The Windhaven Ark has definitely shifted a bit with the last addition of 400 pounds of equine flesh.
It had lurched a wee bit with the 100 of so sheep poundage we added on Friday, but the pony addition has definitely shifted our world a wee bit. And that’s okay, but still, needs some careful thought and planning to make everything smooth and easy.
Domingo was totally full of piss and vinegar today. From the moment I let him out of the pony barn with Cody, he was raring to go and just feeling his oats. Cody looked a little weary from the night, he came right over to me, put his head on my chest and just stood there for the longest time, wanting my touch and cocking his ears to hear me talk. I think the youngster kept him up all night! He spent a good deal of the day napping! Haha… poor old man. I gave him lots of loving all day long, as much as I could, just to help him transition.
But Domingo… oh my! It was a good thing, for the most part. At his last home I suspect he didn’t have a lot of room to run around, and to do a lot of pasture grazing. So he apparently had made his to do list for the day and it included… running around like a banshee… rolling around like a goof… chasing chickens and sheep… playing wild stallion with Cody… and trying to boss me around like some ornery thug.
Everything was endearing except for the sheep and chicken chasing and the thug part.
I was ready for him, had spent the night reading about nipping and bossy behavior in ponies. I had a game plan right out the chute. After he finished his first half hour of extreme joy, he came trotting over to me to check me out. Just like I do for Cody every morning, I had a hard horse cookie waiting for him. He was glad to take it and stood there crunching it, watching me, puzzling over the next move. I just stood quietly, waiting. When he was done, he very hesitantly reached over to snif my hand and I let him, just let him do the introducing. We had spent a little time the night before patting and talking, but it was a crazy day full of stimulation, so this was really the first quiet moment we had had. Once he had pulled back and was watching me, with ears perked forward and a little sassy swish of his tail, he did it, he leaned in for a nip. The very moment I saw him curl those lips and start to move in, I let out the most bizzare scream and threw my arms out to my side as I had read. Domingo whipped back and almost stumbled, his eyes wide and staring at me as if I had exploded. And then I was completely silent and still.
Well that little pony looked left and right as if to see if ANYONE was around to verify what just happened. I had to really contain myself to not laugh. And sure enough, he leaned right in for another nip, as if to test what had just happened. The minute he was definitely into the action, I did the same, weird shriek and fail of arms and then silence. Once again he pulled his head back and was puzzled, just staring at me as if his pony brain was in turmoil. What the heck kind of demon was in this human being. Cody came trotting over all alert and worried. What was wrong with Mom?
Well, I was ready, I knew that he might try it one more time, as this one web page had suggested. So I waited. He stood there just staring at me, trying to figure out what his next move was. I knew he was nervous because he licked his lips a bit, then snorted softly. And then he came in for one more try. I did a really mean growl and waggled my arms suddenly as soon as he started and he just backed up a step and was like, no way, this woman is insane. And I finally spoke and told him good boy, patting his neck, gave him a chin scratch, which he liked and turned and walked away from him.
I was watching him out of the corner of my eye as I sort of diagonally walked away from him, I wanted to see what he was going to do. Cody was standing there, just as puzzled, looking at me and looking at him. And I’ll be darned if that pony didn’t start to follow me, with Cody at his shoulder, curious as all get go as to what I was doing. I stopped at one of the wire spool tables we have and paused, just fiddling with an old wheelbarrow wheel for a moment to give them time to get close. Once they did I was all smiles and soft words and gave Cody a nice petting and some pony love and then turned right to Domingo and gave him the same and he just stood there like he was the first kindergartner in line for a birthday cupcake. No nipping. I kept the praise time short and sweet and then walked away from them. I consider that a HUGE success!
Now, I’m no fool. And I know that a behavior like that is not going away with just one magic session. But, I was REALLY impressed by how quickly he learned that SOMETHING was up and he seemed to be causing it. That is cool. Cause and effect in training animals is a very hard thing. If you don’t have the reward or consequence lightening quick with the action, most animals don’t quite make the connection. I think I am going to pick up a dog training clicker and start using it on the pair, see if that helps as well. If they associate the click with something good, they will start to seek out the behaviors that earn them the click.
An hour or so later, I was doing something and he came over to sniff me and watch and he just instinctually leaned in for a nip and I immediately reacted bizarre… totally waiting for him to test it again. This time he just pulled back for a moment and then walked past me as if he was bored with me. That was perfect. He didn’t do it again for the rest of the day.
Now, I know, this reaction might delay him bonding me with me right away. And that’s fine. I would rather he was a little distant right now, and not nipping, then too nippy and friendly. I want him to think about his actions. I have told the girls as well, that they are act in this weird manner. Maggie had hurt her foot and was inside for the day (nothing bad… she cracked her little toe on a chair and it was still painful…) and Jessy was busy inside most of the day, so it was good. He only had to deal with me for the most part. And today we will be gone most of the afternoon and evening, so he won’t have to deal a lot of us either. I want to put him in the place where he has to behave. 21 days to establish a new habit. We have 20 more to go!
What I really don’t want to do is hit or strike him in the face or nose. I don’t want to do anything that is painful, like a lot of suggestions offered. There was even one that said to keep a sharp nail in your hand and strike his neck or shoulder when he bit, as if you were a horse biting him. Yeah, okay, I can see handing out nails to guests and such, here, sink this into his neck if he nips, okay? Naw… that is too hard again to make sure you get the point across quickly. And who wants to try and work with a nail that you have to keep ready at all times. Nope. I like this freak out reaction. Its simple, always available and seems effective at least with him. I wager that after a couple days, he’s not going to risk bringing out my inner monster too much.
Gideon, our ram, has so nicely settled in with his ladies and the boys. They are all acting like a lovely little family unit. I am SO glad. I let them out back in the back pasture this morning, before I let out the ponies, because I wasn’t sure how everyone would react together. I was out in the yard, putzing, doing some chores so I could keep an eye on them. They were really ready to graze, so I knew it would be okay for awhile. Gideon really likes chickens and kitties. Whenever he sees them, he trots over and wants a good sniff. He has such a sweet nature, he’s just all innocence and horns. He wants to be the first for cookies and he is like a little kid in a big refrigerator box costume at Halloween… kind of forgetting that he’s big and pointy with those lovely curly horns. I have yet to see him use his horns for evil, but more often, he’s just happy and bumping into me, his herdmates, the door, the fence, the bucket…. haha… you have to kind of keep an eye on him and where he’s at. The sheepies are all doing the same. I imagine its even harder for them, being right at eye level with him. But they seem to be adjusting, because they love that awkward kid in the big box.
I had a few cookies in my pocket as I was going in and gave them to Momma, Holly and Iris and he caught whiff of it all and immediately trotted over looking for his and there was no more. Only had three. I just love to watch animals as they reason something out… looking at the ewes and then looking at me and then back to them as they licked their lips after smacking up that delicious little treat. I gave him a little scratch of sorry, but he was not taking it. He right away shoved his snout into my hoody pocket as if to demand equal treating. I gave him a little sharp ‘NO” and turned from him and I’ll be darned if he didn’t stand back and bawl like a big baby. He cracks me up. He’s just like a bottle lamb all dressed out in big boy clothes. He’s simply darling.
However, later on, I was doing something and all the sudden, I look up and the whole herd is on the farm access road to the east of us! AGH! I started to panic, but then had the forethought to run and get the feed bucket and whip a handful of sweet feed in it. I knew just where they must have made the break and sure enough, I could see the trail through the heavy brush. I have got to get that fixed. Tomorrow, that 50 foot roll of field fence is coming home. Thank goodness, they are all crack fiends when it comes to bucket time… and they all cheerfully came back to the fold, following me with their little tails wagging and anticipating that handful of feed. I led them back to the safe middle yard and brought them in, waiting to see what happened with Domingo.
Well, yep, as his other family had said, he likes to chase other critters and he pretty much came trotting over with the devil in his eye and some sheep to run around and skatter for fun. But before he could, I actually managed to get ahold of his bridle and steer him into the sheep paddock and shut him in. Thank goodness I’m a hefty gal, because pivoting a 400 pound pony that is starting to get his feet under him for a good chase takes a good sized woman as the counter weight. It was SHEER luck that I was in the right spot at the right time. I did not want him running the flock after they had just did some running back and forth. They are still full of wool and not exactly long distant runners. Domingo paced and snorted, but I figured it was safer for everyone to have a little rest, including me! Escaped livestock is something that gives me a chill, especially after the whole sheep incident of last summer.
After everyone had had a good rest and Domingo was busy munching some hay and calm, I finally let him out and stood back to watch. He was more interested, thank goodness, in checking out what Cody was up to and they started to graze. The sheep were off in a little shady corner, resting and chewing their morning’s cud. I was pleased, but hesitant. And sure enough, as the ponies grazed closer to the flock, that little goof decided he would step up to a little trot and scatter the sheep. I think the one saving grace is that there are eight of them and one of him. Pretty quick, they were gone and he stopped. Watching them and deciding if it was worth the effort or not. He went back to grazing.
I caught him several times that afternoon, doing those little burst to a trot and chase things, but the sheep really quickly learned that he was no fun and would put the full distant of the yard between them and he. I suspect that after a while, it will become less fun and less often. Only once, in the later evening did he sustain a chase for longer than I liked and I intervened, causing the fun to be less, well, fun. I’ve got to get that back pasture perfectly safe. It’s got to be a priority because I can see that my paradigm here has shifted considerably. I really don’t want Domingo chasing the sheep too much, the little ones are no match for a big striding pony with ornery fun on his mind. I’ve read about sheep being injured or even killed by chasing horses. I don’t want my flock to become pony shy and skittish. And we can accomplish that by just keeping everyone separate for the most part. We’ve actually got the space to make 5 separate pastures for rotation. It’s just that the fencing is not complete in all five sections. Right now, I need to make sure I have two. That will make life a lot easier. Ponies in one, sheep in the other and they can swap back and forth here and there.
So Jessy lent me a hand and we managed to get almost complete with the main pallet fence in the back. Over 100 feet of strung together heavy pallets. It’s pretty impressive! We ran out of pallets… need about 6 or 7 more and I’ll get those tomorrow. Also need a few more heavy posts to keep it all secure. There are two spots in the hedgerow that are too open, so I’m going to get some roll fencing to get those secure. I hope by Wednesday afternoon, we have the place locked down and safe. It’s a good goal. Fencing is the worse and most expensive thing we have consistently encountered in this whole rural living transition. Whoever said that good fences make for good neighbors, they were SO right on the money. If I had an extra grand, I would be putting 75% into fencing. It’s that important. We’re getting there. Once I get this western back pasture done, then I can work on the eastern side, where the wood lot is and where I’d like a pond some day. It’s much rougher in there, but there is a big 20 foot gap in the hedgerow and that is huge and dangerous. It’s priority number 2 on the fence list. Once that is done, it will be nice, because I can let the ponies into the western side and the sheep in to the scrubby eastern side to start cleaning it up. They love to nibble down weird grasses and little volunteer bushes and such. Less to have to try and mow!
That is the one really nice thing… my middle yard? Looks like a golf course, it’s all so nicely mowed down and eaten by everyone. My front yard is wild and needs to be mowed… but the middle, nice. If I could figure out how to fence in the front better, I would. It’s in my plans but right now, pretty low on the list. Thank goodness, we’re not talking a big area so it will be easy to keep up on with the push mower. But I plan on bagging all that lovely green gold and giving it to the cooped chickens to play with. They love grass!
Well, that’s the story for tonight. Lots of little changes in routine and that’s okay, just have to figure it all out. Tonight, the ponies got their oats up and started to do laps in the middle yard. Cody does this often in the evening, and we love to watch him kick up heels and blow off the dust with a lap or three. But tonight? Domingo upped the ante to about 23 laps and poor Cody was blowing hard to keep up after 4 or 5. But he didn’t give up. I considered stopping him, afraid he’d have a heart attack, but then I thought, he’s a smart boy and he’ll stop when he needs to. He was just having such a good time, playing and running like a little herd of wild mustangs. Domingo ran himself ragged as well, and they both stopped, heaving sides and happy little pony grins on their faces when they were done. Cody promptly took a nap for a bit and Domingo rolled and rolled in the grass, finally settling down for a nap himself. My yard looks like a herd of buffalo went through… lots of little hoof prints in the damp grass! They are in pony heaven at the moment, just as happy as can be. It’s going to be a while before our new routines are established, but it will work out. I’m sure of it.