It rained Friday night. Here in California, we are into our fourth year of drought, so any rain is welcome. The nearly one inch of rain won’t go very far to impact the drought, but it means the plants won’t need watering. It also set the stage for a perfect Spring weekend.
Drought is a rather scary thing for anyone with horses. Hay prices will inevitably go up, as we compete with dairies and the lure of high prices from China and Japan. We’re already paying far more for hay than most other states – in spite of a high level of production. Those living outside of our state are quick with their advice. There is a huge voice out there telling us to stop wasting water on agriculture – with little understanding of just how that would affect their lives. California remains the largest producer of food products for this country. Animal agriculture is also a target, with even one person from Ireland telling me that perhaps we just shouldn’t have horses in California. It’s so easy to come up with answers to something you are not living, and that require no sacrifice on your part.
However, this weekend was so lovely that I could not help but enjoy living in the moment! Saturday brought a visit from the farrier (horseshoer). Our current farrier is a delightful young man, who is very patient with our horses. My current little herd are not the best behaved for the farrier. For most of my horse-keeping life, my horses have been model subjects for their regular trimming and shoeing – something of which I was always proud. But this bunch all have their issues, and I feel bad for Trevor that they are not more cooperative. We have tried to work with them, but it is difficult to replicate the time and effort of the farrier; so, the farrier has to participate in the process. Unfortunately, that also means the wrong farrier can lead to reinforcing the wrong behaviors – which is what we had for a few years.
This time around, I discovered a secret that I will probably utilize from now on. We started with Tally. Poor girl is just coming out of an abscess that resulted from the hole in her hoof. With her tiny legs and bulky body, she’s not terribly comfortable with her foot held up for long. Adding an abscess to that, and she can be difficult indeed! Because of the extenuating circumstance, I decided to take a page from my veterinarian’s book – whenever she’s treating a horse, particularly a difficult one, she just puts food in front of it. She has treated some of the most incorrigible with ease, using this method. So, I grabbed a garden cart full of hay and placed it in front of the “princess”. Magic! I’ll not say that she was perfect, but she was so good that Trevor was able to put the time into her hind feet that he never could before.
That worked so well, why not try it with the rest of the herd? And thus each horse had a buffet while getting their pedicures. I’ll be darned if it didn’t make each one that much easier! Now, there are the hard core out there who will say that the horse should behave without “bribery”. But this isn’t the sort of behavior that I need to replicate in many different situations. It’s typically in my barn, on a regular schedule. So, why not make it as pleasant for all involved as possible?
The rest of this lovely weekend was spent catching up on horse time. With Tally still recovering from the abscess, we did some free-form play. She would come over for some “follow the leader” and “Simon says” … then she’d gallop off for a little solo play … then back again. She can now stop at a distance, back on command (vocal or gesture) and even some liberty lateral work. With some scratches and carrots thrown in, it was fun and relaxing for both of us.
Nash was feeling full of piss and vinegar this weekend. He, too, has been just a tiny bit off, on tight left turns – so we’ve been keeping it to turnout and walks. But this trim uncovered the culprit – the track of a very small abscess. With it now open and cleaned out, he was feeling fit and silly! Saturday I also played with him. Watching the twenty-one year old sailing around in a tremendous extended trot was a pleasure! He was having a ball … and when he was done, he strolled up for his carrot. Sunday we lunged trot poles … in between bouts of playful bucking! Clearly he’s ready to go back to work … just don’t tell him that.
Coffee was very clear that work was not on his agenda! As my mother lead him out of his stall, and turned toward the cross-ties, he came to a dead halt and turned his head toward the grazing out front. Sorry Coffee, that comes later! He was also full of energy this weekend – and he is moving better than ever! As I watch him sail around in a lovely free-swinging trot, it’s hard to remember the shuffling, foot-sore boy that I brought down from Oregon. It has been two slow years, but watching him now I think it was time very well invested! Rest assured, when he was done he got the grazing he craved!
Noble was the icing on the cake. I spent some time on groundwork, and he was a model student. Moving as I moved – fast, slow, turn stop, back – it was like dancing! I could feel his attention on everything I did. Even when the others horses started a long-distance conversation, he paused only long enough to answer then was all attention again. A wonderful preview of what lies ahead. The perfect way to end a day was watching the setting sun light up his red mane, while the birds sang in the background!
The drought will bring what it will – we are doing all that we can, for our small part. We may have some tough choices ahead of us – but we will make the most of these lovely Spring days while they last! May you have the opportunity to do the same.
Be good to your horses!