Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Muffled

Winter has arrived in earnest, and a good deal earlier than usual, too. The good news is I don't find cold nearly as off-putting as I used to. My windproof insulated breeches plus my leather chinks provide a pretty impenetrable suit of armor for my lower body, and I have insulated boots and insulated gloves and a neck warmer and a helmet liner. I have a baselayer/down shirt/vest/sweatshirt combo for my upper body.

The benefit of having all these clothes on is it's easier than one might expect to stay warm in sub-freezing temps. The downside is there's a sort of overall muffling effect on communication as a whole.

This weekend, we rode both days but we did not ride twice each day. We thought we might, but in the end it's hard to finish one frigid ride and immediately start another.

We've had an interesting little reminder on how diet impacts behavior these last couple of weeks. As the weather started to cool, Brian and I started giving both Steen and Zoey a pretty good ration of SafeChoice grain after hard rides. I have long been skeptical about feeding grain, but recently with Bear's anemia I have been worrying there might be some deficiencies in the hay our horses get. I thought maybe some grain could help offset this by providing some things the hay might not. Also both Steen and Zoey can tend towards the lean side when they're getting a lot of exercise.

Interestingly, a short time after we started with the 'grain bombs' (as we called them), Steen started showing dullness under saddle and Zoey found a renewed reservoir of anxiety about being caught in the pasture. Several times in a row, Brian and I went out to get our horses only to have Zoey bolt from him the moment he got near her. She would then gallop wildly around with far more craziness than we saw even when we first got her. She'd use up so much energy going nuts before the ride, by the time Brian got on she hardly had anything left to give.

I don't know what finally made me connect it to the grain. I think it was one particularly explosive gallop initiated by nothing more than a brush of a rope on her neck. It's always frustrating to see behaviors you've worked so hard to fix come back up again, but in this case it was mystifying as well. We've been 'over' this for quite a while, and all of Zoey's anxiety-driven behaviors are much, much improved lately.

So I was trying to puzzle it out when I realized Zoey's new freakishness about being caught coincided exactly with when we started feeding her SafeChoice.

Their faces right after we told them they'd be getting no more grain.

We took both of them off the grain, and less than three days later Brian walked up to Zoey in the pasture and slipped the halter on without so much as a batted eyelash from her. Neither of us has had a problem approaching her in the pasture since.

Steen seems better off the grain too. This weekend he was back to being himself under saddle. He was far more responsive than he was the handful of rides before, which was a huge relief. Steen being dull was really freaking me out. So it's odd that the grain would cause Zoey to turn into a basket case about being caught and Steen into a sleepwalker, but I'm back to being convinced it is best to feed only hay (and supplements that address specific, identified, imbalances).

On Saturday we rode inside, but on Sunday we went out and poked around the snow-dusted, frozen fields. It was cold and breezy and the footing was not ideal, but the sun was out and it was a beautiful day. I could feel all the extra layers between me and Steen. My insulated boots decrease contact between foot and stirrup. My gloves mean I can't feel as much subtlety in the reins. I even noticed the increased padding in my breeches, muffling my ability to communicate via my seat. It was interesting to me that the difference was so notable. I tried to use it as a chance to pay more attention to balance, and controlling Steen's speed by where my weight is in relation to his drive line. This was fun and interesting, and helped me maintain a bit more a 'hands off' approach to the ride. Both Steen and Bear were total champs about being out in sub-par conditions.

Bear seems to be doing better on the whole. He's back on the supplement recommended by the vet, and he's seeming steadily perkier in recent rides. We're hoping it's a permanent fix.


Horseback Hours YTD: 184:15

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