Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Field Trip: Out of the Pen

Yesterday was a big, big day for Skeeter.  She learned a lot and finally got to step foot outside her pen.

I've been wanting to get her out of her "holding cell" for a few days, but don't want to turn her loose out in the big pen quite yet.  The BLM guidelines say that they can be turned out after they are easily approached and caught, so technically, I could turn her out.  However, there is a whole lot of nothing outside of the big pen and if she got it in her mind to just leave, I could be in trouble.  After yesterday, the big pen is for working and the holding cell is for living: eating, sleeping, etc.  Once she's more comfortable in the big pen, we'll let her loose in it, but that will be a few days yet.

Mom and Bill were down to go to Kyzzer's end of the year band concert and came over to L.E.'s early enough to help me with Skeeter.  Because I want Skeet to be comfortable with multiple people handling her, I asked Bill to halter her while I changed out of my scrubs and into jeans.  From the tack room, where I was changing, I could hear Mom laughing and hoped that Skeeter wasn't giving Bill too bad a time.  Apparently, Mom was laughing at Bill because he was being fumble-fingers trying to figure out the rope halter.  We usually use the flat, nylon halters, but Skeeter's in a rope training halter.  By the time I got changed and out to the pen, Bill had her haltered and was leading her around the holding cell with a big ol' grin on his face.  She was doing so well for him.

He handed her off to me and I lead her out of the holding cell to the big pen.  I wish I could say it went off without a hitch, but that would be a lie.  We got out of her holding cell and her ears went up, then her neck went up, and then she started trying to bob her head away from the halter.  When I put more pressure on the halter the Battle Royale began.  We had about a ten second battle, with her backing up, yanking on the lead rope and dragging me across the pen until she remembered her manners and I remembered to stop being defensive and go on the offensive.  As soon as I got big and started moving her backward, instead of allowing her to drag me, her whole demeanor changed.  While Mom has video of our Battle Royale, she does not have video of me winning.  When I asked her about it today, she muttered something about turning it off in case there was a wreck.

After I "won" and re-established that I make the rules, she lead nicely.

This, I can do.

What do you mean I can't eat the green stuff while we're working?
 I handed her off to Bill, who took a turn leading her around.

Once she realized we really were in control and that no means no (so much temptation with all that green stuff she saw Uncle Ranger eating), we had to work on stay out of my space.  It didn't take long for her to realize that she had to stay an arm's length away from me while turning toward me (left).

See? I can be a good girl.

We checked out the water tank from the outside of the holding pen.  I hadn't topped off the tank yet, so I put the hose in the tank and turned on the water.  I'll be darned if that mare didn't trace the water flow from the spigot, down the hose to the tank, and back three or four times.  It was like she was discovering where it came from.  You could almost hear her thinking: this handle goes up, it makes a funny noise, and I can trace it down this white snake, into the metal pond.

That mare, she's a smart one!

Smart enough that when I wanted to take her back through the gate to the holding cell, just for practice going in and out of the gate, she knew she didn't want to go back in there.  We didn't quite have a Battle Royale, but we did have a discussion.  I took my time with her and she'd eek up to the threshold of the gate and then refuse.  If she refused and acted like she was going to pull back, she got in trouble, so she'd just stop.

But I like it out here!

Bill got another lead rope and started swinging it around behind her. She flinched and looked at him, all four legs still firmly planted.

Mom got the "flag" out to flag her in.  Nope.  Not scared of the flag anymore.  She flinches and then looks at you like, "what?" when you try to flag her. 

Only one thing left to try.


I had Bill hold her while I went and got a flake of hay.  I walked past her with the flake, into her pen, and put it on her food.  She watched me very carefully the whole time.  When I took the lead rope back from Bill she followed me into the pen like we had done it a million times.

After she had a bite or two, we went back out of the gate and back in.  Then we walked back out and did some circles in the big pen, then back in the pen.  She's got this gate thing down now.

I'm a pro!

Remember the destroyed hay bag?  And how I said she needed toys?  Well, Mom and Bill brought her a couple of toys: an old sturdy juice jug filled with water that she can kick or toss around and a rope dog toy to play with.  Of course, Bill had to torture her with the dog toy.

Ok, I'll play along for Grandpa Beel.

I told her to have some dignity and not allow him to do that shit, otherwise they'd stick her in antlers or an elf hat come Christmas time, but she didn't listen.  Of course not, why would she listen to Mom?  What do I know?

Digger was with us all afternoon and wanted to spend time with her, so he got out the brush and curry comb and gave her a mini spa day.  He might be her new favorite human.  I brush her quickly, like we're getting ready for a ride.  I guess years of saddling lots of horses in a very short period of time has made my grooming a bit matter-of-fact.  If Skeeter had been a cat, she would have been purring with Digger.  He took his time and just enjoyed being with her.

I like my brother, Mom.
I thought we were done.  After all, Skeeter had a really big day.  We did a lot and she had a lot of new experiences.  But as we were getting ready to leave, Mom remembered she had her weight tape in her vest, so back into the holding cell I went.  Mom called out a warning that the fluttering tape might be an issue.  Skeeter and I just laughed at her, as Skeeter stood like an old seasoned horse through the whole thing.

According to the tape, Skeeter is 14.3hh (I had eyeballed her at 14.2hh, so close) and 902# (again, I had guessed 900#).  I'd better start doing yoga or something so I'll be flexible enough to mount her from the ground if I ever have to.

(We did actually get a better measurement once she squared up)
We must have tired her out, because when I went over to feed this morning, it was obvious that she had slept hard last night.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Bored, Hungry Horse ...

... can be very destructive.

Jay and I had Sunday planned out perfectly.  In our heads anyway.  And then the day fell apart and the timing didn't work out the way we had planned it.  It happens.

Wait, let me rewind a second.  On Saturday, I dug out Estes' feed bag and put a couple of flakes in it for Skeeter.  There's just so much waste feeding straight of the ground.  I don't want to make a feed bunker while she's in the little pen, because the plan is to move her out of it soon.  So, Saturday, I put most of her food on the ground and threw a flake or so in the feed bag, hoping to keep her from getting bored.  Once she figured out the feed bag, she was super happy.

And then Sunday came around and the day didn't go as planned, so I never made it back to Skeeter to put more hay in the feed bag.  She got fed in the morning, but I was planning on going back to put a flake or so in the bag to keep her entertained.  Didn't happen.  In fact, we got so behind schedule that I had L.E. throw her a couple of flakes because I didn't want to go driving into L.E.'s yard at ten o'clock at night.

I didn't think anything about the feed bag. I just figured if it was empty, she'd leave it alone.  Especially since she had hay to eat.


Those are the pieces I picked up.  I'm still finding smaller, bite-sized pieces in her pen.  I tell you what, when she does something, she does it up right.

Looks like she'll be getting some toys to keep her entertained.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Introducing the Halter

Wednesday was a short day at work for me, and Mom just happened to be in town, so I thought it was a good day to introduce Skeeter to the halter.  I had put the lead over her neck and the noseband over her nose, but hadn't actually tied the halter on.

I took Ranger over to Estes' pen (I think I'll always call it that!) to graze, so Skeeter could focus on us.  The joke was on me - she had buddied up a bit too much to Ranger and spent fifteen minutes pacing and calling for him.  It was a good thing he went home yesterday - she was getting far too buddy sour.

Once she calmed down a bit, we started working with the halter.  I put it on and took it off three times, going through the process the same way each time.  That wasn't really intentional, to do it the same way each time, but it was muscle memory.  I didn't realize that I had a haltering routine, not really, until I started paying attention with her.

Luckily, it's the same routine everyone in my family uses.  The rope over the neck lets them know they're "caught".  Okay, it lets Ranger know he's caught.  Skeeter doesn't know "caught" yet.

In fact, she doesn't really enjoy pressure on the halter at all, so we'll be working on that.  I'd love to get her out of her pen and work her, but I can't until she can lead properly.

This afternoon, we tried giving to pressure and she'll give by turning her head right or left.  She got that figured out pretty quickly.  However, if I try to move her forward with pressure (or as Bill says, "dragging her by her face"), she immediately braces up and starts back pedaling like she did in the video.

Yeah.  Gotta get past that.

She also doesn't really appreciate the halter for more than just a few seconds at a time.  She did a great job on Wednesday, but she figures that her job is to stand there and look pretty for a few seconds and then we'll take the halter off.  Fair enough, that's what we did on Wednesday.

So tonight, she gets to sleep with her halter on.  Guess who has four hooves and is not excited about that?  I gave some thought to leaving a short lead rope on, but got a little overprotective when I saw her step through a loop.  All I could imagine were catastrophes.  Good Lord, I wasn't this over protective with my two-legged kids.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Scary Chairs

I was interested to see how much of yesterday's short lesson Skeeter remembered when I went to feed this morning.

She did such a good job!  I had to tell her "Get back!" and get big for just a second and then she remembered and stepped away from the gate so I could come in with the hay.  She kept a polite distance from me and the hay until I told her it was okay to eat.

Jay  and I planned on just hanging out with Ranger and Skeeter today until his mom and sister came over to meet them, so we took along some camp chairs.  Jay set them up in the part of the shed that's outside of Skeeter's pen.  She was curious about them, but not very scared, so I folded one up and put it against the rail to see how she would react.

I'm astounded at the smarts this horse has.  She's very solid minded and able to reason things through.

In fact, I'm at a loss with her right now - I thought we'd be at least a week away from doing half of what we're doing.  Back to the drawing board to figure out where to go from here.  (But in a good way.)

Today is Jay's birthday and we celebrated by having a Meet Skeeter Day, so we invited our families out to L.E.'s house.  I forgot to get pictures of Jay's family and almost forgot to get pictures of Nebalee's, but I managed to snap a few.

There was a lot of commotion with a lot of people around, but it didn't seem to bother her one bit.  In fact, she laid down for a quick scratch at one point.  (And of course, got ooohhed and aaaahhed over.)

I know she's itchy from shedding out - she's been using the support beam in her pen to scratch on, so I said, "what the hell?" and went to get the shed blade.  She pretty much thought that was the best business in the world.  Nothing bothered her as I was using the blade on her - she let me do both sides, her back, her belly, and the tops of both front legs.  Not a flinch.

Ashinator and her boyfriend hung out with Nebalee's family and Skeeter for a while and left, so it was just Jay and me sitting in the scary chairs for a bit.  I went and got Ranger from Estes' pen, where he'd been grazing and for the first time, I heard Skeeter's voice.  She didn't say a word when I moved Ranger out of the pen, but boy did she want to talk when he came back home.  Not one peep from her since she was unloaded from  the trailer and not a peep when I took Ranger away, but she was awfully glad to see him when he came back and gave him the full run-down of her day.  Like a typical guy, he humored her and went promptly to sleep standing in the sun.

I decided that since she was so good with the shedding blade, that I needed to do her mane, too.  She didn't care.  I got about half of her mane and her forelock combed out without any problems (from the horse, that is.  I had problems with that much loose hair!) and she looked beautiful.  With the weather coming in, I'm sure it'll be back to a tangled mess tomorrow, but she looked purdy for her visitors.

Ranger roused himself from his grass coma to let us know when my friend Jen and her family showed up.

His job done, he went back to his grass coma, while Skeeter soaked up all the attention again.

I can't begin to tell you how happy I am with her and how smart she is.  She's just so ... right.  Now I really hope I don't screw her up!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Table Manners

Skeeter got her first lesson today.

She's going to learn her table manners.  I had planned for yesterday and today to be a settling in day, and we'd start "work" tomorrow.  Last evening, when I went to check on her, I pushed a couple of flakes through her fence and noticed that she dove right in before I was even done.

It occurred to me that I might have a pushy eater at that point.  I let it be, but made a mental note.

This morning when I went over to feed, I threw the bale over the fence into the outer pen (Ranger's pen), which startled her, but she came immediately back to investigate.  I'm actually pleased with that.  She didn't spook hard or for long - she just jumped a bit, spun and moved about three strides before she realized that whatever thumped out of the sky didn't eat her and she turned to check it out.

I moved the bale to Ranger's preferred eating spot, split it into two and carried her half to her pen.  She met me at the gate.  Now, a lot of people would be pleased about this, but now I know her motivation.  She thought I was just her hay bitch.

Boy did she have another think coming.

She learned pretty quickly that the hay bitch has rules and that she will not be allowed to eat until *I* say so.  It took a couple of "ugly noises" and a pop on the nose for her to get the point, but when she backed off, she stayed a respectable distance until I stepped away from her hay pile and released the pressure.  Even then, she asked for permission to eat.

I know that for the past three and a half years she's been at Canon City that there haven't been any "human herd" rules, only "horse herd" rules.  The inmates drive the truck into the pens, use the pitchfork to dump hay into piles around the pen, and drive out.  She just doesn't know that there are rules for dinner time other than those set by the other horses, without other horses in the pen, she thought it would be okay to just dive in.

She's a smart girl, though, she'll get the rules sorted out in no time.  But, boy, was it a throw back to having young kids.  Set the rule and enforce, enforce, enforce.  It will be interesting to see how much of her first lesson in manners stuck when I go feed tomorrow.  I don't expect her to get it right away, but I know she'll pick up on it fast.

Tomorrow is Meet Skeeter Day - Nebalee and her family are coming over and my friend Jen is bringing her kids over.

Also, here's a super cute picture of the meeting between Ranger and Skeeter, just for an "awww" moment.

(She looks a lot taller than Ranger, but he's standing in a hole.  She's really only about two inches taller at the withers.)

Thursday, May 8, 2014

She's Home!

This is just a super fast update because I have to go back to work.  I planned on taking the day off, but one of the other instructor's kid broke his arm and needed surgery last night, so I'm going to run in for just a couple of hours.  Unfortunately, that means there's not much blogging time.  I'll get to all the particulars later, but here are a few pictures I just had to share.

Look, our hair is the same color :)
I'm sure there will be much much more in the coming days.  Thank you to everyone who has been beside me throughout this adoption process.  Now on to training.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

We're in the Homestretch

Mom and Bill brought Ranger down yesterday to get settled in. 

He didn't really enjoy the trailer ride down, as he hates my tiny trailer.  Hates it enough that he apparently broke a lead rope refusing to load up. 

Hates it enough that he felt the need to ride the entire way with his butt braced up against the back door, resulting in an interesting "tail 'do".

He looks like a kid with bad bed head!  But he didn't want to get out of the trailer, either.  I guess once he decided that he had to ride in it, he was going to stay it in thankyouverymuch.  Bill ended up having to pull on his tail AND give the back command, because Ranger was not going to respond to the verbal command only.

Once out of the trailer, though, Ranger was a happy boy.  Has a whole field of green stuffs to eat.  A whole field!  That he doesn't have to share with anyone! (Little does he know...)

After we got Ranger settled and I was able to get to the Post Office, I was excited to see that Skeeter's new "clothes" arrived.  I bought her a new rope halter and lead that I think will be stunning against her black.  I have to brag on Julie Goodnight's store a little bit.  When I bought my helmet, it was through her online store and I received it in under a week, which I thought was pretty good.  The halter/lead rope combination, though, blew my mind.  I ordered it late Saturday night and it was waiting in my mailbox yesterday (Tuesday).  I know the size of Julie's operation, and it ain't big.  To process and ship the order so quickly is impressive!

L.E. (Ranger's name for Elli) has been pretty quick with being trained.  Ranger just looks her way with those ears secret weapons.  I think he's pleased with the way she's progressing in her training.

In fact, this morning, he tried training me when I stopped by with his favorite treats of all time.

Waaaaiiiiitttt ... crud, he's already got me trained!

He sure is a sweetheart, though. Who can resist this face?

I would have some treats, please.

He's so generous with rewarding our good behavior, too.  Look at his soft eye.

He was telling me I was doing good for a two-legger.

He's enjoying being king of the hill and getting all of the attention.  Boy, is his world about to be rocked!

Monday, May 5, 2014


I got confirmation from the BLM this morning that Skeeter will be delivered on Thursday.  There are three other horses coming up to our neck of the woods, but they're all going to the same address, so Miss Skeeter will be dropped off first.

Ranger Danger is coming down tomorrow to get settled in before Skeeter comes.  Hopefully he won't be too lonely for a day and a half.  The grass is growing beautifully in Estes' old pen, so while we're messing around getting Skeeter unloaded, Ranger will be having hisself a picnic.

I did some last-minute re-arranging of the pen yesterday to make sure Ranger had some shelter.  Normally, I wouldn't worry about it, but our winds have been crazy and there aren't any trees or other horses for him to huddle with, so I quickly re-arranged a couple of things.

Now if Thursday would just get here...

Friday, May 2, 2014


Today was the day; at 4:30 a.m. my alarm went off and I only hit snooze once.  Trust me, that's a feat.

I poked my contacts into my eyeballs, slid into some clothes, woke Jay up and Facebooked Bill that it was time to go horse shopping.

I really didn't know what to expect.  The instructions are kind of cryptic; even the directions to the facility are vague, "two miles east of Canon City on Hwy 50".  That's it.  I guess they figure that people will see the enormous prison complex and assume that's it. 

We received some instructions on what we could and couldn't wear or take into the prison and we were careful to follow the instructions.  Our other instruction was, "be there at 9:00 a.m.".  Maybe I'm too Type A, but be where at 9:00 a.m.?  Two miles east of Canon City on Hwy 50, of course!  The where turned out to be the visitor's center parking lot, where the WHIP/BLM crew came to pick us up.

We filled out our paperwork and climbed aboard a D.O.C. van.  For someone who always likes to have an escape, being locked in a prison van wasn't a lot of fun, but I quickly forgot about it as I gawked at everything we passed.  I had no idea the prison was involved in so many things: office furniture-making, growing grapes for local wineries, greenhouses to supply flowers to flower shops, dairy farming, and the Wild Horse Inmate Program.  It was incredible.  We even saw "pet" Big Horn Sheep who moved to the prison after their home was destroyed in the Royal Gorge Fire last summer.

When we got to the corrals, we got to watch as a young horse was coaxed into a trailer.  I loved being able to see how patient and kind the handlers were and that made me feel good about how the horses are handled.

Each "party" (group) was assigned a chaperone to show them the animals they were interested in.  I wanted to look at 3 - 4 year olds, geldings and mares, so off we went.  The first pen had lots of friendly critters, but none that stood out to me.  The second pen had a little lop-eared fellow who lost the tip of his left ear to the cold.  He was a definite maybe.

We went through a couple more pens, and I listed maybe two or three more possibilities, but while the horses were friendly, none spoke to me.  There was a little black mare, #6864, with a star and a white anklet on her left hind who shot to the top of my list.  She let me get my hands on her a bit, but wouldn't have anything to do with Jay or Bill.  Still ... I like her.  She reminded me a bit of Estes, attitude-wise.  She wouldn't be easy to bond with, but once she bonded, it would be a forever thing.

We moved on to the next pen and I was saying "hi" to a couple of mares when this black face appeared. I didn't see her coming, but Bill and Jay said she crossed the pen to introduce herself. I laughed at her facial marking, because it reminded me of a squashed "happy sperm". You know, the cartoon sperm from sex ed in elementary school, except it looked like someone had squashed it like a bug.

She followed me a couple of steps and let me move her forelock so I could show Bill and Jay her unique mark, then wondered off to munch on the hay while I looked at a couple of other mares.  In particular, there was a nice buckskin our guide wanted us to look at.  The buckskin was not at all interested in me and meandered to the water, where the little black horse was, and she promptly drizzled water all over her.  The little black mare came back to me and nuzzled me, practically wiping her face on my shirt.  #7888, definitely a contender.  I was still thinking about #6864, but #7888 was quickly over-taking her.

I ran my hands all over her face, both sides of her neck, down her back to her hip and touched her legs.  Bill and Jay both put hands on her.  She didn't mind in the least.  I stepped back and looked her over.  Feet look good, legs look good, and she's so sweet.

I turned to our guide and said, "I'm done.  This is the one. #7888."

No sooner had he notified the office that I was done, when another group came in the pen and headed straight for my mare.  "Nope.  You're too late, she's mine."

The guide faltered for a second and looked at our guide, "seriously?".


And just like that, #7888 - Skeeter - was mine.

It turns out that she was slated to go into the halter-training program, but I managed to snag her first.

Skeeter is named after my favorite kick-ass character of all time from Tara Janzen's STEELE STREET series and is a 4 year old mare gathered on 10/11/10 from Piceance, near Meeker, Colorado.  On her paperwork, she's listed as black with a star/snip, but I saw a lot of red in her coat.  I think she's probably a very dark bay and we already know what I think her star/snip looks like.  She's just lucky I'd already decided on the name Skeeter, because she might have been saddled with "sperm face" as a name.

I don't have any pictures, but Bill was kind enough to draw pictures of our trip today.  Click over to It's A Horse Life for his take on the prison visit.

She'll be delivered sometime next week - probably Thursday and I'll give her a day or so to settle in before we start "working" on Saturday (which just so happens to be Jay's birthday, but he was kind enough to tell me I could spend it with Skeeter while he hung out with his family.  I'm a lucky girl.).

Thursday, May 1, 2014

When It Rains, It Pours


Tomorrow's the big day (as if you didn't know), but there will be a couple more "big" days in the very near future.  Tomorrow, I go to get chosen by a mustang.  This, I have been planning for weeks.  Maybe even months, ever since I found out that Audubon didn't take.

I was talking to Mom and Bill on Monday and they suggested that maybe I should consider getting Jay a horse - a thought which had crossed my mind repeatedly - but I wasn't sure he'd want to start a mustang.  While he likes horses, he's not interested in starting one.  He'll ride with me if I ask, but doesn't really feel a burning need to ride like I do.

I left it with, "if he finds a horse who he falls in love with, we'll pick one up for him, too."

Twenty minutes later, when I got home, I had a message waiting for me from Bucky's wife that Sombrero had some "oops babies" and would be giving them away.  She gave me the information and I went to take a look.




Seems that Mr. Lightning from the Sand Wash Basin that borders Sombrero's winter pasture took a liking to some of the very fine mares that Sombrero owns and had hisself a grand old time.  Now there are some oops babies.

I have a soft spot in my heart for oops babies, since both of Mom's mustangs are oopses from the same area.  At first, I tried talking Jay into taking a baby for his birthday/our anniversary, but he was having none of it and that's okay.  I don't want to force my horse habit down his throat.  One of the reasons our marriage works is that we each have our own interests and some that overlap - we don't have to be in each other's back pockets all the time.

This morning, I told him he could give me one of the babies for our anniversary instead and he just shook his head in defeat.

After round-up, I'll go to Longmont and chose the baby I want.  Compass has been kind enough to offer up space until weaning time, so the mare can stay with her herdmates at the livery.  My sort-of plan is to put some basic ground manners/halter manners on the baby and just let it be.  Over the winter, I'll send him/her/it down to winter pasture with Mom's horses to learn more horse manners and by next spring it should be big enough to continue with human manners.

The long-term plan is that by the time the mustang is finished, I can start on the baby.  I'm not quite sure why I need two horse projects at the same time, but this feels right and good.

To recap:
  • Tomorrow - go get chosen by new mustang
  • Next week - delivery day (I don't know which day yet)
  • By the end of May - new oops baby