Thursday, October 31, 2013

Ben is bending! A bit.

Today I brought Ben in at midday, ahead of another storm forecast to sweep over us this afternoon/evening and run through tomorrow. Imagine my surprise to find him grazing (between bouts of STARING) in his first field! I daresay it didn’t hurt that Herd King Counterpoint was lying down for a nap in the lane near where Ben was.

The Benster was still very nervous about being brought in past the Dread Calves of Doom (quietly lying half-inside their shed), despite multiple carrot pieces finding their way to his tense mouth. Still plenty of high-headed stares, some snorts, and enough muscle-tensing for a thorough isometric workout. But indeed he did come along with fewer and shorter stops, and overall I thought he was not as close to freaking out as he’d been yesterday. You might say Ben’s terror level started when they moved in next to him at DOOM!!!!, went through Doom!!! yesterday, and today reached Doom!! Let’s hope he gets down to WhaddayaGonnaDo? soon.

For those following his health issues: On being put back out yesterday late afternoon, Ben got up from rolling without difficulty and after shaking himself walked off with a relaxed stride, so the hock injections this summer seem to be holding up well. His hind pasterns/fetlocks do sink, especially the right where he had the two suspensory pulls a year or so ago, and the left fetlock is enlarged and puffy-looking, but he trots out evenly without any sign of a limp, so his failing suspensories are still pasture-sound functional.

The DCoD had their first lesson at being yoked together yesterday! Alas, I missed it, but did see a short phone-video of it today. The little guys did very well, and looked immensely cute in their wee yoke. Hopefully I can get some photos this weekend of them harnessed together.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

...and we all survived.

Today I led Ben past the Dread Calves of Doom and we all survived, an outcome I wasn’t sure of till the very end.

It started with a nasty cold rain, not pouring but not quitting either, as I drove over to the farm. I worried that Ben would take a chill, since he certainly wouldn’t be sheltering in the run-in, not with the DCoD looming beside the paddock he’d have to cross to get there. I wanted to get him out of the rain and into his stall in the barn, but would either of us survive the attempt? I’d tried luring him in from the far field yesterday, and had some greater success than before; he’d come halfway into his first field. But there he’d stuck, dithering about between bouts of snorting and rigid staring, before it was All Too Much and he trotted hastily back through the gateway to the far field.

Sure enough, he was way out in his far field in the rain, looking hunched and miserable as I drove past toward the driveway. No help for it; gotta rescue the boy despite himself. I took halter and lead rope and gimped out past the run-in, through the paddock, through the first field, and called to him from the gateway. He came, licking his chops in anticipation of treats. Instead he got a halter onto his upheld head – a halter on which I did not snap the throatlatch. Better to let him slide out of it if he flung himself suddenly into plunging away than for me to be yanked off my feet and for him to bolt with the lead rope flapping between his front legs.

We started in – Ben looking looking LOOKING toward the little hut where the DCoD lurked placidly cud-chewing, stopping every few steps to LOOK even harder and tremble; me quietly, patiently encouraging him, giving him time to collect himself, then gently tugging him into motion again. I kept as much of a wary distance from him as I could, unhappily aware that, since Ben was between me on his left and the calves to his right, if he plunged sideways away from them I’d be right in his panicked path. I took him at a sharp angle from the gateway across the first field, away from the DCD toward the paddock gateway.

Getting through that gateway was an inching progress of tiny step tiny step HALT STARE persuasion QUIVER STARE coaxing tiny step HALT etc. etc., punctuated with Ben’s running commentary of snorts and blows, but we made it through and began creeping across the paddock toward the run-in and its exit, only yards away now from the focus of DOOM. I’d moved to Ben’s right side by now, just in case. Ben was wide-eyed, shaking, stiff with fear, but it looked like we’d make it! The gimpy-legged old woman would get her terrified Thoroughbred to safety!

Then it got worse.

Oh, no, not Ben; no, I happened to step over a yard-long, Y-shaped piece of vine lying on the ground. It leapt up and snagged the left ankle of my sweatpants with its tiny thorns and wouldn’t shake off. So there I am, a gimpy-legged old woman leading a terrified Thoroughbred with a yard-long piece of thorny vine flopping from her ankle.

I tried stepping on it with the other foot to wrench it off while also sidling sideways and watching Ben for an explosion. It snagged the other pantleg without giving up its first hold. Great. Now I’m a gimpy-legged old woman leading a terrified Thoroughbred with a yard-long piece of thorny vine clinging to BOTH legs and flopping about between them.

Somehow I made it to the run-in gate without falling. Ben was teetering on the edge of losing it completely, sidling and lurching as much as walking, but he never quite went over the edge. At the gate I snatched a moment when he was in rigid stare mode to reach down and rip the vine away. Then I got the gate open and Ben through it. He scurried out, looked back at DOOM, then dived for a hurried mouthful of grass – and I knew then we’d make it. Oh, he was still fired up the rest of the way into the barn, he still stopped at the entrance and needed coaxing to go in, but that grass-dive told me enough brain cells were still functional that we’d be all right.

He was shivering in his stall so I went to the tackroom to get his polar fleece sheet. Drat! I’d brought it home. So I drove home to fetch it, drove back, put it on the less shivery but still wet horse, and departed -- into departing clouds and emerging sunshine. Yup, I went through all that for a rainstorm that ended an hour later. Still, I don’t regret it. Ben will get some drying-off and warming time. His fields are eaten down and the grass has died, so it won’t hurt to give him a big hay feed, more than he’d stay to eat in his run-in thanks to the DCoD. I’ll go back and put him out in a few hours, knowing that if I do need to get him in again, I can do it.

And we will all survive.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Sunday: No Surcease from The Horror!

Sunday at the farm was much like Saturday: placid calves, horrified horses. Ben still wouldn’t come with me beyond the gate between his fields, not for carrots, not for cookies, not for nuthin. I guess it’s understandable he’d be more distraught than the white boys, since the Dread Monsters of Doom live right next to him and menace his path to the run-in (though he did manage to overcome his terror long enough to come in for his breakfast grain):

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Cholla and Counterpoint at least have Ben’s territory to absorb the first charge of the savage cattle before they surge into the white boys’ bastion:

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As you can see, Ben is on alert at a safe distance (he hopes); Cholla has weighed gazing versus grazing and gone for the sensible course, and Counterpoint keeps watch from the lane. It’s a nervous business, being so close, and he grows increasingly fidgety. Is this really such a good idea? Perhaps his forward observation post should be somewhat less forward?

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Or maybe this is a Very Bad Idea and he should get the hell outta Dodge while he can!

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Run away! Back behind the lines!

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And so I left them yesterday, doing what comes naturally in the midst of unnatural HORROR:

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Sunday, October 27, 2013

Ben: The Horror! Part Two -- It Gets WORSE

When last we saw our mighty Thoroughbred, he was warily watching the newest members of the Alprilla Farm family – two barely-month-old bull calves, destined to be oxen laboring (but not too hard) in the fields and woodlots of the farm. Their pen was what humans would regard as a safe distance away, but to Ben’s troubled mind, not far enough; no; a few dozen miles would be much more reasonable.

Alas! Rather than their departure, what the horrified horse witnessed on Saturday morning was just the opposite.

They moved in next door to him.

Yup, Cedar and Clay have acquired more elaborate digs, a much larger pen and the shed formerly home to the pigs raised at the farm this summer – and it’s all right beside Ben’s run-in! To wit (scaring the hapless giant witless):

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You can just see Clay lying down, below the distant greenhouse, waiting for Noah and Cedar to get back from a training session. The foreground here is Ben’s first field, and from the angle below you can see just how far Ben thinks it safe to stay away from Monsterland.

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Even at that distance you can see how on guard Ben is. The white boys aren’t as upset, although they’re not too happy about it either. Periodically the three of them will gather to stare at the Brown Menace.

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Cholla (far right) isn’t as gobsmacked as the other two, and at times will wander off to gobble what’s left of the grass, while Ben and Counterpoint keep watch.

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Ben tries to stay as close as possible to the white boys – safety in numbers and all that – but sometimes it just gets to be too much and he has to leave them to their fate and retreat.

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Noah has been working on the calves’ basic training, mostly halter leading, obeying simple commands, and so forth. On Saturday he took Cedar out for a long field walk/training session. Clay wasn’t too thrilled at being separated from his best buddy, and softly lowed now and then, no doubt adding to the horror for the horses.

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But then... What was that? Yes! There in the distance, across the little pond, there came Noah and the Lost One returning!

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Clay rejoiced!

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And so it was that Noah brought Cedar back, having hashed out who was boss at some length during their expedition. The two calves rejoiced at being reunited – and yes, I tried to photograph their antics but they were too busy cavorting to pose for me. After a few minutes and several failed attempts to capture the wily Clay, Noah managed to get the halter on the frisky Beast of Burden In Training number two, and they set off for his lesson.

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Clay got over his silliness and settled down to lead politely.

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Noah fetched some grain from the barn for his tired first student.

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And then he and Clay set out for the fields.

And how did the horses react to all this? What did they think of all this to-ing and fro-ing by the Dread Monster Calves of Doom?

Nothing good, you can be sure! Cholla and Counterpoint watched with dismay.

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Counterpoint, mindful of his duties as Herd King, rushed in closer to monitor the developing crisis.

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Ben stayed back. No way was he going to come any farther in than the gate between his fields!

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I couldn’t lure him any closer, not even with cookies, and this is a horse who’ll do almost anything for a cookie.

Noah and Clay disappeared into the far hayfields. Cedar settled down for a lonely nap. Ben and the white boys watched... watched... finally relaxed enough to drift back into their fields and go back to grazing.

Though now and again, Herd King Counterpoint would take up his watchman duties and check Monsterland for stirrings of Doom.

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The End – for now....

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Ben: The horror! The horror!

Well, Ben’s alert level may have dropped from DEFCON 1 (“It’s the end of the world as we know it!”) to 3, maybe 4, over the last couple of days, but he’s still wary of the latest inhabitants at the farm where he lives.

Disturbing, they are, to any self-respecting horse. Unsettling. Not to be trusted. Gotta keep a sharp eye on them whenever they’re visible, make very very sure they don’t try something, even (shudder) get loose! Who knows what they’re capable of? It could be anything!

What new inhabitants? you ask. What could be so perturbing to a normally calm and easygoing fellow, who’s been around the block more than a few times?

Why, none other than these fearsome beasts:

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Yeppers, great big Ben is askeered of two month-old bull calves who don’t even come to midthigh on me. They’re Dairy Shorthorn calves, rescued from the usual fate of such critters and destined to become a yoke of oxen working on the farm. Very friendly little guys, love to have their ears and tiny horn buds scratched. Names are Cedar and Clay. They’re still figuring out this whole halter-leading thing and getting used to life outside a dairy barn’s veal-calf cages.

Their wee outside pen is visible from Ben’s run-in paddock, about 30 yards away, and the big goofball has been gobsmacked by them since their first appearance. He seems to have given up spooking backwards into panicked flight at any movement from them, but he still watches tensely whenever he comes in from his fields, even when they’re lying down and only the tip of a red-brown ear is visible. Heck, today he was staring over there and they weren’t even outside; they were staying in the barn because it was chilly and misty, and Cedar had the runs.

I do hope Ben gets used to them soon, since he’s going to have to live with them being around, and even the sturdiest gelding’s ears can get tired of being constantly pricked in alarm. Not to mention the fact that his stall in the barn is across the aisle from theirs. He’s out 24/7 for now, but winter is coming....

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