Monthly Archives: September 2013

Hey Now, That’s A Fancy Mustang!

People, the show was amazing!

Sue warming up the best Mustang at the show. Also, the only Mustang.

Sue warming up the best darn Mustang at the show. Also, the only Mustang.

Sebastian was his usual self. Calm. Obedient. Hungry!

His stall was full of hay! Clandestine hay is way tastier.

His stall was full of loose hay! Apparently, clandestine hay is way tastier.

Things started off with a bang when he got a second in his warm up class!

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His remaining two classes for the weekend were very large (21 horses each) and full of fabulous horses. The competition was fierce! Each ride was judged by two judges, so it was fun to compare scores and comments between judges. In the USDF Regional Championship Class there were 15 horses above 70% and 2 horses above 80% (that many rides with scores that high is raaaaaaare), so I was crazy excited that Sebastian got an 8th with an average score of 73.9%!

"People get so excited about these things. They must be edible"

“People get so excited about these things. Surely they must be edible.”

Watching him line up for the awards with all the giant warmbloods was hilarious. And made me so proud! Here’s the victory gallop (er, trot):

Trying to keep up!

Trying to keep up!

For The California Dressage Society Horse of The Year class there were two separate rides judged by 2 judges each, so in the end each horse’s score was an average of 4 judges’ opinions.

Suuuuper free walk.

Suuuuper free walk.

According to all those judges’ opinions, Sebastian and Sue are an excellent pair! After the first class Sebastian was in second place with an average score of 74.7. Whoo hooooo!

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In the end his average score among the 4 judges was 72.4%, earning him a 4th for Horse of The Year! What further blew me away was the the consistency of the comments. Lots of “lovely” and “willing horse.”

A very good boy.

A very good boy.

The best part of looking at the scores, however, were that Sue and Sebastian got a NINE on harmony between rider and horse not once, but TWICE!! Getting a 9 is crazy wonderful. Something that essentially never happens to the average rider, and very, very seldom to an amazing rider like Sue. And here it was- twice in one show! That is one special way to know you that you picked the right trainer. Oh yeah!

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So now Sebastian is home and riding him is such a joy. All the hopes I had for him going into training, to help him learn to move in the best possible way and mature his mind with lots of outings, have been greatly exceeded. Riding him now is like driving a sports car (albeit one with very eager brakes), as compared to the station wagon I sent to Sue. I’m even thinking that this dressage thing might be something that Sebastian and I can do together. I’m finding the precision needed to ride a good test to be both challenging and invigorating. It’s going to be my turn to start showing him in October. I must say it’s a little intimidating to show him in this new-to-me discipline after watching Sue ride him so beautifully, but I’m excited to try it out none the less. Here’s to at least not embarrassing myself next month at Greenville!

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Little Mustang, BIG Horseshow

Well, the summer was fantastic for Sebastian, the wonder pony, and Sue, his wonder trainer. So fantastic, in fact, that we have decided to take him to the California Dressage Society championship show.

People, I am READY!

People, I am READY! Juuuuust as soon as someone tops off this hay bag…

Whoa. Big time stuff!

I’m so proud of what Sue and Sebastian have done this summer. He hasn’t magically transformed into a giant, splashy mover (although his movement has improved a ton) but what he lacks in flash he sure gains in consistency. He was always 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in his classes. His median score at the moment, going into championships, is a 71.2%. To a non-dressage rider that doesn’t sound that great (it’s not a C minus!), but in my intro to dressage showing this summer I have learned that that is a really good score! BTW, there is this amazing website, Centerline Scores, that lets a person totally nerd out on scores from dressage shows.

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I may, or may not, have looked up every horse in Sebastian’s class and found that, in fact, only two of his competitors have median scores higher than his. That consistency thing really works for him! I am keeping my expectations low, however. There are a good number of horses in Sebastian’s class who have gotten 78’s at past horse shows and everyone will be riding their very, very best. This show draws the fanciest horses from throughout the state and the classes are huge! No matter what happens, it’s an honor just to have him there and know that he earned his place among the European imports and soon-to-be six figure superstars.

Stillwater's Bastian, imported from Nevada!

Stillwater’s Bastian, imported all the way from Nevada!

The show is this weekend, September 19-22. Please wish us luck!

How to Can Applesauce With Your 5 Year Old Boy

1. DO NOT ask your 5 year old boy if he wants to do some canning with Mama. That would be foolish.

2. Pull out your Apple Machine as your five year old is busily trussing up the kitchen with Daddy’s climbing ropes like a spider on crack. Resist freaking out about yet another room in the house becoming impassable, move quickly to distraction mode. Loudly comment about how you have really missed your Apple Machine but feel worried about using it, what with all those dangerous blades and that fast spinning handle. Pine for an Apple Machinist to do the job for you. Proceed to pass the first apple through the machine. Betcha 10 bucks that’s the last apple you have to do yourself… for at least 10 minutes.

The Apple Machinist in action.

The Apple Machinist in action.

3. Pacify the future Machinist with apple scraps.

This is the expression your baby will make during exactly 0.1% of the canning process.

This is the expression your baby will make during approximately 5 seconds of the canning process. If you’re lucky.

4. Once the allure of blades and speed has worn off, move on to packing the apples in your Vitamix for some very LOUD blending. It must be on HIGH power and you must jump each time your 5 year old hits the start button to show how terrifyingly powerful the Vitamix truly is. Have your 5 year old vigorously plunge the apples with the Vitamix plunger doodad until all is smooth. Include the peels! This is a Vitamix, after all.

Yikes?

Yikes?

5. Cook up the sauce and can as per usual. Pat self on back for engaging child in such a wholesome activity. Realize half the apple you gave the baby is somehow covering that portion of your back. Wistfully wish you could shower the mush from your hair. Settle for wiping self down with the sock that is so conveniently lying on the kitchen floor.

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6. No more steps! Collapse in a heap next to the dog on the floor and hope someone else makes dinner.

Varroa Mite Takedown

Varroa mites are the scourge of modern bees and their keepers. Apparently, before the mite beekeeping could be a rather hands off affair. Giving the bees enough space to do their thing, harvesting honey from time to time… sounds nice! But now every beekeeper is effectively raising mites as well as bees, and must respond accordingly to preserve the health of her bees. There are several less toxic ways to deal with the mites. Thus far I have been using powdered sugar shakes. You literally sprinkle all the bees with powdered sugar! It loosens the mites’ grip on the bees so they get groomed off when the bees clean the sugar from their bodies. The girls sort of hate it, but I feel very satisfied when I see the mites that have dropped from the hive with each treatment.

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This time of year, however, it is time to get more serious. I just took a class on Varroa mites through The Biofuel Oasis that was very illuminating. The bees that are being raised right now will in turn be raising the bees that will live throughout the winter. Your average summer bee might live 6 weeks, but the winter bees might go for several months due to lower levels of activity in the hive. These bees need to be very robust if the hive is to survive the winter at all. This means good nutrition in the fall (I am feeding because my hives were not looking strong enough) and good mite control. On the recommendation of the class I am trying a formic acid treatment. It sounds scary, but apparently the acid is similar in strength to household vinegar. Formic acid is relatively “natural,” as it is found in very small amounts in honey, but it’s still an unfortunate measure to have to take. While it does not build up in the honey or the wax and is relatively less disruptive to the hive than some treatments, it is still a rather blunt instrument. It will likely kill off some brood and perhaps weaker bees as it kills off the mites. At the very least the hives will find it stressful to have their homes invaded by noxious fumes. Next year I will start using drone trapping frames (more in a future post on that) and step up my powdered sugaring so perhaps I won’t need to treat.

How do you know when you need to treat? Well, there are various ways to get a sense of how many mites you have in your hive, but a really good one is the powdered sugar roll. We did it in the Varroa class. It was nuts! I’ll have to do a post when I muster enough courage to try this method on my own, but it involves shaking bees into a box, scooping a bunch into a jar with a screened top, coating them in powdered sugar and then vigorously shaking out the sugar/mite mixture to get an accurate sampling of mites. You SHAKE a jar of bees. After you scoop them up out of the box you just DUMPED them in. Did I mention my girls are GRUMPY this time of year??

Does Your Horse Get Paid?

Giving horses food rewards is an area that people have some strong feelings about. I admit that the common scenario with horses and treats looks more like a mugging than a training session. Picture a horse with his muzzle all over some misguided person who has trained the poor beast that humans loooove to be shoved and frisked and will hand over cookies when treated accordingly. The trainers I respect in the natural horsemanship world have differing opinions about treats- some will use them in some circumstances but some never do. For many years I thought of this as the high road, that if the relationship was good enough one shouldn’t need treats.

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Times have changed! While I don’t think anyone needs treats, I think they can be very useful. It was Robin Gates that shifted my opinions on food rewards for good. Robin does use treats in her liberty work with horses, with wonderful effect. She points out that some of a foal’s most salient first experiences are with it’s mother, who allows the polite foal to nurse and can push away one that is being rude.

When thinking about giving my horse treats, I think about what going to work means for me. I love my job and get a great deal of satisfaction from it. Would I go if I wasn’t getting paid? Nope. Would I go if someone made it very uncomfortable to not go and much more comfortable to go? Probably, but I wouldn’t feel as good about it as I do in the scenario where I get paid. Much of natural horsemanship relies on making the wrong behavior difficult for the horse and the right behavior easy. The reward in these methods is the release of pressure. I use these methods all the time with my horses. In the hands of a good trainer, a horse will gain a great deal of comfort from understanding that the human is a good leader and can be trusted enough to follow. These methods are very effective and mirror many of the methods horses use with one another to communicate. The difference between when horses use these methods and when we use them, however, is that horses get a lot more out of being with one another than they do out of being with the average human. We just don’t have an innate pull for horses the way they do for one another, quite the opposite. A horse must get over the fact that we look, smell and move like something that would like to eat them. Assuming that we care whether or not our horses like being with us, it’s worth looking at their motivation. I like thinking that my horses get more from our interactions than simply the avoidance of feeling uncomfortable. Hopefully knowing that I am the leader in the herd does help them relax and feel good, but I like to use food rewards to take things to the next level. What I strive for is fun for my horses. Yes! Fun! With treats the horse get into seeking mode, trying to solve the puzzle of what I want them to do with enthusiasm. Indeed, just like me, my horses get paid when they go to work.

Take hoof trimming for example. I trim my own ponies and I am not a speedy trimmer. My poor beasts have spent many an hour balancing hundreds of pounds of horse flesh on three spindly legs waiting for me to get the job done. When they are particularly aggravated by the flies tickling their ankles or just done with the whole thing they start wanting to take their feet back. It works to stop at that moment and do some groundwork to impress upon them that taking their foot away means a lot of hard work is about to be done by them. After this reminder the calm is restored, often for the rest of the trim. It is usually effective, but it’s not super enjoyable for me or them. Since I have started using treats, however, the horses grow interested at the sight of my trimming tools, usually will follow me into a stall to be trimmed and sometimes even lift their feet in polite anticipation as I am reaching down for them. The result is basically the same, I get the trim done, but there is a different feeling throughout the interaction.

Food rewards are really powerful, which is part of why I believe many people don’t use them. In no time flat you can teach your horse to be a complete jerk! Their use requires careful thought. At a minimum the horse should learn that coming at you with its mouth will not result in treats. It seems awkward at first, but training your horses to turn their heads slightly away from you before they will be given a treat will go a long ways to avoid turning your horse into a pocket diving disaster. It’s as simple as standing there with a treat he can smell in your closed hand and waiting for him to give up trying to nuzzle it out of you and look away- bingo! Give him the treat. Repeat till he gets it consistently and then be consistent in the future yourself- no treats for nosey ponies.

Also consider the relationship you and your horses have. It needs to be clear that the treats belong to you and that they are only given to ponies who are trying very hard to do whatever is being asked of them. The next picture is of where I found Annie after I went to put away some tools and organize a couple things in the tack room. She was standing there, hoping I would come back and give her a treat but not taking one. Those treats are not hers! Sure enough she was given a treat for that kind of respectful waiting.

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For best results, think about what your horse is doing the moment before he gets the treat and realize that he will believe whatever that behavior is will get him more treats in the future. You are always training your horse, even in the most casual of interactions, so don’t throw the power of treats behind something meaningless or downright negative. It’s common for horses to get a treat after coming back to the barn after a good workout. This is in fact an awesome way to encourage your horse to be barnsour (as though getting off their backs and leading them back to their buddies were not reward enough!). Use the cookie power for good! In teaching the horses to stand for trimming, for example, I only reward them when they actually have their feet up on the hoof stand. It is no good to finish a foot, put it down and give a treat because the horse stood so nicely while you trimmed. The horse will conclude that putting one’s hoof down is just the thing to do in order to earn a treat. Yikes!

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I haven’t found any magic in one treat versus another. Since they don’t make up much of the horses’ diet, I generally buy whichever ones are cheap and won’t dissolve into sticky powder in my pocket. For the portly or downright insulin resistant equines out there I recommend sugar free mints. Sebastian loves them! When he thinks he has been good he arches his neck, tilts his nose away and looks at me with one excited eyeball. I always think of it as him saying “please”.

How about you? Do you use food rewards with your animals?