit and lose trimming privileges on one or more feet by the end of the session.

Granted, Light did end up receiving only rudimentary filing on her fronts, but none of the horses’ hooves required much more than that this time around so we are calling yesterday’s session a victory.

Plus, there are cookies left over for John and Cyndie to enjoy. That’s just the best, don’t you think?

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Written by johnwhays

January 11, 2023 at 7:00 am

Brutal Weather

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Have I mentioned how much I detest rain in winter? Yes. Yes, I have mentioned it. Yesterday, we got everything the weather forecast promised. Starting with a freezing drizzle that was barely perceptible, beyond the fact the handles of my tools were developing a slippery coating. That transitioned into plain old sleet which then magically turned into a brief spurt of rainfall. Just enough rain to make a mess of everything.

Might as well top that off with some heavy snow, eh? You know, that 1-2 inch-per-hour rate stuff. Luckily, we caught a break as the system spun and our region only received a short amount of that snow before we were graced with a few hours in the eye of the storm, void of any precipitation.

If you were a horse in this kind of weather, what would you do?

After a few days without blankets, I covered the horses back up on Monday while they were dry to give them some protection from the wetness that arrived yesterday. Now, just because they have blankets on, that is no reason to become heedless of the elements.

Apparently, the chestnuts, Light, and Mia, figured they would be protected beneath the bare branches of the dying willow tree in the small paddock.

I have no idea if they noticed it wasn’t doing much toward keeping them dry.

I don’t know what Mix was thinking.

So close. Maybe, once she got her head out of the falling ice/flakes/raindrops, she figured that was good enough.

If I were a horse, I hope I would choose the option Swings smartly relies upon for comfort and well-being.

Dry as can be, which is quite a feat in the kind of weather giving us the business yesterday. The kind of winter weather that conjures up the word brutal in my mind.

Plowing and shoveling was a bitch. It’s heart-attack snow. It’s hurt your back shoveling kind of snow. It is “slip while trying to shovel” conditions. It’s just. Plain. Brutal.

How many days till spring?

Not that I’m counting, or anything. When I was younger, winter was my favorite season.

When I was younger, it didn’t rain in the winter.

When I was younger, brutal just meant a LOT of snow, maybe a little drifting wind. Sometimes really cold. Since I wasn’t responsible for plowing or shoveling as a kid, winter storms were all fun with occasional cold wrists in the gap between my mittens and the sleeves of my snowsuit.

Getting old can be brutal.

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Written by johnwhays

January 4, 2023 at 7:00 am

Waste Not

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This is my reality: horses waste hay. Not only do I need to clean up their manure every day, but they dump a tragic amount of hay on the ground that I have to deal with, too. I think there is a grass in the mix that they don’t prefer and they eat around it to get bites of something more pleasing to their refined palettes.

I had just filled a hay net that Swings moseyed up to for some post-feed pan noshing yesterday morning. After passing by to deal with other housekeeping around the overhang, I caught sight of all these bites already on the ground.

Really? -_-

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The horses have split their time evenly between the nets and the slow-feeder boxes. They waste about the same amount when eating from either one. Sometimes I find the uneaten hay wadded up and nosed out of their way on top of the grate in the boxes and sometimes they pull it all out and drop it on the ground.

When I showed up to serve the last feeding in the afternoon, this is how it looked:

To maintain my signature pristine accommodations under the overhang, I have taken to raking up all the wasted hay each day and piling it to the side just beyond the overhang.

Here’s the part that gets me: the horses then rummage through those piles (mixed with mud and random bits of manure that get raked up with it) and eat from there. Maybe they are pulling out stray bits of good hay that were accidentally mixed in with the bites they dropped to the ground.

I also notice they like to stand on the piles of hay, I presume for the combination of insulation from the cold ground and the bit of cushion from the surface of packed, frozen sand. It just adds incentive for me to continue clearing it out of my way from under the overhang and letting them have at it in piles on the side.

Since we don’t ration their hay, they almost always have more than enough. Occasionally, I’ll notice they power through a net-full or a bale in the boxes with little to no waste. I think it depends on how cold they are. My take on that is they are showing me the waste is a function of them simply being picky.

I could be wrong. Different bales could come from different parts of a field that provide a mixture of grasses more or less to their liking.

Still, how do you think it makes me feel when they choose to throw their food all over the ground? Waste not, want not.

I run a nice place here. First-rate service. Show some respect, will ya, horses?

Geesh.

Don’t get me started about my beef with them dropping manure all over the place in the dining area. It’s like these beasts were born in a barn or something.

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Written by johnwhays

January 3, 2023 at 7:00 am

Blown Leaves

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While large areas of the country are suffering the brunt of the blizzard, as of last night, the most brutal winds were not impacting our region. That doesn’t mean it was completely calm here. Yesterday, snow was drifting across our road and small branches were coming down out of the trees. Our winds were stripping the brown leaves out of the oak trees and scattering them over the snow.

But it wasn’t a hurricane-force wind battering our trees.

The horses stayed close to the protection of the overhang all day and seemed to be tolerating the extreme cold with relative ease which made my work a little easier during feeding times. It’s all business when they are seeking fuel for their furnaces and there are fewer shenanigans and less bullying when eating is the priority and there is food in front of each of their noses.

I have been granted a break from feeding duty tonight as we will be traveling to Cyndie’s mom’s place for her family’s Christmas Eve dinner and our handler, Johanne, will be coming to check on Mia and will be able to serve the horses their evening meal.

Here’s hoping the drifts will be plowed all the way to our destination.

I need to figure out if I remember how to visit with people again after months of horses being my primary companions.

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Written by johnwhays

December 24, 2022 at 7:00 am

Food Issues

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How strange it is to have our Belgian Tervuren Shepherd becoming finicky about eating. In our attempts to treat her for what was becoming chronic vomiting, she seems to have lost trust that we are offering nutrition in good faith. We tried hiding her two prescription pills in every possible enticing morsel. She ate the first one or two and ever after has successfully separated the pills from whatever we hid them in.

Now Delilah is refusing the prescribed diet offerings and even turning away from servings of her regular food. The only thing she still gladly chomps are kitty treats left over from our days with Pequenita.

Maybe she misses her kitty sister.

Honestly, I think Delilah won’t get back to normal until Cyndie is back to normal, too.

This morning I heard Cyndie report to someone over the phone that she was off the prescription pain meds, so she is continuing to make good progress. The biggest burden she is struggling with is not that her ankle surgery is only one week old, but the fact that Delilah is not doing well.

I continue refining my technique for serving the horses their three feed sessions. Since half of them are supposed to receive larger portions, I can’t just leave them on their own or the bolder ones will move in and push away the two who should get the larger servings.

When I am successful in splitting them into groups by serving size, I can care less about who is stealing whose portion.

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Light is notorious for wanting to get in Swings’ space, yet Swings is the primarily dominant mare of the herd. Why Swings tolerates the intrusions from Light is beyond me. Is Swings peacefully sharing or is Light perniciously seeking control?

I don’t know, but it doesn’t matter to me since they both receive the same serving size. They both eat together until the servings are gone, so neither is getting short-changed.

Now if Delilah would resume eating until her servings are fully consumed and keep them down long enough to digest them fully, that would be great.

I need to go feed Cyndie. She seems to be having no problems eating food.

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Written by johnwhays

November 19, 2022 at 11:38 am

Who’s Boss

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These days I’m on my own in tending to the horses and we have added a third feeding at mid-day to their routine. As a result, I am singularly tasked with managing two different serving sizes among the four horses. The general routine we have tried to maintain has involved closing the upper gates temporarily to break them into pairings of Light and Mia on the left and Swings and Mix on the right.

Oftentimes, they arrange themselves perfectly after they see us coming, but not always. Although, even if they start in the desired positions, it is pretty common for at least one of them to decide they need to go check on the other pan on their side, just in case it tastes better.

Or something like that. It would not be beyond them to also be flaunting a little dominance when they are feeling it.

The last couple of days I have taken to showing the interlopers that I am the boss of all of them. For example, Mix eats slower and gets served a larger portion than Swings. When Swings decides it’s time to saunter over and nudge Mix off her pan, I have been taking the pan away from Swings and serving it back to Mix, holding it while she tries to finish.

There can be one or two more maneuvers that transpire but it seemed to me yesterday that Swings was starting to recognize my intent and accept it without protest.

When circumstance has allowed, I have also experimented with changing who gets paired or switching to three horses on one side and one horse on the other. Since Mix and Mia both get the same-sized portion of feed, I like having them together on one side. Then I don’t have to care if any of the four try to switch.

We grant these horses so much autonomy that it is refreshing to occasionally brandish my authority with enough clarity that they have no reasons to doubt who the boss is when Cyndie and/or I show up.

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For The Record: Lest there be any confusion resulting from the fact our home is located in Wisconsin, *this* John W. Hays is now and always has been a Minnesota Vikings guy. Sometimes I have been inclined to whisper that fact instead of showing it off proudly. After a performance like the one yesterday against NFL’s second-ranked Buffalo Bills, where the Vikings came from behind and then survived an overtime battle culminating in an endzone interception to win 33–30, I just wanted to make sure nobody was mistaking me for a Green Bay Packer backer. Especially since I couldn’t bear to watch the last drive in overtime by Buffalo and took Delilah for a walk and fed the horses.

[silly grin]

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Written by johnwhays

November 14, 2022 at 7:00 am

Added Steps

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This morning’s frost was cold enough to create a cover of ice over the horse’s waterer, affirming our suspicion the automatic heaters are no longer up to the task they performed so well in the early years. We have hopes of remedying that before the daytime temperatures no longer climb above freezing this fall.

There was enough frost on the grass this morning that I “skated” along after we popped out of the woods on our way to feed the horses.

At first, we worried that Mix might be suffering some medical issue because her behavior of pawing the ground, snorting, rising up, chasing after others, and kicking seemed to indicate she was in pain. When she settled down enough for feed pans to be served, calm chewing replaced the wild behavior.

I suggested to Cyndie that Mix might have just been trying to rev up her engine in response to the cold morning. While they were all eating, the sun cleared the horizon and instantly began to warm surfaces. The horses all stand sideways to the warming beam, soaking it up as they gobble up their feed.

My projects yesterday included the addition of steps on a path from the driveway that had gotten even steeper than it already was before the resurfacing increased the height of the pavement. Over the last week, we’ve collected a spare wood beam and some rocks for the task.

There weren’t a lot of fill options handy so I attempted to sculpt something minimal and then scrounged the surrounding area for shovel-able dirt.

What I found was so fine it couldn’t be called sand. It was more like dust. On the edge of the woods, a tree had tipped years ago and this was the “soil” around the root bundle that looked solid enough until I dug into it with a shovel.

After that proved marginal for my purposes, I gave up on finding something close and headed down to the small paddock where I needed to re-dig a drainage channel that hoof traffic had obliterated over time. That was a long way to push a heavy wheelbarrow so I chose to finish with a lighter (and closer) load of composted manure.

I’ve got two rocks yet to place but the new steps leading past Cyndie’s strawberry patch have met with her approval thus far. We’ve walked that slope for years without steps so having just a few added breaks to the slant seems like a significant improvement.

We’ll have to see what a few freeze/thaw cycles, some heavy rain, and just passing time will do to the stability of the improvised effort.

I hope it holds because we are both pleased with the rustic look that my crude attempt has produced.

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Written by johnwhays

October 8, 2022 at 10:16 am

Switching Sides

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When we go away for a weekend and have somebody else take care of the horses, we close gates to isolate the four horses into two groups of two. It makes things a little simpler at feeding time if each of the four can’t move around and switch feed pans with all of the others. They don’t always do that with us but the fact they suddenly do it one day without warning is part of what makes it a little less safe for an inexperienced handler.

When I got home yesterday afternoon, I opened up all the gates again and granted them free rein. It is interesting to watch how the two pairs quickly take advantage of the new access to the “other side.” They didn’t rush to take advantage of the ability to connect with each other without a fence between them. The first order of business was to walk over to each other’s paddock and breath the air there. In case it was any different.

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Light had stepped out of frame by the time I snapped the shot on the right showing Mia grazing in the larger paddock. On the left, Mix and Swings wanted to be by the willow tree they haven’t had access to for a few days.

When I showed up with feed pans later, they duly took up their regular positions: Light and Mia on the left, Swings and Mix on the right.

Horses, dog, and cat all seemed happy, healthy, and glad to see me. Our sitter, Grace, takes good care of them. We are so lucky to have her covering for us when we want to get away.

Yes, for when we want to “switch sides” between home and the lake!

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Written by johnwhays

August 16, 2022 at 6:00 am

Heartwarming Moment

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One of my favorite scenes to watch is when the four horses choose to make their way together out of the paddocks and into one of their two fields. The herd sauntered out into the hay field yesterday morning after they had finished their rations of feed and the scene warmed my heart.

We don’t know why they spend most of their days standing in the dusty gravel under the barn overhang, stomping flies off their legs and periodically munching on old, dry hay. That’s where we usually see them, which makes the times we spot them out on the grass more thrilling.

From the manure drops showing up in the fields, we know they must be doing some wandering at night so at least they are taking advantage of the open gates we provide. I really like that we can give them full autonomy most of the time. Just because they don’t move when I think they should doesn’t mean they aren’t fully satisfied with their accommodations.

The opinion of the vet who reviewed pictures of Mia’s wound is that it is not a problem and looks to be making progress in healing. That’s welcome news. One of the handlers from This Old Horse stopped by with a salve to apply around the outside of the sore to keep flies away.

It is very reassuring to have the rescue organization supporting the well-being of the horses. Relieves some of the pressure of being responsible for large animals which allows us to focus more of our attention on simply loving them up and giving them a good home.

It warms our hearts that we’ve been granted the opportunity to do that.

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Written by johnwhays

August 3, 2022 at 6:00 am

Being Horses

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This morning I am feeling overwhelming awe over my opportunity to live in such a beautiful place and care for these four rescued thoroughbred mares. In a conscious effort to compartmentalize all the ills and angst-inducing news roiling our planet, I am focusing on the peace and tranquility of my immediate surroundings and soaking up the soul-nourishing thrill of it all.

Being home alone with our animals brings on plenty of opportunities for contemplation. Half of me is thinking about which of our unending projects I can tend to on my own –chainsaw use is not allowed when I am alone– and half is wallowing in the bliss of all the pleasantries of solitude.

Partial solitude, that is. Delilah frequently reminds me that I am not totally alone. She also influences which projects I choose to tackle and when because some tasks don’t lend themselves well to having a leashed dog along. I am extremely grateful for her patient tolerance of my extended lingering this morning after tending to the horses.

The completion of the morning routine at the barn is regularly the trigger for returning to the house to feed Delilah breakfast. That she would accept any delay in being fed is absolute generosity on her part.

While the horses were calmly consuming their morning feed servings today, I quietly made my way down to open the gates to the freshly cut hay field. I was dumping a wheelbarrow of manure onto the most active compost pile when the horses took advantage of the renewed opportunity to roam the front field. They were just making their way over the hill and out of sight when I returned to the barn.

Curious about what was drawing them to immediately head to the farthest reaches of the field, I convinced Delilah to walk away from the house toward the high spot in the driveway to see what the horses were doing down by the road.

They were munching on the grass along the fence line as if in a gesture to demonstrate that they could. It was as far from the barn as their confines allow. With Delilah’s generous patience providing me ample opportunity, I just stood and watched our herd of four gorgeous horses being horses. Mix turned first and began to make her way back up the rise in the big field.

She stood at the top for a moment and looked absolutely regal, then moved into a happy trot down to the gate into the paddocks. The other three walked along behind. They appeared to be reveling in the regained access to the full reaches of their current home.

It is such a rewarding honor to be able to give them as much autonomy as possible throughout each day.

Their happiness is contagious.

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Written by johnwhays

July 3, 2022 at 10:21 am