Fedders Just Born Foal

Prologue: July 2014

Blanket apology to those who have followed my story since last summer, but in order to tell it here, I’m going to do some recap. I’ll try to call my “historical” posts Prologues so you can see when there is truly new content in the future.

Now to begin at the beginning. From my Facebook page on July 19, 2014:

“I’m picking up a young mare to start working with tomorrow (I’m going in to Equus school as I’m sure she’ll teach me more than I’ll teach her), and last night I talked to a woman who happened to be on the farm the day she was born and took video (Thanks Diane Ray). The mama is ‘Feta’ but she said it sounded like the farm hands were saying ‘Fedder’. Before deciding to call her Ireland they thought of naming her Shamrock (thus the captions at the end of the short video).”

I have to include this because it’s not that often you get video footage of your horses first hours!

July 20 Ireland comes to her new home and I settle her in by herself to the smallest cow pen area we have and spend time with her every day just sitting in her space, drinking my morning coffee and reading a Pat Parelli book ignoring her as much as possible and just letting her get used to me. I still have basically no idea what I’m doing, but know I have to learn for myself from as many resources as possible. My biggest inspiration is Monty Roberts and I sign up to see his training videos and watch as many as possible to get a feel for what will help me get started. Eventually she starts to hang out and eat her hay close to me and eventually I get a rope halter on her and can rub her neck and whithers, but I don’t ask her for anything and I mostly ignore her. Occasionally she turns her butt towards me to see what I’ll do- it’s a bit rude, but I try not to overreact and instead ask her to go away when she does that. Kind of like: if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

After the first week she seems to look forward to my visits waiting at the gate for me and when I walk around her slightly enlarged area picking up her poops she follows me to where I’m working to eat or watch me. I can easily catch her halter and rub her all over her body and even tie her briefly. This earns her an upgrade to the larger “barnyard” field with shelter and the creek (still by herself). When I come to visit now she first runs as far away from me as she can get and actually puts her head over the fence nose away from me across the creek. I completely ignore her and pick up some poop piles and within 2 minutes she steals a glance, sees that I don’t care (I’m not going to chase you), then trots up to greet me and see what I’m doing then follows me around the field while I’m there. Mostly I try to rub her as much as I can and then walk away and she follows me wanting more attention.

The most exciting part of week two is when my vet and I weren’t able to communicate and she left me the vaccinations to give myself! With moral support of Nancy & Carrington I was able to stick her with the first one before she knew what was coming, but the second one not so easy and she reared up like the black stallion still tied to the post with the needle still in her neck (not my greatest moment) and we had to get her to calm down so I could get the plunger in! What I learned about her is that she might panic, but she is able to calm down before she kills herself in the panic (some horses seem to only escalate and would have ended up wrapped up in the rope on the grown thrashing because they can’t think of anything except life and death). She seems to be able to think about the panic enough to relax before getting to that point- which to me is a very important trait.

At the end of week two we head into my garden “arena” and try to do “join up”. (Equine speak translation: Join Up is a method of helping the horse learn in a non-violent way that you are it’s friend and a place of safety and rest. A successful join up sends the horse ‘away’ from you to run in large circles something close to the normal flight distance of a horse, watching for signs that the horse doesn’t want to continue to have to ‘flee’ but wants to consider making friends instead and letting you be the leader. It’s all about body language on both the human and the horse and I was amazed how it happened just like the videos showed it would. There really is an equus language and she did exactly what she was predicted to.) I had decided that Join Up was going to be the first priority of our work together. If I couldn’t get her in the mindset that I was in charge, but also fair and worthy of her trust, I didn’t think I had much chance of doing any real training with her. Considering how green I am at this it was not elegant, but we do make progress and I kept the saddle and saddle pad in the center of the space so she would get used to seeing it and sniffing it well before any attempt to put it on her! I keep her running the perimeter and when she is ready to come in to me and we join up, I would hand graze her around the saddle tack so she would see it’s not scary- she sniffs it then walks right onto the pad- so she doesn’t seem afraid of it…

By the end of July I’ve worked on rubbing the saddle pad all over her and even walked her around with the pad on her back, I can tie her up and rub her, groom her and pick up her front feet. When I come into her field she comes over to me and follows me around eating nearby while I do things… pick up poop, read, walk around- whatever is non-threatening. We are slowly becoming friends and I continue to ask her what her “barn” name should be. I am convinced she’ll tell me when she’s ready.

Stay tuned for August……..

A few pictures from our first few weeks:

Ireland comes to her new home.
Ireland comes to her new home.
Ireland checks out her tack
Ireland checks out her tack

Snow-an introduction

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Hello,

I decided two things in January of 2015: to take seriously the thought that I could complete a 100 mile equine endurance race and to write about my journey in a blog.

I’ve thought about writing down my experiences since moving to the rural Virginia mountains in 2007, but never sat down to do it. Though I’m not sure if anyone besides my mom (shout out to mom… always my biggest fan!) will want to read this blog- I decided to give it a try.

Like any good story, let’s begin in the middle.

This afternoon I rode my trusted trail horse Faygo (Gray, middle aged MO Foxtrotter mare) and ponied along my green horse (for anyone that doesn’t speak equine I’ll translate in some of these early posts: she isn’t actually a green horse though she was born on St. Patricks Day… green means with very little training- opposite of Faygo my trusted trail partner), Khaleesi, for our first training ride. It was cold, and late in the day to get started, but though there were pretty sunny patches of blue skies, there were occasional gusts of wind, and it had rained a bit on and off so I had procrastinated as long as I could. I might have just not bothered, except I had just made the decision in my mind that Khaleesi and I were going to do the 100- so even though it was cold, an hour from dark, a bit windy, and threatened to rain on us, we saddled up around 4pm.

We crossed the highway with trail dogs in tow (Linus and Peggy-Sue) for our first ride with intent on the goal. Even though I knew what our route would be and had no concern of getting lost, I had my GPS to begin tracking our distance and speed. As we walked along (1.8mph- Faygo, this is not going to get us to the finish line…) a big gust blew the tops of the trees and the dark clouds began to move from the Southwest again. I stopped the girls and pulled up my hood and put on my gloves. I can handle a little rain, we’ll only be out here an hour.

This wasn’t the beginning of the journey. That is a bit more vague… was it in July, right after my birthday, when I went to pick up a young horse that I had no idea if I would be able to train? Maybe it was a couple years ago when I signed an agreement to lease-to-own my first horse (Faygo) from one of my best friends and equine mentor? Was it in the years before that when I begged anyone with horses to take me riding and logged in some miles on a rock solid quarter horse mare of another friend? (those were some great adventures!) It might have been during childhood when no vacation was complete without trying to visit a trail riding stable and paying for an hour on a trail horse with a guide… or maybe it goes all the way back to when I was 6-years old, living in a subdivision in Las Vegas- looking up ads in the newspaper for horses for sale and having my mother dismiss my begging with “If you can find someone to sell you a horse that can live in our backyard then sure you can have one.” I did make some phone calls. I can’t even imagine what the people on the other end of the line though of a 6 year old girl asking questions about buying and keeping a horse in her backyard.

For the purpose of this story, we will start with Khaleesi.

Born Ireland on March 17, 2010 at Apple Horse Farm, her mother is a gray TN Walker X Arabian and her daddy is a black and white paint Racking Horse X American Saddlebred. I call her an American Rackarabian Walker. She is dark but not black- lets call her a black bay with one white ankle sock. As my trusted mare Faygo (Faygo my first equine love… Faygo the fine… Faygo the fantastic…) is passing middle-age and had a battle with lymes disease last winter, I decided I would like to find a young horse (a 2 or 3-year old) that I could bring home, get to know, and gradually spend time bringing her along so when the long miles our riding friends enjoy get too hard on Faygo, I’d have another horse coming up to take over some of the work. I decided summer was ideal for me to take this on at first as I had more free time than during the school year when teaching gets busy.

I called a girlfriend whose brother breeds (gaited) horses and asked if she could find out if he might have one to suit me. I wasn’t too concerned about a specific breed or color, I wanted a young mare who would ideally gait, and be well suited for the kind of hard-core trail riding we do. She called me shortly after and said there was one that seemed like the right pick and I went to see her.

Apple Horse Farm has some of the most stunning horses- beautiful paints, reds and grays and there is a lot of Saddlebred in the genetics there- so high heads and alert ears and beautiful bones. Then there was Ireland, in a pen by herself looking dark and plain and not striking in any particular way. But she was a pretty mare and though she didn’t seem fearful, she would not come over and say hello and let me touch her over the fence. She didn’t come over and say “take me home with you…” She was curious but held her distance. She seemed intelligent and alert without being spooky. She turned out to be 4, but after some handling around age 2 she had lived on the acres in the horse herd and was entirely green.

Inner voice: you have no idea how to train a horse… what on earth are you thinking?

Outer voice: Yes. I’ll take her.

So here we are, 6 months later (almost to the day). I am riding through the woods on a cold January late afternoon checking my GPS to see if I have any concept of how fast we are walking and looking at the dark clouds that threaten to soak us in a cold stinging rain imagining that someday I might have to ride at night, in miserable rain after riding 15 hours already remembering a day in January when the same horse wasn’t even ready for a rider on the trail.

And I feel a sense of joy when instead of a pelting rain, large fluffy snowflakes begin to swirl around us as if dancing along in the breeze. It was the first snow this winter I’d been riding in and it was everything winter should be, quiet, beautiful, and still. We walked along in the forested snow globe to do 4.5 miles at an average speed of 3mph. That includes stopping, so it might be a bit higher. Faygo does have a faster walk, but Khaleesi has been an anchor on our pony rides- I’m hoping this is just her getting used to working out and not a sign that she will always be a slow poke! Will she make an endurance horse? Does she have what it takes? When I looked around for answers to what horse makes a good first endurance horse, the answer I got every time was “The horse you have now” and that every sound/healthy horse can finish a long distance race with the right conditioning.

On my conditioning chart, the average horse is supposed to walk at 3.5 – 4mph so we are not setting any records here. Still, it’s January, and my endurance horse isn’t even ready to carry a rider on the trail. So we’re setting a baseline and starting slow conditioning. Basically, we are not even at zero yet. The starting point I’ve read suggests riding your horse about 3 days a week for the first month at an average of 5mph (slow trot) mostly on the flat (that’s a challenge here).

Today: Ponied Khaleesi with Faygo at about 3mph for 90 minutes.

It’s a start… and everyone has to start somewhere.

I promise to mix in a bit of the past six months as well as the journey going forward is as we go. And most of the entries won’t be this long.

I hope you see you here again, and I hope some of my experiences will entertain you enough to read on….

Till soon-

Jaime

Snow
Khaleesi as the snow started, day 1.