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The Horse Lover's Blog

Mixed Blessings

Hay weather? Haying? Not happening. We have had some magnificent days here in Vermont, with clear skies and lovely breezes, but in between we've gotten regular weather fronts that bring brief, torrential rains. The destruction has been less here than in central Vermont, but the hay fields are squishy. Equipment can't get on them, and the grass is standing there, browning at the tops, and becoming less nutritious by the day.
The blessing part? Well, the bobolinks have hatched and fledged for sure. The baby turkeys and the fawns have plenty of cover. The roots of those grasses are going deep, perhaps strengthening the field against the over-use we surely do, both haying and grazing it. Every once in a few years those tall grasses get a long season to mature and go to seed as they would naturally. So we all may benefit in the end, but I'd be more sanguine about it with some hay in the barn.
Mud. That is happening, and as my horses must to uphill to their pasture, they have created a very slippery, eroding path. I got a friend to dump some wood chips, and Michael and I have lugged it uphill in 5 gallon buckets. The horses tread it right in, creating a mix like a stiff oatmeal cookie dough, which is still muddy, but far less slippery. There is much more of this work to do, but now Robin will help.
I got a synthetic Western saddle, and a set of saddle panniers, canvas bags that hang over the horn and cantle. Robin is being clicker trained to carry this new rig, and soon I'll be loading her up with wood chips, my treat-vest up with hay pellets and peppermints, and we'll start hauling. I aim to keep it fun for her, with lots of treats and a chance to learn new tricks, while moving some stuff along the squishy edge of the hay field.
The punkies/midges seem to be mostly gone, thank goodness. Before they left I discovered the thing that worked, a Cashel nose net. It curves down over her nostrils and keeps the insects out. She looks like a harem girl or a Western stage-coach robber, but she's able to eat and doze peacefully. A load off both our minds. Read More 
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Girthy, Saddley, Bridley Robin

Little Queen
"Robin's so sweet," her vet says. She often grazes just steps from his front porch, so he does know her in that context.
"I love this horse!" her farrier always says, as she greets him with fluttering nostrils--an inaudible nicker--and the first front hoof already raised. Not that Chad Bacon doesn't have her number. He knows she gets impatient if he doesn't get right to work. Girl has places to go, things to eat! Don't take all day!
Both Chad and Stephen would be astonished at the Robin I see when I approach with her saddle and bridle. Pinned ears, narrowed eyes, a back hoof raised in menace. This horse HATES being tacked up.
It runs in her family. A grand-dam and an older sister have both wrecked carts on being girthed up untactfully. Knowing this, I spent many hours training Robin to accept the girth, clicker training in very small increments, with many treats. Ditto the bitless bridle. I bought a sheepskin for her noseband, and a fleecy, elastic girth. I have worked on this for years and years.
Still I get those looks.
On the plus side, I do tack up in a large box stall, and rarely have to tie Robin to do so. Often she will come to me, even when I'm holding the saddle, if I put out my fist as a target. Click, put saddle on her back, treat.
Then it takes more clicks and treats to get the bridle on, to allow me to straighten out the pad and girth, to tighten the girth in small increments. By the end she is usually looking pleasant (and well-fed!), and all is well until I ask her to step out of her stall. Then more treats may be required.
Once I have her lined up at the mounting block, which she does voluntarily and flawlessly, she's perfectly cheerful and ready to go. That tells me the problem isn't ill-fitting tack. If the saddle was uncomfortable this horse would definitely tell me!
Is this an example of a poisoned cue? Has riding tack become associated with aversive training in her mind? Is it possible that, if I radically switched equipment (and then never made a mistake with it) I could cleanse tacking up of its poison?
I'm betting not. Knowing that this problem is multi-generational, I've come to accept that 'good' tacking up for Robin is when she allows it without actually nipping, raising a back foot, or looking ugly. She will never be like her stablemate, who shoulders her way into a halter. Like all Morgans, the two are closely related, but Martha missed the girthy gene.
With Robin, I imagine it's linked to loss of control. With every strap I put on her, she loses some autonomy. So should I never ride her? Some people would say so.
Me? I figure she can spare me half an hour out of her day, especially since she seems so cheerful once we get going. She's the kind of horse who's inclined to speak her mind, and clicker training has only accentuated that.
That's what I love about clicker training. Horses get a voice. There's no guarantee we're always going to like what they're saying. Read More 
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Bugged

Did I write enough about flies? I wrote about so many things in The Horse-lover's Encyclopedia 2nd Edition, and I know fly masks, fly sheets, fly repellent, are in there. But did I make it clear how these things can dominate one's life as an equestrian?
For the second year in a row, Robin is obsessed and distressed by a fly ( or possibly a gnat, midge, or punkie). It looks like a white fly you might see on your house plants, and it drifts around the barnyard, even into the barn. According to my dad the little things do bite. Robin spends time with her nose pressed to the ground, or in a dark corner of the barn, not eating, staring straight ahead, waiting for the next one to attack.
Things I've tried: a fly mask with nose piece. It doesn't cover her nostrils, so doesn't completely do the job. Fly spray, of course. Increasing her magnesium supplement; this does seem to have reduced her hysteria somewhat. I've bought a nose net. The problem is that she dislikes the nets touching her nose, and a slight eye injury also has her upset.
So I have not been riding. Starting to get tired of that. My next hope; herbal essential oil drops, which I will put on the face mask. They seem to drive off black flies when I put them on my hat brim. Maybe they'll drive off these white tormentors as well. Stay tuned. Read More 
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Riding and Writing

Riding season is about over for me. I've gone from obsessed, and starting every day with a ride, to having to push myself to squeeze one in. In part I'm transitioning by writing a story that features a horse almost identical to Robin--so I'm still obsessed, just not getting as much exercise!
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Wicked Bad Blogger!

I'm shocked to see how long it's been since I posted anything on this so-called blog. Excuses? I've written 5 books in this period, and trained my beautiful Robin to be a fun riding horse. We took our first canter strides two days ago!
Bramble and Maggie is out, and going back to print after only two months, and I just finished the third book in the series. And the big Westminster history will be out soon.
What will I do with all my free time? Just possibly, I may post on my blog occasionally. Or maybe not. We'll have to see.
Thanks to all of you who have said nice things about my stories. You made my day! What I love best about being a writer (besides writing, and getting to take afternoon naps, and having time for horses) is knowing that somewhere, people I will never meet get several hours of pleasurable experience with a book of mine. What you make of it I will never know, but it's a thrill to think of you in your window seats, beanbag chairs or sleeping bags. Thanks for writing! Read More 
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Robin Rocks

Wow! It's November already. I've checked off a book about a Quarter Horse--CHICO'S CHALLENGE will come out with Feiwel and Friends in early 2012, I think--a new Bramble and Maggie book for Candlewick, and I've substantially finished a book about the Westminster Massacre that will come out with History Press next year.
And Robin? The  Read More 
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Learning From My Own Book

This is the blog post I wrote for Storey Publishing's website--and paging through my own new book to find the reference page numbers was so much fun. I keep finding all these cool things I discovered for the book--and with nonfiction, it feels easy to tell people about it. This isn't me--it's stuff I  Read More 
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