In the Night Farm…Your Ride is Here.


Sweat Stains

I must apologize for my long absence. The stressful situation to which I’ve alluded in previous posts continues, and it seems that more often than not lately, I arrive home with no energy left to draft a post worth reading.

I’d be lying if I said the same stress hasn’t affected my training; it has. More than once, I’ve given up my weeknight training plans in favor of a few hours’ escape through cooking or a book. Horse training takes a great deal of emotional intensity, and I often feel I have little left to give.

And yet, I have kept on. It’s well past time I updated you on my 2010 plans for the equine residents of In the Night Farm. Mind you, I’ve learned my lesson about setting hard and fast goals when it comes to training and endurance conditioning. Something is bound to go wrong, and having expectations too high only makes the fall too painful.

These, then, are ideals. I’ll work toward them and get as far as I can, and take the pitfalls in stride. Stay tuned for updates on each of the following horses:

Inara — As part of her purchase price, Inara is to go to her new owner with basic groundwork complete. She’ll catch, lead, lunge, pick up feet, deworm, and trailer load.

Alternating Current (aka Acey) — It’s time to start this fiery, little mare under saddle. It would be fantastic to have her ready for her first LD by the end of the season, but I’ll settle for getting well into a foundation of long, slow distance work in preparation for next year.

Ripple Effect — Can you believe she’s four this year? Yes, it’s time to start her under saddle, too. A significant part of the project will be getting her comfortable with leaving the other horses and facing the great, wide world.

Sandstorm — You haven’t seen enough of this fantastic mare. The tallest Barb in my herd, she’s an astonishing mover with a sweet but cautious personality and potential I’m just beginning to tap. I’d like to finish gentling her (she’s another that arrived at In the Night Farm completely untouched) and get plenty of groundwork done so I can start riding her next year.

Consolation — Endurance, of course! We had a setback in mid-June that has taken us out of conditioning for a while (details in an upcoming post), but it’s about time to hit the trail again. Hooray!

Crackerjack — See “Ripple Effect.” These half-siblings were born just a few days apart, but CJ isn’t quite as physically mature as his lookalike sister. Still, it won’t hurt to proceed with his groundwork as soon as I’m done with Inara to free up a time slot. Maybe, by the end of the season, it’ll be time to step aboard.

I must say, it’s nice to come in after a long day in the round corral, pour a tall glass of iced tea, and look out over so many sweat-stained equine backs. I know just how they feel. We’re working hard, the ponies and I. We’ll get there.

By the way, I’m still encountering spam problems despite having enabled the word verification feature for comments. Sadly, this has forced me to take the next step — comment moderation. So, you’ll notice a delay between commenting and seeing your comment posted. I’ll try going back to just word verification after a while, when the Chinese-character blighter decides to give it a rest.
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Lessons in Losing

Remember Inara?

Born in late July, 2009, this Insider x Sandstorm filly reached a generous weaning age in mid-March. The time had come to separate her from Mama and begin the groundwork that will prepare her to go live with her new family in Oregon.

On weaning day, I was alone at In the Night Farm. No problem, I thought. After all, I designed my horse compound specifically for handling ungentled horses:

The round corral sits in the middle of a square enclosure. When swung outward, the round corral gate can be secured to the side of the square, creating a roadblock that funnels a loose horse right into the round corral for training. All my paddocks are arranged around the outside of the square, with gates that open into the square, so that any horse can be driven from paddock to round corral, no haltering required. So, it might take a little patience, but I should be able to separate Inara and Sandstorm without tremendous difficulty.

Well. The Inara-separation project required several steps involving moving Sandstorm to a spare paddock, then Inara to the round corral, then Sandstorm back to her original paddock, and finally, Inara into the spare paddock.

Sandstorm was easy. She knows the ropes.

Inara? A bit more difficult. Not only did she lack experience with the process of being moved from one pen to another, but her emotions skyrocketed the instant she realized Mama was neither by her side nor responding to her calls. Though Sandstorm’s temporary paddock was located near the round corral gate, baby Inara was not excited about going in that direction. Instead, she raced frantically around the square enclosure.

Fortunately, the enclosure is a safe place for frantic racing. Its whole purpose, after all, is to contain wild horses. I waited several minutes for her to settle down, then approached her in a firm but non-threatening manner, asking her to move around the enclosure toward the round corral gate.

Normally, this works beautifully. It’s a simple matter of asking a horse, in horse-language, to move in the desired direction.

But Inara wasn’t listening. She blasted past me, alarmingly close and fast. I worked my way around and tried again, more forcefully, and prepared to back up if she approached so as to lessen the pressure without letting her by again. No dice. She blasted past.

Oh really, I thought. That’s interesting…not to mention a bit disturbing. After all, everything you do with a horse is training, and the last thing you want a horse to learn right out of the gate is that it doesn’t have to surrender space to you.

Thankfully, my third attempt was successful. I closed the round corral gate on Inara, figuring that behind 7-foot, 12-gauge panels was the safest place for her at the moment, and sat down on the ground to study her and think.

Where had I gone wrong? What was happening in her little head? And how could I be sure it wouldn’t happen again?

Slowly, as I watched her fling herself about the round corral — pressing her ears back every time she passed me, which I found both fascinating and alarming since she has no reason for animosity — I formed several conclusions:

1. Part of the problem I’d encountered in attempting to drive Inara had simply been her high emotional level. She was, understandably, panicky and preoccupied with Sandstorm’s absence. However, blowing past me still represented a dramatic and willful move.

2. Inara comes from strong-willed stock. Barbs in general, and her sire in particular, have no shortage of courage or willingness to defend their own interests. An admirable trait, this, but certainly one to channel appropriately, for safety’s sake.

3. Most enlightening of all was this: Inara has spent her entire life in a paddock with only her mama. She’s never had another horse demand that she give way. Like most dams, Sandstorm has docilely tolerated Inara’s youthful whims without reprimand. As far as Inara knows, it’s perfectly acceptable to run roughshod, like a spoiled child, over anybody who gets in her way.

And there was my answer. The best thing I could to for Inara was to recruit a better trainer than myself — another horse.

Consolation struck me as the ideal choice. Calm and confident, dominant but not a bully, firm but fair, I knew she’d put Inara in her place. So, after giving Inara a day to get over the worst of her weaning angst, I moved Consolation into her paddock with her.

Sure enough, Inara spent the next few hours learning that life isn’t all about getting her way. Better than the most expert human trainer, Consolation used as much force as necessary — but not a hint more — to put the filly in her place.

It worked. During Inara’s and my first gentling session a few days later, she tried to get past me…once. My body language — now that Inara could read it and was calm enough to do so — convinced her that the best direction to go was the one in which I sent her. We had a short but productive session, an unquestionable win, simply because she had learned to lose.


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Shot in the Dark: Wildness

unbridled exploration of one’s own nature,
is a tendency to treasure
in horses, rivers, dreams, and men.


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Introducing Inara

Sandstorm’s filly has a name.

This is Inara (in-ARRA).

Of Arabic origin, her name translates along the lines of “ray of light” or “heaven sent.”

The “In…”, of course, is in tribute to her sire, Insider.

I couldn’t be happier with this filly.

Welcome, little Inara, to In the Night Farm. You do us proud.

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