Friday, March 13, 2009

Horse Sense (Bridget)

Just after we had made the deal for the farm, we were there while the previous owner was moving out. In the pasture were two quarter horses. He inquired if we would like to buy them. Well, romantic notions about horses from when I was a kid ran through my head. Have always loved them but really know nothing about them. Asked if they could be ridden "oh yes and the mare is bred". So, on an impulse I bought Gracie a beautiful grey roan quarter horse. My education was about to begin.

First thing we discovered about Gracie was that she did not like to be caught. Oh no, the clever equine was not to be fooled by buckets of grain, bribes of apples or carrots, not Gracie! Then the limp started. So we drove her into the corral and had a local vet come out who thought she had a soft tissue injury. Being concerned about being kicked, he only examined her from a distance (obviously not a horse vet). He prescribed some anti-inflammatory medicine and went away...quickly. Her leg got better and we set about trying to tame her a bit. Jen eventually developed a strategy to walk her down and she allowed us to halter her. Then the limp returned with a vengeance. We had another vet come out who had the wisdom to sedate her and x ray the leg. He discovered she had an old injury that had been aggravated and the vet advised against ever riding her.

So Gracie began her life of leisure. Lesson one was learned. Do not buy a horse that hasn’t been examined by someone who knows something about horses. Then lesson two started. Seems that mares need to be fed something other than fescue to insure a healthy foal. Guess what mostly grows in those pastures out there? Fescue! So Gracie and a companion horse Gypsy were put in the paddock and given a lovely diet of hastily ordered brome hay and mare and foal food. She was also given all the shots she needed. At this point she got a new last name: Gracie Money pit.

The previous owners had told us the foal would be born in April or May of 2008. We began researching foaling. Lesson two now emerged. Foaling could be a very tricky thing and dedicated horse people actually stable their horses and sleep out there to assist in case of trouble. Oh boy we thought we were really in trouble now. Gracie was in no way going to let us assist at anything.

So foal watch began with trepidation. April passed...May passed...then June passed. We now had been feeding her gourmet food for about 6 months. The morning I was to begin a Colorado vacation Gracie had her foal! She did it by herself with no fanfare and turned out to be a terrific mother. A filly we named Breeze was born July 6th. And she was such a pretty little thing. We were able to do some touching and holding but Gracie was none too pleased –blocking our efforts much of the time.

Well, time passed and Breeze turned six months old and it was past time for her shots and we hadn’t gotten a halter on her yet. Gracie defeats every effort we try and make to do so. We decided it was time to separate them. We put Breeze in the corral adjoining the barn and with the help of our friends Bobby and Wendy, encouraged Breeze into a stall. She didn’t like our touching her face so we weren’t optimistic. Bobby arrived with all kinds of ropes and my heart rate went up. Why hadn’t we done this before she weighed 300 lbs? So Jennifer, Wendy and Bobby sent me on an errand (they think I don’t know it was to get me out of there but I was not born yesterday you know!) I hear some kicking from the stall and shouts to me not to worry. When I arrived back in the stall she was standing quietly with a halter on. Hmmm.

Thankfully she learned very quickly to avoid stepping on the lead rope attached to teach her not to pull against it. The next week with a copy of a book on horse training, a bucket of feed we began teaching her to lead. And she did wonderfully! She has now learned to back, whoa and go forward, quite quickly actually. Initially she balked a bit but responded to the taps behind her or on her back. She has even learned to ignore her mom’s whinnies in the next pasture when we are working with her. Well placed rewards from the bucket of grain are working miracles. She now loves to have her ears scratched and her face rubbed and her father’s calmer disposition is showing itself. Her mother is very skittish and we were concerned she was picking up on this behavior but the separation has helped. She now lets us pick up all her hooves and use the hoof pick on her and leads very nicely. .

The vet came out and she stood quietly while he gave her inoculations. It truly looked like a scene from “All Creatures Great and Small.” Breeze was standing quietly, the two Pyrenees wandered around waiting for their turns. Meanwhile the wethers and rams were eagerly checking out the vets equipment hoping for some grain. Gypsy the three year old mare also stood quietly by. We had put her in with Breeze while she was being weaned and was a much more positive influence than her mother being a very calm mare. Next came the worming. Again I was nervous. We had given it before in her grain but this time we needed to use the paste. But with some good advice from Bobby I stuck my finger in her mouth with some molasses which she loved and we followed that with the wormer. Again, all went well. With praise from the vet we patted ourselves on our backs.

At nine months Breeze remains very friendly and responsive. She loves to be brushed and have her hooves cleaned. She is best buddies with one of rams that she is pastured with and has learned to ignore all when the Border collies are herding the wethers and rams. When cleaning the corral I can always count on some supervision from Breeze. Our lessons will continue I am sure but the most current one is that with advice, perseverance and dumb luck even the most naïve city woman can learn!

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