The faint sound of mewing alerted the troops to the presence of a terrified little kitten hiding under the concrete steps at work. Luckily Linda and Harri were both there to commence rescue procedures. They put out some canned cat food and the kitten ventured out to eat it. And eventually Anastasija was able to catch her (we think it’s a her anyway). When Ana told me they’d caught her and that she was likely only around six weeks old, we decided to bring her here for a while until she’s big enough to become a barn cat. So I picked her up yesterday afternoon and brought her home.
Turns out that she’s litter-trained, and completely socialized to humans. Possibly the friendliest kitten I’ve ever met in my life. She just purrs and snuggles. Occasionally she’ll bat gently at your finger or chew on the end of earphones. But mostly she just wants to sit on your shoulder and purr.
When Jen arrived this morning to discover a kitten in residence, she nearly melted all over my floor. As soon as she’d fed the horses, she took custody for a while. Which was nice, because that kitten is like velcro. She just rides my shoulder wherever I go. After Ana was finished riding Ares, she took the kitten for another snuggle shift. The kitten is now curled up fast asleep in the folds of a fuzzy blanket now.
So really…. who drops a gentle, friendly, housebroken kitten off in the middle of winter at a dark deserted and isolated farm when it’s snowing? What do they think? That living in the country is paradise for a cat? That a kitten can survive on mice that it hunts… at six weeks old? Maybe she was an unwanted Christmas gift or something?
This is something that used to happen a lot here on this farm. Sometimes entire litters of kittens along with their mothers in cardboard boxes. But over the last few years, as the area has gotten more built up it’s mostly stopped. It still seems to happen way too often at work. This one though is particularly young, and particularly domesticated.
People who would do that need a starlight tour themselves. No coat, at the end of December, on a deserted road, when it’s snowing.
It’s been snowing madly here. I was starting to think we’d get away with another non-winter. But winter has abruptly arrived. It’s really helped the footing out though. The horses are all much more comfortable with a snowy cushion on the frozen concrete-hard ground.
We did a bit more driving practice this afternoon. First in the round pen, and then up and down the driveway. Anastasija wanted to watch, so she took the pictures this time.
Once we’d run through yesterday’s lesson and he was confident and forward (which only took a few minutes), we headed out the driveway.
He is quite responsive to voice commands, so I asked him to trot. He was unsure if that was the right thing to do and stopped a couple of times, concerned he might be doing a bad thing. But with a bit of encouragement he was happy. I was surprised at just how nicely he handled it. A very slow and surprisingly rhythmic jog. It’s very like dancing with your horse to trot them in long reins.
I’m getting a bit antsy with all this enforced idleness. So today I thought I’d teach Diego to ground drive. He lunges reasonably well, so it’s not a particularly big step to move to long reins. He was very happy to see me coming with the halter. Practically piaffing in glee as a matter of fact. Helpfully jammed his nose into the halter before I had it unbuckled. I think perhaps he’s been getting bored too.
After lungeing him for a few minutes, I had Veronica come in and hold him for me while I set up the reins and got him used to them draping around him. Then I had her lead him forward for one lap around the round pen while I walked behind gently moving the lines around his hindquarters a bit. He was totally unconcerned and very happy. So we carried on by ourselves. He was a little unsure at first, and at one point he tried to turn and face me in confusion. But he was easily convinced to move on ahead. After that he marched around like a pro. He was very attentive and kept his attention very focused on me and what I was asking. It was a great first session.
Venice is really progressing now. After working through the same exercises as yesterday (flapping lunge whip, parelli stick, and rope around her neck), I pulled a bit on the rope and asked her to face me.
She is getting very good at this. I have made sure to give her a bit of a release from pressure every time she has made an effort to look at me, face me, or step towards me. Today, she showed me just how much she understands that idea. I stepped towards her while maintaining soft pressure on the rope. She was quite intimidated, but rather than fly backwards, she picked up one front foot and while leaning backwards, she stretched her toe forward. I was very impressed at that, and immediately stepped back. She relaxed. I stepped forward, and again she rocked back while stepping one foot forward. Yep. She definitely got that she had to give me forward motion in some form to remove the human from her space. Smart little cookie!
With some repeated advance and retreat, I managed to get this:
Do you see my hand ON HER NECK???? That’s a very big moment for us!
Luckily Anastasia was here today, so I gave her the camera and she was able to take a couple of short video clips of our great accomplishment 🙂
It’s the end of the racing season at Woodbine. Just like last year, Handy Harold raced in the 1 7/8 mile allowance race, which is a very long way. He’s a big strong horse, with a great finishing kick, and he definitely likes the longer races.
Just like last year, my old friend Sammy ran in the same race. Sammy (aka Stolonboy) is a bright chestnut who is smart, cheerful, and full of the devil. A few years back, I worked for his trainers and was Sam’s designated daily sacrificial lamb hotwalker (he ate hotwalkers for breakfast, so it required someone who knew his quirks).
Harold is the great big chestnut, with the rider in brown silks with a yellow cap. Sam is a smaller chestnut, with a rider in green. Both horses ran like champs. Sam ran on the lead for most of it. Harold ran most of the race in mid-pack, just cruising, then geared up towards the end. They ran head to head through the stretch. There was a photo for the win. It was a great, great race.
Venice is now able (mostly) to cope with a lunge whip flapping over her back and neck, and around her legs and belly. And also with being rubbed, tapped, and scratched with a parelli stick. Today I brought a 22 foot rope in with me, and after doing some stuff that she was used to with the lunge whip, I picked up the rope and started flipping it around. She reacted pretty strongly to that at first, but settled after a while. Next I tossed it towards her without touching her. Again, she reacted pretty strongly. But eventually I was able to toss it over her back and neck, and then flip it forwards and backwards while she stood.
After the terrified look left her face, I managed to flip most of the rope over her withers, so that quite a lot of it was lying on the ground on the other side of her. I moved into her space and she backed away. I picked up the end on the ground, so I had both ends in my right hand (I can’t use my left because of the elbow, so I’m a bit clumsy with all this unfortunately), and the rope around the base of her neck. I expected to have to drop it again when she felt it connected to me and panicked. But she actually didn’t react at all. She was backed into a corner of the stall, so I pulled lightly to see what would happen. She took a step forward. I immediately released and let her back into the corner again. We played yo-yo games with the rope and that went amazingly well. She’ll only come one or two steps towards me, but at least she does it, and with quite light rope pressure.
After working on this for quite a while, I tried moving in towards her shoulder to see if I could touch her. But although I did manage a couple of fleeting touches, she then had a major meltdown and flew backwards, crashing headlong into the stall wall. She was okay though, and I just held on to the ends of the rope and waited for her to settle.
We went back to simple giving to the rope for the rest of the session, and I got her to sort of turn around the stall in a circle. It was very halting, but she is definitely going to be light and responsive to work with. Assuming of course that I can ever actually lay my hands on her without her taking flight.
When I finally put down the rope, she sneaked up behind me again and touched me a few times. Yesterday, she did the same to Jen while she was cleaning Venice’s stall. She is very curious about people and really wants to be friendly. She’s just overwhelmed by contact.
Finally, FINALLY, Venice has come out of her shell a tiny bit. This evening, after a ton of gentle advance and retreat, Dressy started interfering (as she regularly does – a bit possessive, that mare!) over the stall wall. She likes to put her head in between Venice and I, blocking my view with her big black head, and glaring at poor Venice.
So I turned and pushed Dressy’s head back over the wall and Venice sneaked up behind me and sniffed my elbow. I looked over my shoulder and she backed off. So I turned away again and gave Dressy a lecture. Which really emboldened Venice. Eventually she examined most of my back, my left arm, my hair, my ear (hard not to giggle when horses do that… between the tickly whiskers and the snuffling!) and even the side of my face.
I was so excited that it was hard to stay still and ignore her. But she continued exploring me for a good five minutes. I still can’t put my hands on her in any way, or move too close to her. But this is still a big step forward!
I can’t say that I’m accomplishing great things just at the moment. There’s something that’s just not quite right about the elbow. It feels fine until it extends to a certain point, and then it gets a very specific sharp pain right at the inside/rear of the joint. Which is the fracture site. My physiotherapist is quite unhappy about it. And has told me to wait for a CT scan before doing anymore exercises or stretches. I believe she’s worried that I may have a screw loose (no jokes allowed!!!). And of course, the CT scan taking a very long time to schedule. So I’m in a holding pattern.
But I continue to play with with both Venice and Diego as much as I can. Venice is just an incredibly shy mare. She improves incrementally every day. But what that means in practice is that I get perhaps an inch or two closer to her each day that I work with her. We’ve whittled that down from about 20 feet (when she arrived), to about 6 inches. And although I get very frustrated sometimes with the glacial pace, it’s a measurable improvement anyway. I can rub a longe whip or a parelli stick over her back, belly, hindquarters, neck and chest. But not yet her face. Today, using what was probably a nearly invisible system of advance and retreat, I retreated each time she turned her head towards me. Eventually she started taking tiny steps (really tiny!) towards me and I’d retreat slightly each time. That seemed to encourage her and she reached towards me very tentatively with her nose quite a few times. Of course every day we have to start again from scratch, so I will again be 6 feet from her when I go out tomorrow.
Diego got out for a little stroll on trail on Saturday on the lead shank. Anastasija took Ares, and Veronica took Ella. It was a good chance to inspect the trails here on the farm, which I haven’t ridden since late summer. They are a bit overgrown in a couple of places, and a few branches are down. But nothing too extreme. Ella was a little pushy on occasion, but calm. Ares was quite good. Diego and I discussed the issue of nudging. He tends to shove with his head. Very rude. But by the end of the walk, he was much improved.
On Sunday, Anastasija and Veronica went for a bit of a ride together for the first time. Both Ares and Ella were very well behaved. I stood out in a rather bitter wind and watched them circle the front field. Ares walks considerably faster than Ella, so Ana had to circle him a bit to keep from walking away. Ella was totally unconcerned and just ambled along at her own speed. She’s sure a placid little soul.
She was all class, all her life. A good, honest racehorse (21 Starts, 5 Wins, 1 Place, 4 Shows Career Earnings: $112,200, stakes placed at Woodbine), a firm but fair boss mare, and an exceptionally attentive mama.
None of her kids were ever quite as good on the track as she was. But they were all fine, big, handsome horses, and almost all of them have gone on to successful sport horse careers in dressage, jumping, and eventing.
I will miss her nonchalant drift to a halt in front of me after breakfast, graciously allowing me to scratch her neck while she gazed over her domain. Much too regal to ever lose her dignity over the attentions of a mere human.
Black Pony Blues
(This one’s for Dressy!)
Procol Harum Conquistador, your stallion stands, in need of company…
Son House I say, the pony I’m ridin’, he can fox-trot, he can lope and pace
You know, a horse with them many gaits, you know, I’m bound to win the race
He’s a travelin’ horse an’ he don’t deny his name…
Ballad of a Runaway Horse
Emmylou Harris (written by Leonard Cohen)
(Sure wish I could sing like Emmylou!)
Kasey Chambers When I grow up I want a pony. I’m gonna ride her from dusk til dawn. I’m gonna brush her mane. And feed her sugar cane. And keep her in safe from the storm …