Stallion time....

Last summer Image and Sylvie were living in the back paddocks with access to the run-in shelter which is part of the barn. From there I would move them in and out of their stalls without haltering.  When we are not in training mode they may only get a halter on when the hoof trimmer comes.

One day they needed to come in, so Sylvie came first and I closed her in her stall.  Then I opened the door and invited Image to his.  He knew what I wanted, but he had some business to attend to.  Sniff, consider, mark some fresh mare manure.  Pause perhaps again.  I stood, allowing him whatever time he needed.  Then he walked across the aisle to his stall – pausing again at his door to sample the hay pile I left there.

Once in his stall he gave Sylvie a noisy stallion greeting since they had been separated for all of half a minute!  She responded, coming close to the hatch between their stalls, making her little mare noises in return.  Then they both settled down to eat their hay.

Katharine and Image

Last summer it was three years since Image came here to Fourwinds Farm.  And last summer was the first time that he responded positively to me touching his body.  He had liked having his head rubbed, but really did not enjoy having his body rubbed, scratched or brushed.  So for a couple of years I had simply not touched his body unless necessary.

One day I was standing with the horses in the run-in and Image was reaching for an itch.  I saw it was a difficult stretch for him so I offered to help.  I scratched the spot for him and he responded with that gesture of horsie happiness – outstretched head, quivering lip, and half closed eyes.  Ahhhh…..  Then a few weeks later he showed me another good place to scratch and he responded again.

It may not sound like much but I knew our relationship had shifted.  A new kind of trust was beginning to happen, both ways.  Since he arrived I had been very clear – emphatic even – that he must be very careful around my small and weak human body.  And he had made it clear he did not want much touching.  Since this shift, we are both exploring more intimate physical interaction.  When I go to let him out I don’t overreact to his gestures of touching my hand or pretend nipping.  He doesn’t ever actually nip and his touches are gentle and graceful.  And if I prefer it, he will back up at the tiniest gesture from me.  Or he will ask me to rub his face and head.

Stallion time.  I’ve allowed him time to process as he has adapted to his new home and family.  We’ve both learned to stay calm and soft with each other.  And three years on he allowed me to help him scratch an itch.

Photographs © Sarah Baker Forward


Do You Trust Your Horse?

Last summer I took young Maybelle to a stable an hour away to be bred to the stallion there.  Maybelle was in that long transition from filly to mare.  This was her first solo trailer ride since she was brought to Fourwinds Farm as a weanling, and she hadn’t been many places at all.  In her whole life she had met fewer than ten horses.  She lived in my small family group, and spent one winter with her minder River with a friend’s mares.

Not surprisingly Maybelle was wide eyed when we arrived.  Scooting around the giant trailer, wary about entering the barn past a running fan, and fascinated by the turned out herd of a dozen or so horses.  To say nothing of the gorgeous vista across the Tantramar Marsh!  But she came with me willingly – with some pauses and questions – in only a regular head collar and lead.  I had considered stronger equipment but I decided to trust my horse.

Maybelle was four last summer.  When she arrived at six months old I knew a lot more than I did with my foals a decade earlier.  She showed me how effective it is to soften in response to resistance.  She was hardly halter broke when she arrived and I was just as glad for that.  As I introduced the halter, leading, and tying I was determined not to pull on her face or escalate pressure, ever.  Early on she showed me the alternative.  Still less than a year old, I was leading her in the barn aisle and she stopped.  I put a little pressure on the lead and she pulled back against it.  Not hard but not forward like I was asking.  I softened, put a little slack in the lead rope for some seconds, took a breath, and then asked again even lighter than the first ask.  She came with me!

This was Maybelle’s third or fourth beach adventure, only a few weeks into her formal training!

Over her years with me most of Maybelle’s education about horse-human relationships has come from daily interaction with me and her hoof trims every six weeks.  Many months those trims are the only time she has a head collar on.  (My barn, yard, and paddocks are organised so mostly I can move horses from here to there without leading them.)  But you know what?!!!  Maybelle now leads better than any other horse in my barn!  Last spring we went for a hand walk on the beach, her second or third time.  She willingly came away from the other horses and she matched my pace exactly, slowing or speeding up with me based solely on my body language.  When she was worried about something she stayed close.

When we arrived last week at the new barn she did the same thing.  While not entirely attentive to me, she stuck close and came with me willingly.  I stayed with her for about an hour visiting with the stallion and outside for a little grazing.

I am a bit of a worrier, so I had been thinking about this trip to another barn and her being handled by people who do things differently than me.  Would they bully her at all?  Or put a chain over her nose?  Or would she get confused by different handling?  Would she get scared and how would they respond?  Should I say something to them about how to treat her?  Just to be clear, I had no question they are capable horse people at this barn or I would not have left her there. It’s just that my horses are now used to interacting based on connection and presence, and they are given a voice in anything we do together.

Well… I decided to trust my horse.  To trust the foundation of confidence and well being that I know she has.  That even if someone handled her roughly or rudely that it would not shake her up.  In fact, I want my horse to experience other people’s ways even if I consider their techniques a little rude.  Through her life she will encounter humans who aren’t skillful handlers.  I want her to be generous with them!

It feels akin to having a teenager (from what I hear, I’ve never done this with a human).  At a certain point you have to trust that you have given them the tools they need to navigate life.  Of course you won’t knowingly throw them into dangerous or abusive situations.  But micromanagement doesn’t work either.  That only serves to disempower them.  So in a funny way, trusting them is almost the same as trusting yourself.  Trust in what you have done together to prepare them for life. Trust that they have the tools – and the resilience – to deal with what comes their way.

So I trusted my horse and left her at a barn with strangers (without over controlling and trying to tell them how to handle my horse which would only have insulted them).  She had already made me proud by walking on the trailer after less than a minute and travelling well.  When I went to fetch her two days later they said she did great.  She walked on the trailer again and travelled like a pro.

But here is the funny thing!  Maybelle had been ready for my stallion the night before she went there.  But she refused to talk to the stallion she did not know!  By the next day it was too late.  Even though this breeding I planned makes sense to me from my human point of view, Maybelle said NO.  I have raised her to have a voice and here it is!  I trust my horse.  We won’t be going back.

Photographs © Sarah Baker Forward


The Grand Lady River

It is only fitting for me to introduce River Run first.  She has been here the longest, arriving in 2005.  And at 27 years of age she is our matriarch and… well, guardian angel.  I am not one to use that sort of language, but River has over the years helped me in so many ways.  She gave me my first full Irish Draught foal, her daughter Sylvie.  She raised several youngsters to be well mannered and kind horses.  When I was deeply injured – and grieving for losses in my life – she carried me in all my vulnerability and sadness.  Together we rebuilt my confidence as a rider and horseman.  When Image joined us three years ago, she was his first teacher about how a stallion can live with his mares.

Her black eyes followed me across the yard.  I could feel her watching me!  But River Run was not for sale that day so we did not get introduced.  I was visiting Barry O’Brien’s Orchard Hill Equestrian Center in Massachusetts, from whom I bought several mares over the years.  Later Barry offered to sell River to me and we made a deal.

So River and I did not meet properly until I already owned her.  When we did, I threw my arms around her neck.  It might not have been her idea of a greeting, but that was my first glimpse of her generosity.  She accepted my forwardness with grace.

River was not supposed to be riding sound, but with time and turnout her arthritis stabilized enough that we had years of riding together.  No jumping and not too many circles, but she loved to go out.  Sitting on her back I felt we could go anywhere and do anything.  She carried me through healing from a brain injury and the traumatic early years of Michiel’s illness.  She was the best of trail horses, giving calm and confidence to any horses riding with us.

For more than a decade River has set the tone in my herd.  She loves the guys and will sometimes defer to them.  But every female horse treats her with the deference befitting the one we came to call the Grand Lady River.  She is not aggressive, but a simple gesture from her will move other horses out of her way.  And every one of them wants to be near her.  She has been a valued partner to me in raising up several young horse to be good citizens.

At 27 River is now retired and has only occassional assignments.  Most recently she helped a horse named Charmer who belongs to my barn helper Evangelinia.  Charm was visiting for a couple of months last fall so he could enjoy some of our extra grass and so Evangelinia and I could strategise for his ongoing rehabilitation.  River chose to defer to Charmer but never overreacted to his aggressions.  Watching them together – and knowing River as I do – helped me understand who Charm is and what he needs.

River needs a little extra these days – protection from weather and supplemental feeding – so she gets winter suite!  From there she can talk to the rest of the herd, duck out of the wind whenever she chooses, and easily be fed her extra rations. She clearly enjoys being in the center of things after the fall months out on pasture and away from her family.  Perhaps later this year she will get a new assignment helping to raise her first grandchild!

Photographs © Katharine Locke, © Michiel Oudemans, © Shannon Forgeron, and others.


Katharine and Maybelle

One Step

“If you are having trouble with something, try doing it one step at a time,” I said to my barn helper whose horse was staying with us for a little while.  Evangelinia and her handsome red dun Charmer have a very special bond and together we have been helping him feel better in his body and mind.  So, mostly walking for a while!  I had set up a small labyrinth a la Linda Tellington-Jones which is a great opportunity to practice bending, responsiveness, and mindfulness.

Evangelinia and Charmer

That day I had run out of time to give my young mare Maybelle a full session.  Instead, I formed the intention to have a teeny tiny session in the short distance between her stall and turn out – about 25 feet down the barn aisle.  Not sure exactly what I would do, I opened her stall guard inward to put the halter on.  I had with me a short bamboo stick to extend the reach of my touch.  I left the door open as I put the halter on, explaining as needed (which isn’t much, just one or two touches on her chest with the bamboo) that she was not to push through me to leave the stall.  Excellent!  Good girl!

Next I asked her to take one step forward.  Only one!  Then one step back.  Only one!  At first she took the step as if more steps will happen right away.  That looked like throwing her weight and using momentum.  That is one way that walking happens but I was looking for something else.  “Can you take one step only?  And then wait for my next request?”

Katharine and Sylvie

One step, pause.  One step, pause.  One step, pause.  In those dozen steps she learned to wait for my request and keep her weight balanced over her feet!  Good girl!  That is so beautiful!  My request was two fingers on the noseband of her halter lightly inviting her forward.  The only correction a delicate touch on her chest with the bamboo.  By the last four steps my request was almost imperceptible and no correction was needed.  She was with me and listening.  Beautiful!  Thank you! Pause for a rub of appreciation and then out you go.

Incidental groundwork.  Isn’t that a great expression?!  Mark Rashid used it in his book, Finding the Missed Path, that I was reading recently.  It is a reminder that every moment we are interacting with our horses is an opportunity to help us both learn to communicate.  Maybelle turns five in 2019 and has had mindful handling her whole life.  As her formal training begins, I can feel how much she already knows about how to be with humans.  Her “incidental groundwork” has been delicate and precise.  She wants to be connected because connection feels good!

A lot of horses – and people for that matter! – find it really difficult to take one step at a time.  Using momentum is easier in a way, but not really in the long run.  What happens when I need to stop abruptly or change direction?!  Moving with mindfulness and attention, with weight balanced over my feet, I am poised for anything.

Charmer and Evangelinia were having some trouble in the labyrinth when I suggested, “One step at a time.”  One step, pause, think.  Horse and human!  As I watched, they slowed down and worked together to sort out how to move their bodies through the labyrinth.  Evangelinia helped Charmer find balanced and elegant steps to navigate the tight turns.  In doing so she was discovering another means to guide her friend in his journey to feel better in his body and mind.

Photographs © Sarah Baker Forward, © Katharine Locke


Image

Fourwinds Farm 2018

Fourwinds Farm is expecting quality Irish foals in 2019.  While I haven’t had foals here in a decade, those years have been well spent.  For much of that time it was all about the mares!  Then in 2015 herd stallion Moorpark Image RID joined the family.

“Now we can start!”  Not exactly sure who said it, but those words arose clearly in my mind while sitting in the barn aisle one day last winter.  We have had a rough go of it in recent years, most especially 2017.  My dear husband Michiel died in March of that year.  He made many things possible for me including keeping hold of this beautiful farm and having the confidence to buy a breeding stallion as a middle aged amateur!  Three weeks after he died I arrived in the barn to another heartbreak: Sylvie had birthed premature twins and they were dead.  We didn’t know.  Heartbreak upon heartbreak.

2018 was busy with breeding efforts and, this fall, getting back in the saddle.  The two younger mares are confirmed in foal to Image – more about them below.  Maybelle the four year old has begun her training as a riding horse.  Sylvie and I are carrying on with our explorations of classical dressage.  At 26 the Grand Lady River Run continues to preside over us all. Image, meanwhile, has become a dedicated family man.  I look forward to riding him next year when the girls are busy with their foals.

Moorpark Image is a stallion who combines rare and performance bloodlines to present a stunning package.  He has floaty athletic movement and is a very kind fellow.  Selected, imported and produced by Frank Olivito, Image has produced lovely offspring throughout his life and was kept consistently in training with Adam Gamble.  His get are foxhunting and eventing.  I admired him for years and was honored when Frank and Adam agreed to sell him to me.

Katharine and Image

Image spent much of 2017 in Ontario at Iron Horse Equine Reproduction Services.  We now have a supply of frozen semen, though it has not yet been proven.  He had an Irish Draught Sport Horse filly foal in Ontario this year out of a Garryowen of Suma granddaughter.  I had hoped for more, but as we know in the breeding business things don’t always go to plan.  And perhaps people didn’t believe me that he may never be available again for shipping fresh cooled semen!

Fourwinds Sylvan River and All Maybelle are both the only full Irish Draught daughters  in North America of their respective sires.  Sylvie’s sire Garryowen of Suma (Shaun) and Maybelle’s sire Lionwood Kinsale’s Lad (Angus) are outstanding Irish Draughts who have each proven themselves.  Shaun had dozens of partbred offspring bred and produced by Orchard Park Stables in Ontario  They are scattered around North America showing successfully in eventing and other disciplines.  Angus is one of the top performance Irish Draught stallions in the world with Gold Merit in Dressage and Silver in Show Jumping for his own performance.  He is now standing in Ireland and his second crop of foals – more than twenty! – arrived this year. His foals are consistently lovely and most notable for their excellent temperaments.

Sylvie is truly one of a kind!  She is Shaun’s only pure bred daughter and the only pure ID approved daughter of her dam River Run (by Powerswood Purple).  River is an Irish Horse Board Quality broodmare.  An impressive mare at 16.3, River produced a compact model in Sylvie who is just 15.1.  Contrary to those stories you hear about Irish Draughts growing until they are six or eight, Sylvie never grew at all after her inspection at three!  Shaun did produce some small ones over the years and I often wondered if he had some Connemara hiding back there in his dam line.  Until she has some foals on the group it is hard to guess what size Sylvie will produce.

Maybelle

Maybelle comes from the outstanding mare family of Pearl Drop (Castana x Castleduff Silver), who also has two generations of proven progeny here in North America.  Pearl’s Rockrimmon Silver Diamond daughter Little Gem produced an approved ID stallion son Kilronan’s Glenstone.  Gem went on to be an eventer in California eventing with her junior rider.  Pearl sons are out in the show ring and hunt field with one competing in sidesaddle steeplchase!  Maybelle is starting to come into her own as a young mare showing her sire’s super temperament and the outstanding movement of both parents.  She stands 15.3 hands now and may finish a little taller.  Given the consistency on both sides of her pedigree I expect she will generally produce foals who finish right around 16 – 16.2 hands.

A new mare joined the family in 2018, although she will remain living in Ontario for the time being.  Bramblewood Truth or Dare (Trudy) is royally bred for eventing!  Her sire is Salute the Truth xx, who went Advanced in eventing and now has offspring doing so.  Her dam is Sparrow’s Tiptoes by the reknowned Connemara stallion Grange Finn Sparrow.  Trudy is confirmed in foal to Lionwood Kinsale’s Lad for 2019.

Trudy (Brambleridge Truth or Dare)

It’s all about the mares!  I am very excited to be producing foals with these lovely mares.  The Irish Draught gals are both very typey, meaning compact, athletic, deep through the barrel, with excellent limbs, joints and feet, and an extra dose of character.  And Trudy brings top quality performance blood to the mix.  Some of the foals will be for sale and I will be selective about who gets to buy them!!  Please get in touch sooner than later if you may be interested in a Fourwinds Farm foal.

Lionwood Kinsale’s Lad ID Class 1

Photographs © Sarah Baker Forward, © Liz Freeman, ©Fade to Grey Farm