Sometimes I have to haul off and slap myself.
Something to force the brain to stop racing around like a crazed maniac and take a deep breath. To pause and smell the roses. Or at least look at them. How many times in my life have I closed my eyes and dreamed of the above picture? And here it is. Part of our life. And I’m fretting about how far behind I am and how much I have to do.
But I’m getting better, especially on days like this.
It’s hard to believe that we’ve been here almost two months. Yet, sometimes it seems like two years. Those who have followed our move from southern California to middle Tennessee know it’s been filled with (shall we say) interesting challenges. Seven inches of rain on the day our ultra-dry southern California horses arrived, followed by twenty-five additional inches over the next six weeks. Mud so thick and gooey that it sucked my boot right off my foot was everywhere the horses wanted to be. They never never seemed to dry out. People were preaching at me from every direction that there’s no way our desert horses could or would survive the rich Tennessee grasses in “Founder Valley.” Especially if they were out 24/7.
Did that bother me? I’ll say. My sermons all revolve around giving the horses a life that’s as close to what it would be in the wild as circumstances allow. Give them plenty of choices and they will make the right decisions for themselves. And as Rick Lamb said in a recent blog, it was time to walk the talk. To set ’em up for their natural success and get out of the way. Our pastures are mixed grasses, unfertilized for at least eight years and thus not “rich” (and chemical fertilizer is terrible for horses). We have lots of weeds, brambles, trees, and scrubs. And lots of movement because the spring fed pond is on one end of the 31 acres and their favorite munching is on the other end.
But within the first week, three of the herd had hive-like allergic reactions and I panicked. They evolved into crusty bumps which the vet tech thought was rain rot. The vet said no. He felt sure it was all part of a reaction to some strange weed they had never encountered before. A little antihistamine and a good frost and they’ll be fine, he said. And sure enough, they were. Mouse’s left hind ankle swelled up like a balloon and she was limping. I feared the worst. Dr. West felt like she had encountered a certain thorny weed and the toxins in the thorns had caused a vascular swelling. He took a blood sample for confirmation and gave her a shot. That afternoon she was galloping around the pasture with Cash. I love Dr. West!
The pasture-five had their first Tennessee hoof trim a week ago with our new trimmer Mark Taylor, a Pete Ramey believer, and was I ever impressed. Their feet looked super despite all the rain and mud and Tennessee grasses. Mark loved the pea gravel we had just installed at all the muddiest places including around the pond where the horses drink. And finally… two weeks of sun have done wonders for my spirits… and the horses’. Kathleen was here last weekend and we decided it was time to let Noelle out with the herd. I was pretty certain, given the experience with Tennessee weather, that there was precious little progress going to be made with her during the winter so there was no need to keep her penned up any longer. And she needed movement. Plus her two paddocks controlled the barn which needed to be accessible to the entire herd as an optional run-in for winter weather.
“But how will you get her isolated again to feed her supplements or work with her,” Kathleen asked.
“It’s called trial and error horsemanship,” I said. “Gotta trust yourself to be able to figure it out.”
We opened the gate for Noelle to join the herd; me with
video camera in hand, Kathleen with the still camera.
None of which was going unnoticed.
And here she came.
The video of what happened next is amazing. There were definitely fisticuffs as Noelle tried to establish her dominance. The “B” word was used more than once by Kathleen and myself and will have to be eliminated from the soundtrack. Her first target was Mariah.
Noelle nailed her good.
But Mariah came right back at her. So that’s the game is it?
Make my day.
Two minutes later.
Mouse tried to nurse on her.
Which was a bit too much for Noelle and ended with a kick at Mouse. All in all Noelle kicked or kicked at everybody but Cash and Pocket, who pretty much just stayed away wanting no part of such behavior. My initial take was that she had pretty much taken over the herd. But at feeding time a few days later I witnessed Pocket being dominant over Noelle, which blew my mind. Cash has managed to stay clear of any issues by just keeping his distance. My guess now is that he’ll ultimately be back on top, but he’ll do it his way. I’ll have nothing to do with you if you’re going to act so uncivilized. As I’ve noted before, he’s such a polite gentleman that Kathleen says if he were to speak it would be with a British accent.
Noelle finally finds the pond
It seems funny to me now that I was so freaked out during those first few weeks. And interesting, just reemphasizing how much we humans seem determined to get in the way. To make the horses live the way we feel is best instead of the way they feel is best. During all the rain and mud I was actually wishing for some dry stalls with hard floors. Would I have used them? I hope not. Noelle had the barn to herself at that time but she was never in it except to walk through from one paddock to the other. Never.
A bit of pea gravel (okay more than a bit) took care of the worst of the muddy places and now gives all the horses several massages a day. From the first day Noelle joined the herd she has met me virtually every feeding time exactly where she’s been fed since the day we arrived and I believe she is now calmer with me and more giving than ever. I had two hands on her face tonight, face-to-face, rubbing both cheeks. Rubbing back to her butt. Trailing a hand down her back as I passed by to bring the Gator in.
We built this chute by the fence gate near the house and the pond. The herd all knows that if they’re invited in there will be a bit of hay and a tub of Safe Starch waiting for them. So there are never any issues isolating someone when a shot is needed, or when it’s time to ride, which Kathleen and I actually did last weekend when she was here. Not long and not far, but it was fun. Kathleen’s first time up in maybe six months. This is also where we did the trimming when Mark was here. And it’s a handy way to get the Gator into the pasture, driving in then shutting the fence gate and opening the panel gate to drive on into the pasture with no worries about anyone slipping out. The floor of the chute is five inches of pea gravel.
The entire herd now has access to the barn 24/7 except during supplement feeding times, which pretty much follows the same menu as in California (it’s on the website) with one big exception. There’s grass instead of hay (at least until December). At feeding times Noelle is isolated in the paddock from which this photo was taken. Cash, Pocket, and Mariah are fed in the paddock you see at the other end of the barn breezeway. Uncle Skeeter and Mouse are fed in the pasture to the right of the barn. Once the grass is gone and we start supplementing with hay it will be scattered with the Gator over all the pasture areas to keep the gang moving most of the day; again, as we did in California.
Pocket, Mouse, and Cash by the pond. And Joe with his morning cappuccino.
The house is just to the left of this photo.
All six, plus Joe shooting video. Noelle’s first hour out.
To all of you who keep asking if Kathleen has totally gotten over the fears you read about in the book I say with a loving smile: note how far away from Noelle this photo was taken :) You’ll have to ask her about that in the workshop.
So here we are with six happy healthy horses already very well adjusted and loving their natural life… as we continue to receive our life lessons from the herd. And are replenished daily, hourly, by scenes like this. Trust yourself to figure it out.
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