Saturday, April 29, 2006

Good horse, clueless owners

I had some of my infamous whole wheat pancakes for breakfast this morning. No guinea or duck eggs, though. Just some genuine all-natural free-range chicken butt berries. The kids all wanted fried eggs.

Actually, they wanted something else -- I know not what. I don't think they do, either. Mary will play the game of quizzing them until she finds out what tickles their fancy at the moment, but I don't play that game. Mary doesn't play it all the time, either. She says that the picky often go hungry (which is the rule at the home where she grew up)

But anyhow, after first refusal, I rephrased the question. I told Paul that I'm offering eggs. "Do you want eggs, or would you rather go hungry, bow bow bow?"

So they all had eggs.

But today's story isn't about stubborn kids (they come by it naturally) or free-range hen fruit. It's about that hay burner that's sharing our large-sized but increasingly crowded barnyard with four goats and a collection of poultry of various sizes and descriptions (but the poultry can escape at will).

One of these days, Mary is gong to succeed in riding her horse. That day was supposed to be yesterday, but no such luck.

So... Mary took her girl out of the barnyard and brought her up to the front porch (kind of a misnomer, seein's it's a good 1/10 of a mile from the road; with the entire front pasture and front forest in between).

Anyhow, while I was doing some necessary maintenance, Mary dragged the saddle and bridle out to the front porch and got her hay burner. She gave her a good brushing and put the saddle blanket on her. I put the saddle on and cinched it down. Mary kept telling me to not make it so tight, but I reminded her that we have never heard any warnings about tightening a saddle too much. Usually, the admonition is to make sure that it's tight enough so it won't slide down. Also, I have seen people seriously reef on them to get them tight enough.

So, I got it as tight as I could. Mary had purchased the longest girth strap that she could, so I tightened it until I ran out of strap.

But, when Mary put her foot in the stirrup and tried to mount her mighty mare, the saddle turned sideways. (I should point out that I did not say "I told you so" at this point.)

Sarah wasn't all that happy about the situation, and let us know about it. I tried to lift the saddle upright again, but sarah danced around and Mary got in the way and Sarah eventually got the lead rope wrapped around her front leg.

I convinced Mary to get out of the way, and to untie the lead rope. I untangled Sarah's leg, brought her in close and calmed her, then passed her back to Mary. Finally, I got the saddle back in its proper upright position.

Now, one rule to working with animals is that you have to be the top dog, alpha male, herd queen, or whatever. If you let the animal win, you have some ground to make up, and everything gets harder until you resume your position as head nut-case and erase any confusion that the animal might have about who's boss around here. This is relatively simple with dogs and goats and other animals that you can physically dominate. Horses take more work. A horse that doesn't understand that you're the boss can be a dangerous animal.

So, we had to succeed in riding her.

Before we did that, I lead her around the yard a few times. Then, I gave Mary the lead and called Paul over. I readjusted the helmet strap and stuck it on his head. Paul had no problem mounting Sarah. Mary walked him around, and everyone was happy.

Meanwhile, I wandered over to the hen house to collect eggs. While I was there, one of the guinea hens managed to corner herself. Who am I to resist such an obvious invitation? I picked her up and petted her. Contrary to what we might have learned by watching Born Free, you are supposed to handle your domestic animals. Wild animals should be left alone, but domestic animals were bred to coexist with humans, and should he handled to reinforce that.

But you have to understand something about guinea fowl.

Guineas are only partially domesticated -- despite our best efforts. They like to be picked up and handled even less than our flighty leghorns. They are the watchdogs of the farm. They pitch a fit whenever anything disturbs them.

The keets (baby guineas) are cute little snots. They are small, and have these little stripes on their heads. It goes downhill from there, though.

They are very quick to get their flight feathers, and will fly around the barn if they get out of the brooder.

When we got our first batch, they came two weeks later than the chickens. Since they start out smaller than chickens in the first place (they fit through the one inch hexagons of chicken wire), they had some catching up to do. When they were big enough to go out of the brooder, I put them into the pen with the other chickens. They got challenged by every chick, and ended up running around in a miserable little huddled mass.

I put them out every day for longer and longer periods of time, until finally they got the peck order thing all straightened out and an uneasy peace settled upon the flock (sort of).

But the day of reckoning was coming. Once they got bigger, they decided that they didn't need to put up with the chickens.

Right from a couple weeks of age, chickens do the "belly bumping" thing. They stand as tall as they can, puff out their hackles (neck feathers), and jump at each other. It looks like they are trying to spur each other, but they don't have spurs yet. It's actually quite comical.

But the guineas don't play that way.

One of the chickens did his puff-up huff and bluff routine, and the guinea bored in and gave him a good, sound peck. The chicken ran away, and the guinea followed and relieved him of a few feathers.

Soon, the guineas were universally recognized as the baddest birds in the barnyard (until the ducks came, but that's another story).

So anyhow, I was loving on this guinea girl, and she was trying her best to relieve me of a few feathers. They peck hard, by the way. They won't draw blood in one peck, but you definitely know that you've been pecked. It's not like those half-hearted little pecks that our broody white rock hens deliver.

And did I mention that they have some sharp toenails? They don't have spurs, but they can definitely inflict some good scratches with their feet. It is, without a doubt, a "handle with care" situation.

Oh yah, they make some noise, too. It's possible to calm a guinea that you're holding, but that's deceptive. What she's really doing is saving her strength and plotting her escape. If she has to hurt you in the process, that's OK.

As you can imagine, the horse and the guineas didn't start out on the best of terms when Sarah was delivered to us. The guineas squawked about that strange new animal, and the horse was upset by those flighty things. Things have settled down, though. They seem to be used to each other.

Anyhow, I had this guinea, so I walked around the garage to show her to Paul. He likes guineas. I posted a picture of him holding one a couple weeks ago.

"Hey Paul, what do I have?"

"It's a buzzard-beak!" (Said with a smile in that tone of voice that I love to hear from him.)

I knew better than to bring that squawky bird close to the horse, so I was a good fifty feet away when I came around the garage. Still, when the bird gave off a squawk, the horse startled just a bit. Not much, but it was enough to get the saddle to slide sideways just a bit and dump Paul.

Actually, Paul did a very nice emergency dismount. He's getting better at it. The first time he startled, when the neighbors discharged a high-powered rifle, he was tossed off and landed on his head. Thank God for helmets! Still, Mary checked his pupils and quizzed him and did all those things that a good nurse will do with a potential concussion case. Paul's head is a bit too hard for that, though.

It's funny how we end up hearing rifle shots most often when we are working with the horse. I don't know who's doing it, but what makes me suspicious is that the neighbor's live-in boyfriend was about to throw a rock at Sarah when she escaped a few days ago. To her great credit, Val told him to put the rock down. She's trying really hard to be a good neighbor.

But rifle shots are pretty standard fare in the country. I'm surprised that she is bothered by them. It really isn't a safe situation.

We have a nice berm separating our property from the 40 acre parcel to the north. That parcel is someone's hunting property, and backs up to the national forest.

So, I pounded a stick in the ground in front of the berm and put a tin can on the stick. Now, we have a mini rifle range. We can plink at the can from our front porch with Mary's Ruger 10/22. The first time we did that, Sarah was upset. She's used to it now, which is the whole point of this exercise. The extra target practice doesn't hurt, either. We are on our second tin can, since the first one has been reduced to shrapnel.

After the power came back on (we had a short power outage yesterday), I got onto google images and looked for some good bridle pictures.

But let me back up a bit.

Mary bought a complete bridle, but didn't want to use the solid one-piece bit because the author of the Winnie the Horse Gentler series says that the bits that are made of copper and hinged in the middle are more comfortable for the horses. She brought all this stuff home and moved the leather parts over to the better bit.

Once she told me that, I figured that we aren't even sure that the thing is put together properly. Neither of us know how to do it, and Mary isn't the type to meticulously analyze. She isn't mechanically disinclined, but she doesn't have the long experience of watching things go to go pot because you didn't watch each detail.

So, I typed "Bridle" into google images and got a few good sites. I also got the usual collection merchant sites, some historical information about "Scold's Bridles", something called "Pony Girls" that isn't about 4H girls and their horses (don't ask), and a few [ahem] other sites.

Armed with some good information and pictures (not from the "pony girls" site), I managed to disassemble the bridle and put it together correctly. I know how to properly fasten it now, too. The next step is to print out an email that I got from a friend up in Quebec who was kind enough to give me some good pointers.

I guess we need to go get a shorter girth strap, too. Trying to ride around on a horse with a loose saddle is nuts.

I really feel like I'm behind the eight-ball on this one. I don't generally go into project half-prepared like this. Generally, I get obsessed with something, read everything I can get my hands on about it, and finally start actually working with it when I get the opportunity (or money). That was the case with ham radio, scuba diving, and a number of other hobbies. I knew all about air embolisms, nitrogen narcosis, the bends, and similar hazards long before I ever took the official PADI scuba course. Alas, I was sick when we did the open water certification. I met Mary very soon after that, and somehow never got around to rescheduling that final test. Oh well... I'll go through the course again later.

But this is Mary's obsession. I'm helping where I can because Mary doesn't really have the time to do it all. Besides that, I connect with animals better than she does (probably because I had so much trouble connecting with people in the past). If I dream of riding a horse, that dream will have to be deferred, anyhow. I don't think a haflinger is going to carry my 300 pound bulk. I need a percheron or clydesdale or maybe whatever it was that the knights in shining armor rode.

I'm cheating for today's gratuitous images. I not only stole the images from my web site, I also stole the HTML code.

The above flower is a Pink Lady Slipper. It is a protected wild orchid that grows in low wooded areas. These were photographed in the central part of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan - about half way between Cadillac and Grand Rapids.

I have seen them in books many times, but I saw them for the first time in the spring of 2000.

If you want to see my old "Vanity Press" web site that I haven't updated in about five years, it's here:

I have a few of my old photos there, along with some javascript applications. If you want to goof with your Jeep's gearing, make your own lye soap, or modify an engine, you can find some help there. I also have my resume' and project list posted, and am open to doing programming, technical writing, or whatever.


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