Sunday, November 11, 2012

Doin' the "Net Thing"

I have been talking to the Boyfriend for at least a year now about building Milo a slow-feeder hay box. I wasnt happy with most of the designs available on the market so ended up drawing up a design of a box myself. Boyfriend is pretty darned handy with a hammer and nail so I figured I would ask him to make one for me. Well, I knew the cost of the material would be a little high, but aside from that, finding the right sized grid-wall paneling suitable to act as the "slow feeder" aspect of the box, was proving more difficult then I imagined. We scraped the idea for a while. But recently I had been really wanting one again, so I asked for Boyfriend to make me one as my Christmas present.

Well some time as passed again and I decided that irregardless on if we build our own design, I wanted a slow feed hay net. I was skeptical about them at first (why not just use two regular hay nets together?). But after seeing the success that Melissa and Grace have had with it, I decided that it would be a good compromise for my situation right now. And down the road, if I get a box, I can still use the slow feeder net for other uses.

Obviously, the benefits behind a slow feed is well documented. Aside from the physical benefits of allowing horses access to hay at a much slower and natural rate, I also figured this would be a great method for Milo offering him something to keep his busy mind occupied throughout the day. As well as a physical benefit, the slow feed option would be better for Milo mentally.

And what even got me thinking about going the slow feed route? Besides the mentioned above, I have honestly gotten really "over" the current BO feeding at such irregular and inconsistent times as he does. Morning feedings are anywhere between 8-10am, and evening feed ranges from 3-5 (mostly around the three o-clock range). Inconsistent feed scheduling as really gotten to me, not to mention the 16-some hour difference overnight between the two feedings. Plus, the BO really wastes a lot of my hay (how hard is it to cleaning pick up a few flakes from the bale without strewing broken flakes all over??) and Im also not sure he correctly feeds the amount that I request.

So, with the slow feed method, I can be in much more control over the hay part. As my new schedule allows me, I feed Milo almost every evening now. Which means I can set up his evening feed in the slow feed net (cleanly) and the BO only has to throw two flakes in the morning, hopefully cutting down on his waste. Plus, Milo can peacefully eat most of the night during the long spread of time.

Why was I initially adverse to the net? I didnt really like their design; most of the options I researched online included hanging them high (necessarily) and thereby requiring the horse to eat high, and I much prefer the natural "head down" stance for consumption. How would I combate this problem offering the hay a little lower then I had been seeing, but safe enough to keep Milo's hooves from getting caught in the netting? I decided to utilize his "hay corner" (which, btw, the BO fails to toss the hay into. Instead, opting for the lazy route and dumping it immediately into the doorway, and right into shavings. Um, theres a reason why I swept a CLEAN area in the feed corner...ugh) and feeder. I hung the slow net just over the feed bucket, so when it empties out the loose net can hang into the feeder. This location is low enough for me to be happy with Milo eating at, but clearly avoiding an open option for Milo's hooves. I like it so far.

And Milo took to it pretty easily. He quickly figured out how to spin the net, now making it a stall toy too!

BTW, did you notice how nicely Milo's cut is healing up? :)

I even came back after about four hours to check on how it was doing (I fed it in the morning so I could make sure he was eating from it, then feed evening hay if he didnt take to it), and it seemed great! Milo seemed to eat about a third of it, and found a way to pull enough out to get a small pile on the floor too. But after four hours I was pleased to see he hadnt completely drained it, so it is offering a slow feed for him.

Oh, and the photos were taken when I first put it up, when there was still morning hay on the ground. Milo chose the feeder! Probably because its new and fun looking, LOL!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Best "Welcome Home" Gift

I returned home from a week-long visit to Dallas to see my Dad. It was a good trip and the timing was between my new job transition. Did I not tell you? I officially resigned from Costco and tomorrow am starting my new job with the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard (PSNS), one of the best places to get into in my neck of the woods. Sorry I hadnt told ya, its been crazy around here.

Anyway, the trip to see family was fun, the weather was hot, and the atmosphere Texas-western. I avoided thinking about the hard goodbye the whole trip, knowing that this trip would be the last for a long time, with starting this new job I have no clue when I might start receiving vacation or an opportunity to even use it for some time. When the morning came to finally leave back home, I was eager with a touch of melancholy - for leaving Dad, but homesick for the Peninsula. I kept it together though throughout the fast hug and goodbye at Security, through the metal detector, the pat down, additional screening on my hands (for what Im not sure, never had to do that before), and through having to throw away my hair products because they were apparently more high-risk then the empty shot gun shell in my purse. I waved goodbye to my six-foot-three father as I saw him just overhead in the back of the crowd. I headed around the corner to my gate. I continued to keep it together even after I realized it was Daylight Savings and I was now an extra hour early for my flight. I finally lost it however when boarded on the plane and feeling that moment when the aircraft is no longer touching ground. That instant brought on the waterworks and I tearfully said goodbye to my Dad and to my scary but exciting future.

A stop in Albuquerque and four and a half hours later, I was arriving in Seattle - home. The sudden descent from the cloud-filled sky into airspace just above treetops and roofs was a surprisingly unemotional moment. We touched ground, unloaded, and I met with Boyfriend outside the terminal. We headed home.

He dropped me off before making some necessary errands (he is leaving for one of his two annual big Idaho hunting trips), knowing I would want to zip out to the barn and see Milo without waiting any longer. He was right. I dumped my bags in the front door, loaded up with Angie and headed to the barn, butterflies in my stomach.

Milo was filthy. Boyfriend had been checking on him nearly every night while I was gone, giving reports of him being "ok". I dont think he groomed him in the week I was gone though! Milo had dried and still wet mud encrusted in areas underneath the blanket I had yet seen him accomplish. I scrubbed and brushed, Milo tried to be patient but week-long prison and lack of work made him anxious to go and he chewed eagerly on his lead line. This time I allowed him to.

I carefully wrapped his legs in my black and orange polo wraps and we headed to the arena. Outfitted in the snaffle bit, I thought it would be wiser to stick with some basics to get him back into work. I mounted up, then quickly dismounted to adjust my stirrups.

Whilst in Dallas I had an acute realization about my body. I had been told on multiple occasions about the difference in length between my two legs. Sarah had felt it, noted it, and changed my stirrup length on the right side one hole shorter. I always figured from my broken leg as a five-year-old it had just grown a touch shorter. I had never truly felt a notable difference. But there I was, walking down the aisle-way of my Stepmother's tanning salon when I noticeably felt the harder step on my longer left leg, and the imbalance of my hips and the general way I was walking. Just one of things you can be told about, but dont truly understand until you feel it. Kinda like when I saw the sign in Texas for "Texarcana" just like the song "Eastbound and Down" from Smoky and the Bandit. Never making the connection before until seeing this song, I now truly understood the geographical meaning from "the boys are thirsty in Atlanta, and there's beer in Texarcana, we'll bring it back no matter what it takes. Eastbound and Down". Just a side-note.

I readjusted the stirrups I had just situated the week prior after my clinic with Mario (post still yet to thing at a time), now making the left length one hole longer to accommodate the uneven feeling I now realized when saddled. I climbed back into the saddle again, stirrups feeling even, and walked Milo around the arena on a loose rein about two or three laps each direction. I then bumped him into the bridle, focusing again on really using my leg to push him into the bit and only use my hands as a means to hold him there, rather then use my hands to put him there, just like I had been working on late this summer. But today I had a further realization with my legs. I realized I was bumping my legs in a motion that not only meant "go forward" but also "lift up, push into the bit". No wonder I was having communication issues with my legs, especially while at the clinic. I had two meaning for the same cue!

So I focused on maintaining a bumping leg cue only for lift, and a squeezing motion only for forward. With this in mind, as well as a more correct use of my hands, I schooled Milo at the walk and trot maintaining beautiful mostly consistent contact on circles and straight-of-ways. The visible difference in Milo was notable - the arc in his neck a soft and fluid curve from wither to poll, nit bulging in the center or top showing breakage in the spine, but a continuous, flowing arc and a lovely connection on the rein with push from the rear.

After the trot we moved into the canter-depart exercise, learned from the Mario clinic. What he really showed me was two things: the importance of practicing the canter-depart (or any maneuver, really) in the same location of the arena (utilizing a wall in this practice for instance) to help teach the horse the maneuver properly with a good level of anticipation. Obviously, you then start weaning away from the singular spot in the arena to being able to perform the maneuver in any location, but starting from one location helps teach the horse the maneuver in a way he can be confident with. Secondly, the importance of keeping Milo soft of the bit and engaging from the rear through the entire maneuver. This is something Sarah had been telling me about and we were working on even a year ago. But hearing it in another way and from another person really made me realize the importance of it.

Mario got on Milo at the clinic and really showed me how much Milo evades staying consistent on the bit into the canter depart. I explained that I can just keep my hand forward and on a loose rein he can pick up the canter depart nicely. He further explained that although that method is not technically wrong, in the eyes of a judge, which he is, he questions what exactly it is that I am hiding by not showing the judge my horse's response to bit pressure. He continued that we are riding in reining, afterall, and he personally as a judge wants to see what the horse does when you pick up the reins. He concluded that a truly broke horse will allow you to pick up the rein, stay soft and go right into the maneuver. By having to tip-toe around the issue only proves that the horse and maneuver arent fully developed.

Fast forward two weeks now. Milo and I have been working in the particular canter depart exercise, which is simply riding a circle at a walk or trot (preferably aiming for a clean departure from the walk, but we are working the trot now, then the walk to ease him into it), and as you approach the wall at a forty-five degree angle, sit into the outside seat bone and ask the horse to canter. Now, with Milo, I need to maintain a bumping motion in my legs and steady contact with the rein to encourage him to stay in the bridle and not flip out of it. Usually the first go of the ride is a bit sloppy, but by the second or third attempt, he makes a beautiful canter depart, and he did today.

I also learned, thanks to Mario's clinic, how to ask for a canter departure without feeling overwhelmed. It still follows the same general principles in Sarah's method, but I dont get very overwhelmed thinking about each component. I still maintain hold on the outside rear leg, the driving leg, but instead of "loading the hock" like Sarah had me do by slightly pushing the hip out on the hock, I simply sit on that outside seatbone, holding the leg with my seat. Theres far less for me to micromanage, but its the same general concept I have learned. It also allows me to ask for the canter depart without having to lay my outside leg back, another obstacle I recently was shown from my last lesson on Wesley with Sarah, one I had struggled with for weeks afterwards.

So anyway, my ride was excellent, my horse felt ten feet taller (maybe just from not riding in a week, but he really felt good today), and the best part was that I truly knew that Milo was happy and enjoying his work. The fact that he was a little mouthy and a little anxious in the cross ties when we started was forgettable. I really knew he was happy Mom was home by his happy demeanor and appetite for work in our ride. It was truly a splendid and most rewarding return back home.