Sunday, 7 October 2012

Weightwatchers Redux

Three weeks on the old long grass in the bottom field, Merlin has gained 30kg to 504kg and Finn has put on about 20kg to 434kg.

Not a lot I can do about it at the moment as until the shelter area is finished I can't keep them in and if I shut them onto the smaller shelter field it'll be trashed (it's a bit soggy).  It'll come off again as they finish the grass and start to depend on hay anyway.

Talking of which, I have 50 bales in the sheds and it's much better stuff than last year :o)

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Winter has begun

The boys are now down the hill in the bottom two fields again, 2 weeks earlier than I put Merlin down there last year.  It seems much earlier than that, probably because I was able to get him back into the top fields for some grazing later on in the year, but I doubt that will be an option this year as we've had the remains of two hurricanes dumped on us over the past 24 hours and the top two fields currently resemble an olympic swimming pool, despite the new drains put in last year.

I was going to strip graze them, but my neighbours have advised keeping the grass as long as possible for as long as possible (if you see what I mean!) while it's this wet to prevent it turning into a bog, so the gate to the bottom field is open and two happy naked horses are stuffing themselves on what is basically standing hay.  They have half a bale of hay spread out round the inside of the field shelter if they want it, but they much prefer to be out in the rain and wind eating the real deal.

Talking of the field shelter, look what my lovely other half arranged last week:

That's 24 tons of hardcore and the slope sorted out so the water drains away down the field into the drains rather than leaving Merlin with a moat like last year.  This area is going to be fenced, so if it gets as soggy and boggy as last year, I'll be able to shut them onto this with hay and they can potter in or out as they want rather than having to stable them.  If Carlsberg did husbands.... :o)

Tuesday, 4 September 2012


No, not the horses, me!  But up until yesterday we'd had a rather good week...

On Tuesday morning I thought I'd better see if the stand still for mounting lesson had translated successfully, so off we went to the road where Finn duly stood like a pony-shaped boulder for me to get on and was rewarded with a bit of carrot fed from the saddle.  I rode off down the road feeling rather chuffed with my l33t p0ny sch001ing ski11z, only for him to grind to a halt 10 yards later and look round going 'Oi! More carrot!'  I asked him to walk on, he started nibbling my boot!

Twenty minutes later I'd tried waiting him out, flapping reins and legs, growling, slapping my whip on my boot, waving it around his backside...and we'd got another 70 yards down the road, at which point he decided if he wasn't getting any more carrot he was going home and turned round.  At that point he got a smack on the bum and told to effing well get on with it - and he was a total angel for the rest of the hack! 

Having won that battle, I'd hoped for an easier time on Thursday morning, but he'd decided that the turning round and heading for home trick was one he wanted to repeat and tried it every minute or so for the first quarter of a mile, so we waltzed down the village in a series of small circles until he got to a manhole cover that he's walked past at least eight times before without noticing and decided that it was a pony-eating dragon that I needed protecting from and therefore he was taking me home.  I'd planned to take him out of the village and a little way up the main road, but didn't think it was particularly safe to be circling my way up a road where logging lorries come down the hill at 60mp, no matter how much high viz stuff I was wearing, so after I'd got a reasonably sensible five minutes out of him, I turned him round.  And, you guessed it, perfect hacking pony all the way home, until he realised that I was going to make him walk past our drive.  He tried a half-hearted dive to each side, got a strong leg and a growl and then gave in, so I rode him down to the road fork, gave him another bit of carrot and then went home.

The weather forecast is great for this week and I was hoping to ride at least three times, but yesterday rather put paid to that idea.  My husband stuck his head round the office door mid-morning to say that the breeze had dropped and the midges were horrendous, so I picked up the fly sheets and headed out to the field.  I'd done Merlin's and was just finishing up with Finn, who was standing at the small gate between us and the neighbour's field.  Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Merlin stalking up the field with his "I'm going to bite the pony on his arse" face on.  What I should have done was left the last strap on the neck cover, chased Merlin off and then gone back and done it up, but I thought I had time to get the strap done and then jump out of the way.  Wrong.  Horse teeth met pony bottom and Finn's only exit route was through me.  He barged past, knocking me over onto the stone dyke wall and then trod on my foot, which was sideways on the ground rather than flat.

By 3pm yesterday afternoon it was hurting like you wouldn't believe and alternating between nearly numb and almost pins and needles, so I took myself down to the surgery where they pronounced it probably not broken.  I'm hobbling around the place with the assistance of a wooden staff and swearing a lot!  I'm guessing that's the running knocked on the head for a few weeks - I'd just started really getting going with it again - but since it's the right foot, I may be able to scramble back into the saddle by the end of the week.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

*crackle* *crackle* Is this thing on? *crackle*

I was a bit over-optimistic about my recovery, it actually took a MONTH for me to feel normal again!  Anyway, 10 days ago I took Finn out for a hack, he did his usual trick of walking off while I was mounting, this time before I'd even swung my leg over.  He then got a bit un-nerved by the human wobbling along beside him trying to get her foot back out of the stirrup (the dangers of riding in hiking boots...) and started to trot - fortunately "WOOOOOAHHHHHHH!" worked, otherwise I'd have face-planted into the tarmac.  Attempt number two was successful and we had a nice hack to the end of the village and back.  I'd planned to go further and was all high-viz'd up, but I'd forgotten that the Scottish schools went back that day and after the circus of getting on from the normal picnic table, I didn't fancy trying to remount after the gate with a bus shelter full of kids and parents watching me!

So this morning I decided it was time for Mr Finn to learn that I wasn't like his previous owner (18, weighs about as much as a twig, very athletic, able to jump on a moving horse with absolutely no problems) and took him into my neighbour's school armed with a pocketful of carrot sticks.  As it turned out, being fed carrot sticks in return for standing still while I leaned on stirrups, bounced up and down beside him with one foot in them and then being rewarded from the saddle when I was finally up is just about Finn's ideal schooling exercise and after 10 minutes he was standing like a rock in the middle of the school on a completely loose rein :o)  He's obviously been taught it before, it's just not been enforced for a while.  The next step will be to see if I can replicate the lesson outside the manege, but as long as I have suitably orange bribes on me, I think all will be well!

We only had a short schooling session after that, we'd done what I wanted to achieve, so we walked a few shapes, I practiced a bit of trot (my balance is slowly coming back) and then we called it a day.

I was thinking about bonding the other day.  Merlin seems to have appointed himself my bodyguard when I'm in the field now; he'll walk next to me or just behind me as I push the wheelbarrow around (unless I've just moved the electric fence!).  I'm not sure if he's really bonded that closely or whether he's just protecting his food source from Finn though ;o)  However, he'll really try his hardest to do anything I ask him to these days, which is a real change from when he first arrived.  It gives me hope that one day I might be able to hack him out once I have my confidence back properly.  Finn hasn't bonded enough to want to try for me yet, but it's still very early days - he's only been here two and a half months and it took Merlin two years. 

Robbie the farrier came out to do their feet the week before last.  Merlin was, as usual, good as gold, but Finn was a slightly different matter and played up, not wanting to stand, snatching his feet away and generally being a bugger.  Robbie has been his farrier for a couple of years, so knew that Finn could be problematical but was definitely trying it on as he didn't usually act up quite that much.  Every time Finn snatched a foot back and walked off, I made him trot a circuit of the field - if he chose to move, he was going to be made to move more than he wanted to - and eventually we got the job done without too much grief, but this is something I need to work on.  Robbie has shown me the trick to getting reluctant cobs to lift their feet and Finn will now give me a front foot loose in the field (previously I could only get him to lift the backs).  At the moment I'm either lifting it, holding it for a moment and then putting it down or lifting, tapping with a hoof pick and putting down and I'm sure we'll get there eventually - Merlin was a sod with the farrier when he first arrived.

What else?  Finn has two new rugs courtesy of eBay, a fleece cooler to dry him out and a shower sheet to go over it.  Both almost new, the most expensive was £14.50 including postage :o)  But he's been moulting like mad over the past fortnight and the bristly clipped coat he arrived with is now mostly gone, replaced by a lovely soft, thicker coat which is far more waterproof and windproof.  As long as we have a dry, cold winter, he probably won't need rugging, but at least I now have some options on hand if he does.  Both of them have lost a little bit of weight this week, Merlin's down to 467kg and Finn to 402kg, but they're both looking good.  If there's another loss next week I may start them on a handful of breakfast each again.  At the moment they're having a handful of Speedibeet, half a handful of Greengold and two heaped spoonfuls of the homemade yeast/linseed/magnesium mix in the evenings and that's it. 

Saturday, 28 July 2012

*choke* *cough* *splutter*

Apologies for the radio silence, but I've been ill for the first time in about six years and it's kind of knocked me sideways.  Two weeks ago I schooled Finn on Sunday morning, then mis-timed taking Merlin for a walk round the village and got soaked to the skin.  That set off a urinary tract infection which became a kidney infection with added conjunctivitis, swollen tonsils, glands and a temperature.  By Wednesday, despite antibiotics, about all I was capable of doing was lying on the sofa and watching the room spin in an interesting manner! 

10 days later I'm mostly mended.  I managed to put my contact lenses back in this morning, but I still have the sore throat and the occasional twinge in the plumbing.  Most days it's been about all I can do to struggle round the field with the wheelbarrow, let alone think about riding, so Finn has had a quiet life.  His old owner came to visit him this morning and I was hoping she'd be able to take him out, but we had a downpour at 6am and by the time I got out he was drenched through and, to my surprise, shivering :o(  I scraped most of the water off and put his heavy turnout on him to warm him up.  By lunchtime the sun had come out and he'd cheered up, so he finished drying out in the afternoon breeze while the rug dried out in the shed and I've put it back on this evening because half the weather reports are saying we're going to get heavy rain around 7pm (the other half say it won't hit until lunchtime tomorrow). 

This evening's job: find a cooler rug to go under the turnout....

Weight-wise they've both gained; Merlin is up to 470kg and Finn back to 420kg, but this time last year M was 511kg, so we're doing better.  There's still a sizeable chunk fenced off in the top field which they're slowly strip grazing up, though Finn worked out that if he bent his knees and shuffled a bit, he could limbo under the electric gate and get into the long grass, which delighted him and infuriated Merlin!  The gate has now been lowered and he's not happy with me!

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Slowly, slowly

We're getting there.  As Shakespeare wrote, 'the rain it raineth every day' here, so today was the first chance I had to get on Finn again.  He was an utter git about being led down to the field shelter to be tacked up (I think Merlin may have taught him that Mum in jods means work - must get some of those denim ones!) and planted himself every couple of steps - I ended up whirling him around and then taking him on a brisk lap of the field in trot, after which he gave in.  Then he was a git about lining up with the mounting block (though to be fair I was faffing because I was nervous about him bucking again) and in the end I had an 'oh soddit' moment and hopped on from the ground. 

No bucks and after the first few seconds I was fine.  At the moment I need far more work on me than he does on him, so we spent most of the time in walk, concentrating on relaxing my seat to let him step out and getting him to do walk-halt transitions with just a seat aid, which he was doing beautifully by the time we finished.  I tried a bit of trot and he went much better for me in sitting trot than rising, which is definitely down to my fitness and lack of recent practice at rising, and then got really brave and asked for canter in the bottom corner and we did one side of the school to finish.

Merlin is on good form, he's got more friendly with Finn again and when I caught M this afternoon to brush him off and Finn wandered off, I had to let him go again as he was really stressing about not being able to see him.  I'll try taking Merlin out for a walk round the village this week and see what happens - he's not been out of the fields since Finn arrived.

Weigh in this week, Merlin 458kg and Finn 408kg.  Finn's lost quite a bit, but I think that's down to slightly less food and less bloating as he's cribbing a bit less.  I can feel ribs anyway, though he still has that apple bum, but the saddle fitter told me that was more down to his type and how he was muscled than excess blubber.  I'm slowly getting through that thick mane, the tack shop in Wick advised Canter Mane and Tail, which is miraculous stuff!  There's lots of loose hair in it though, the two thirds I've worked through is noticeably thinner than the untouched third.  His nappy rash came back a couple of days ago, on the other side this time.  It's clearing up again with the gel and I'm spreading it much more thinly this time to try and avoid the gungy tail problem.  I think it's going to be an industrial-sized pack of wet wipes and a twice daily inspection job in the long term though.  He's due his boosters at the end of next month/beginning of September so I'll ask the vet's opinion when s/he is out.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Black and blue

The saddle fitter arrived on Friday evening, about half an hour after I'd got back from Inverness, so I was still running round the field with a wheelbarrow trying to clean up a day's poo.  My lovely neighbours still let me use their school whenever I want (I'm selfishly pleased that their proposed house move to Aberdeenshire this summer fell through!), so I caught Finn, grabbed his tack and went through. 

Clare, the saddle fitter, has an injury to her back which means she uses crutches and Finn really wasn't sure about them - he kept side stepping away from her while she was trying to take tracings and kept one ear firmly locked onto them at all times.  She asked me to tack him up without his numnah and ride him so she could see how the saddle was in use - the moment I put my weight in the stirrup to get on he took off bronc-ing around the school.  I ended up face-planted in the sand with bruises to the underneath of my arms and my dignity!  I put his numnah back on to see if it was the different feel of the saddle which had triggered it and called Mick over to drag the mounting block in for me while I went to borrow my neighbour's lunging equipment as Clare suggested a few spins on the lunge before trying again!  While we were digging through the tack room for a lunge line, Finn had pulled away from Clare and bronc'd round the school again - I think it must have been the crutches spooking him, because he lunged fine and when I got on from the block and trotted him round for five minutes he was absolutely perfect.  I would have suspected a back problem, but I've ridden him four times in 10 days, including mounting from the ground, and there hasn't been a single issue.

The upshot is that the saddle fits fine, the bit I was worried about with the nails doesn't touch him, so I just need to pick up some wool from the field and glue it into place.  The saddle is a good one, a working hunter Farrington, one of the original ones made before Derby House took over.  It does need reflocking, but not urgently and she's recommended that I just get out and ride this summer and then let her have the saddle for a week at some point over the winter when the weather isn't so kind.

If that wasn't enough beating up for the weekend, he got me again this morning.  His nappy rash has cleared up beautifully with antibacterial gel twice a day, but a lot of the gel has ended up in his tail which has made combing out the occasional small piece of poo that gets stuck in there (it's a proper full bushy native tail!) rather unpleasant, so I marched out to do battle with a bucket of water, a sponge and a bottle of shampoo.  Being a typical pony, he stuck his nose in the bucket to see if there was anything edible in it and came up just as I turned round from closing the gate and bent down to pick it up again.  Pony forehead met human nose with a loud crunching sound and I think I'm quite lucky not to have broken it!  A few minutes of swearing later, bath-time was underway and it's a lot less sticky now, though I think I'm going to have to have another go in the next week as there's still a bit left in there.

Merlin, after initially loving having a friend, has now got a bit arsey about the whole thing and if Finn is on a bit of grass he thinks looks tasty, he'll march up to him and bite him on the bum to get him to move.  Finn has now got wise to this and will trot off if he sees Merlin walking over with his ears back.  The rest of the time, M is happy enough to graze next to him and yells when I take Finn out to ride even if he can see us in the school, so I think they'll settle down together before too long.  Hard to believe Finn has been here less than two weeks.  Interestingly, Clare - who is a BHSII instructor as well as a saddle fitter - doesn't think Finn is overweight, the stomach is just down to saggy muscles and the amount of air he's inhaling from cribbing on fence posts.  She says get him out and about and working before I put him on a diet, so we'll give it a go :o)

It does show that my confidence is coming on though - a year ago there's no way I would have got on a horse or pony I'd just seen do huge bunny hopping bucks around a school.  There's trust building here already.