Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Welcome Home

Wednesday December 30 2009

An inch of snow greets me the morning I have returned to Owyhee. The cold caresses my ears and toes.

The melodious Owyhee desert silence envelops me like a familiar worn blanket.

A herd of happy Owyhee horses welcomes me when I walk outside. They all drop what they are doing (eating) to come up and greet me. (Well... all except for Dudley and Stormy, the fattest ones, who know I will come up to them!)

I run my fingers through long horse coats, scratch uplifted necks, get Owyhee dirt back under my fingernails.

Jose looks me in the eye. He shoves me repeatedly with his nose, chiding me for being gone. I bury my head in his mane. He smells sweetly of sagebrush and Horse.

The baby has me rub her eye. Finneas bows for me. Kazam gets hugs. Huckleberry hangs out beside me for a while. Stormy searches my pockets for carrots. They really do miss me.

Nothing better than a heartfelt welcome home when you've been gone.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Rushcreek Playboy

Tuesday December 22 2009

He had no personality when he arrived here in Owyhee from the Rushcreek Ranch in Nebraska 3 years ago. He didn't know what a carrot was. He didn't know what a pat or a hug was.

Rushcreek Mac was a working horse.

His life changed when he met Jose.

Now he scarfs carrots, seeks human attention, shares his toys, and plays with a vengeance.

Apparently Mac and Jose received a Christmas box from the UPS man. I don't know what was in it, but they sure had fun with the outer part.

Sticks are great too.

Jose is coming to get him!

Mac's not having any of it!

Revenge: Mac tries to get Jose while he's rolling!

Jose escapes!


Biting Jose in the butt.






Maybe Steph should change his name from Rushcreek Mac to Rushcreek Playboy.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Failure to Communicate

Sunday December 20 2009

Nothing like a healthy dose of failure to 1) spur you on to greater determination or 2) just make you give up. I don't know yet which I will choose.

You know right away if something ISN'T working with a horse, but you just don't know if something IS going to work with a mental case until it works. And how much work have you undone by doing the wrong thing?

After saying Kazam's training was progressing so well - he's Insecure going out by himself - he's made a definite reversal to the Dark Side. And I just don't know what to do for him.

We'd been going along so well by ourselves. He was finally going out fairly willingly; he progressed through his rides calmly, (on the best days, walked, trotted, cantered on a loose rein); he saw antelope and deer and dogs and didn't panic; he no longer jigged home but had a nice strong calm energetic walk or trot.

Then, I thought as a reward, I'd take him out with Carol and Suz. If you recall, these were the two that dumped us when I broke my rib.

So what happens on this day? Out on the northwest bluffs we see horses. Oh boy! Not cows, not antelope, not deer, but horses - WILD HORSES! (They were ranch horses turned out for the winter.) They were the next bluff over, and they started to move, then run, out of sight down a wash.

That did it. Both horses got wound up and a bit frantic, and it took us some work to get their minds back. We worked them up and down washes and hills, and finally we got some sense of halfway decent behavior back.

After that - it was back to going out alone on Kazam. But he's never recovered mentally.

His anxiety symptoms returned: reluctant to go out, jumpy, insecure, not relaxed, wanting to jig on the way home. Didn't matter if it was a short ride or long ride, it was the same.

Today I almost thought he'd gotten over the hump again. He went out willingly, was relaxed - so relaxed we walked, trotted, cantered, worked on transitions. At times he was moving off my legs and weight alone, no reins.

And then just before we turned for home: cows. Normally he isn't worried by cows, but these were... COWS. ON THE WAY HOME. He became a blubbering ball of nerves. Anxious, overwrought, jigging, bouncing, chomping on the bit. He still listened, but he was frazzled. If I let him trot, he'd listen less and he want to take off.

Now jigging isn't always bad - like happy jigging; sometimes it's just annoying - like mad jigging. (Zayante, Jackie Bumgardner's endurance horse, could stay mad and jig for 45 miles, when he thought he was going too slow). There's a big difference between happy and mad jigging - where the horse still uses his brain, and anxious jigging - where the horse's brain has left the building.

So I did what I often do in that situation, which always works - I turned off the path for home (I can't always do this, but I was lucky here) and worked his fat butt up a steep sandy wash, and up a steeper hill. This time it didn't really help. Now he was out of breath and anxious, always wanting to turn sharply back towards home.

So I took him further out. Down into another wash, and back up a steep hill. It helped a little bit, but he kept wanting to beeline it towards home. I could have kept turning him away, and going further and further out... but eventually I still have to turn towards home. I wasn't dressed to ride to Arizona today. And at some point of anxiety, you're not going to get a horse over it.

I tried working him around the sagebrush in patterns, getting him to watch his feet and think, and while he did listen, and do what I asked, he was constantly fretting about it. And at some point you realize that what you are doing is not working, and you are not helping the horse.

So we just stopped. He was able to stand there - anxiously, but he stood. We stood a while. We stood long enough for me to think about about just giving up - unsaddling him and turning him loose there. See ya Kazam! Well, not that, but, what was best for him at this point? Getting off and leading him home? No. Taking him further out? No. Working him to get his attention more here? No. It was time to stop for the day.

I headed him back home yet a different way. We had to work hard on not jigging, and he TRIED not to - but it was difficult. But if you fight them too much over it, you're doing worse than if you let them jig/run home. Sometimes you walk a fine line.

Instead of letting him go straight home, I turned him in at the neighbors, and left him tied up there. I thought I'd leave him there a while. Like maybe till next April. You think Carol and Rick would notice an extra fat orange handsome horse eating their hay?

That did no good. He was just as anxious; spent half an hour whinnying and pawing and pacing around while tied up. (This summer we tried putting Kazam with Finneas and Dudley on the upper 200, and Kazam ran and ran and ran and ran the fence, until he finally jumped it. Twice. So he could have kept this up for weeks.)

One trainer I know says, "If something's not working, try something else."

What I'm doing is not working. The problem is trying to figure out what WILL work. Every horse is different. I've ridden many green horses and I've worked with a lot of mental cases. Obviously I have not worked with enough of them! Every horse is different. The same solution that worked on one horse may not work with the next one.

So, think Merri. What does Kazam need?

These are his good points. He's good, attentive and smart with groundwork. When he's calm and listening under saddle, he's very light. He's not really spooky, and when he does encounter something questionable out on the trail, (like a horse-eating cow pie) he might side step it but he doesn't freak out. He's stopped bolting - now if something scares him from behind, he just scoots a step or two then stops himself.

What is his main problem? Getting anxious and losing his brain. When does the problem start? It starts when he's at a certain point on the way home. It's a different spot each time (we always vary our trails) and different distance from home, and it doesn't seem to matter if I've done a long ride or a short ride; it's always somewhere on the way home. He has to get home.

Should I just give up and just start riding him in company? (Would that even help him relax? Or will it make him bad all over again about going out alone? I don't want to have to start that over again. And what good is a horse that is going to panic with you if he suddenly realizes he is by himself?)

Clinton Anderson says, "Make the wrong thing hard, and the right thing easy."

What's the wrong thing Kazam is doing? He's wanting to get home too fast, getting anxious, losing his brain. What's the right thing Kazam should do? Walk or trot back home calmly, the same speed he went out unless I ask him to change it, and keep a hold of his brain.

What might make him not want to get home too fast? Making home not so attractive. So, what if I make home a place where he isn't so anxious to get back to?

What if I work his butt hard as soon as he gets home, make him do work he'd rather not do, so that he might not want to rush home, and he might think being out on the trail is rather much nicer? Work him in the round pen (really, it's hard to tire an Arabian, but you can at least make them get some more exercise, work on communication) till he really doesn't want to do that anymore. Then tie him up to the hitching rail and leave him for an hour. That doesn't sound like fun to me.

That's what I did today after I brought him back home from the neighbor's house. I took him straight to the round pen and worked him a half hour, then left him tied up to the hitching rail another half hour.

I sat here pounding out my frustration on the computer as I watched him outside the window, standing tied to the rail. He stood there, looking around for me, looking at the herd he'd rather be out eating with, but he was quiet.

Should I just give up?

I don't know the right answer.

But I won't quit just yet. Tomorrow I'm taking him out on a little loop. When we get back to the house, I'm going to work him hard - in the round pen, along fences, moving his front end, back end, whatever I can think of. Not long, but hard. No rest, no fun here at home. Then I'm getting right back on him and taking him out on another little loop. Get back and put him right back to serious work. Maybe I'll take him back out again and work him again when he gets back. Then I'll tie him up for an hour.

I don't know if that will help, or if it will make things worse.

Nothing like ending the day feeling like a failure.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

New Kids on the Block

Saturday December 19 2009

We may be getting some new neighbors on the crick.

There's a young couple that has been cruising around here, checking out the empty places to live. I haven't seen them up close - they prefer to keep to themselves - but they look like they'll fit in with us very well, blending into the Owyhee woodwork of somewhat reclusive animals and humans just fine. They will be most welcome.

They're checking out the opportunities for starting a family - weather, location, education opportunities, food, privacy. I think I know which place they've narrowed it down to.

One of them flew down Pickett Creek this morning - right outside my window - in the heavy fog, gliding just above the treetops to find his way. I've seen the pair of golden eagles a few times perched by one particular nest that was empty last year, and used by red-tailed hawks the year before that. I've twice seen one of them hunting down a nearby draw; and a half-mile from from the nest, I've seen one or two perched on a pointed hill, where they have a long-distance view of this particular nest. Bird biologist Karen S and I rode along those hills a few weeks ago on horseback, and spotted both of them flying high above the same draw (I ALWAYS see eagles when Karen comes here to ride!) A few days later I was on an ATV up there and was aghast when I startled both of them near that hill - I haven't been up there since, and certainly not on an ATV. (Unfortunately, it looks like these trails are now being marked for ATVs.)

I hadn't seen them for over a week, and had almost given up on them, until I saw the one fly by this morning, and saw one perched on that pointed hill a half-mile from the nest this evening.

Golden eagles are birds of open country, and we have plenty of that here. Their favored diet is jackrabbits - of which we have an abundance in the desert sagebrush.

The birds, protected since 1962 under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, prefer cliff nests - and there are plenty golden eagle territories in the numerous cliffs in Owyhee county, particularly along the Snake River - but will also nest in trees. They usually have a couple of nests in their territory and will rotate between nests each year. The nests will be added to with sticks and fresh "greens", so each year it's used, a nest will get bigger. They can be as large as 6' in diameter and 5 high. They'll use aromatic leaves to deter insect pests.

The nest on the creek at which I've seen them at the most is in a strong spot in a cottonwood tree - supported by at least 3 trunk branches - and it will be well hidden once the leaves return. Unless you know the nest is there, you won't see it. That will be good, because they like their privacy.

We Owyhee'ns will be most honored if these golden eagles choose to nest on our creek in the spring.

(There's one eagle on the left, and another on the right, just above the nest.)

Friday, December 18, 2009

Hits the Spot

Friday December 18 2009

I enjoy a good cup of coffee in the evening as the sun drops toward the snow-covered Owyhee mountains.

For the horses, there's nothing better than a good roll in the softest spot in Owyhee.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Bold and the Beautiful

Wednesday December 16 2009

He's a thing of beauty, that Jose.

His bold sense of play, humor, and joy de vivre really needs no words.