Ironwood Maine Barn Update

New Ironwood Maine Horse: Sunbeam
New Ironwood Maine Horse: Sunbeam

Despite week-to-week Nor’easter storms this month, the sun shines brightly on Ironwood and the barns are abuzz with activity and excitement. At Frye Barn Nappy has been progressing nicely in harness training, with the boys’ group helping one week and the girls’ group the next. The boys had the first opportunity to learn the required parts of a driving sled and introduced Nappy to pulling it. His second such experience, he showed he fully understood by needing little guidance or encouragement from the resident “Header”, who walked next to him with a safety lead line attached. By the time his second driver knelt in the sled, reins in hand, he was eager to go. With Barn Manager approval, the trio trotted happily along the edge of the road, and Nappy even picked up a canter part of the way. What laughter and delight this brought to all present, residents and staff alike! By the next week when it was the girls’ turn, the roads were melted and the shorter trails through the paddock comprised the driving venue. This was harder for Nappy to navigate with the sled attached, as the shoveled paths were narrow and curved and the unshoveled areas were too deep for his short legs to manage-not to mention pulling a person! Still he was cheerful and willing.

​So just when we were tiring of snow, it has become a new treasure. The horses who are not harnessed (yet) show great interest, and Lacey, in particular, runs up and down the fenceline if we are on the road, or right beside the sled in the paddock. The students recognize she has great interest and look forward to when she can also be driven. In recent conversations of students about they have learned about and from horses, students often mention having learned that horses are healthier and happier when they have something -a job- to do. They apply this awareness of a visible work ethic in horses to their own experience and their reflection upon their progress.

​At the Farmhouse, residents have been engaged in finding a special horse who is a good fit for Ironwood. Two weeks ago, a group of residents went to a barn that deals in horses, as well as tack, trucks and trailers for them! They set criteria for an Ironwood horse on the ride there. It must be safe, have a personality of wanting to be with people, be healthy and already trained in at least one of the disciplines taught here, with the build to cross-train. There was considerable variety among students in other desirable traits- size of the horse, breed, color, etc.

​At the stable, they had the chance to meet many horses, and to help decide which ones we would try out. In that process, one resident was “adopted” by a very friendly barn cat, who would not let him put her down. The cat would follow him everywhere and cry out to him or reach up his leg if he set her down. The kids decided that getting along with cats and dogs was an additional standard our new horse would have to meet. We watched the horse dealers ride each of several horses in a very small indoor arena, and students learned to observe for evenness of gait, responsiveness, any stiffness or abruptness, or other indications a horse might have health or agility challenges or training that would better suit more expert riders.

​Then our own Barn Manager rode, and also behavior staff, Heidi, in turn, with the two horses who were “finalists.” It was a tough decision to pick one, as the two who made it this far were both sweet and had met the listed criteria. As a final lesson horse test” a volunteer resident rode each horse, with her IW instructor close by. This resident had never ridden western, and did so with a minimal orientation to neck reining, and instruction that rider “body talk” in the saddle is very similar across disciplines. She was well supported by her peers in taking this positive risk, and the result was a clear picture of the horse being a good fit for our program. The group then asked if I thought he would do well in EAP. Since there were no other horses in the ring, and he was staying right with the group, we decided to remove his bridle and give him an “assignment.” Three students asked him to do a task with them which involved going from place-to-place in the arena and checking out unusual objects. Then the other half of the group did a second task with him. We put the bridle back on, and the second horse was tried out in the same way. During the visit, both horses had the chance to be in the ring together and with additional horses present being tried out by other people. Such a hard choice! So many nice horses to meet.

​When the decision was made, we prepared to leave. The horse dealer mounted this gelding and rode him outside, so we would be confident he will be a good trail horse. He rode him along the road, in the parking area, and right through the tack store! Going in one door, which the rider opened from the horses’ back, through the shop, and out the other person door. Then he stood up on the saddle, set down the reins, hopped off, and scooted underneath the horses’ belly to his other side. All this time, there were people and vehicles coming and going, barn dogs hanging around, an employee in a wheelchair moving equipment around, and truck traffic on the road. We felt we had made a very good decision, and left with a sense of wonder and gratitude.
​The following week, a separate group of residents had the opportunity to go get our new horse. We made sure these students had a chance to observe horses being tried out in the arena, to note their soundness and dispositions, and their overall health and training. Then we visited the stable and pens where they saw many more available horses. As we entered the stall area, they stopped quickly, responding to a sweet horse in the very end stall. As he turned to pay them attention, someone asked, “Wait! Is this him? Is this ours?” He was blanketed and facing away from us when we entered, so I folded back the blanket, and showed them the “SB” brand on his rump which the earlier group had mentioned back at IW. It was a delightful first meeting! And everyone agreed he seemed like a good fit for our IW herd-near in size to Justin and Dancin’, and whimsical like Justin, and solidly built, with nice form. I quickly completed the business part with the dealer while other staff visited him with residents.

​When I returned, I handed the lead rope to a resident, and said, “Take him to the trailer.” She walked him directly onto the trailer without hesitation, and I showed her how to close him in. Upon arrival at IW, a second student was invited to unload him. As she stepped onto the trailer, with his lead rope, he began to back off on his own. She backed up with one hand on him, clipped his lead on as he stepped down, and introduced him to IW’s beautiful views and brisk wind as if she had done so all her life!

​Perhaps the most difficult part of integrating a new horse is the quarantine phase, where are horse has to be kept separate from others until all risk of contagious illness or parasites (which they could carry from traveling long distance closely with many other horses) is past. During his first week here, he developed a runny nose, which caused quarantine measures to be more rigid, though he was already being kept away from other horses. Yesterday, a small StarRiders class researched respiratory illnesses and then did a well-check on him. His symptoms have nearly disappeared and he never did have any of the signs of a high risk illness, such as fever. Still, it is always best practice to exercise the strictest precautions to keep any new horse – and all our other horses – safe. The kids like to refer to this period as “initial reflection.” They follow the quarantine carefully and find within it opportunities to make special connections with him.

​The process of finding a name for him began the first day we met him, but was not finished until today. After nominating many names and much discussion, the Farmhouse crew have chosen the name “Sunbeam”, with “Sunny” as an acceptable nickname. This name wasn’t really part of brainstorming, but emerged from his determination to stand in a sunbeam when turned out in our indoor arena. Also, many residents have commented on his “sunny disposition”, stating that he is the happiest horse they’ve ever met, even though he shows he would like to be out with other horses. The quarantine has to last another week and half, which feels very long. But our veterinarian will check him over on Monday and take some tests to be sure he’s all set.

​Even though he is quarantined and can’t be with other horses, he can be with kids, as long as they change jackets, dip their boots, and wash hands before handling any other horses. So he has been a star for EAPs this week, showing a strong desire to connect with kids. Also three residents have ridden him here, doing walk/trot western with gliding stops, turns-on-the-haunches and patterns and obstacles-even a complex “Shamrock” formation for St. Patrick’s Day. For some, he bowed when they finished and drew him to a stop and reinback. One lucky resident got to finish her ride by standing in the saddle with her peers and staff surrounding her and Sunbeam “spotting” in case he moved. We are excited Sunbeam has joined our team and will keep you updated as he gets acquainted with our other horses. Make sure to stop by the barn on Family Weekend and welcome Sunbeam!