Reluctant Cowgirl


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#Longearproblems

The mustang and I had a great lesson last week. Unfortunately summing up and building on that work has taken a back seat to  a mysterious donkey ailment.

Donkey started acting off awhile ago. But I am a terrible donkey guardian who lives in rural America where vets are notoriously not great at ‘my donkey is acting weird’ because they’re mostly dealing with ‘my cows that I make my living off of are dying’ or whatever. It’s not like how it is in horse country, or, you know, where people have lots of money and different priorities (and there are oodles of vets to choose from). Anyway. She started laying down more than usual and just acting…uncomfortable. Eating fine, pooping fine, drinking fine. Grumpy and slightly depressed? Sure. But she’s a donkey. The Eeyore character is not a lie.

I got a vet to come out finally, because I was beside myself and couldn’t concentrate on anything else but what a terrible human I was for allowing my donkey to sort of suffer, or whatever was going on. The vet said she wasn’t colicking (duh), she wasn’t foundered (maybe?) but her pulse was sky-high so she was definitely in pain. He gave her an injection of Banamine and then proceeded to talk to my SO about elk hunting for 30 minutes (this is what vets are like out here).

A week later I’m not giving her Banamine anymore, she’s confined to a large makeshift “stall” with lots of soft bedding and no contact with the naughty mule (did I mention she started acting off when he arrived on the scene?) and I’m not sure how much she’s improved. She’s definitely lying down less, but now she alternately lifts her feet as if they are the source of her discomfort. I mostly drape myself over her withers dramatically and tell her she’s a good princess and please get to feeling better and or figure out how to communicate to me exactly what’s wrong so I can fix it. So far this approach has not yielded any helpful results.

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Sad donkey in sad donkey jail.

I’m not entirely sure what to do next but I have the feeling it will involve getting a different vet involved. We haven’t known this girl long, but she’s weaseled her way into my heart and I want more than anything for her to be comfortable and happy. I hope we can get her back to that place.

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Our First Clinic

We trucked the mustang a couple five hours over to the Cascades for a clinic last weekend. It was his longest trip since he traveled from the Seattle area to Boise for the makeover event where I purchased him in late July of last year. It would also be his first trip to a place with a whole bunch of strange horses since then, coupled with stall confinement (which he doesn’t do here), wet weather, and oh right, the whole clinic and prize ride. I spent much of the days leading up to this weekend alternately shopping for crap I was sure I needed (a blanket for my wild horse, a saddle pad that wasn’t so garishly ugly-colored, a proper cute riding rain jacket for myself, waterless shampoo so I wouldn’t have the dirtiest horse there, etc.) and watching videos online about how not to be an idiot novice horseman. I’m not sure how I did, but I only bought the blanket and that turned out to be a good decision.

The drive was uneventful and we arrived with an hour to spare before darkness descended. The mustang did not care about the presence of the other horses; he was much more interested in the fact that he was back in the real Pacific Northwest where they still have ample lush clover and green grass in October.

All settled in to his little outdoor stall. This is the driest he’d be all weekend.

This clinic and campout was called the Mustang Rendezvous Clinic and Retreat, and I was really looking forward to both meeting other mustang owners and re-connecting with the trainer who gentled my mustang (also the clinician). Sunday there was a “prize ride” which is also known as a “poker ride” (I’m still not sure I understand what that means) to benefit the group Mustang Yearlings and Washington Youth. Let me state for the record right here that everyone involved with this weekend was good people and I’m pretty glad to have met them all.

So after settling in on Friday we humans enjoyed a potluck and discussed whether or not to trailer from the adorable host site, Flying Horseshoe Ranch, to the closest nearby barn with an indoor arena for the day Saturday in lieu of conducting the clinic in a roofless outdoor in weather conditions that were predicted as ‘100% rain, all day.’ My initial impression was that these people were a bunch of weenies, what the heck is a little rain? We had after all already trailered across two states to get here and I kind of wanted to stay put. But we would of course amicably go along with the majority, who voted on paying the $10 per person fee to trailer in.

Saturday around 5 am the rain started. We were holed up in a summer sleeping cabin with a tin roof and I was already not sleeping due to nerves and because it was about 45 degrees and for some reason my 20 degree down bag was not doing me any favors. We got up and fed in the downpour, then had breakfast and loaded up. At this point I had still not broken out the waterproof turnout that I bought and brought along “just in case” because my horse was a mustang, dammit, and he doesn’t need no stinking blanket.

Illustration of said mustang, in fact needing blanket.

The indoor was lovely and dry, unlike the rest of the world around us at that time, albeit cold. In fact quite cold. Cold enough that during the groundwork portion the clinician’s mother, a dear lady, came over to me and said, “I think Henry is shivering!” And sure enough, he was, the poor, soaking wet bloke. The blanket was removed from its packaging and my impression of my horse’s survival abilities was forever changed. I guess this is why mustangs come from the desert and there is no Cascades HMA. Wet + cold = bad for just about everybody, wild horses included.

On the ground we did a lot of basic work on personal space, ground tying, proper leading and tool use (flags, whips, rope). Much of this was stuff that I’d worked on and understood, but after many months of working by myself (with the help of the internet) I can’t say how good it was to work on it while watching other people and being able to ask questions.

We are basically professional ground-tie-ers.

In the ridden session we concentrated on lightness and softness, and I got some special instruction on baby-steps to collection. When I got the mustang I fell in love with the trot his trainer showcased, pretty and engaged, strong and solid. In the year since, under my novice riding, it has turned into a bouncy giraffe impression and I am so ready to reverse that change. I learned a lot about my riding in that afternoon including that I am both tense AF and leaning all over the poor dude when I’m trying to turn him. Turns out if you put all your weight on his right shoulder while asking him to go right his answer is “no way dude.” Can’t say I blame him.

Look how good I am at LEANING! (Also note previously-mentioned hideous saddle pad – is it pink? Is it orange? Who knows!)

By the end of the session my legs were screaming and I was smiling and I felt like I had a ton of things to work on along with actual ways to work on them. Yay, clinics. So many things learned, and thanks go to Whitney, mustang trainer, clinician extraordinaire, and overall outstanding human. I wish we lived closer.

This post has gotten long, so I’ll wrap up the weekend in another one. To be continued.

 


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October Blog-Hop Questions

Liz over at In Omnia Paratus (I should probably find out what that means one of these days) posted some fun questions to keep us chugging on the keyboards in the horse blog world. I’ll play!

1. Most equestrians quote fall as their favorite season to ride. Are you one of those that does? Or maybe not; what is your favorite season to ride, if so?

Fall is short here. Most of September and some of October are devoted to hunting seasons so riding is backburnered, though I hope to develop HW into the kind of backcountry horse we can take into the wilderness for bow season. (Mounted archery sounds super cool, too…not that you have to do that with a living target.) In summary, I don’t have a favorite season to ride in, but I do enjoy the cool, crisp respite from summer blaze days.

2. Do you clip your horse in the fall? Or maybe you wait a little longer?

I clip my horse never. He’s a mustang living in the mountains and he needs his coat to stay warm more than I need him to perform at a certain level during the cold months. Plus I love his shaggy fuzz.

3. Have any costume riding events in October on/near/around Halloween? What will your horse be dressed as? What about yourself? What would you dress as if money/time were absolutely no issue?

No plans to dress up. If money and time weren’t an issue and we had a good reason to get costumed, I’d think of something food-related because food is the mustang’s spirit animal (and one of my great loves as well). Maybe we could be an oreo or black-and-white cookie.

4. Is your horse afraid of any autumn colors? Or maybe has a certain quirk that appears only in the autumn?

No color issues, but he’s not a fan of flashlights being waved in his direction and fall is when we have to start using artificial light for evening chores again. Sorry about the headlamp in the eyes, dude.

5. Pumpkin spice. It’s everywhere right now. Find any natural pumpkin [squash] spice-esque recipes for your horse?

Nope. I do always buy the Trader Joe’s pumpkin dog biscuits though, and I’m sure the horses would eat them if given the chance.

6. We’re getting to the end of the calendar year, any final few “big-bang” shows to look forward to?

I don’t show currently, and if I did, I’d avoid any that could be characterized as a “big-bang”! But I am eyeing a Pie Ride in November that would be our first group trail ride and a toe dip in the world of endurance riding, which I’m really interested in. And, obviously, PIE.

7. Winter is coming. What are you doing to winterize your trailer/rig/car?

Not much. Oil change on the truck and such. Will need to start storing the trailer under cover when the snow comes, and make sure we are carrying chains when we tow.

8. Do you have any autumn traditions you/your horse follow?

We’re new to each other and I’m recently returning to horse ownership, so maybe we’ll develop traditions in the future. We will be taking our holiday photos as soon as there’s some picturesque white stuff on the ground, which here can happen in autumn. 😐

9. October in many places marks the beginning of deer hunting season. Does this affect your riding at all? Do you wear blaze orange or modify your schedule to accommodate the season?

See 1. above. Luckily in the west hunters are more spread out and less prone to shoot at something they haven’t positively identified as a target species, in my experience. I hear about much fewer hunting accidents here in Oregon than I did when I lived in New England. Still, better safe than sorry. I have an orange saddle pad, my beta headstall is blaze orange, and I have some bells I attach to my saddle. I will also wear orange on my person, and the dogs get in on the orange and bells too.

10. What are you most looking forward to goal-wise as the final months of the calendar year approach?

Year-end goals are not competition-related here, but as I mentioned in my last post, we need to solve our winter water situation and improve conditions in the run-in shed, and I’d really love to get a 10-mile (or more) trail ride done somewhere and trailer to a few more lessons before the snow flies!

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Sam Mule under a wispy-clouded October sky.

Thanks for the inspiration, Liz, and happy fall to riders and horses near and far. May we all have enough warmish days left to carry us through the winter ahead!


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We Bought a Ranch

This sounds like a big deal, but we’ve already lived in the place for almost a year, so it’s less of a big deal than you would imagine. All the really physically hard stuff (the moving, the driving around trying to figure out where you might want to live) has been done a long time. The mentally and financially hard stuff (I would not suggest buying a 156-acre off-grid property from an overseas buyer as a first real estate transaction) is just barely in the rear-view mirror. Okay, yes, you’re right, the financially hard stuff doesn’t really stop when you’re a homeowner, especially one with equines.

The as-yet-unnamed ranch is 156 acres and not on the modern electric grid. We use solar power generated from panels that are almost as old as I am. There’s a back-up generator that we must run on what I consider too regular a basis; roughly every other day when the sun does not shine 100%. But the solar upgrade is not a first year priority because I already lived through one winter with outdoor animals and no ability to keep water from freezing – the system was not made to heat water buckets. So our first big project as ranch owners is buying and installing a Bar-Bar-A waterer. Is this overkill? You might think so. The things are not cheap, and the installation is a bear. But let me tell you about last winter. Sometime around Thanksgiving the temperatures dipped below freezing and they did not get above freezing again until February. Also around Thanksgiving the first snow fell, which was followed by the second, third, fourth…I lost track somewhere around tenth snow. We had a lot of snow. We had brutally cold temperatures. (The lowest I saw was -26 F, and the average for December through January was probably around 10F.) It was freeze-your-water-trough-through-and-through-then-cover-it-in-two-feet-of-snow cold. I carried 5-gallon buckets (3/4 full let’s be honest) from the kitchen sink out to the (then two) equines multiple times daily. We now have twice as many equines. It is something I do not wish to re-live.

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This much ice was in the water trough on September 16th. 😦

The other big pre-winter chore is buying hay, which we find challenging owning only a pickup and stock trailer (i.e. no flat bed, no tractor, so large/round bales are out of the question at this point). Last week we got 2.72 tons of grass hay (22 bales in the pick-up bed and 38 in the trailer) and need to make a second trip to get at least that much again.

There are other chores/projects that would make winter easier on us and the equines, including

  • improving the flooring in the run-in portion of the barn and adding bedding,
  • creating a doorway from the run-in into the barn,
  • building/installing a covered hay feeder,
  • enlarging the windows from the run-in into the barn, and
  • putting up temporary walls on the run-in to keep the snow from piling up inside and creating a frozen/muddy mess.
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Yes, mustang, I too feel like the windows are small and useless.

However the structure of the run-in is warped from several years of cattle poo piling up inside and other abuse/neglect, so it’s a larger project than just the . If we rent an excavator for the waterer installation we may make some headway there.

We’re off to a clinic with the mustang’s OG trainer this weekend, and hoo boy, before you know it it will be Thanksgiving again and I sure hope some of these items are checked off the list before the snow flies.


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When I got the Mustang, his trainer asked me what I planned to do with him. “Ride him” seemed like a cop-out, so I mumbled some words about dressage and trail and maybe packing elk out of the woods. Honestly, in this part of the country most people cowboy on their horses, but I have no cows, and my rope skills are still as poor as they were before I got him.

But I do ride him. I scoured eBay and Craigslist and online tack shops, wondering what saddle would be versatile enough for everything from lessons to mountain trail, but also appropriate for a girl who grew up in Connecticut doing English pleasure and the hunter/jumpers. I first went with a Wintec Australian stock saddle, which fit the Old Horse well but slid side to side on the Mustang no matter how tight the girth. Plus it didn’t have any knee rolls to speak of and left me feeling insecure and exposed. Then, a used western trail saddle, which felt a little more secure, but still foreign to my mostly English saddle-acquainted buns. I still dealt with slippage, and convinced myself it wasn’t just me and my rusty skills. I emailed his trainer and she said she had no fitting issues with him. She used a roping saddle and a Total Saddle Fit cinch.

I got all heart-eyed for Total Saddle Fit after that. But I didn’t even know if I wanted to continue riding in that saddle, so I wasn’t going to invest in a $150 western cinch.

Finally, last week I received a well-used Slatter dressage saddle in the mail. It came with a girth, a red fleece pad, and beautiful leathers with fun matching red composite stirrups. My buns haven’t been this happy since I last got out of my old Collegiate eventer (I still miss you, friend) probably nearly 20 years ago.

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Goldilocks and the three saddles.

This is all by way of saying I think I have the right saddle now. The locals may scoff at me (cowgirl my a**), but I feel comfortable and secure and like the saddle is a help instead of a hindrance. I hope to put many miles on it, from the ring to the trail.

But! I still need that perfect girth. Which is why I’m here, linking to DIY Horse Ownership’s Total Saddle Fit giveaway post. I love Olivia’s blog (mules and mustangs! there is no better combination! doing everything from eventing to endurance!) and appreciate the chance to win what I hope to be the optimum saddle-keeper-on-device for Mr. Mustang.


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We bought a Mule

Except “bought” is misleading because we just paid for his vet bills, and “mule” is misleading because he is probably a hinny, which is often called a mule but really something different. A mule is the offspring of a horse and a donkey female and male (mare and jack), respectively. Reverse that (stallion and jennet) and you get a hinny. They’re not as popular for a slew of reasons, most of which are logistical. They don’t seem to come out as big as mules, which is probably why this one wound up in a 1/2 acre pasture in Enterprise, Oregon because the mule people heard he was heading to the auction and for critters like Sam Mule, the auction doesn’t typically end in a happy place.

So in we stepped. Word travels fast in rural places, and we are now known in several counties to be the place to offload long-eared critters of questionable utility. We generally look at each other and go, why not? It’s part of the adventure. Eventually, we may regret such haphazard decision-making. But it hasn’t happened yet.

Sam Mule, headed over the mountains to Baker County.

The last time we brought home a long-eared creature the Mustang busted through three fences and I chased him down halfway to the Eagle Cap Wilderness (a blog entry I began, but have yet to complete and post; let this be a reminder). I wanted to believe he and I had come a long way since then, but I also wanted to be very cautious because bow hunting season started this weekend and the road is much busier than it was in March when HW took his scaredy-cat bum up the road a ways to find a less donkey-friendly zone. So we planned that I would exit the vehicle as soon as we got in the driveway, halter the once-wild beast, and hope for the best with a little more control over things than last time. The Man would unload the little “mule” and walk him around at a safe distance from the herd until things calmed down.

Things didn’t get too far beyond calm. The Mustang’s head did go bolt upright, but he swished his tail and swallowed, and followed me when I asked him to walk. No snorting til his nose bled. No galloping along fence lines or, god forbid, through them. Just a mostly well-adjusted horse reacting calmly to a new equine in his midst.

I took it as a testament to my work with him, but odds are the “mule” just looks a lot less threatening (i.e. more like a horse) than a spotted donkey.

Golden hour mule-let.

What do we plan to do with this short, curious, sociable, formerly unwanted, possibly mistakenly-bred critter, you ask? I’ll let you know when we get there. Stay tuned.


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My Equines, Rock Stars

We had bigtime company in town last week for the eclipse. Before that, we had smaller-time company here just for the fun of it, with their children. They came from far and wide, and as fun-loving people are wont to do, they wished to ride a four-legged, hooved creature while on their vacations in cowboyland.

I thought about my animals for a moment and quickly decided we were all ready for such challenges. As a guinea pig, I chose a visitor from the first group, a small, screechy, 3 and a half year-old girl named Ada. Having picked her out of the hat, I peered at the equines, wondering who might be most trustworthy with such precious cargo. Who would you guess I chose?

Here are our choices:

  1. The Donkey. Would you trust that face? I’m not sure what more to say.
  2. The Old Horse. I am not responsible for the first 30-some-odd years of this animal’s life, which clearly did not involve being taught much in the way of manners. Also, he’s half blind.
  3. The Mustang. OK, OK, so maybe most people would not want to put the small child on the animal that 465 days ago was untouched. I would guess that most people haven’t met a well-gentled mustang.

He was a champ. I rode him in the saddle with small person perched in front of me, with the Man leading. She screamed, she flailed, she giggled. He marched onward like a stoic war horse, going into a battle of small people. He paid attention and stepped gingerly over any and all obstacles. One might not need guess this, but I was damn proud.

She enjoyed herself on the Mustang so much, we went out again the next day, and even did some trotting. The screeching intensified with the bounces, and still no reaction from our loyal steed.

Fast forward one week. I had friends of an older persuasion in town, plus one quasi-mother-in-law. Five new people rode the hooved critters a combination of 7 different ways. (I’m not entirely sure I said that right, but just assume I’m talking about people trying out two different animals over a span of several days. Math was never my strong suit.) All but one of these humans hadn’t been on a horse since childhood. No one led them. The donkey carried my quasi-mother-in-law and myself (not at the same time). The Old Horse carried a very tall man who wanted him to do things even I don’t ask him to do. No one set a foot wrong. I’m still stunned. Pleased, but stunned.

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Donk’s eye view of strange people riding her friends.

Suddenly the idea of a small dude ranch doesn’t seem so far-fetched.