Thursday, December 31, 2009

Track Issues Day 19

The above photo shows a good view of the whole set-up of harness, shafts and sleigh. You can zoom in by clicking on it (if it's in a good mood). My passengers wished to remain anonymous so they dove for cover when the camera came out.

The snow is piling up here and I'm floundering around, trying to find the best way to keep the sleigh track easy for CJ. The snowblowing worked for part of the track but I didn't attempt the uphill portion of the track (the snowblower is mounted on the back of the tractor, so you have to drive backwards to snowblow). So a friend came over with her two skidoos and we roared around the rest of the track four times to pack down the snow in a wide track.

The next day, I led CJ along the skidoo track and found he punched through every second step, but with repeated use he'll beat down a path for his hooves. The day after that it snowed two inches, so I walked the whole track to make a trail right in the middle of the track. CJ follows any little track in fresh snow rather than picking his own route, so with my boot track I figured he'd follow and that would keep the sleigh in the middle of the track instead of riding up into the deep snow. It worked! When Dad and I drove him yesterday with the sleigh, he followed my tracks and I had very little correcting to do with the steering.

I have kept one section of track untouched except by CJ and the sleigh. I've decided that's the best track because it's quiet, he follows his own track and needs no steering and the sleigh runners stay in their tracks. So next year, I'll just keep the sleigh going from the first snowfall and that'll probably do it.

The only problem we had yesterday was getting started at the barn. Up till now, my Dad led CJ the first 100 yards or so as I drove from the sleigh but yesterday we tried having CJ stand alone while I was in the sleigh so he gets the idea he should just relax until he's asked by me to go. That worked fine. But then, with me and two passengers on board, CJ had a hard time overcoming the sleigh's inertia. Meeting the sleigh's resistance and thinking he couldn't move forward, he tried sideways, which almost slid us into the tractor (in slow motion). So we all piled out of the sleigh, moved him forward and tried again. The same thing happened. Dad then led him down the trail as we'd done before. Next time, I'll try starting him with only me in the sleigh, and then when we're on the trail (hopefully) I'll stop and invite the passengers in, and CJ should head off in a straight line when he's on the trail.

At this point, it seems I still need my passengers to be spritely and adventurous!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas Day! (Day 18 for CJ)

Christmas morning, after pancakes and presents, I headed out on the tractor and snowblowed the sleigh track. Then we loaded up two passengers in the back, with Dad as assistant (called the groom in driving parlance) and off we went, bells a-jingling!

It wasn't all as smooth as it looks. While hitching up, two deer ran by in the next field - we could see them through the trees - and CJ was fairly head-up about that. We got him past the deer and made one lap without passengers. The track was somewhat difficult because, even though it looks like a lovely smooth road, he wanted to walk in the tractor tire track, not the middle of the road! So as I aimed for the centre line, he kept swaying from one side to the other and the sleigh dug into the edges all along. On the way back from the first lap we almost tipped over coming around a corner. The sleigh dug in to the uphill side, that runner rode up on the snow and over we were going! He stopped after five whoas, while I was hopping with one leg on the ground and the other caught in the sleigh. Learned something there... Finally he stopped and we led him and the sleigh out of danger.

Then we were back at the barn and loaded up the two passengers. They were able to ride part way until the extra weight started pushing the runners too deep causing too much resistance for CJ. We threw out some ballast (one passenger) and carried on successfully.

We also discovered that CJ is completely desensitized to loud raucous singing!

CJ - Day 17 - A Field Day

We headed out to the field with CJ and the sleigh. Dad provided back-up with the lead rope while I drove from in the sleigh. Part way along, Dad rode some. CJ did really well except where the snow was deeper. At one point he balked and almost popped up in a rear so we whoaed quickly, hopped out and led him the rest of the way through the deeper snow.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Day 16 - CJ Pulls The Sleigh!

After the video camera died, I hopped in the sleigh and drove from the front seat. We did a couple of figure eights in the parking lot and everything went well. My dad kept the lead rope on and walked with CJ, so next time we'll head into the field and take off the lead rope!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

CJ - Day 15

It warmed up! Here's a clip of us hitching up and heading out.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Minus 35 Celsius (minus 31 F)

This is the kind of cold that makes your nose drop right off. I won't be harnessing CJ until it warms up!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

CJ - Day 14

A thoughtful chickadee.

Ziggy hunting voles.

Katie listening for voles.

A passenger! (I wore my yellow pants just to keep CJ on his toes.)


Heading home.


A big thank you to Russ and Julia for today's photos.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

CJ - Days 12 and 13

It's been so frosty out these days that the video camera won't work.

Day 12 was just a nice fuzzy bareback ride. I rode CJ out on the trail that I harrowed, figuring that I could keep him in a nice straight line through the fresh snow and then he'd follow his path the next time he pulled the stoneboat. Well, it was a good idea, but he wanted to follow the dog's track, who was sniffing along ahead of us. She makes only a thin trail through the snow, but still, he figured that would be easier going for him and I couldn't convince him otherwise. At least I managed to keep him on the harrowed track when the dog sped off after some scent or other.

Day 13 was a full lap of the fields with the stoneboat. It was a 40 minute work-out from hell as I floundered along beside him in the deep snow, holding the reins lightly like I had a tray of full wine glasses in my hands. CJ didn't even sweat. The only problem he had was a reticence to stand still. He kicked several times while being asked to stand still. I'm sure he'll stop kicking as he learns that kicking doesn't change anything.

Getting closer to hitching up the sleigh! We might make it before Christmas!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

CJ - Day 11

Here is a stoneboat, in case you were wondering. Back in the day, they used to pick stones up off the field and put them on the stoneboat and drag them away to the dumping spot. Our stoneboat is very small, only 5 feet by 4 feet. The shafts attached in the photo are the shafts that fit the sleigh.

Yesterday, I drove the tractor and harrow (the harrow is a metal chain sort of thing that you drag behind a tractor to spread out the manure on a pasture so it dries out and doesn't grow parasites) around the fields to break up the crust on the snow for a sleigh track.

Today, we hitched CJ up to the stoneboat and, after about 10 minutes of leading him, I clipped on the reins and ground drove him around the harrowed track. We went for about 25 minutes total. Dad rode on the stoneboat at times. CJ was a bit more energetic once we turned in the direction of home. He wasn't too happy about whoaing, and he kicked a few times, but he did settle down. He didn't even break a sweat (unlike me!)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

CJ - Day 10 - The Stoneboat

I didn't have the video camera set up, so picture this:

- Dad hammers together the stoneboat while I run back to the house twelve times for tools and hardware.

- I harness CJ and bring him to sniff the stoneboat. He's particularly intrigued by the smell of the preserved wood runners.

- We attach the shafts to the stoneboat and I convince Dad that he needs to drag the stoneboat around for CJ to see it in motion. We do two laps, with a rest for Dad in between.

- We hitch CJ to the stoneboat. Dad helps get it moving because it sticks to the snow when it's stopped. We take a few steps and halt. CJ gives a few small kicks with one foot. We continue. Dad lifts the stoneboat around when we have to turn (Dad's getting a good workout). CJ gives one more kick. We return to the barn (only one 400 yard lap today) and unhitch because it was a success and we've run right out of time.

- Dad goes home to rest.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

CJ - Day 9

Check out the steps we worked through...

This session was about 45 minutes long. I made the practice shafts out of two ten foot long PVC pipes. CJ threatened to kick at them at first, but it took very little time for him to get used to them bumping against his sides.

Next, we'll be making a stone boat which wooden shafts will attach to. We'll have him pull the stone boat in a straight line first and help him pull the weight of it around the corners. When he's doing well with the stone boat, we should be able to hook him to the sleigh without worry of him kicking it.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

CJ - Day 8 - His First Passenger

This guy (girl?) was sitting above our bird feeder on the weekend watching the chikadees...

Well, it's really a shame that I didn't have the camera rolling for yesterday's session, because my dad went for a good ride around on the tire today, courtesy of CJ. We hitched him (CJ) up to the single tree with shorter traces so the single tree was closer to his heels, and then attached the tire on a rope. I took the reins and my dad led CJ at first, because we were heading for new territory: the long driveway from the barn to the house.

As CJ seemed to be comfortable, and my signals seemed to be effective, Dad dropped back and had a ride on the tire. CJ wasn't sure about all that extra weight (oh...did I say all?) but I talked him into going forward with a few taps of the whip. At the house, Dad took the lead rope again and we did big wide figure eights in the parking lot. CJ kicked at the traces as they came against his leg on the corners, but after a few laps, Dad was able to fall behind and I steered him through the figure eight with no more kicking.

I talked to one of the local teamsters last night for general advice. According to her, the most important thing is the whoa. "When you say Whoa, it means Whoa before even one more step, because that one step could be your life." Note taken!!

She also agreed with training CJ in an open bridle (one without blinders over the eyes). She told me of a runaway that happened with an old steady Percheron who had never (ever!) seen the vehicle behind him. The driver hopped out after the ride and for some reason took the bridle (with blinders) off before unhitching--the horse saw the cart and took off, blasting through three fences and demolishing the cart. And guess what else. Another rule is Driver In First, Out Last. But this driver's daughter was in the cart! Thankfully, she was fine. These are all good lessons for me to learn from!

One last thing--don't try this at home! If anyone is planning on following my training method, you should probably wait a year and see how this all pans out before you trip on the heels of my mistakes...

Sunday, November 22, 2009

CJ - Day 7

Pictured here with Ginger the cat is the single tree I made when I realized after Day 6 that I needed one. The single tree keeps the traces apart when hauling things. My single tree is just a piece of a fence rail with some hardware drilled in. Those black leather straps are the traces that buckle in to the breast collar. I'm not sure what its weight rating is... I let CJ sniff the single tree while I rattled it, and then I hitched him to it and led him around the corral. He didn't seem to mind the new noise. So I tied the tire to it and he hauled the whole thing around while I lead him.

The snow is 8 or 9 inches deep now so he had to work to pull the tire. We went around the corral, and when the outside trace came up against his leg he kicked at it, so I stopped him and rubbed the trace up and down his leg. We carried on, and each time he kicked at the trace, I stopped and flapped the trace and rubbed his leg. On the second lap he didn't kick at all. Because he's doing so well, and is very steerable and stoppable, I'm going to drive him along the road next time where it'll be easier walking and we can go farther.

Last week we had a snow fall that stayed in the trees and knocked our power out for two days.

Still lots of grass to paw for:

Here are some pictures I took today. The horses are waiting for hay (cow mooing in background):

Kasper posing:


These last two are my Tim Flach impressions. Check out the link on my favourites. He photographs the lines of horses in a most intriguing way. I have one of his books. He has a photo of the toplines of horses that I would love to hang on my wall...but the book is cheaper.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Flashback to Stage Two Test

Here's a quick look at one of the tasks I needed to do with Kasper in the Stage Two natural horsemanship test. This was filmed in September.

CJ - Day 6

Day Six was more of the same. CJ pulled the tire around the corral for about twenty minutes again. He shook his head repeatedly for the first 5 minutes or so, and then he seemed to get used to the pull. He's stopping now with a firm "Whoa" from me without any pull on the reins. If he's trained to respond promptly to voice commands, then we have a better chance of surviving an emergency, like a rein breaking just as a moose steps out of the woods, for example...

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

CJ - Day 5

Today, I had a helper (who wishes to remain anonymous, thus the headless pictures). I started by cleaning and oiling the breast collar and traces. The harness I have was bought second hand. It had never been used, but it had been stored for several years, so it needs to be oiled and I'm working my way through oiling all the pieces.

So, to get CJ used to the tire, I started by having my helper lead CJ and I walked past him dragging the tire (because I need the exercise). I dragged it ahead of him so he could sniff it, and then beside him on both sides, and then behind him where he couldn't see it but could hear it.

Since he was fine with this, my helper hopped on CJ and I kept dragging the tire (because I need the exercise). Then, when we were sure CJ was fine with the tire, my helper dragged the tire:

CJ didn't mind pulling the tire like this, so we harnessed him up. I ground drove him around the corral while my helper put a little weight on the traces for him to pull against. He was okay with this, so we put the tire rope through the traces, but didn't tie it to them; my helper held the rope and walked along so she could let go of the tire if CJ was suddenly unhappy with it (ie. if he bolted). In this picture, CJ is objecting to pulling. He was a little confused when he felt the heavier weight against the breast collar, but I gave him a few taps with the whip and he got the idea that he was supposed to pull.

When CJ was walking along fine, pulling consistently, we tied the tire rope to the traces and my helper was free to take pictures.

I ground drove CJ for about twenty minutes. His only change in behaviour was that he shook his head a lot, as if he thought he could ease the pull of the breast collar against his chest. So, I didn't carry on too long, and I assume he'll get used to the weight as we continue to practice this.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Horse Dentistry

Yesterday we had a snowstorm which brightened up the scenery.

And then everything turned pink for a while.

With an uncommonly bright sunset

I managed to get an old tire from the local tire store, which I dragged around the corral this morning because I really needed the exercise. No, really, it was for CJ to see it, smell it, and hear it before I hook it to his traces and ask him to pull it. He had absolutely no interest in the tire, but Kasper was fascinated by it and followed it around until it scared him and he ran away.

This morning all three horses had their annual tooth inspection and floating (which means filing down the sharp spikes that form on the teeth from imperfect alignment). I never enjoy the annual dentistry. It's like watching your kids get their braces on. But, overall, the horses were tolerant and nobody needed to be sedated. I'm glad that's over for another year! I didn't do any training after that in case CJ connected dentistry with driving.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

CJ - Day 4

Today I started by cleaning and oiling the crupper (the bit that goes under the horse's tail). And filling in a hole that the dogs dug in the pasture that was just the right size to break a horse's leg. Here we are in the pasture: Kasper's helping me bring CJ in.

Here we're setting off on a ground drive around the fields where I plan to drive the sleigh. I haven't had CJ out riding on his own for a long time so I thought I should make sure he was fine to go off without his buddies.

Kasper wants to see where I'm taking his buddy.

Into the woods...

CJ did really well. I did okay with the reins, but I definitely need more practice because some of the time we were doing a lot of zigzagging!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

CJ - Day Three

I took two afternoons off to go trail riding. The weather's been lovely. A very accomplished rider friend of mine rode Kasper (I thought she deserved a ride on the Big Comfy Couch) and I rode Peter, and we had to pass an excavator and a dump truck! Kasper skirted sideways into the ditch and edged his way through some willows, but he came back onto the road quite calmly as if he was embarrassed he'd ever stepped off. Last year, the same vehicles would have put him in a bolt for home!

Today, CJ and I ground drove around the corral and I practiced Gee and Haw, consistently this time. At almost dusk, a small grey owl came out and soared low over the pasture hunting, so it was a little hard for me to keep my eyes on CJ. Kasper and Peter seemed entranced by the owl. It hunted close by, diving for voles. Very silently.

When the owl disappeared, I practiced driving CJ from off to the side, because soon I'll have him dragging a tire and I need to be off to one side. It wasn't as awkward as I thought it would be, and we did just fine.

Here's a clip of Kasper kicking up his heels.

Friday, November 6, 2009

CJ - Day Two

Here we are, doing our little dance around the corral. We did much better than Kasper and I last year. CJ seemed to get the hang of walking ahead of me, and we were able to do figure-8's around the barrels by the end of our half hour.

I forgot all about saying "Gee" and "Haw" for the first ten minutes, and then when I started saying it, I kept getting mixed up. I'm not that good with left and right as it is, and then to try, on the fly, to remember that "Gee" is right and "Haw" is left...I probably confused CJ, but he's very forgiving. Maybe if I practice saying it when I'm driving my car...

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

CJ's First Day

It worked! Yesterday I worked on desensitization with CJ, and he seemed pretty senseless right from the beginning! I don't think it'll take him long to get used to dragging something.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

New Trailer

We had to (had to!) buy a new trailer this summer because Kasper, the giant, outgrew our old trailer. This one has a 7'6" ceiling height and each stall is longer and wider. Kasper, in the last stall, has enough room to turn around!

I'm pleased he has so much room, because I saw an upsetting incident with a draft horse and a trailer this summer. The horse fell while in transit, and couldn't get up on his own because there wasn't enough head room. A horse needs to heave his head and upper body way up to get his hind legs under him, and there wasn't enough height for the horse. So, he was pulled out. And after seeing how that went, I will never let anyone else transport my horses, and I will always have them in a properly sized trailer.

Meanwhile, I started CJ on his harness training yesterday, and made a video with music...but it won't load! I'll keep working on it...

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Fall Photos

Meet Connie and Jean, the new additions to the farm. They are purebred Red Angus heifers, bred to be calving in March! No one will be eating these cows, or any others that come along, not because of any vegetarian tendencies (I don't have any of those), but because I can't bear the thought of eating a pet. And any animal on my place is a pet! So, these girls are breeding stock; bull calves will be sold for breeding and heifers will be sold as moms.
And here are some pictures of Kasper from today, out in his pasture with his buddies.

This next one is from a few weeks ago when we still had leaves. Sigh.

The next one was taken the day Connie and Jean arrived. The horses are a little uncertain as to why these aliens are in their corral...Well, I should give a summer update. It was such a busy horsey summer that I had no time for the computer!
Kasper had a fabulous month of training in May, which I followed up with a 5 day horse camp at The Horse Ranch (see link). Very worthwhile. I passed the Stage 2 Natural Horsemanship after practising all summer. Trail riding has been great, with Kasper jumping ditches, wallowing through swamps and trotting through thick underbrush. We didn't see any wildlife on the trails this year, but cars on the road aren't a problem for him anymore.

As for driving training, I learned enough this summer to make me decide not to go any further with Kasper in the harness, but to work on my older fellow first. That way I'll learn what I'm supposed to do on the experienced, patient horse, and then I can do harness training with Kasper when I've had a lot of practice at it. I will hopefully get started soon, and I'll try to post our progress. So, CJ--rest up while you can!!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Kasper Goes to Summer Camp

I've taken Kasper to a trainer for some foundation work. He has only had one trainer and then me, and since I'm not a professional I thought it would do him a world of good to have another go with a real trainer. He'll be worked 2 hours a day, five days a week. I'm very much looking forward to seeing the results.

Meanwhile, I read somewhere that riding a unicycle is an excellent way to improve your riding balance. So, while Kasper's away, that'll be my new project.

If I'm brave enough to show my efforts, a video will follow. If...

Friday, April 24, 2009

A Road Ride With Peter

The afternoon started with some precipitation...

...and ended with some precipitation.