The first harvest of the season brought us lettuce, straightneck squash, zucchini, thyme, tomatoes, chives, rosemary, and mint. As always, eggs are available. During a Farm Work Day we discovered 3 volunteer eggplants, some red lettuce, and 4 watermelon plants! New crops are going in this week and currently producing plants will continue through November. Upcoming harvests will include corn, tomatoes, peppers, squash, zucchini, cucumbers, potatoes, onions, and herbs!
This headline is a little late...ELLIN HAS BEEN STARTED UNDER SADDLE!!
After a failed attempt in the neighbor's round pen, Steve decided he'd like to try in the front yard. So last Thursday morning, June 18th, we saddled Ellin up and tied her for a few minutes while we moved the other horses around.
My goal was to free lunge Penny and Ellin together; Ellin doesn't move off by herself and since Penny knows the drill I thought they'd be well matched. Not only did Ellin fail to grasp the purpose of the exercise, she trounced Penny's speed carrying a Western saddle with no effort whatsoever! After a couple of laps Penny quit and went away to graze. I feel sad that Ellin has so easily intimidated the other horses' self-esteem, but it's a beautiful thing to know that she will look another mare in the eye and dig a little deeper. She needs the will to win against company with more experience.
Back to the breaking.... We started simple, as I always do. Pressure in the stirrup, the weight of an arm across her back, flopping around on the saddle. The weight of a torso, the weight of a man lying across the saddle. Repeat on each side until she no longer dances or balks. I discovered Ellin doesn't care for the stepstool; with her it's ground mount or nothing! So, no more than 10 or 15 minutes after we started, Steve got a leg up and swung smoothly across the saddle. Ellin's ears telescoped, her mind raced as she tried to get a handle on new events. She took a step this way, then that, swished her tail, and snorted. Then she stood still. We didn't ask her to do anything, she didn't offer, and after a minute or so Steve jumped off. Ellin stepped to the side, looked calmly at Steve, and dropped her head to graze.
Our following attempts have not gone so well; Ellin is in heat this week and it's been in the 90s with high humidity. Steve did manage to get up Friday, but his foot was caught in the stirrup and as he freed himself he accidentally kicked her flank. She spooked and bucked. He wasn't hurt, but she was tired and cranky and he was unable to get back up. We're waiting her cycle out and will resume either end of this week or beginning of next.
Sock Gap Pond is home to bass, crappie, blue gill, perch, catfish, and 2 invisible grass carp. Yesterday Nick and I went fishin'. I caught 4 bass, he caught 2. Here are some photos of 2 of my fish - one will be eaten tonight! :)
I am currently unable to ride, and won't be able to at least until my birthday. This presents a challenge in breaking Ellin, because I have great hands. We communicate with the horse through a series of aides - pressure signals applied by leg and hand. While the horse is generally desensitized to leg aides by virtue of close company in a herd (other horses bumping, shoving, nibbling, swatting, etc), (s)he will never have experienced a bit until (s)he is broken.
It's pretty incredible to think that a piece of rubber or metal 4-5" long enables us to communicate with an 1100lb animal. More amazing is that they listen. The bit sits on the horse's gums between a front and back set of teeth; this area is called the bars. There are two main actions of bit: the first is to pinch the tongue, as with a snaffle; the second is to put pressure on the roof of the mouth, as with a curb. A horse's mouth is so sensitive to these pressures that a high level dressage horse will carry not one, but two bits with two sets of reins. Even a beginning dressage horse like Century will respond to pressure applied by one finger on each hand. (The horse can also feel the rider through the saddle - I stop Century by squeezing my butt cheeks together.)
For the past few weeks Ellin has become accustomed to the weight of the bit in her mouth (I've been using a Tom Thumb, which is a type of curb bit), learned to eat while wearing it, and has felt mild pressure from the side reins. This week she will be ridden for the first time and her aides will come from her rider instead of her leader. I am trying to build a horse with the softest mouth possible; one who responds to very slight pressure and is sensitive to aides. As a racehorse develops, (s)he will naturally take up the bit and lean on it to balance him/herself at high speeds. The jockey likewise will balance himself on her neck. It's a very symbiotic relationship, a dance of trust wherein the two bodies truly move as one. We want Ellin to be light on her feet, so to speak.
Even slight pressures are shocking to horses unfamiliar with the action of the bit and it is important that the rider be balanced enough not to jerk the horse in the mouth. The trouble is, I have the best hands of any rider currently available to me...and I can't get on the horse! The solution came to me yesterday via Terin: ground driving.
I'm not a fan of standing in a horse's kick zone, and I've never been much for ground driving. Once a horse leads well and knows to give to pressure, you might as well mount up. In this case, however, ground driving allows me to get into Ellin's mouth without being on her back.
This morning we tacked Ellin as usual, minus Ms. Bluejeans, using the English bridle with an eggbutt snaffle (pinching action) instead of the western bridle with the Tom Thumb (pressure on the soft palate). We then attached 15ft lines in place of reins, ran them through the stirrups, and took our usual morning walk. Ellin responded better with me behind her than she did with me beside her, going the 1.6 miles without stopping AND adding two sections of trotting uphill! She turns better with the bridle than with a lead rope but stopping is still a point of contention. I will work more with her and possibly change to a Kimberwicke, which is a harsher snaffle but has a curb chain. I will also use a dropped noseband from now on in place of the halter.
Our Newfie puppy joined us, Ellin acquiesced to be bathed, AND she was bellied twice on both sides with no reaction but to brace herself against the shifting weight! The plan is to repeat today's lesson on Wednesday morning, then back her on Friday. Trackside here we come!
I know you're probably all excited, but no, no foal yet. Anna fell asleep this morning with a mouthful of hay, standing up. Completely asleep, eyes closed, nose in the bale. It was one of the funniest things I've seen this week.
Ellin performed very well this morning. She went 1.6 miles with full tack and a 50lb. Ms. Bluejeans aboard. Not only was she nonplussed by the weight, she stopped and looked at it a few times when it shifted, as if to say, "Something's wrong here people!" The lady likes a centered rider. She also deigned to take a bath this morning. The hose does feel great after a workout! Ellin has collected her first fan, a female Newfie probably less than a year old. The puppy follows us all the way home and hangs out until Ellin is put away. She doesn't bother anyone and even curled up next to Lollop's cage this morning.
The Farm Goddess played 9 holes of golf yesterday and had a great time. I'm probably the only player who spent more time on the 2nd hole reading the horses in the adjacent pasture than reading the course!
I bet Annabelle would do this....
Ellin does not like to longe. Tack? Fine. Bath? We're working on it. People up high? Fine as long as she can chew on their shoes. Strange dogs, birds, mailboxes and trashcans? Easy peasy. She'll even pick up her massive feet, though not for very long. But don't ask her to move around a small area. She seems to know what she was made for, and she's got her own agenda. It does not involve trotting in a circle under tack.
I believe in compromise. I like to think I'm an equitable trainer. That's why yesterday Steve, Ellin, a Newfie puppy and I walked the 1.6 mile round trip to the end of the road and back. Ellin LOVED it! She carried the Aussie saddle, bridle, and martingale. Next time she will carry reins and stirrups...and 50lb. Mr. Bluejeans!! We'll continue going up and down the road, first at a walk, then trotting uphill, until she carries 100lb. Mr. Bluejeans and returns without breaking a sweat.
Hope's eye looks better. She goes back tomorrow for a recheck.
Madeline is a fiber artist, author, shepherd, and music student. Ballyhoo Farm is the culmination of her passion for animals, horticulture, and sustainable farming practices, a dream she's worked to build since childhood.