Friday, July 21, 2017

Dirty Work & Fighting the Bit!

Yesterday was one for the books. The kind of day you look back on with instant nostalgia. Not because it involved some amazing insight, celebration, or story but because it was full of the good, everyday, work of a farm. I don't think I have ever been so dirt or so pleased in quite some time. It all started in the pig pen.

The two sows and nine piglets outside in the woods behind the barn have been doing well. Happy to report the moms and every one of their babes has made it since their birthday, even the smallest runt. The piglets weren't behaving with the three-strands of electric wire the adults abided so I switched to a roll of electric netting. Once trained to it fairly well I felt confident expanding into the woods surrounding their pen. So yesterday morning in the glorious, pre-storm humidity of a New York July day I went out with hedge trimmers and made a path through the dense brush to make it clear enough to post the netting. If there is too much hitting the woven nylon strands the charge is pretty week. So in advance a few hours of hand-tool brush removal took place. I was soaked through my clothes in moments. Then I fell over in the muck a few times. I got so filthy I honestly can not think of a time I have ever been more riddled with muck, bug bites, nettle stings, sweat, and curse words. But I gotta say - the look on the sounder when I opened the gates and let them explore the wild would make the people at Hallmark ashamed of their lack of expressing good tidings.

That picture above is the first few moments exploring the underbrush and weeds. They were all so excited! Piglets dashed around like bowling balls tumbling down a mountain. The sows ate the weeds with pure joy. I stood there with the fence tester in on hand, wire cutters in the other, dripping with unmentionable filth so pleased. This farm has never been better, the animals never better, me never better. It feels so good even when you can taste pig mud in the corners of your mouth.

I took a long shower. It was glorious.

Post shower I had an appointment with Tabitha Morgan of Long Shadows Farm. She's a horse trainer and the person who originally connected me with the owners of Mabel, the new draft/paint cross mare that lives here. When I was over at Long Shadows this past weekend helping load up hay in their barn (Tabitha and her crew helped Patty and I load hay at Livingston Brook Farm, so the favor deserved a return!) she asked me if I did logos. I did, I replied. A few moments later we struck up a barter deal. I'd design her horse training business logo in exchange for a session with Mabel. Mabel started refusing the bit. She's almost 16 hands tall (15.3) and as a 5'2" woman a horse with a high head that refuses a bit is near impossible to bridle. I had been taking it slow and steady with her - sometimes taking an hour or more to get the bridle on without losing my temper or forcing it in her mouth. But that gets old, fast. I needed a horse trainer.

Tabitha got that mare to pick up the bit out of her hand in 45 minutes! She might be a witch. I'm kidding, she's just a very experienced horse trainer who shared this with me. I was listing all the reasons and concerns I had about Mabel and the bit - everything from wolf teeth to pasture-grazing soreness (she was in a stall/paddock at the boarding situation before) to testing a new owner. Tabitha listened to me and checked her teeth, and after hearing the owner's lament and accessing the dental situation told me that you can spend a lifetime wondering what the problem is with a horse and asking yourself why it is happening - or you can just start fixing it. She's a doer. And I loved that.

I don't know if it's some breach of ethics to share a trainer's methods. So all I'll say is using calm, positive methods that horse went from anxious and unwilling to practically taking the bit out of her hands. then I tried and had success on the first time! In the horse/rider relationship it was a really pleasing and encouraging moment. I feel that I got the upper hand on the barter, but swapping skills out here in the country is a real satisfactory exchange. 

Just another day on the farm. One that started with dirty work and ended with equine witchery. I'm glad I was there for both!

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