Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Weekend to Remember... Hopefully...

I'm too tired to write a full post tonight, but I'll just mention that I had a very busy weekend. On Friday, I had my first lesson with Christine Bergeron of Cadence Ranch. It went very well and I am looking forward to taking more lessons with her. Friday evening, JJ, Foxfire and I drove out to Pine Hill, an eventing facility. We spent the night in JJ's pickup bed camper which was surprisingly nice. In the morning, JJ and Foxfire took a cross country jumping lesson and I followed them around taking pictures(you can see some of the pictures in my Pine Hill May 2009 album). That afternoon, we went blueberry picking at a "pick your own" farm in Hockley. Then we had lunch in a fantastic diner called "Must be Heaven" in Brenham. Finally, we went back to Pine Hill, picked the horses up and headed home. Sunday, Foxfire and I went to Dripping Springs to see a horse that I was interested in(that story is too complicated to summarize here). I'll try to write a blog for each day when I'm not so tired. I hope that I can remember everything.

Meanwhile, here's a picture of Foxfire taking a bank up with Ziggy, while JJ on Saga waits her turn.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Finding the right trainer

I've been taking dressage lessons off and on for about two years now. More off than on, especially since the horse that I first started lessons on, Cash, had to be retired. I got along really well with Cash and actually made fairly good progress while I was riding him. Unfortunately, after he retired, there wasn't really another horse that I felt as comfortable riding. So I pretty much just stopped riding, though I would still ride occasionally, and take lessons from The Oracle(one of my friend's early teachers) when she would come up to Texas from Mexico once every three or four months. I knew that I needed to take lessons more regularly, but not only did I not have a horse that I really wanted to ride, I also didn't get along all that well with the local instructor that my husband and friends take lessons from. Well, I recently had a breakthrough on how to ride my friend DA's horse, Sonata. And my other friend, JJ, just recently acquired a horse, Saga, that I really like. I'm also getting pretty serious about finding my own horse. So I figured that it was time to find a local trainer that I got along with so that I could take lessons regularly instead of just when The Oracle was in town.

I did some research online and came across Christine Bergeron of Cadence Ranch. I called and spoke with her several times over the phone, and I really liked what she had to say about teaching students and training horses. I also just enjoyed talking with her. I'm somewhat of a hermit and don't really enjoy talking to very many people, so I thought that it was very promising that I actually liked talking to her. I asked around and everyone who knew her said that she was a very good trainer. Even the instructor that my husband and friends take lessons from said that she thought that Christine would probably be a better teacher for me than she herself would be. My farrier was also very enthusiastic about her. So I decided to go and observe one of her lessons, and if I liked what I saw, then I would arrange to take a trial lesson with her.

I was being sort of lackadaisical about actually scheduling a visit, but my friend JJ encouraged me (vigorously) to start the process as soon as possible. So last night around 6pm, I called and left a message on Christine's voicemail asking if she was teaching that night and if she was, would she mind me and my husband coming over to watch. She called me back about 6:30 and said that her last lesson started at 7:15 and that we were welcome to come and watch. I very much appreciated that she was willing to let us come on such short notice. (I meant to thank her when we got there, but totally forgot to do so. :smacks head:) I hurried to feed our critters while waiting for Foxfire to get home, and, of course, that was the one time that the critters didn't follow their routine and it took twice as long to get everyone fed as it should have. I also discovered that one of my goats had finally given birth, to twins no less, and that slowed me down a bit more. But finally Foxfire and I made it out the door.

We got to Christine's about 7:30, so the lesson had already started. We watched for a few minutes and when Christine came to a breaking point in the lesson she waved us over and we all introduced ourselves. She continued the lesson, occasionally speaking to us when the student was resting her mare. And I must say that I was VERY impressed with her. She was very clear in her instructions to her student. Praised her when she did something right, pushed her when she wasn't doing it quite good enough, but was never harsh. From comments she made to us, it was clear that she knew both the student's and the horse's abilities and limitations and was balancing her instructions to match both. And she was not just teaching the student to ride, she was also, to a certain extent, teaching the student how to train her horse as well. She would tell the student to reward the mare when she at least attempted to do what she was asked to do, and in case the student couldn't tell when the mare was at least attempting to comply, Christine would state clearly when the mare was doing her best and when she was slacking off. When the mare actually accomplished what was being asked, Christine would tell the student to reward her even more thoroughly. She also kept a close eye on the mare's condition and would tell the student to walk her when she needed to take a break.

During these breaks, Christine would talk to us. When I asked her about one of the exercises she'd been working with the student on, she explained exactly what she was doing and how it benefited both rider and horse. She also talked about working within the horse's abilities and working gradually to build up the horse's strength, stamina and agility in order to achieve proper balance and movement rather than trying to force a certain "look" on a horse that wasn't physically ready for that level of performance. As I'd been watching the student ride, I'd been thinking that she was one of those girls who'd been riding for years. She was doing things that seemed fairly advanced and doing them pretty well. Not perfectly of course, but doing a very good job. It turns out that she had only been taking lessons for two years. Now she may be one of those people with a natural talent, but I think that at least part of her ability was due to good training.

Christine continued to talk with us after the lesson was over and one thing that she said really impressed both Foxfire and I. I don't remember her exact words, but it went something like this,"Headset! Headset! Everyone is so concerned about proper headset. First you've got to get the rest of the body working properly, then the head will naturally fall into place." Foxfire said that at that point, he decided that if I didn't set up a lesson, then he was going to.

She also introduced us to her lesson horses and a few of her other horses as well. They all looked very healthy and well cared for. And they all responded very positively to Christine and to us, most of them coming up to be rubbed and scratched on. Of the two lesson horses that she had, I really liked her little gray arab, Meshack. He had a lot of personality and showed a lot of interest in me. Her other horse, Will, a tall bay appendix, seemed nice enough, but just didn't have as much personality and was more interested in grazing than in interacting with us humans. But I think that I would be comfortable riding either one.

And in case you're wondering... Yes, I did set up a lesson. I'll be riding this Friday at 3pm. I'm really excited, but also pretty nervous. Since it's during the day, Foxfire won't be able to come with me, and I'm going to feel sort of anxious without anyone there for moral support. But hopefully, things will all go well.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

I'm ready for my close up, Mr. Demille.

I tried to take some cute pictures of Tessla when he was about six months old. The problem is, he was already a very friendly donkey and wanted to be close to me whenever I was out in the pasture. Especially if I was doing something interesting, like holding this little box in front of my face and trying to back far enough away from him to get a good picture. Here are some of the more amusing results of that day's photographic attempt.


Watcha doin?

Is that edible?

I've got my eye on you.

You're silly!

Kanemura's Birthday

I've been asked to put more cute pictures of the donkeys in my blog. Surprisingly enough, I really don't have that many pictures of the donkeys. I usually take pictures when other people are riding and I don't have anything else to do. When I'm with my donkeys, I'm usually busy doing things with the donkeys and am not taking pictures. However, there is one memorable occasion where I grabbed my camera to record images of the event -- the day Kanemura was born.

Now I don't have pictures of when he was just born because I was busy cleaning out his nose and mouth and drying him off and imprinting him with human touch. But as soon as he was breathing clearly and reasonably dry, I grabbed the camera. I got some good shots as he was first learning to stand up. Admittedly, some aspects of birth aren't exactly cute(please ignore the afterbirth).

He's thinking about it...

Okay, he's got his back feet up... sort of...

Nose plant!

Three feet up... sort of...

Almost there...

Made it!

Standing all on his own!

"It's okay, Mom! I've got it!"

Coming to check out the photographer.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Communing with my Donkeys

I haven't really been working that much with my donkeys lately. I've been doing some work with backing on command which Tessla has down pretty well. Marie has it down when she sees the point of it (like when I'm trying to get her to back out of the chicken coop she's followed me into while I was collecting eggs), but doesn't always get it when she sees no apparent need for her to back up. Kanemura, being so young, has the attention span of a gnat, but he still gets it occasionally, especially when there are treats involved. Anyway, the past few days have been dreary and wet, so I haven't really done much.

However, something that I do once a day or so even when I don't do any actual work with the donkeys is that I just go out in the pasture and “commune” with them. I'll stand there and let them come up to me, and I'll just pet them and love on them. Tessla is usually the first to come up to me, though sometimes Kanny or Marie will get to me first. Tessla appreciates any attention that I give him, but he particularly likes having both sides of his face rubbed at the same time. Marie likes having me gently stroke upwards on the center of her face and really, really enjoys having me rub the insides of her ears. Kanny will get impatient when I'm paying too much attention to one of the other donkeys and will push his way between us. (Something that I am working on fixing. I don't mind him pushing Tessla around (Marie doesn't stand for him pushing her around), but he needs to respect MY space.) I haven't found any one place to scratch or rub that Kanny really likes, he just seems to want to be the center of attention. Sooner or later, he and I will figure out what he especially likes. Anyway, I'll spend anywhere from five minutes to an hour just communing with them.

Of course, it's not always all three of them. Usually all three will come up at first, but sometimes one or two of them will wander off and I'll spend time with the one or two that remain. And if I stay out with them for any length of time, they'll usually come and go a bit. So that at times I'll have all three with me, at other times. I'll just have one or the other with me. When I was first taming Marie and Tessla, I would do this with treats as part of the training process. Now... I don't know if it really accomplishes much as part of their training. Though I suppose it helps to maintain their trust and affection for me, and that makes working with them easier. But, regardless of it's practical use, I've found it very therapeutic for myself, especially when I've been stressed or depressed. Something about just standing there petting them is very relaxing.

Meet the Critters

Just in case you were wondering, here is some information about my various critters.

My horse:

Shadowfax (registered name Mi Romeo)is a 16.3 hand dapple gray Andalusian gelding born July 7, 2001. After over a year and a half of searching for just the right horse, I found him and bought him in December 2009. He's not perfect, no horse is, but I love him and consider myself very fortunate to have such a wonderful horse.

The donkeys:

Marie is a jenny ass born in 2001. She is about 11 hands high and is black and white spotted. She was completely untrained when I got her about a year and a half ago. She wouldn’t even let you get within 10 feet of her. But she is now halter trained and pretty friendly.

Tessla was Marie’s 4 month old foal(born July 2007) when I bought them. He was also completely untrained, but very curious about people. It only took three days for him to decide that humans were great fun. He is also halter trained now, and I’m thinking about training him to drive. He is also black and white spotted. And yes, he has been gelded to avoid inbreeding.

Kanemura (Kanny) was a bit of a surprise. It turns out that Marie was three months pregnant when I bought her. She gave birth August 21, 2008. I named the foal after Mark Kanemura, a dancer who had been very inspirational to me. Kanemura is light brown and white spotted with a dark brown dorsal cross and dark brown tips on his ears. He has also been gelded.

The indoor cats:

Misaou is the oldest. She is a lynxpoint siamese given to me by my friend DA. She always wants to be in your lap whether it is convenient for you or not. She can be very sneaky about it, and I will sometimes realize that she is in my lap without having any idea of how she got there.

Intrepid is the most modern looking siamese of the bunch. She is a very elegant sealpoint siamese. She is somewhat hyper and can jump amazingly high. When you pet her, she tends to do somersaults for some unknown reason.

Casanova (Caz for short) is a big lovable lug. He is an old-fashioned applehead sealpoint siamese. He’s somewhat clumsy, but very affectionate.

Tatiana is another lynxpoint siamese. She is the resident psycho-kitty. She was very sick as a kitten and wouldn’t nurse. I had to force feed her for several weeks. I didn’t think that she would survive, but she did. However, it apparently messed her up psychologically. She wants affection, but any time you pet her she flinches away, then comes back and asks to be petted again. She’s gotten a little better over the years. So now, if you let her jump up next to you and lay down, you can pet her and she doesn’t flinch away. But if she is standing up or sitting, she still flinches. Poor kitty. UPDATE: Tatia is still a bit psycho, but she is much better about letting you pet her. She frequently curls up next to me on the couch and has even started climbing into my lap to be petted.

NiNi is a tiny little sealpoint siamese. She LOVES to play fetch and will play it for hours. She is a very smart kitty. Not only will she bring you the little wadded up balls of paper that we use to play fetch with her, but if she can’t find one of the paper balls, she will bring you a flat piece of paper so that you can wad it up into a ball for her. She is also very persistent and will keep dropping the ball (or piece of paper) on your feet or in your lap until you throw it for her.

Buddha is fat lazy sealpoint siamese. He has a very round face, which prompted his name, and a slight kink in the tip of his tail. He has a tendency to flop down in front of where you are walking and roll on his back asking you to rub his belly.

Eleanora is a big muscular sealpoint. Yet she has a tiny little soft mew. It’s really strange to hear this tiny cute little sound coming out of this big muscular cat. She is also very affectionate, and even if another cat is already laying next to you, she will lay down on top of them and squish them out of the way so she can be next to you.

The outdoor cats:

Xiao Maou is the oldest of the outdoor cats. She is small sealpoint siamese. Though she is the smallest of the outdoor cats, she is probably the most aggressive. She is the one who chases other stray cats away.

Shadow is a solid black cat with semi-long fur. She is very hard to see at night.

Freya was originally my husband’s cat and was indoors. But she much prefers being an outdoor cat. She is our supervisor kitty, and whenever you are doing anything in the backyard, she follows you around to make sure that you are doing it right. She has figured out how to “knock” on the french doors by jumping up and clinging to the wooden window dividers. It makes a fairly audible thump. She is a solid black short-haired cat, and when she hangs on the dividers and looks in at night, all you can see are her glowing green eyes.

Bastet is another solid black cat. (There used to be a black tom that I’m pretty sure was the father of all these black kitties.) She hangs out by the front door, and always wants to be petted a few times before she’ll start eating. Bastet will occasionally leave us “gifts”(dead snakes, mice, birds) on the doormat. (I once stepped on a dead vole barefoot, EEEuuuwww!)

Thomas is a recent stray. He’s gray and white and sort of reminds me of Tom from Tom & Jerry. He’s been hanging around for a few months now, but he still won’t let me pet him. He obviously hasn’t been fixed yet, so as soon as he starts letting me handle him, he’s getting snipped. (Maybe he keeps his distance because he suspects my intentions.)

The goats:

The goats are Tina, Calico, Desdemona, Luna, Roan, Othello and Racer X.

My husband's horse:

Zwanzig (aka Ziggy) is a 20 year old thoroughbred that we rescued from a very bad situation on July 4, 2008. He was suffering from rain rot, malnutrition and stomach ulcers when we got him, but he's quite healthy now. We bought him for $20, then spent many thousands of dollars on vet bills, medications, special feeds, 24 hour boarding care, etc... rehabilitating him. Not really a sound financial decision, but he's a very good horse and I'm glad we rescued him. You can read more about him on my husband's blog, 101 Things to do with a $20 horse.

Those no longer with us:

K.C. was a handsome brown tabby cat with the most beautiful gooseberry green eyes. He was a semi-feral stray that I took in and “civilized”. He was the only pet that I brought with me from Louisiana when I moved to Texas and remained my only pet for several years. Up until I met my husband, he was my closest companion. He would curl up beside me when I was reading or watching tv, and he would sleep with me every night. He helped me survive through some of the worst periods of my depression, and I still miss him greatly.

Arafel was a cute black and white tuxedo cat. She had a strange habit of sitting on the back of the couch and staring directly into the reading light. My husband and I would joke that she was seeking enlightenment.

Vlad was a black and white splotched tabby. He was the best hunter of the outdoor cats. I saw him kill several snakes including one that was almost three feet long. He would sometimes leave us “gifts” by the back door.

Cleo was a salt and pepper agouti pygmy goat. She was the first goat born when I started my herd. She was very affectionate and I taught her to walk on a leash like a dog. I would sometimes take her for walks around my neighborhood.

The Big Bad Beta passed on after spending over two and a half years watching me read and watch tv from his bowl beside the couch. He would do his display “dance” whenever I'd wiggle my fingers outside of his bowl. He shall be missed.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Treating rain rot

Marie has been having problems with rain rot on her legs. We'd been treating it with Betadine solution, but that hadn't seemed to help much, so my vet suggested using Silver Sulfadiazine cream. Using betadine is easy, you just squirt some on a wet sponge and gently rub it on the affected area then rinse it off. Using the Silver Sulfadiazine is rather more complicated. First you have to scrub off the scabs that have formed and clean out the affected areas very thoroughly to get down to where the bacteria/fungus is (Some rain rot is caused by bacteria, some by fungus). This is going to hurt. Most animals are not going to want to stand still for this. Then you have to dry the areas very thoroughly. This is not going to be very comfortable for the animal either. Finally you have to spread the cream on, and the cream apparently stings a little. So this is also not much fun for the poor critter. When my vet described this procedure to me, I was somewhat worried. Marie has come a very long way from the semi-feral donkey that I brought home, but I really didn't think that she would react well to the pain that this procedure was going to cause.

However, I was very pleasantly surprised. With me holding her lead rope and the promise of carrots waved in front of her nose occasionally, she actually stood very still and was very well behaved while my husband, Foxfire, did the dirty work. (I had to be the one holding her because she trusts me more.) At the very beginning, she sidled a little sideways until she was standing parallel to the fence, then she stayed in place. When I had to turn her so that my husband could get to the legs that were next to the fence, she turned very easily and simply stood next to the fence facing the opposite direction. The worst thing she did was pull her back leg away a couple of times while my husband was working on it. She wasn't cocking it to kick or anything, she was just pulling it away from the pain. She held it in the air for a couple of seconds, then carefully put it back down and allowed him to finish. I was very proud of her. The next time we treated her, she seemed to understand what to expect and was even better. She didn't sidle and didn't pull any of her legs away even once.

And the silver sulfadiazine seems to be working. Her legs are looking much better and we may only need to treat her one more time. So if your horse, donkey, mule or whatever has rain rot and betadine isn't fixing it. Ask your vet if you can try silver sulfadiazine.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Why do I have donkeys?

Why do I have donkeys? Well... I raise pygmy goats and several had been killed by neighborhood dogs and/or coyotes, foxes, raccoons, whatever.... So about a year and a half ago, I bought a jenny donkey and her 4 month old foal to be guard donkeys for my goats. (I also just really like donkeys.) My husband, Foxfire, immediately named the foal, Tessla, after his favorite scientist, Nikolai Tessla. So I named the jenny, Marie, after Marie Curie. Now, although these donkeys were not completely feral. They were not exactly tame either. They'd been running loose on this person's property, and as far as I could tell, no one had ever tried to train either one. Frankly, you couldn't get within 10 feet of Marie, much less touch her. But she didn't seem truly scared or angry at humans the way some feral donkeys do. She just seemed very wary. Tessla was more curious and less wary, and if you stood still, he'd come almost within touching distance looking and sniffing at you. I'd looked at other donkeys, better trained donkeys, one that was even broke to ride, but there was something about these two that told me they were the ones. So I bought them and brought them home. And thus the adventure began.

I'd been taming and training animals since I was a child. But I'd never really worked with donkeys before. They are a lot bigger than the dogs, cats, goats and chickens that I'd worked with in the past. And although the basic tenets of training work for pretty much all animals, when you're working with something that outweighs you by several hundred pounds, things are a little different. There have been some scary moments, but I think I've done pretty well with Marie and Tessla. And also with Kanemura who arrived on the scene 10 months after I brought Marie and Tessla home. (Apparently, Marie was three months pregnant when I bought her.) I love my donkeys and look forward to sharing stories about them with you.