Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Coolness for the Techie Horse Person!

Amazon.com: iBall Wireless Trailer Hitch Camera: Electronics

It's not my plan to turn this otherwise rampantly egoist blog into a product report, but this is a little item I just got, and it's worthy of note for anyone who trailers anything anywhere.  This is a wireless camera that sends a video of your hitch to the monitor that plugs into your lighter so you can see how close you are to actually getting the ball into the socket without getting out of the truck umpty-seven times.  I do have one of those steel guides that tries to force the ball towards its proper destination, and it does work to a certain degree, but I need absolutes, damn it!  And this is absolute.  

I suppose if you are a die-hard hauler, you can probably hitch up in your sleep.  Often my rig looks like that exactly the approach I took.  I tried the magnetic thing with the rod that's supposed to help you center your connection, but the rod kept falling off as it apparently wasn't designed to stick to anything that my rig had to offer.  So I went to the guide with the above-noted results.  Now I'm going full-bore technology on the problem.  

There are cheaper places to get this than Amazon, but I'm all about one-click buying this week, so I spent the whole $128.  I'm hoping I will also be able to use this in creative ways unintended by the manufacturer.  Off-label is my middle name.  I'll report back if I manage to find intriguing alternatives like turning it facing down so I can identify what I ran over that made that sickening thud.   

UPDATE:  It came to my attention as I was reading the instructions on this handy device (RTFM should be my mantra, but I can't spell it) that the most notable use for it is stuck on the back of the trailer for a perfect view of what's behind when I'm backing up.  Really!  No more asking strangers "How close am I to that Mercedes I can't afford to pay for damages to?"  I'm beside myself with glee. 

iBall Wireless Trailer Hitch Camera
Okay, I probably wouldn't have named it that
but, it's pretty nifty nonetheless.

 Now, for some reason, Blogger won't let me go back to normal formatting, so the rest of this may or may not look right on your screen.  I apologize for that.

oor Dakota got beat up last night.  Not to the point of needing vet care, but to the point where I couldn’t decide whether to laugh or be angry.  The aggressor, undoubtedly, was Leo, the 26-year-old Quarter Horse who is totally smitten with the 20-year-old Thoroughbred mare, Dolly.  Dakota is 21.  All of them should know better by now, wouldn’t you think?

I certainly thought so.  But some time during the night, Dakota crossed some imaginary line drawn in the pasture dirt, and incurred the Wrath of Leo.  You have to look kind of hard to see the owies, but they’re there.  
What makes this even more comical is that Dakota, the chunk of an Appy who was sold to me as a “herd leader” type who didn’t take any guff, spent his first months here recovering from a brief but exciting run-in with Duke, all 34.5 inches of him.  Duke made it obvious that Herd Leader was not really on Dakota’s CV.  I’ve never in more than 50 years around horses had to actually teach a horse to kick back when assaulted, but I had to do that with Dakota or spend the rest of his life here doctoring random wounds.  

He’s quiet and calm and tends to stay out of whatever drama is going on among his herd mates, but every now and then he manages to accidentally step right into it.  Some readers may remember him as the horse with the awful bump on his head from slamming head-first through two fence boards during a game of “Got Your Nose” with Zip.  They played every day at 3 PM.  They’d take up positions on opposite sides of a short fence (with an open gate—they designed this game on their own) and go mouth-to-mouth for about an hour.  Then one winter day when the only ice in the field was directly under the lowest board of that fence section, apparently Dakota’s front feet slid, and total face-plant ensued.

They never played that game again, and it’s that fact that makes me think that the battle over Dolly’s heart will be short-lived.  Some horses (Zip, for instance) will tilt at windmills indefinitely.  Some are saner than that.  That’s Dakota.  

Today after I doctored his minor wounds and sent him out to play, he gave Dolly a wide berth and went to stand with his alter-ego, Pinky the One-Eyed Wonder App.  There’s an ebb and flow in the herd that ‘s visible if you look for it, and right now it’s ebbing.  Yesterday it was flowing, and everyone grazed together without incident.  A few days ago ebbing had Dolly micro-managing attendance at the water trough.  

They’re fun to watch, but anyone who thinks they can truly guess what’s going on in the mind of a member of another species is just asking for disappointment.  Proactive is only possible to a point.  Reactive is where it’s at as we humans try to live the horse life.  A sense of humor helps, and plenty of first aid supplies for those times when we’re dead wrong.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Cool Finds Trump My Genuine Stupidity

’ve been running my farm full of horses and hay and stuff for fifteen years.  Yet it was only last week that I discovered that Big Zip was finishing his entire night’s allotment of hay in just over an hour.  That's nearly half a bale of hay, mind you, in 75 minutes!  In my defense, my horses aren’t in overnight very often.  The weather has to be truly threatening or disaster has to be in the offing, so I haven’t had many occasions when this might have come to my attention.  To boot, even when they’re in, I rarely have a reason to return to the barn an hour after tucking them in.  I hope those excuses work for you, because they’re all I’ve got.

Also in service to honesty, I must confess that, were it not for the return of the Ironic Mare to the herd last week, I might never have tipped to this issue.  But on her first two nights of bored confinement while she was being reintroduced to the herd, her angst and general pissiness caused her to do wheelies all night long, grinding four nice-sized flakes of second cutting into the bedding in such a way as to require the entire stall to be sifted with a pitchfork in the morning.  So I had reason to seek better feeding methods.  That a hot, stormy day happened to fly by requiring me to leave the stall fans on until after sundown was the good fortune that sent me out to the barn after night feeding.

There.  Now you know everything.  

Moving on, my first thought on the second morning when I had to devote nearly a half-hour to sorting out Dolly's bedding was to go online and search "hay feeders and bags".  I've got an abundance of hay nets of the traditional type.  This is one of them:

Pinky's traditional hay net--
Note the traditional pile of hay underneath it
which he pulled out through the holes.

This one is the "large" net from one of the catalogs, and it has served well enough for the past year to keep Pinky from doing the same thing Dolly did.  It's a pain in the rear to load, but still a time-saver over the sifting process.

I was totally astounded to learn that since the last time I bought hay nets for the trailer, a whole bunch of new products appeared.  I don't consider hay racks.   I've already got a horse with pasture heaves, so the idea of horses eating with their heads raised and hay dust drifting into their noses leaves me cold.  Hung low enough to prevent that tends (unless you go high-end) to allow hooves to get caught during an itchy midnight roll.  So I'm not going to test them.  You're on your own for those and all the trendy and very expensive alternatives geared to rationing hay while allowing ease of loading.

A few clicks later, I'd ordered two top-load hay bags with small openings (they come with small or large).  They arrived a couple of days later, and they have proved to be incredibly easy to use.  Not only do they load in a snap, but the horses have been unable to pull out more hay than they need to eat at one time so there's no mess on the floor, and no mess carrying the loaded bags from the hay stall.  

This is the product, filled with a full night's hay ration:
Cool hay bag!  The mesh bottom allows dust and fines to fall through
and the small access holes keep Zip busy.  No access from the top means
there's a bit of a learning curve, which is good as it keeps him occupied.

There are two down sides to the hay bag, however.  One is the price.  I couldn't find a version under $30.  I was okay with that since I'm sure more than $30 worth of hay was being tossed after a night of equine revelry.  But if you're going to fill a barn with these, the total is a little prohibitive.  I can't speak to durability yet.

The second bummer is that Pokey managed to spin hers around so the openings were facing the wall.  I'll need to find a way to secure them to that doesn't happen.

While I was waiting for my online order to arrive, I headed to the local tack shop to see what they might have.  They did, indeed, carry the canvas bags, so if I buy another, I'll buy it there.  But they also had a good compromise in the Slow Feed Small Hole Hay Net below.

Just like the big holes, only smaller

 Not only has this bag kept Dolly and Leo from partying their hay into the bedding, it's easy to load because it's stiffer than the regular, big-hole style.  I have no problem cramming the bag full, and the small holes also keep the hay from falling out along the way from the hay stall.  The price is perfect.  At $9.95 (less online, but add shipping and it all evens out), these nets should last a long time and it's reasonable to have one for every stall and every trailer space and the fence and....wherever!  

One caveat:  This comes in two styles, and I got one of each.  The one with the metal rings at the top of the web is easier to load and probably sturdier to hang as whatever hook you're using won't tear through the mesh as easily.  But the nylon is very heavy-gauge, so the difference may be moot.  The price is the same, so you decide for yourself.  

As for stall-cleaning, it's taken me on average 90 minutes to do six or seven stalls.  With Dolly's return, the total went up to two hours.  With the hay bags and small-hole nets in place, we're down to 45 minutes start to finish including refilling the bags.  That is a worthy improvement!

Quick Update on Aspire 4-in-1 Equine Shampoo

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that I had tested some all-natural products from the Aspire line and was thrilled at how white a single sudsing with the shampoo had gotten Zip's "chrome".  Well, over the weekend I gave Leo his first bath of the season and discovered that this product works wonders as a sheath cleaner.  Leo is a great one for dangling his maleness in the sand of the riding ring where he likes to stretch out for a good roll, so he's always about as crusty as he can get.  Getting all that out of all the nooks and crannies has defied most cleaning products.  This shampoo made quick work of it, rinsed clean easily, and he had not one objection to its use.  

Great product!  I highly recommend it.  

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Looking Forward, Thinking Back

here’s little that sets a horseman’s heart a-twitter like a new horse, even when the new horse is an old horse.   In my case, it’s not only a new old horse, it’s a new former horse come home to roost.  

By now all of my Facebook friends are more than aware that my daughter sent her TB mare, Dolly, back home last weekend to live out her days as an old lady’s partner and friend.  Not that I needed another of either of those.  I have been happily riding good old Leo, feisty Zip, and chunky Dakota with occasional forays on other people’s horses when the opportunity arose.  And I’ve been riding Dolly.  I’ve had lessons on her, done clinics with her, and had a few hours of free play time with her at her last digs while she was still my daughter’s favorite cathected object.  This is in no way a Putting Out to Pasture for either of us, and that’s what got me thinking.
Jess and Dolly doing things that I don't do
Of late—ever since my daughter announced her intention to pull up stakes and head for the wilds of Indianapolis—I’ve had cause to reminisce about times past.  There were the frantic shared rides on my first horse, Cowgirl, whose attitude ranked negative 5 on a scale of one to ten.  Those scary moments when I stuck my child on a horse that pretended not to see us when we entered the barn where she was boarded weren’t nearly as scary as the ones when I stuck my own body up there without benefit of an adult on the ground to catch me post-launch.  That was the longest seven months of horse ownership of my career.

More of what Dolly and I won't be doing
There were the horses that came and went, and the ones that came and stayed.  There were the twenty-mile trail rides, just the two of us and our happy horse buddies, that we thought nothing of doing on a weekly basis.  And there were the bareback races on the railroad bed and the barrel races in arenas.  There were the hunter paces when we partnered up and the local shows when we were adversaries. 
What there never were were times when I thought this whole horse thing was a craziness that needed to pass before it killed one of us.  It never did…pass, or kill one of us.  It did offer a few ER visits and some time off for assorted reasons, but no real loss of momentum or body parts.

What we can still do
So when Dolly got off the trailer and the herd went nuts, so did I.  The flood of memories was topped only by the flush of excitement.  Years ago, I wrote a chapter in a book and described my lust for this particular horse with her pretty movement and her frizzy brain hairs and my wise decision to let someone else have her, a nod to my aging corpus and her need for thrills.  She scared the bejeesus out of me!  As it turned out, no suitable (by my daughter’s standards) buyer popped up, and Dolly stuck around for nearly 17 years.  How ironic that the horse I thought would be beyond my abilities a decade ago is now, when I’m a decade older (not wiser by any means), crankier, creakier, and less energetic, she’s mine after all!  

So twitter-pated I may be and I’m totally okay with that.  There won’t be any four-foot jumps in Dolly’s life from here on, but we’ll find a middle ground somewhere between my lame dressage work and her lust for the Big Time, and if a couple of cross-rails happen to be in the way, we’ll do that, too.  

Sometimes the best of the past is still ahead of us.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Character Education and Educating Characters: Last Part

First, a word about horse power

Before I get to today's bit of Social Psychology for the Random Horse Addict, I want to talk about another kind of horse.  I've long felt that there's a strong divide between those of us who tend to cling to the furry type and those more attracted to the steel-paint-rumble variety, and that was never clearer than at Island Dragway in Great Meadows, NJ, this past Saturday.  My partner, Cliff, earned his trip to the Doug Foley experience the hard way, by keeping all the farm equipment and me humming along nearly glitch-free.  A true gear-head, this was much more to his liking than a half-day trail ride, which he considers pure torment as he's convinced there's evil intent between those fuzzy ears.  So off we went at the crack of dawn for a thrilling two drag runs in one of Doug Foley's dragsters.

Talking to the other drag aficionados and their significant others, I had to note that they were just as pumped about the number of horses under the hoods of these little beasts as I am about the ones pooping in my pasture, but at the end of the day--Derby Day, as luck would have it--the winning horse at Churchill Downs pulled a better time than the 450 pushing these beasts down the track.  Now, give those ponies a full quarter-mile, and I bet the numbers would reverse quickly, but over the short-haul, the hay-burners took it hands down.

There's probably a moral in that, but I can't for the life of me figure out what it is, so whichever kind you prefer, Gentlemen (and Ladies), start your engines!
Getting the toy car charged up...
And he's off!


If you're interested in swapping sides for a test run on either the four-wheeled or the four-legged, check out the options at Experience Days.  


Character Education, Final Installment

f you’ve been following the bouncing blog post effectively, you should now understand why your horse makes more sense than you do, how to tell when you’re too terrified to consider riding, how to get rid of the tension, and you’re ready to unlock your Emotional Potential.  You are coolness personified, and so is the horse you rode in on.

If you were a good little Do Bee and googled CASEL as per the assignment last week, then you know that emotion-laden skills (those are the ones that evoke one or all of those fourteen “feeling fingerprints”) require special handling. Anything you’re asked to do that is scary or upsetting or worrying or makes you or your horse feel like no one will ever ask you to the prom is an emotion-laden skill. In order to teach them successfully, the following must be understood and incorporated into the learning process:

1.      Self-awareness (you and your horse have to notice that you exist and are doing something and what it is that you’re doing)

2.      Recognition of your own motivation 

3.      Self-regulation of emotion and controlling impulses

4.      Self-monitoring and performance monitoring (how are you doing and how is Buzzcut progressing?)

5.      Empathy and perspective-taking (feel him, notice how he’s feeling and try to see things from his perspective even if his perspective is standing on its hind legs with its eyes rolled back in its head….especially then!)

6.      Social skills in handling relationships (this is not a one-way street, you know)

In my humble opinion, that first is probably the hardest for most horsemen.  Being aware of your horse is sometimes an issue in itself.  I’ve seen an awful lot of erstwhile trainers (and remember that every time you interact with your horse you are teaching something whether or not you intended to do so) who seem oblivious to the reality of the animal at the other end of the lead line.  They’re so focused on the routine they’ve memorized and their personal goal and ego-involvement that the big ol’ hairy beast is nothing more than an inconvenience.  But even harder is to focus on the animal and notice what you are doing, feeling, thinking, and why.  There are moments when it’s important to take a step back, literally, and sort out what’s really going on in your mind before you re-launch your training regimen or riding effort.  How are you standing, sitting, moving in relation to the horse and what you’re trying to do?  Are you fast?  Slow? Stiff?  Floppy?  Just right?  A blithering idiot who shouldn't be allowed in public without adult supervision?

The “why” is a biggie that follows logically after the self-awareness piece.  What’s your point?  Why are you doing this?  Is this about meeting some goal that will result in a happier horse and a happier you?  Are you satisfying some need that has nothing to do with your horse’s eventual successful integration into your riding plan, or are you trying to impress someone who has no stake in your success and would dearly love to YouTube a vid of your failure?  What’s up with your motives?
Cliff, doing a fine job of self-regulating and empathy

Me, erstwhile and doing a fine job as blithering idiot

Self-regulation of anything is tough.  Ask any dieter.  Self-regulating emotion and controlling the impulses that result from emotional surges can be very, very difficult.  Can you see yourself as others see you?  If not, you might want to have someone (a friend without a phone cam would be good) watch and tell you when you seem to be  getting stressed, angry, mentally exhausted, or frustrated so that you won’t give in to the impulse to sit on your horse, burst into tears, and shriek, “Why are you doing this to me?  Will you just *&#%$-ing walk?”  That was a personal low in my training program with Zips Moneypit and a verbatim quote.  We’re both better regulated now, thanks.

Self-monitoring is easier.  If you’ve taken the time to make an actual plan for the session you’re engaged in, then noticing whether or not you’re sticking to it is easier than monitoring emotions, which are harder to notice when you’re in the throes of a tantrum.  Use note cards if you need to.  My lovely daughter showed me how to use clear packing tape to laminate 3 x 5 cards with my riding plan and stick them under the pommel of the saddle for easy reference.  Cool kid, my daughter.  Monitoring your horse’s performance is a little easier yet since you can look at him and tell whether he’s walking, trotting, doing side-passes, spooking at squirrels, mentally humming show tunes, or whatever.  The important thing is to notice even the smallest changes in behavior.  Stay focused. 
Focused and empathetic is a lot more attractive and effective

Empathy and taking the perspective of the “other” in your duo is a skill that needs to be learned.  It doesn’t always come naturally, especially to horse people.  We tend to get a little caught up in the latest training method and forget that Old Bullpucky really isn’t on board with anything more challenging than grazing in the sun.  It’s this skill that keeps us from trying to force dressage on a horse that really wants to run barrels or a Western saddle on an animal that gets upset if his leg wraps don’t match his pad.  I had a mare who, after a bath, wouldn’t even step in a puddle for a week.  Trying to make her into anything requiring, say, sliding stops with all the dust and dirt surrounding them would have been a fool’s errand.

Finally, you need to get that what’s going on at the two ends of the longe line is a social relationship.  Your horse may not be your BFF, but he’s your partner in this endeavor.  You need to be socially responsible and you need to teach him to be so as well.  You don’t want him chewing on your sleeve, and he doesn’t like when you smack him in the head.  Call a truce, set some ground rules, and learn to be friendly and cooperative at all costs.  Both of you.  That means you too. 

I will leave you this time with one of my favorite examples of how easy it is to misunderstand something that seems simple.  Read this aloud:

                        30 wolves
                        28 sheep
                        How many didn’t?

And here are two points to remember as you travel down this twisty road to your horse:

            “We’re born to win and conditioned to lose.”

            “A rut is a grave with the ends kicked out.”

(All of the above mind-bending stuff is from Bob Moawad’s The Edge. Read about it.  It will be on the final exam.)
[Pretend this is typed upside-down:  the answer to the riddle is 10  (read "twenty ate sheep")]

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Character Education and Educating Characters: Part Next-to-Last

Before I return to the topic at hand, I need to offer a whopping product recommendation.  A few weeks ago I mentioned a company called Aspire, makers of a line of naturally-derived products for horses, farms, pets and aquariums.  The owner had sent me samples of the stock tank cleaner, which I tried and liked very much for its ability to make my hundred-gallon stock tanks look and smell less threatening even during mid-winter with the tank de-icers and hay drool helping nastiness to flourish.  I had to wait until the weather warmed to try the other sample they'd sent.  

I can honestly say that the 4 in 1 Equine Shampoo is one of the best such products I've used since I bought horses with a lot of "chrome" that required a lot of "elbow grease" to keep white.  Last week I gave good ol' Zip a quick once-over bath, and I can honestly say that even in cold water (it was a very hot day, do don't feel sorry for the boy), and even in a very cursory effort, this Equine Shampoo got his whites white and made his bay sparkle.  Very nice!  Nice fragrance, too.  Not overly-perfumy or chemical-smelling, just pleasant.  

This is Zip, post-bath:

Zip's blindingly-white chrome trim

 Considering his penchant for rolling in dirt and manure, any product that gets the yellow and brown out in one shot is a winner in my barn!  

So, thanks again, Aspire, for the samples and the chance to share your excellent products with my readers.

Now, on to today's topic.....

Character Education and Educating Characters

I'd put the "feelings" level at 9 out of 10 for this little guy
who just found out he won't be allowed to drive the tractor
after all.  Bummer.

here is some very cool stuff in my Character Education In-Service notes, and this is a part to which everyone can relate.  Maurice Elias of Rutgers gave us quite a little speech about Social and Emotional Learning (google CASEL:  Collaboration to Advance Social and Emotional Learning).  He explained that emotion-laden skills must be taught differently.  

Really?  It’s not just my imagination that asking my equine of  choice to brave the  raging rapids (to me it’s a puddle in the driveway, but what do I know about fear?) is a little farther up the training spectrum than asking him to turn to the left on cue?  Huh!  Guess I’m smarter than I thought.

I think it's pretty much a universal given now that we don't want to ride or train when we're emotionally on edge because we transfer that panicky feeling to the horse, which is never good.  So making sure we're on an even keel before we approach the situation is key.  Want to discover what, in your environs, sparks a heavy emotional response from you or your human student?  Check for these “Feeling Fingerprints”:

1.      Throbbing head
2.      Dry mouth
3.      Grinding teeth
4.      Tight fists
5.      Teary eyes
6.      Bad taste (that’s the oral one, not the Wal Mart leggings you’re schooling in)
7.      Nervous laugh
8.      Sweaty palms
9.      Tingling nose
10.  Clenched jaw
11.  Fluttering heart
12.  “Butterflies”
13.  Frequent bathroom stops
14.  Shaky legs

[Rereading that list, I had an overwhelming urge to call my doctor for a valium scrip.  Seems as if at any given moment, I’m hosting at least three of those.]

It’s not always possible for an observer to see when someone else is experiencing butterflies, but a handshake—the kind where you hold the other person’s hand until they look at you a little funny—will definitely give you a clue to the sweaty palms, rapid pulse, tight fists, and shaky legs part.  And once our subject is mounted, some of the other fingerprints will show themselves.  Horses react to tension with tension, so when Puffer Boy suddenly tenses up and pricks his ears back, you might want to suggest a quick relaxation exercise.  If it looks like Puffer is going to blow, dismounting first is a good plan.
Deep Relaxation can be accomplished thusly:

·        Stand (or sit, or lie down depending on just how close to panic/fainting you are), arms at your sides, eyes closed, and breathe deeply three times.  Innnnnnn…..hold a sec….outtttttt.  

·        Starting with your toes, focus every bit of your attention on them and clench those little buggers as hard as you can, hold for a count of five, then release.  

·        Repeat the clench-release moving up the leg muscles to the hips and abdomen.

·        Move your attention outward to the fingers and do the same thing, one muscle gropu at a time, moving up the arms to the shoulders. 

·        Raise your shoulders as high as you can, hold, release.

·        Twist your head gently from one side to the other, concentrating on breathing the tension out of your neck as you do that.  

·        End with the “lion” pose:  Open eyes, mouth, nostrils…raise eyebrows...splay fingers as wide as they'll go...hope nobody's watching….hold for 5, then release. 

·        Three more deep breaths like you started with should leave you ready for a nap and mostly free of tension. 

·        Get back on your horse.

·        Okay, go find your horse first, then get back on him.  Wake him if you have to.  He’ll likely be as calm as you are since he got an unexpected time out.

Next time I’ll explain what skills you and your horse need to learn to be emotionally sound.