Saturday, June 12, 2010

Handling a Foal

From the day a foal is born you should start handling it. Brushing it, picking up its feet, and playing with its tail and rubbing its back (but never putting weight on it) and touching it all over especially around both the mouth and the feet. Talk to it a lot and use words that you would like it to know as it grows up. It is very important that this is done regularly. If you just leave the baby with mom until it has to be weaned, you will have a struggle with lots of things and get lots of kicks and bites, but if it is handled from a newborn and shown all around, it should start to follow you as it gets older and can leave mom, especially if you have been making sounds or words for it that mean different things. The foal should be introduced to different areas and objects, the type of thing that can scare a horse when it enters a new environment. Water for example, like the hose and a shower if it is warm enough, and puddles are very important because they can be fun for a foal but terrifying for a yearling. With the hose you start by letting the foal drink from it and getting its feet wet then slowly move down the body until he or she is used to getting wet all over. Most horses love the shower. They love to learn tricks and learn them very easily in exchange for a treat or a cuddle. Going in and out of a trailer is very important too as it is very frightening, but if you just leave an open trailer in the paddock with food in it they will start to go in and out by themselves. Then as they grow older they are not afraid to try new things because they have full trust in you. I lived up in the mountains when my filly was young so we had dirt roads and no traffic. That made a great place to get used to thing because there was no danger. If you live in an area where there is traffic and other dangers than the process is made more difficult. I had a sheep, Negrita, who was inseparable from Casi, my foal, for almost twenty years and she would accompany us on our outings along with my calf, Petite Suisse. They would walk with me way up in the mountains, the three of them running and playing with each other. They never had lead ropes on, they just ran free and because I just talked to them all the time, Casi learned to lunge very fast just by me asking her to change direction or pace or even to back up. That is the way I started riding her as well: I could get her to slow down or gallop full speed and of course stop just by asking her. She knew how to shake hands and just naturally followed me. It is a good idea from time to time when it is windy to just let them loose in the riding ring with things like plastic bags and balloons or flags tied to the fence and just leave them there for a while until they aren’t scared of the objects any more. The more experiences they have and the more confidence they have in you the better horse you will have. The only problem I had with this system is that everyone thought Casi was a spoiled brat, and maybe she was, because for the first five years or so she would only respond to me and no one else could ride her let alone get on her. It wasn’t until my girls started to work with her that she became the best horse I ever had. She knew high school dressage, both Spanish and English; she loved to jump and was the best of my nine horses for the disabled. All because of the trust she had in me.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Charlie: Faithful Hound

Charlie is my son’s dog; she is half Greyhound and half Labrador. She is very intelligent and very well behaved. When my dog died a few weeks ago, Charlie knew I was very sad and she has spent a lot of time cuddling with me and following me around. She has become very protective of me and keeps me out of what she thinks is danger which might include a new dog on the property. (Actually, it does! Ed.) She is also very jealous and wants me for herself. Now she sleeps in my room instead of my son’s but he has two other dogs to keep him company. The other night I was working on the computer and she was by my side when all of the sudden she started to cry and paw at my arm. I kept telling her to go lie down but for the first time she wouldn’t listen she just kept persisting. It wasn’t until she started to move in circles and show her teeth and growled that I look to see what was bothering her. A large scolopander had just crossed my slippers and was on his way under the desk. (It’s a kind on huge man-eating centipede Ed) I was so shocked that I didn’t know what to do, but I knew if it got under the desk I could never catch it, so I took a piece of paper and kept moving it to the middle of the room. Meanwhile Charlie was growling and had her hair standing straight up. It was the middle of the night but I started to call to my husband for help because I couldn’t let it escape or it might show up some place else where I wasn’t aware of it and bite me. They are the most poisonous creature we have here in Spain. (Well, after the neighbours. Ed) My husband came quickly but didn’t have his contact lenses in so he couldn’t see it very well, so he went to put them on and to call our son. Between them they captured it (hog-wrestled it. Ed) and took lots of pictures. It was about eight inches long and as wide as my thump (Barbara has a pretty big thump. Ed), with big brown stripes down its yellow body. Once it was caught it started to get really mad and made biting motions so we could see its big fangs. My son now has it in a terrarium and will watch it to learn more about it. In my thirty-five years here I have seen maybe five but they have all been about two or three inches long and yellow.
They can still give you a good bite though which will go sceptic and can be dangerous. So I have to thank Charlie for saving from what could have been a very painful and unpleasant experience. It always amazes me how animals can express themselves when they really need to and I am glad they can because this is not the first time an animal has kept me from harm.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Horse, Foal and Friends

Tina and Barbara spent the day at Albero watching Loli with her amazing animals. Our thanks to Alberto for the photographs.


Here's a cute friend called Princesa who is nibbling on my finger (ouch!) as she shows me how she does her hair. Princesa and her friends live in Almería at a stables called Albero. The horses (and a couple of donkeys and a rather odd ostrich called Bola who lays enormous eggs every now and again) are remarkably well looked after and highly trained. It is a splendid place to visit.
Princesa and her friends' job is to help look after some of the young children who visit as well as the disabled riders while they are waiting for their lessons.

Baby takes a Lesson

In our aviary we have Love Birds of every color and they have lots of babies all year long. They usually find a partner and stay with them for life sharing everything from building the nest to caring for the young. While the mother sits on the eggs the father brings her food and water, then, when the babies have pecked their way out of their eggs, the two parents share the feeding of the little ones. At this time, the babies are rather ugly, with bits of bristle and half-formed feathers on their tiny bodies. When the babies are ready to leave the nest, it is a lot of fun to watch them learn from their parents how to fly and eat and where to find water. They grow and learn very quickly and pretty soon they will find a partner of their own and start their own family. They are called Love Birds because once they find a mate it is for life and they like to do everything together. They are very affectionate and spend all day hugging and kissing and feeding each other. They are so close that if one dies usually within a week or so the other dies of sadness, they almost never find another mate. One day a snake got into a nest box with a mother and four babies. He ate the mother and smothered all but one baby. We had never seen anything like it because, out of character, all the birds in the aviary took turns taking care of the baby. They fed him and tried to coax him out of the nest but he did not want to leave. They started putting his food farther and farther from the entrance of the nest. When they finally got him out on to a branch they all stood in a line and tried to teach him how to use his wings. All synchronized they would stretch one wing and then the other while he watched on. He wanted to stay a baby. It looked like a Jane Fonda exercise class to watch. He would get very angry and stomp his feet and scream but the other birds were persistent. They kept moving closer and closer to the food and water trying to get him to care for himself but it was always another temper tantrum. It took him much longer to learn things than the babies with mothers even though all the birds were helping. He finally grew up and learned to do these things himself and then found a partner and started his own family. Besides being very funny to watch, I wanted to put on Jane Fonda Music for them, it is very unusual for this to happen. The father usually tries to take over both roles and is usually quiet successful, but if the baby hadn’t survived the father probably would have died of heart break. They are beautiful and wonderful birds and much more fun to watch the TV. When they are making their nests they take strips of palm branch and stick them in their wings until they can’t carry any more, they do not carry them in their beaks. They look like pretty colored porcupines. Our aviary runs the length of one side of the house so you can watch them while you clean the kitchen or from the bathroom, or of course, from the garden where you will be joined by some curious sparrows and other birds.