Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Kasper's New Toy

When horses do the mutual grooming thing, they nibble at each other and scratch each other with their top teeth. Cows just lick each other, so it seems that Red's not sure about Kasper's teeth, but Kasper seems happy enough to be bathed.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


Red, Sid and Jean.

Weaning. I didn't want to do it. How could I take babies away from their moms? I read about weaning and talked to farmers. The books said one thing and the farmers said another.

I hummed and hawed. If I kept them together, feeding and watering would be easier. But then I'd have to separate them just before the moms were about to calve and that could be awkward if the weather's terrible in March. What finally decided me was finding out that the cows teats can split if they're always wet in -20 C temperatures. Since the cows aren't too happy with me rubbing salve on their udders, I decided I better wean.

It turned out to be easy. I lured the cows into the corral with some hay. Just like that. No fuss. So Sid and Red could still hang out with their moms with only fence panels between them. They could even still nurse if they wanted to. No one was upset.

Three days later, I put Sid and Red in a pen about forty feet from their moms' corral. They could see each other but couldn't nurse. After about 12 hours, the calves started mooing, but hay settled them down. No one was frantic. No one was trying to bust through the fences.

After about ten days, when the moms' udders had dried up, I moved the moms to the far pasture where they will stay until they're ready to calve. This move was a little tricky because to get them there, I had to move them through an area where they could break away and get to their calves. With snow on the ground, I couldn't set up any fences that would stop them. So, three of us lured them with hay. The cows were hyper, jumping and leaping around but following the hay. They got to about ten feet from the gate, we were almost there, and then wham, they took off for the calves' pen. I sprinted beside them, hoping to turn them off, waving a big rake and hollering, but they split and went on either side of me and had a little party over by their sons. My helper and I ran after them, got them running again and they ran right back to the hay and scooted through the gate where I wanted them. Phew!

Then Sid and Red had to be moved from their pen to the corral where they'll stay until calving time. This was a little more worrisome, because if they broke loose on us, they'd hit a barbed wire fence and would likely hurt themselves trying to barge through to their moms. So we made a fence out of two trucks, the horse trailer, a car, the tractor, and five people with rakes. It worked! Phew again! Now everyone's settled.

In the next post, I'll show how Red has found a new mommy. (It's Kasper!)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Testing for Stage Three

Last week, I did my Stage Three test for Glenn Stewart's Natural Horsemanship program. To test, you have to video all the tasks, send the video in and get marked as "pass" or "resubmit" for each task. The above video shows the highlights from the test video. And I do mean highlights. These are the bits where it's all going smoothly. Now I should put together a video of the Stage Three Bloopers!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Banff Centre

The Banff Centre is a world class facility for artists of all kinds. There are programs for writers, ballerinas, painters, musicians and even circus performers. I've been lucky enough to attend two writing programs there. The most recent one was this September. I was in a six-day workshop on children's writing with the wonderful Tim Wynne-Jones, a Canadian author who has published over thirty books. The above photo was taken from the top of Tunnel Mountain. The Banff Centre is the cluster of buildings at the bottom right, and across the Bow River up and to the left is the Banff Springs Hotel.

Here's most of my group celebrating a great week. Standing from left to right: Sue Farrell Holler, me, Don Cummer, Tim Wynne-Jones, Joanne Jefferson, Karen Spafford-Fitz, Leslie Carmichael, and kneeling is Ann Sutherland. Brenda Johnson was also in our group but she was off writing or something when the picture was taken.

In this workshop, we each brought the first 20-30 pages of a novel, read each other's work, and discussed what was great and what had to go. It was extremely helpful. When you get knee-deep into a manuscript, you often can't see the forest for the trees. With the help of Tim and the group, I was able to tighten up my first chapters and get my novel off to a roaring start. The trick now is to keep that roar going...

The best thing about The Banff Centre is that they set up your environment to allow for the greatest amount of creativity. They teach you, feed you, make your bed, guide you on hikes, invite you to free inspiring performances...and give you lots of space and time to write. Included in all this is the option to work late and sleep in. Could it get any better?

Pole Bending

I trailered Kasper to the arena yesterday for a change. Our trails are frozen solid (slippery) and the corral is frozen mud, so it was good to play around at the arena on some soft footing. In this outdoor arena, there is a busy road on one side and a busy parking lot (gymnastics club) on the other side. Kasper was worried about all the traffic but after about ten minutes he settled right down.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Fall Ride

We swapped horses for this ride. Here's Lena on Kasper.

And me on little Peter.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Stage Three: Task #7

This task in Glenn Stewart's Natural Horsemanship Program states: Send your horse into a trailer while sitting on the fender. Count to ten, bring him back to you, without moving.

I thought this would take weeks of practice. But Kasper surprised me.

I started by sending him into the shelter while I sat on the fence (see the Oct. 3blog entry). I spent two sessions on this. He always stood patiently in the shelter waiting for the signal to come out.

Two weeks ago, I loaded him in the trailer for the first time in about two months. He got in but was nervous and jumpy and I didn't even try to get him far enough in to tie him. I figured I'd work up to that the next day.

Well, the "next day" didn't happen until three days ago. But when I loaded him, he was relaxed and went right up to his hay bag to eat. So after sending him in and out a few times, I let the rope drag to see if he was okay when he stepped on it. He's okay with this on the ground but I haven't tested it in the trailer. I was pretty sure that if I was on the fender, he'd be stepping on the rope, so I wanted to check his reaction out first. He wasn't worried when he stepped on the rope, and moved his foot or waited for me to untrap him.

I gradually moved further away until I was out the door, out of sight and around the corner on the fender. He went in and out as I asked. Wow!

So the next day, I only opened one of the trailer doors. I had tried last year to load him with only one door open and he was nervous and banged his side on the way out and then didn't want to try it again. But this time, in he went. No problem. I sat on the fender and sent him in and called him out and he didn't even step on the rope. And today I got it on video.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

40 Days and 40 Nights

It's been raining for two days now. No floods, but the corral is soup! I won't show you that.

Kasper's frizzy look.

Horses get noticeably grumpy when it's cold and wet out. They distinctly don't like to be saddled when their backs are wet, but if you do saddle them up, the saddle blanket warms their backs and they become somewhat less grumpy.

Peter was a little afraid of me in the big yellow jacket with the deep hood.

There's still a lot of grass out here so I won't be feeding hay for a while yet. Even when the snow comes, the horses stay busy pawing for grass. And the forecast says snow on Monday!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Sneaky Pete

One of the exercises for Stage Three is this: you sit on the fender of your horse trailer, send your horse into the trailer (where you can't see him), have him stand there for ten seconds, and then ask him out again. I've set this up to practice at the shelter before we try it with the trailer.

While the camera was running, a sneaker came up who I totally didn't notice until I watched the video...

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Almost Halloween

Kasper is lurking through the pasture in his moose costume.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Stage Three Practice

I'm working on some Stage Three exercises, especially trying to get Kasper to change directions in the round pen at the trot without breaking out of the trot. We're not quite there yet!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Back at 'Er!

This is what Kasper and I look like after dirt bikes spook us on the trails. Except for the fact that...well...I'm not quite that muscley. This summer I spent a month backpacking across Europe with my two anonymouses. The statue above is in Vienna where we spent quite a bit of time hanging out at the Spanish Riding School. Vienna is full of giant city squares and enormous statues.

This pretty little team works in Salzburg. Those carriage horses trot right by honking taxis, garbage trucks and mufflerless motorbikes without twitching. Maybe Kasper needs to spend a bit of time in Salzburg.

These horse masks, and about twelve others like them, decorate arches that connect a series of courtyards in central Vienna.

Klosterneuberg, a village near Berlin, is built around this church which stands near my relatives' house.

We paid Knut a visit at the Berlin Zoo.

I took this one for my brother Dan. Everything in Denmark (which is Danmark in Danish) is called Dan this or that. Dantaxi, Danhostel...

Here's the viking ship we sailed in the harbour of Roskilde near Copenhagen.

And, of course, we had to stop in Iceland for a few days on our way back. These are houses from the 1800's in the south of Iceland.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Signing Out for the Summer

The past few weeks have been great for Kasper and I. He's showing huge signs of being much more grown up this year compared to last year. (And so am I?) On June 12 he'll turn seven, and it seems he is now past his teenage years and entering young adulthood. He has been leading on trail rides on the way home, at a walk, trot or canter at a steady pace instead of an O-My-God-Get-Me-Back-To-The-Barn pace. Which is lovely. And today I took him to the arena in the trailer for the first time this year. He stood calmly at the trailer while I tacked him up instead of spooking at every car that went by. And he showed only the minutest signs of being nervous in the arena, and settled right down to the point of laziness. Which is fine with me.

(The first time I had him in that arena, before I started all the natural horsemanship courses, and before I really knew what I was doing - not that I do now - I had someone hold his reins and, while he ran in circles around her, I chased the stirrup until I somehow got my foot in and scrambled up onto his back. And then off we went like a shot...)

But with the temperature becoming more pleasant, the mosquitoes not too prolific, and the thunder storms only every other day, it seems there is way too much fun to be had outdoors, so I won't be blogging again until September. This fall, I plan to hitch CJ up to the cart and do a bit of road driving. And I'm keeping an eye out for a bobsled (not the Olympic kind) to use when the snow gets too deep for the sleigh. So check back in the fall and see what's up on the farm! Happy summer adventures to everyone!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Rodeo on the Farm

Red and Sid look pretty cute and small here, I figure. Which is why we thought we'd have no trouble wrassling them to the ground to put their ear tags in...

So we gather a team of five. We have a rope. We have the tags and tagger, and instructions. The calves are curled up at the opposite side of the pasture from their moms. Everything looks perfect. We approach the calves, which is never a problem; they like getting scratched under the chin.

Problem number one: they're afraid of the rope. They get up. I decide to try for Sid since he's the smallest and tamest. Every time I get close with the rope, he moves away. Slowly, slowly, with the team waiting a little way away, I inch closer with the rope. And then it's on! Team member number two leaps on Sid and we hang on as Sid kicks and bucks and twists and drags us. The rest of the team is trying to sneak up but when I holler "Help!" they start to run, just as Sid escapes. How could he? He's so little!

Ten more minutes of trying to sneak the rope on Sid again, and ten more minutes of the calves moving closer and closer to their moms, causes Dad to ask for the lassoo (which is actually spelled lasso but I like lassoo better). Okay, lassoo fetched and swinging, Dad, ever patient, stalks and stalks and finally he's got Sid! Mom and I (the other two team members have wandered away) grab the rope, Dad tackles Sid and flips him just as his bawling (Sid's, not Dad's) brings the cows galloping in a rage! LET 'IM GO DAD!!!

Dad faces off with the two cows while Mom and I holler and Sid bawls. We need the rest of the team, but they're off somewhere on horseback...Dad lets Sid go and then there's a stampede! Two cows and two calves, one dragging a long rope that's around his neck (Sid's, not Dad's). He's going to choke! But no, from out of nowhere, one of the missing team members dives through the fence into the fray and slips the rope off the calf, risking death by trampling. Sid is safe, Mom still has the tags and tagger and instructions, and we're all still alive so we can safely go back in the house and figure out a better way to do this!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Peter--Days 19, 20 and Beyond

Well, day twenty was no magic number for Peter, but he is continuing to become more relaxed at the arena and more willing to slow down. He's responding well in a thin snaffle bit and his rider was able to have a lesson on him with her riding instructor and everyone felt it went really well. So I will leave him to his rider now, which means I can turn my attention to my own horse, Kasper, who I've been itching to ride.

So far, I've spent some time doing ground work with Kasper, getting him used to me as the leader again after the winter off. I've ridden him around in the corral and pasture and soon we'll be going out on the trails when I have someone to come with me. Kasper really needs a confident buddy along on the trails. After he bolted home with me for the second time last year, I decided not to ride him on my own until he's more confident.

Here's Kasper in the bareback pad. This is one of Glenn Stewart's bareback pads. It's amazing. The suede holds you on like epoxy.

Red and Sid. Red is two weeks older than Sid, but he seems way bigger! But having never had cows before, we're not sure if Sid's a runt, or Red's a giant? We're hoping giant, otherwise we may have trouble selling Sid at the bull sale next spring.

Sid tasting the rake handle which he spent a good long time with.


And this little guy is a vole, eating up some spilled oats. We have billions of voles here. They build tunnels out of grass under the snow in the winter, so in the spring, as the snow recedes, you see all these grassy vole highways and hide-outs. We have mice and shrews here at our place, but they're rare compared to voles.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Chicago - April 29-May 2, 2010

Last weekend I went to my first Erin Murphy Literary Agency Retreat, held in Chicago. This is an annual retreat my agent organizes for her clients. It was held in downtown Chicago, which is bursting with tulips, crowds, and the odd cow.

And the rare but locally common Metalic Moose.

Here's a picture taken from the tour boat that took us out on windy Lake Michigan.

This sculpture is in Millenium Park. It's called The Bean. I think. At least that's what everyone was calling it, but I never actually saw a sign. It's a bizarre and wonderful sculpture amongst several other bizarre sculptures.

The retreat itself was fabulous. I met many well-published, in-the-midst-of-being-published, and soon-to-be-published authors. We swapped experiences and read bits of our works-in-progress, so we can all cheer for each other's books in all stages of the publishing process.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day!

Peter--Day 18

Before anything could get done today, CJ had to fix Kasper's hair.

Ginger likes hanging out with Peter. Peter's not as sure about their relationship...

Peter and I went exploring today and found a new trail. This was Peter's first bush ride of the year. He was great on the way out and a little hyper on the way back as you might expect. However, he didn't balk at the deep puddles and he took his time going over logs. And he didn't bolt when a pack of dogs came after us...Yes, trail riding's always good for the odd un-needed jolt of adrenaline!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Peter--Days 16 and 17

The daffodils are out!
The alpaca babies are out! (I took this photo at an alpaca farm where I bought some wool for a scarf.)

And Peter had another two sessions. I rode him in my corral at home which has dried up nicely after the spring mud. I worked on obstacles with him, like walking around barrels, stepping over poles and backing up between poles. These kinds of things make him nervous and he tends to want to rush through them, but working on them, whether I'm leading him or riding him, helps him gain trust in me and confidence in himself. Or that's the theory. He's getting less nervous with obstacles at home.
Today I rode him at the arena in town and put out some cones which he hasn't seen for a while. He was nervous when I asked him to back through them, so I led him through several times, and then realized he was even scared to touch the cones. So I rubbed one all over him (at first he backed away but eventually he let me touch the cone to him and relaxed when he found out it was soft). Then I backed him through several times. Next time I'll lead him through the cones and work up to riding him through them.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Peter the Pony

This is Peter. He's a nineteen year old Welsh Pony/Quarter Horse cross. We've had him for three years and have used him on trails and for 4H. So far on this blog, I've covered some work with Kasper, and the harness training and sleighing with CJ, so now it's Peter's turn.

Peter has a couple of issues that I would like to see if I can change. First of all, if you put your leg against his side to get him to move over, he thinks that means go faster. Secondly, when I take him to any arena, indoor or outdoor, he wants to go way too fast. I think he goes fast because he's nervous. People call him a "hot" horse (a word you could use to describe Arabians) but he really shouldn't be. When you lead him, he's quiet and gentle and goes whatever speed you want him to. On trail rides, he's much more relaxed and also goes whatever speed you ask from him.

So, I started working on him about a month ago. Here he is at the local arena. I started him at Stage One of the natural horsemanship program I've been learning. Which means I did several session of ground work with him before getting on, at home and at the arena. I taught him to move away from pressure. At first, when I put my hand on his side to ask him to move away, he would lean into my hand. Now that I've worked with him and he knows what I'm asking, he politely moves away when I press on him with my hand.

Then I started riding him and asking for the same movement away only with my leg pressing on him. He didn't like this pressure. He'd move into my leg or shoot forward or pop up in little mini-rears. So I kept practicing on the ground, getting him more and more used to the idea that I can press on him anywhere and it won't hurt, I'm just asking him to move. I've had him down to the arena eight times now and he's getting fine with my leg on his left side, but still a little cranky with my right leg. The last session was the first time he didn't try to rear, so we're getting there.

Before I started working with him, you actually had to kind of ride him with your legs held away from his sides, because even just squeezing to get him to walk from a stand-still would cause him to leap forward. I did a lot of desensitization head to tail by rubbing him, swinging ropes, tarps and flags along his body, and sitting on him swinging my legs back and forth and rubbing them on him while at a whoa. He's made great progress!

The second issue of too much nervous speed has slowly been getting better as he spends more time at the arena. I think it's more an issue of improving his confidence than anything else. He has typically done a lot of head tossing when we've ridden him with a bridle (with various bits), so I started riding him in the arena with just the rope halter. The last session there, I used the bridle with him and he didn't toss his head at all. He could be ridden with the halter all the time (I ride him on the trails with just the halter) but for 4H he has to be ridden with a bit. (I'm not too fond of rules like this for horses, but there are some long-standing traditions in showing that I'm not quite ready to go up against.)

One way to slow Peter down is to lunge him for half an hour before riding him. But there is so much controversy about lunging and so many reasons not to do it, like it's boring for the horse and hard on his hips, that I'm looking for a different way. The last time I rode him, after forty-five minutes of ground work and warm-ups in the saddle, I let him trot without stopping for about ten minutes. Glenn Stewart has a game he does at his courses which is: keep the horse at a trot but let him choose where to go. There was no one else in the arena with me at this point, so I let Peter go. We high-power trotted all over the place. It was hilarious. The people tacking up their horses must have thought I was nuts. But when I finally asked Peter to walk, he was happier to just stay in a walk. Usually, he tries about every four or five steps to hop up into a trot, but after the mad-trotting caper, he was tuckered out and more relaxed at the walk. And the whole time I hadn't had to use the reins, and he really likes to have his mouth left alone.

Here he is snoozing in the sun after the ride. Counting ground work at home, road rides and the arena sessions, I've put fifteen days on him. That's how the cowboys say it: "I'll put twenty days on 'im fer ya, Ma'am!" Twenty days seems to be the magic number. It took me twenty training days to get CJ hitched and pulling the sleigh, so we'll see what the next five days do for Peter...

The Colour Orange

Ginger and his new toy.

Saturday, April 3, 2010


I took this video from the counter by the kitchen sink. These little guys bring their sunflower seeds from the feeder to the lilac bush by the window and hammer away at them till they're empty.

The Weather Today

Bleak. Then again, this time last year we still had a foot of snow on the ground.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Put out to Pasture

Here's a little video of the fun after we moved Jean, Connie, Sid and Red from the corral out to the pasture last night.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Calving Season

Here's our second calf born March 10: Sid the bull. And with that, calving season is over. Yay!

Here's a new set of statues in Vancouver on Cambie and Broadway near the new skytrain station.

The birth of Sid went very well. However, I was fretting the whole time because the day Connie went into labour, I discovered a deep cut on one of her teats. I knew this would interfere with the calf being able to get near her udder to get his first drink, but since she was already going into labour, it was too late to call the vet to stitch her up. So Sid was born. And sure enough, every time he went for the udder Connie would turn away. I was happy to see she didn't kick him away, though. When he came too close to the wounded teat, she would just nudge him away with her knee. We watched and fretted for three hours, hoping he'd figure out that she had a non-sore side of her udder. But he didn't. So at midnight, I called the Dad Rescue Team and we tied Connie up (which went very well considering she'd never had a halter on before) and I was able to heave the calf up to her udder and get him a drink.

With the first drink in him, he knew what he was after, and Connie was reassured that he wasn't hurting her. So we went to bed and I was at the vet's door at opening time the next morning. The vet arrived at noon, sedated and stitched up Connie, and assured us that Sid was a lively and healthy calf.

Sid may be healthy, and he has moments of lively, but in between, he's more like a turtle. He tiptoes veeeery slooooowly as if he's not sure there isn't a land mine somewhere around here. He is gaining weight, and I see him have the occasional burst of galloping, but then he stops...lowers his head...peers around...and tiptoes. It seems odd, but then, I have little experience with these creatures!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Barred Owl

Yesterday, we had a noon visit from a barred owl. In this picture, he's in the tree to the right of the bridge.

I'm not sure why he was up at noon. He closed his eyes a lot as if he was enjoying the sun on his back. He was completely unconcerned about us stalking him with the camera.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Birth

The only way I could agree to getting into the cow business was to figure out how we could do it without eating any of them. So I bought Purebred Red Angus cows as breeding stock. The bull calves we will sell as bulls, and, like Ferdinand, they will have happy lives in green, flowery pastures. The heifer calves we will keep as future moms. So there. No one has to eat anybody. I'm not a vegetarian, I just don't think I could bring myself to eat one of my pets!

So, Jean's delivery went like the text book (which, with a little verbal advice from local farmers, was all I had to go on). She had a contraction when I was feeding her at 6:00 pm, so I checked on her at 8:00 and her water had broken. She settled down for some serious pushing about 8:30, and then soon after the front feet showed up in the right position. Phew! Meanwhile, I was extremely stressed about dealing with a problem birth on my own. A friend of mine happens to be a vet tech...I texted her from the barn and she was not in town! Horrors! But she kindly gave me text support through the whole procedure! Thank you Sue!

The little guy "Red" was born just after 10:00. Jean didn't get up, so we rushed over (me and my two anony-mouses) and made sure he got his first breath. Then we urged Jean up and retreated to give her time to bond. She was neat to watch when she turned and caught scent of the calf. Her eyes went wide and she sniffed him all over and kind of paced on the spot, being close enough to lick him but not so close she'd step on him.

Thirty minutes later, the drama started. The book said the calf has to get up within thirty minutes to drink. Has to. Or he'll die, is what I thought it meant. It turns out it's not quite that urgent. But at thirty minutes, he'd tried and failed to get up, so we were in there trying, without getting in the way of Jean, to get him up and to her udder. He was about eighty-five pounds and I couldn't lift him with him still wet and slimy. We struggled and smeared until finally I was worried about interfering with the bonding, so we backed off, scared out of our minds. The little guy was shivering, and seemed so weak, and now we'd probably messed up Jean and she'd reject him. Without a warm tummy-full of milk, I figured it was straight down hill from there.

I texted my friend, and when she didn't reply instantly, I cracked and called the vet. She said he had twelve hours to get that first drink in him. She said leave him be and see what happens. Within ten minutes he was up and heading for the udder. Who knew! So as he guzzled, and milk drooled out of his mouth, and Jean mooed contentedly, we stared at our slimy clothes and shook our heads.

Friday, February 26, 2010

It's A Boy!

Born at 10:05 last night, here he is at 12 hours old!

I'll write about the birth later. Right now I'm going back to bed!