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January 23, 2020

How We Hay (Net)

It's that dark, cold time of year where the hay burners practice their money hay burning best.  Now that I know exactly how much hay costs, I'm always looking for ways to stretch it out & hay nets can play a big role in that.

The tradeoff of course is that, as anyone who has ever used a hay net can tell you, hay nets can be devices of human torture, seemingly designed to cause the maximum amount of rage & failure when it comes to getting hay inside of said net.  When you finally achieve this, you are now faced with the contradictory goal of convincing the horse to remove the hay from its hard-won net as slowly as possible.

*pausing for a moment to wonder why we do this to ourselves*

After much rage practice over the years, here is what is currently working for us:

Horze Slow Feeder Hay Net

I'm amazed this thing is still alive!  I first wrote about it when it was sent to me to try here in 2014 (awww, my shed didn't even have walls yet!).  Initially, it seemed like the mesh might not hold up to regular use, but I was wrong.  While I have patched it a time or two with hay string, that bugger is still holding hay, even though it gets violently snatched at by a Baby Monster. 
Encore remains the champion of "doing it HIS way"
It has stayed out both of the last two winters.  Recently I have had to fix the hanging corners, as the  material finally dry-rotted from UV bombardment, but it was just the binding tape.  The  netting itself is still mostly functional.  The holes are definitely small enough to slow a horse down considerably.  This might be its last winter, but six years is pretty darn good, I think.  I would totally buy another one.
Technically still alive

SmartPak Slow Feed Hay Bag

Since Solo hates the Horze net (he says the holes are too small & it's way too effective), he monopolizes this one.  I have mixed feelings about it, but I think overall it has done decently.  I got the larger size & yes, it is very large. 

Pros:
  • Durable - material is heavy-duty, no sign of stitching fails or wear after a year
  • Holds a lot of hay -- flake size is variable, but you could easily fit 3 fat flakes in here
  • Easy to load - big opening holds itself open with two metal bands, well-covered in fabric so no poking
Cons:
  • There is velcro closure at the top.  Who combines hay & velcro?  The velcro is still holding, but I'm constantly picking hay out of it, it annoys me.
  • I doubt the single ring hanger would survive as sole support on its own.  Fortunately, some helpful person had posted an additional support idea in the reviews & I adapted that.  I used some old leg snap clips & wove a rope out of hay string to create a weight distribution system that has kept that ring from tearing out.
  • I wish it was wider rather than longer.  I would wish this even more if I was a short person, because you have to hang it high enough to keep it off the ground, but still need to reach it to load it.  And because the hanger is in the center, it swings like crazy.
SP net plus my engineered supports
The size I got (2") is also not really a slow feed -- Solo can clean it out relatively quickly, pulling fat chunks of hay out of the gaps.  I bought this bag with a coupon & while I would not pay full price for it (although it appears it's on sale right now), I appreciate that it hasn't disintegrated & it works for now.

I'm always on the lookout for better options, though.  Have you found a hay net you love that doesn't make you want to throw it in the woods?  Unless it's $100, at which point I don't care, I'm never buying it, ha. 

January 12, 2020

Fun With Balls: Equine Edition

Yeah, have fun with that title, google. I'm generally not one to spend money on a bunch of animal "toys."  I never saw a big need with my horses -- after all, they can play with each other.  However, recently, Echo has been particularly dedicated at chewing up everything that can't outrun him & Solo tires of being harrassed (as do I).

I have a $5 horse ball hanging on Echo's side of the shed, which is daisy-chained to an empty apple cider vinegar jug.  Those occasionally get chomped, as the jug does make a fun noise, which is an Echo prerequisite, but they don't keep a Baby Monster busy for long.  I needed a motivating puzzle for his over-active face.
Pic from 2018 - Ball & jug on a string
I decided to try the Shires Ball Feeder.  I liked that you can use your own bait in it & the angled sides meant I could put it out in my paddocks without it rolling down to the creek after the first nose shove.  Sadly, the blaze orange (which I wanted for visibility) was constantly on backorder so I went for purple & figure I can always paint it or orange-tape it later.

What I Thought Would Happen

Solo has never been food-motivated, my attempts to clicker train him long ago ended quickly when he shrugged & said, Give me the treat or don't, lady, whatever.  So I assumed he might give said ball a sniff & a bump or two, but since it wouldn't constantly pour treats, he probably wouldn't be that interested.  I was sure Echo, on the other hand, my problem-solver who no longer gets treats because he will devour your arm, would be all over this device.

What Actually Happened

I loaded it with a handful or two of the Manna Pro apple nuggets, which both horses like.  I kept a couple in my hand for "training."  When Solo approached it first & gave it a nudge, I dropped a treat under it for him to discover, explaining the concept.  Treats don't come out the hole as easily as you'd expect.

My treat-ambivalent Solo figured that thing out in about three minutes & set to work.  He systematically rolled it, then paused to survey the ground around & beneath it for tasty morsels.  If none came out, he started over.

Echo observed his Solo-boss with a noisy thing.  Then walked over to me & stuck his nose in my face, exclaiming, HAI MOM, UR HANDZ SMELL LIKE NOMS!!!!  GIVESZ!!  As you can see about 15 seconds into the video...


I tried to tempt him with ground treats but he could not be convinced that they were more interesting than me.  I think they both just revel in doing the opposite of whatever I think they should.

After a little while, I took the ball out because it was going to be bitterly cold that night & it's plastic.  I put it back out when I was at work a couple days later.  I came home to find said ball had fallen victim to Echo's plan to get the treats out HIS way.
Once again...this is why we can't have nice things
It was only a flesh wound, though.  Fortunately, Ball had escaped under the fence before an internal injuries occurred.  Ball was still functional, so I added a handful of the larger, heavier treats from our Secret Santa box, in addition to the apple nuggets still in there.  The smaller nuggets were expert at falling into the valley around the hole -- good for stretching out the entertainment, but I wanted Echo to enjoy some instant gratification so he would use Ball appropriately instead of gnawing it like an obsessive beaver.

It worked!  Yesterday, he put his nose to the task with enthusiasm & I could see him chewing periodically, then going back for more.  Solo, meanwhile, didn't even glance at the thing.
NOW you're doing it right
I guess they eventually ended up where I expected them to, heh.

Do your horses have any boredom busting toys they love?  Homemade ones count!    

December 29, 2019

So You Think You Want A Young Horse? Part 2

You can read Part 1 here.  Moving on to Part 2...

Be Honest About What You Are Capable Of

I think this is the most critical element to consider.  Bringing along a young horse can seem like it would be similar to riding an older horse, just "doing less."  That it would consist of just riding straight lines & big circles & going over smaller jumps.  After some period of time, you then increase the complexity of your requests & the horse will figure it out.  At least that's the vague idea I had in my head a long time ago.

It's not until you are in the trenches that you realize it's up to you to figure out how to explain to this giant creature that doesn't speak English, yet is still very capable of sharing its opinion of you (sometimes using distinctly obscene language), exactly how to arrange its body in response to your wiggling around on its back.  And because you are supposed to be captain of this voyage, if you can't explain things clearly enough, your equine crewmember will, at best, make his own navigation decisions, or at worst, stage a mutiny.
Solo believes in clear warnings of impending mutiny (2008)
This has been the biggest challenge for me:  knowing when to push & when to step back.  When to let it go & try again another day versus when to insist on a little more effort.  And this isn't a decision made just once in a ride.  Rather it's 10 or 50 moments throughout each ride where you have a split second to choose a fork in the road.  And I'll just go ahead & tell you:  you're going to make a forkin' mess sometimes. 

Which is why it's also important to try & stack the deck in your favour ahead of time.  When you buy the horse, look hardest at his brain & his nature & find the type most compatible with you.  Horses are forgiving creatures in general, but some are more patient about it then others.  I knew I was going to be working with this horse mostly on my own & I needed something kind & safe, that wasn't going to throw me on the ground if I offended him.

You also need to be brutally honest about your skillset.  I was 99% (hey, I'm a scientist, I'm not capable of stating anything at 100%) confident that I now had the tools, thanks to wonderful instructors, clinicians, countless hours of watching other trainers, reading, talking to so many of you out there, & my own experimentation, to safely bring along a good-natured young horse.  I was certain that I could train said horse to be a consistent & responsive riding partner not just for me, but others as well.  That is to say, I've already made a lot of dumb mistakes & learned the hard hard hard hard way. 
A very hard lesson in decision-making (2011)
This includes knowing multiple "roads to Rome," meaning that I have learned alternate ways to communicate the same concept, because different horses learn differently, just like humans.  It also includes having access to help:  I know there are still plenty of things I DON'T know & I consider one of my greater strengths to be recognizing when I'm out of my depth.  No one knows it all & it's only fair to you & the horse that you explore different perspectives when you hit a snag.  Because there will be plenty of snags.

You absolutely do not have to do it all yourself either!  I chose this partly because I wanted it & partly because, well, I can't afford the alternative (but it's important that the latter is NOT the primary decision driver).  A different road is to work closely with a trainer who is good with young horses (do make this qualifier a critical criteria in choosing said trainer).  If you are an adult amateur, I would say to you -- if you can't look yourself in the eye & know that you have a well-stocked training toolbox, PAY THAT TRAINER.  It doesn't make you a lesser person or say anything about you at all other than you are a rational adult who makes smart choices so you can be safe & happy!

You also get to decide how involved you want to be in that training.  Maybe you just want to hop on a finished horse on the other side, which is fine.  Maybe you want to take the opportunity to develop your own toolbox & have the trainer train you to train, which is also fine.  Maybe you want to be anywhere in the wide, wide middle area between those two options, which, guess what, is also totally fine! 
I learned SO MUCH about developing horses from lessons with David O.
The over-arching message, of course, is being honest with yourself.  The incentive to do so lies in the high stakes:  it's your time, your money (well, for those of us spending our own paychecks), your happiness, & most importantly, your safety & the safety & well-being of your horse.  You don't have to publish it online or tell anyone else your verdict, except the voices in your head.

Because one of the tenets of this blog has always been honesty, I will say this:  I don't regret my young horse, who was still a long 3-year-old when I bought him & is now 5.  I went in knowing I still had plenty to learn.  I was not wrong.  There have been many, many times of frustration, even a few tears.  There have been times where I said, "What was I thinking?"  There have even been some times where I was tired & I wanted to give up.  I have little doubt there will be more of all those times. 
Like when he slit his own throat & needed stitches in 2018
Two things have held me to my course.  One is fairly petty, but effective -- I told myself I would be so mad if I sold this horse, knowing the potential he has, & then saw someone being wildly successful with him just because they were a little more patient or persistent then me.  Hey, self-guilt sometimes works.

The second is what I really care about.  I know this horse is teaching me, & will continue to teach me, even more skills to add to my toolbox.  Because he is so different than Solo & Encore, I have to adapt to his needs.  For example, I've never dealt with a horse who is prone to curl up behind the bit, but I'll never learn how to unless I do it.

Bringing it back to the point that many of you probably already knew, but bears repeating nonetheless:  young horses are not for everyone.  Just like hot horses & draft horses & mini horses & foals & mares & geldings & every equine on the planet.  AND THAT'S OK.  Choosing the equine partner who is right for you involves its own brand of informed consent.  I hope this helps you go in with eyes open a little wider.     

December 23, 2019

So You Think You Want A Young Horse? Part 1

There are many tempting factors about bringing along a young horse:  training the way you want, the theory of having more years to play with it (at which horses laugh, but I digress already), building a partnership while horse brain is in a more malleable stage.

But, like everything else in the world, the reality is more complicated.  In the past two years, I have definitely learned that young horses are NOT for everyone.  I've talked a little before about my initial impressions of the young horse process.  And since life is short & horse ownership is already full of expensive & heartbreak, even with the best equine partners, it's important to be honest with yourself about what you want & what you are capable of.  This isn't easy for humans to do, but making the effort to be as objective as possible about these parameters - & sticking to them - will help you & your horse(s) find more success in your relationship.
They know what they want
Be Honest About What You Want

Do you want to have a predictable ride every time?  Does it bother you if you plan on doing X/Y/Z in your ride & that doesn't happen?  For the next month? 

If yes, then you are not going to enjoy a young horse.  Sure, he learned how to move laterally off both legs last time, but today he forgot that both legs mean forward.  Oh, & he also is obsessed with that one tree today because a rabbit flushed from its base last Tuesday so is it still hiding there?  During some transitions to get him refocused, he decides that he also has never heard of a half halt either.  So no, you aren't going to be fine-tuning laterals today.
I used my MSPaint skillz to illustrate one of our average rides
Are you threatened by "exuberant" horse behaviour?  Are you comfortable dealing with rebellion?

If these things sound like a nightmare to you, well, they are part of the young horse package most of the time.  News flash from Queen of the Obvious:  horses have opinions & moody days & teenage denial just like us.

Echo is friendly & kind & generally wants to be good.  He is also 5, which means that occasionally a couple mini-bucks simply can't be contained just because it's a beautiful day & he's been cooped up in his paddock for a few days (which is about 3/4 of an acre, apparently very small to him, LOL) & yay, cantering is super fun!  He doesn't have a malicious bone in his body, but he does sometimes test the boundary lines  (do we REALLY have to stand completely still while mounting? how about just putting hooves down when I feel like it? I will totally whoa...eventually...).
Opinions be happening
For him to become a 10 yr old horse with excellent manners, which helps secure a safe future for him no matter what happens to me, I have to be able to firmly but fairly redraw those lines often.  And at the same time, I need to give him positive outlets for that energy -- he has a big personality that I have no interest in smashing & joy is not a crime.  I don't want part of my training message to be "hey, quit being happy!"         

Are you open to flexible timelines?  Or preferably, no timelines at all? 

If not, well, you probably shouldn't have horses at all, haha, but you are not likely to enjoy a young one.  Individual horses mature at different rates, mentally & physically.  That's why some 5 yr olds can jump a course & some 5 yr olds are still working on ground poles.  Some find their balance sooner than others, some have growth spurts when they're 4 or 5 or 6 & have to figure out their body all over again.   And none of this is usually apparent in the first five minutes you meet a horse.

I'm sure some people thought I was crazy for not really doing canter work with Echo for a year, but I'm so glad I waited.  He just wasn't ready then.  Now he is strong enough & we've sorted out his body issues so that it's easy for him to hold a balanced rhythm.  I prefer to have 20 strides of a relaxed, balanced, cadenced canter than 100 strides of a flat, leaning, rushing canter & I think he learns more from that.
Nov 2019: Happy & easy
Some learn a task after a single success, some do better with many repetitions.  Sometimes they click right along in training, while other times they just need to take a break or to keep things low-key for a month or six & let their body catch up.  The most important thing is to recognize what that individual is ready for, because forcing the issue will always come back to bite you (or dump you) later.

Do you have the patience of a saint monk (combining them = double patience)?  Can you be aware of & separate your emotions from your riding?

I'm still working on this one, as we probably all are, but evaluate where you are on the spectrum.  Working with a young horse can be delicate process & while I don't want to risk instilling too much paranoia, we do need to stay cognizant that it is possible to do harm, not just physically, but mentally.  While this is true for all horses, there's a bigger risk (in my opinion) when you are trying to teach, when an emotionally intuitive creature is trying to learn.

This is not to say that a good trainer never gets mad, they just know when to walk away.  Sometimes you really are better to cut your losses & just quit (or not even start).  Come back another day - I haven't achieved anything if I just keep sticking to bad decisions & it's not a good experience for my horse.  I am continually trying to reduce the number of times that happens & if I can't stop it all together, at least recognize when I have done it & cut myself off immediately.

Impossible to stay mad at this anyways
It does require you to operate at a higher level of mental & emotional awareness & engagement in your interactions with your horse.  Not everyone wants that all the time.  I don't want that all the time.  That's when I take Solo out on the trail or have grooming days.

Stay tuned for Part 2 - being honest about your capabilities (including the option of very capable trainers)...because this got way way too long...

December 19, 2019

Blogger Gifts - Making Life Better

Tracy over at The Printable Pony once again organized a super-fun gift exchange.  Due to my break in blog activity, I had missed this event, as I hadn't gotten to enjoy it since 2014.

I eagerly collected my parcel from the mailbox & opened it up to find a delightful assortment of goodies to unwrap.
My delight continued as I disassembled tissue paper to find the goodies were super-goodie!  There's some delicious treats that Solo will enjoy & Echo will not, because Baby Monster has a menace for a mouth.  She included a great "travel-size" pack of Higher Standards leather soap, conditioner, & brush cleaner.  I haven't tried the conditioner or brush stuff before, so I'm looking forward to testing them out.

My favourite part was definitely the warm, fuzzy, lovely socks.  These are not just socks, these are NICE socks.  My perpetually-cold feet which also eat socks for brunch are extremely excited about these.  They are even blue!  (was referring to the socks, but this could also apply to my feet in winter).

THANK YOU, to draftmare for the great box, which made my week much better!  I will definitely enjoy every single thing in here & loved the adorable dog card too.

And thank you, of course, to Tracy, for organizing this (& somewhat funnily was the person I made gifts for).  I got a lot of happy out of making things for someone else & it's a great way to spread cheer among the blogger community & build connections among this great group.  Horse-blogging-world has given me many gifts over the years, including unexpected acts of generosity, listening to my many rambles, sharing advice, commiserating in frustration, & so much more -- & I remain grateful for all of it.

Wishing a safe & vet-free end-of-2019 to all of you!