Sunday, December 30, 2007


People have told me that every time you handle your horse, you should treat it as a training session. I never really got that message quite as clearly as we have this week with Bar. He's not mean, but he is a bit bossy and he is constantly testing the boundaries, especially because we're all new to each other.

Saturday was a tough day for Bar and he got lessons from several sources.

His first lesson of the day came from the farrier, Mike, who gets major kudos for toughing it out and giving back whatever Bar tried to dish out, which was a lot. Mike gave us some interesting lessons in the use of barricades and plain old horse psychology. As Mike said, "It's not pretty," but he managed to get all four shoes on, so we can continue to work with Bar without worrying about his feet. We'll worry about pretty next time. I'm supposed to make sure I ride him a lot before next time, too, so it's especially good we got all four shoes on him.

My lesson for Bar started with working with him in the cross-ties and a stall on maintaining personal space, holding still, and paying attention to his handler. I also did a little bit of accupressure practice and focused on being calm and steady myself, all of which really helped him relax and tune into what we were doing.

After I got him saddled, I took him down to the indoor arena and lunged (is it lunge, longe, or lounge?) him in the round pen while Steve rode Lena. She was in her slightly wild blow-off-steam mode and Bar was was a little distracted by her, but when we were done, he stood with me quietly and just watched her over the top of the round pen, never pushing on me and being very polite and calm as we exited the round pen.

Katie had the tough part of Bar's next lesson, which included sharing the arena with me riding Lena. When Katie got on him, he started to rear before she got her feet in the stirrups, so she backed him up into the wall, then went on with his workout. Meanwhile, I trotted and loped Lena around the outside of the round pen so Katie could have the outside track with Bar. Lena had calmed down and was moving nice and easy, so they paid attention to each other, but didn't set off any simultaneous explosions. I figure that's pretty good for the first time.

All in all, he was pretty tired, but not quite tired enough to hold still when we started to re-bandage his leg - his final lesson of the day. Steve had his head, and he kept dancing away from Katie and me and the bandages, but when I slid my toe on top of the hoof on the injured leg, he suddenly stopped and just held still while we finished up.

When we put him back in his paddock, there was definite grumpy horse vibe in the air, but by yesterday, he seemed willing to not only forgive, but cooperate. He stood still for Steve in the cross-ties, stopped and slowed at all gaits when I asked him to, and went calmly and quietly down the driveway with and without Lena. On a loose one-handed rein, even! He was really responsive to both leg and reins, and to praise and the release of pressure on the bit, too. Now that I think about it some more, I'm not sure if he was more responsive to the latter, or if I was using it better, or maybe I was just more relaxed in my hands and that was what he was reacting (or not as the case may be) to. Maybe there is a little bit of owner training going on here, too. Hm.

Today, we just went out to clean the paddocks, groom both horses, and change Bar's bandage. He stood still for me, even when I poured hydrogen peroxide on his leg - which had to both be cold and feel weird when it bubbled - all the way through the bandaging process. Of course, he also got brushed and petted and smooched, so maybe he figured cleaning out the wound wasn't so bad after all.

Of course, none of this is a guarantee for tomorrow, but that's part of what is so entertaining about riding horses. At least in my weird little world it is.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Leg wraps and dual horse tending

Trying to wrap the leg of a dancing horse requires patience, persistence, and preparation. I have to work on the latter - much quicker if one has all the tools laid out ahead of time.

It's been awhile since my last attempt at a leg wrap. Blue looks fetching on him, yes? The lump in the wrap isn't his leg, it's the uneven piece of cotton we used because our barn scissors desperately need replacing. The worst part of the wound is covered, though, and I'm hoping that not having it cover his fetlock will keep the dressing a little drier - at least until tomorrow when I'll have to re-wrap it anyway because I missed the very top of the wound somehow, darn it. Practice makes perfect, right?

But wrapping his leg came after his workout and the bigger dressing didn't do much to dull his enthusiasm or energy. (Though I did trim it up a little bit ahead of time to get the soggy mud-covered portions off.) All three of us - Steve, Katie and I - took (short) turns riding Bar and he made sure to test all three of us just to be sure we were each paying attention.

Lena is not entirely sure about how much attention Bar should be getting, but she was not neglected, either. She got carrots and stretching and a neck rub, then some brushing and tending while Steve cooled Bar down. She also got a good workout yesterday, so she's not building up too much energy of her own.

Bar enjoyed the work, even though we kept insisting that "whoa" was indeed in his vocabulary. He's a beautiful mover, with long strides and a very fluid grace. He's also a little bit like riding the edge of an explosion, but in a good way. I haven't ridden him enough to describe the differences between him and Lena, only that they don't feel the same. Complementary, perhaps, but not the same. Like an Aston Martin (Bar) versus a Corvette (Lena), maybe - one a little tiny bit more refined, though no less powerful. (More car analogies, sorry.)

We'll be working with them on different things, and I think always working with both of them on something. It's what makes them both interesting and fun. Not easy, but never dull. Can't quite see the point of a push-button horse, even if it means a little (or a lot) more risk and excitement in life.

Here is a parting nose shot of each of them. (Lena was a bit too snuggly for decent photo distances.)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

A lot of horse

Bar is a lot of horse. His body literally seems to hum sometimes, vibrating with so much barely contained energy you nearly bounce off him like he's got his own forcefield. Yesterday, I thought he might be too much horse for me, or maybe just for some of our barn-mates. I cried some, didn't sleep well, and then went to see him today. He is a lot of horse, but he isn't too much. And he's worth the commitment, the time, the effort, and - yes - energy I'll have to put into him to be his owner, to be his partner.

Yesterday was a lot like our early kamikaze riding experiences - definitely an extreme horse situation. I don't know why I thought the second horse we picked would be different than Lena, since we insisted on picking a similar-energied horse and she certainly gave us some frightening lessons her first three weeks. Maybe I just thought I'd be better prepared.

Not so much.

We were on our way out to the barn when Peter called to tell us Bar had gotten out and hurt himself bad enough that he might need stitches. Coming from anyone else, I would have waited until we saw the injury to call Dr. Leslie, but since Peter is pretty unflappable, I called her and had her meet us at the barn.

We're not entirely sure what happened, but he did go through his gate, possibly to check out or challenge another gelding that was being led up by his pen, and possibly because the latch on his pen wasn't very good and he popped through it and then he was out. He likes to be out - he's a bit of an escape artist - and took off to check things out and did not cooperate with initial efforts to catch him.

Peter caught him fairly easily - before Bar jumped into one of the front pastures to hang out with Doc and Taffy, but after he slipped and scraped a nice strip of skin off the front of his right rear "shin." Peter put him in a stall in the upper barn and that was pretty hard for Bar, though maybe a good lesson in and of itself. He hates stalls and had himself pretty worked up by the time we got there.

Seeing him so agitated in the stall, talking to the couple that had tried to catch him, and having no idea why he would charge his gate, I called Devon to tell her we wanted to bring him back. I give Devon a lot of credit for dealing with a semi-hysterical me on the phone and not getting exasperated.

While we were waiting for Dr. Leslie, I talked to Peter who didn't seem really all that concerned about Bar's behavior. He told us he hadn't noticed him being overly aggressive towards other horses, acting like a stallion, or being too out of control in his paddock. He also said Lena and Bar like each other a lot, which they do.

If Peter had come to us and said, "That horse can't stay here," or if I'd gotten there today and seen anything but a calm, relaxed horse in his paddock, I'd have a different attitude. But he didn't, I didn't, and I don't.

When Steve, Katie and I got to the barn this morning, Bar wasn't agitated at all - even when Steve pulled Lena out to saddle and ride her, even with another mare in the pasture galloping back and forth, whinneying back and forth with several other horses across the property.

Howie and Devon met us out there to see how things were going and see if they could help us with Bar. Howie even pulled off Bar's remaining front shoe - he lost the other yesterday - and they watched us with him, gave us pointers, checked out his paddock and watched him with Lena. They said if we did give him back, we'd have to move Lena too, because they are so obviously bonded with each other. Ha!

In the midst of yesterday's turmoil about what I wanted to do, a character in a movie we were watching said something along these lines - "In 50 years, don't you want to say you got into the car?" (Okay, yes, it was "Transformers" which seems a stretch for inspiration, but there it was.) Yes, in 50 years I want to say I put in the effort this horse deserved, that I deserved, so that no matter what the outcome, I came out a better rider and better horse owner.

I'm learning a lot. I have to be tougher with Bar than I am with Lena - at least while I learn his tricks, his mannerisms and attitudes - but the reward is that he does respond. He does want to be ridden and handled and worked, he just has to test while we learn each other, and I have to be willing and able to put that time and effort into him. I owe it to him and to myself - it's really pretty simple, though not at all easy.

And Bar didn't get stitches - Leslie cut off the flap of skin instead - but he has to walk around with a big wrap on his leg which he doesn't particularly like. It's probably a good lesson for him nonetheless. (Pictures to come, I promise.) Oh, and he has a halter wrapped around double and securing his pen gate, too. Steve said once around was probably enough, but I'm not taking any chances.

He is a lot of horse. He will never be easy. What other horse would fit so well in our wild and crazy family?

Monday, December 24, 2007

Horse two, day three

We are on day 3 with Calabar - so far, so good.

Steve had to handle both horses yesterday because I was a little under the weather, bleh. He groomed both of them, worked on the drainage in Calabar's paddock, and then lunged Bar. (Much to Lena's dismay as she thought for sure it was her turn to be out.) Steve came home a little worn out.

The two of them do seem to both like each other and realize they are part of whatever weird herd Steve and I make up with the two of them. When we pull Lena out of her pen to tend her, there is much whinneying from Bar until she either returns or we come get him.

As for Lena, this was the look on her face much of the time over the last couple of days. Funny to see such a moonie-eyed expression on 1,200 pounds.

It was my turn today, so I lunged Calabar first, then rode him a little bit in the round pen while Steve took Lena Rey out in the big outdoor arena to work. Bar did okay for the most part, but reacts a lot like Lena to the round pen, particularly when he can hear way more action going on on the other side of the wall he can't see through. Voices, horses, gates opening - and Lena Rey loping past on the near side.

I could understand his point of view completely - there is a mad echo from outdoors when you're in the indoor arena. He had to practice paying attention to the rider and not the weird noises and I had to practice trusting him, which got easier as we worked through the weird noise issues.

It's funny, I guess. I know all Lena's quirks and bad habits - at least those she's decided to share so far - so as bad as she can be, she's a known quantity. Mostly, anyway. I had to really fight myself to relax and allow myself to begin to learn Calabar, let myself begin to trust him the way I do her.

I told Steve I was trying to channel Ike a little bit, though I'm not sure how well I succeeded. It really helps that Bar is paying attention, that he does want to work and be handled, and that he doesn't want to hurt you.

Lena was a good trainer, actually. I just have to remember that I can actually ride spirited horses and trust my own abilities enough to let go and trust him. I started in a similar place with Lena Rey, so am hoping to get through this a little faster this time around.

Breathe. Relax. Focus. Stay in the saddle. Trust.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

First smooch

We did manage to get Calabar moved today, yay! Both Steve and I are worn out, but Lena is totally in love, which is mostly a relief.

He is in the pen right next to her, and Lena spent much of the afternoon trying to get his attention while he inspected his new surroundings.

More later, as the adventure continues to unfold.

(Thanks for the photo help, Phil!)

Friday, December 21, 2007

Big day tomorrow

We pick Calabar up tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m. to move him to Peter's!

It's exciting and vaguely terrifying all at the same time, even though I truly think we're the right family for him. It's a whole new chapter in our horse story, one I want to turn out well for all of us. I could stress myself out over this but am trying hard to send that energy in a more positive direction - like learning to work with a whole new horse.

I'm am actually really looking forward to learning more about him, figuring out his personality and quirks, what motivates him best, what spooks him, what his favorite scratchy spots are, all of it. I'm glad we have this week off and can spend time getting him acclimated to his new home and new people, not to mention getting Lena acclimated to sharing her humans. (This should be an interesting test for her.)

I actually have video of Devon riding him, though I apologize in advance for the commentary. (I forgot the camera records sound, too.) He is awfully pretty to watch and, yes, he wants to go faster.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

My First Real Christmas Tree

Tonight I went and picked out my first Christmas Tree. I love Christmas, the smell of the tree, the music, and the holiday spirit! I feel older now, having my own tree (I'm very sentimental)!
I'm looking forward to the holidays because I have sometime off from work. It's been a very busy fall/winter. But I'm not complaining - I love being busy, working,traveling, going on trips with the horses and visiting my horse friends!
During my time off I plan to spend many hours at the barn! I'm also going up to the snow and will try to get through the pile of books that are taking over my nightstand.

So, what does this post have to do with horses? Zoom in on the tree, most of my ornaments are horses!!!!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Katie meets Calabar

Katie (and Adrienne) got to meet Calabar today and watch him dance his way around his pen with much exuberance.

Katie likes him. "A lot." (That's a direct quote.) Though at first his energy was a little overwhelming, she got used to it and even instigated some silliness by jumping up and down in front of him and getting him to play with her.

He is a very active and physical horse, and was incredibly beautiful to watch as he kicked up his heels and acted like a horse enjoying the way his own body felt -- maybe even showing off a little for his new audience. But he never comes close to running you over or actually hitting you with a stray foot or leg, he just likes to move and he does it very well.

I also think he likes - or at least recognizes - having his picture taken. Not only did he pose for that shot with Katie, but check out this picture of Steve playing with him and Calabar watching me with the camera!

And I figure I don't have to change any of my Spottyhorse references because he has that beautiful swirly spot on his forehead. Ha!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Owner lessons

Sometimes, a horse doesn't behave, turns the tables, and gives the owner a lesson.

I took Lena out for a ride Thursday morning, after she hadn't been ridden in 3 days. As much as I love her, she was a complete brat. Granted, she was "fresh" and it was very horse-friendly weather - cool, breezy, and sunny - but still.

We got tacked up and headed down to the outdoor arena with no real indication that things might go a little nutty.

I decided on working in the big arena, figuring she would like the room to run and blow off steam. Usually, you can get on Lena and trot her around, lope her a little, and she winds down enough to pay attention to what you want to work on that day.

Not this time.

We started with walking and working in our circles, but every time we got near the bike-path side of the arena, she would bolt sideways. Turning her - it didn't matter what direction - only made her fight and lope in crazy spirals away from that side of the arena.

So, I decided to lunge her in the indoor arena, in the round pen. Now, we have only lunged Lena about 5 times in the time we've owned her. She was quite affronted when I not only walked her into the round pen, but then actually attached the lunge-line to her halter. Horrors!

I know lunging is a good thing to do with horses like her, it's just not something we've ever gotten in the habit of doing because usually we can work through her mood and settle into a good workout from up on her back.

She did settle out, and we did manage to get a good workout done, though not a lot of specific training -- more energy-release than anything else, which I think is okay sometimes, too.

I don't know what all was going on with her, but I had to change my tactics to get anywhere. All in all, it was a day of lessons for the owner, not so much the horse. Not such a bad thing, though.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


It's so cold out that even Huck is shivering with his blanket on!
I pulled up to the barn this morning and it was twenty-nine degrees out. 29!!! And two hours later it was only thirty-eight degrees out. I thought we lived in California, not Alaska!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Pictures of Calabar

Okay, finally, here are some pictures of Calabar. He was a little muddy today, unlike last time, but at least I remembered the camera this time.

We went out to visit him again today and spent quite a bit of time handling him, grooming him, playing with him, and just watching him.

He's got a ton of personality, but like another horse I know, likes to push his boundaries to see how you react and how much you'll tolerate. He willingly responded to correction, though, and loved all the attention.

We're working out with Peter when we can move him so we can at least try him out. Devan says they will always take him back, but we're hoping never to need that option.

We like his personality, even though he is definitely a handful. Once we established the ground rules, he was pretty anxious to please and playful, yet careful and mindful of his own body and ours. He loped around, bucking and kicking up his heels in his paddock, but always careful to check his footing in the slippery area. He would run around us, but never over us, never into us.

He also liked to play with his neighbor, a two-year old filly. Apparently, he loves the ladies and the ladies love him.

Here he and I are discussing being mouthy. I really am not singing "Stop, in the name of Love," to him.

He's a neat horse and this will be an interesting next step in our horse journey. Similar in some ways - he acts a lot like Lena in many ways - and very different in others. I'm excited, nervous, and thrilled.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

The right stuff

Looking for another horse means you get a lot of opinions from a lot of different people about what to look for, all the steps and precautions you should take to avoid getting a "lemon," and what you should know about the type of horse you're looking at. Among lots and lots of other things, of course.

We have looked at a lot of horses since we bought Lena, not always with the intent to buy them, but once you own one horse, it's pretty easy to find yourself at least scratching an extra nose or two on the way to your paddock, if not climbing in to fix a blanket or any of the myriad of things that can get wonky where horses are concerned.

We've looked at horses at Slide Mountain, horses at our barn, and horses at other barns. We've ridden other horses, too, and for my part, at least, I know I automatically start evaluating whether I'd want to spend time with them every day, whether I'd love to ride them as much as I love to ride Lena.

So far, the answer has been "Nope." It's not that the other horses aren't wonderful creatures, and they are very often far better behaved than my spotty horse, but we hadn't met a horse that had that spark, that hint of challenge and energy that makes every day with Lena just a little more interesting.

We think Calabar may have it, though we haven't ridden him yet to be sure.

I have a car analogy that may explain why we would want two such spirited beasties.

Before we bought my truck, we had a Volvo wagon. Originally, we swapped week by week, with one of us driving the Mustang and one of us driving the Volvo. The problem was, as comfy as the wagon was to drive, it was BORING. Yes, with all capital letters boring, and neither one of us wanted to drive it near the end.

As much as we both like riding, and both enjoy Lena's energy and feisty nature, it won't do to get a horse that is calmer, lazier, more tame. Not to mention horse #2 has to be able to keep up with her.

And, yes, ex-racehorses have issues and baggage and - in Calabar's case - old injuries. But he is sound and healthy now and no more of a risk than any other horse out there when all is said and done. Lena was hale and healthy when we bought her and two weeks later, she had the most terrifying bout with colic I ever hope to see. Of course, now Dr. Leslie insists she's one of the healthiest horses she knows. How much of that is the care, riding, and attention she gets on a daily basis? Probably a lot. Do we have that to give to another horse? I think so, and I think that will make the difference.

Steve said, "If it comes down to it I would simply go with my reaction to him and can everybody else’s opinion. I liked him. He seems to be a good horse that needs a good home. We may well be uniquely qualified to give him one."

We're going to go see him again tomorrow, so there will be pictures soon.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Windy, cool days

It was beautiful here in Northern California today, the sun shining after a couple days of rain, the air clean, clear and crisp, the wind making the trees dance and drop things from their branches. A perfect fall day.

Unless you wanted your horse to actually pay attention to you, that is.

Horses seem to get goofy on days like today. Heads up, looking around at whatever it is they sense on the wind, racing around pastures, bucking, and generally dancing around like the wind itself is under their hooves.

Lena is no exception and did her very best to remind me that as good as she is most days, she's still a horse and a young horse at that. We danced up and down the driveway after working in the indoor arena, me doing my best to remind her I was indeed still up there on her back. There was much blowing and snorting, though for the life of me I didn't see anything resembling a mountain lion anywhere.

I'd like to say I had some vague control, but some days there really is no such thing - only how well you can ride the wind with them.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Fun at the Barn!

I know i've been MIA, but I have a good excuse. I've been having way too much fun at the barn! I've been going out to the barn almost everyday spending hours and hours with my new pony, Willoughby. Willoughby is so sweet and always tries so hard. I'm really enjoying going through the training process again. It is very rewarding to see him progress a bit more with each ride. These pics were taken over Thanksgiving weekend.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Bitten by the horse bug

It took me a lot longer than it took Adam to look this relaxed and excited on a horse. Oh, and I was much, much older.

His face reflects the absolute joy Lena (and riding) brings to my soul, even when we're arguing over who is really the alpha. Actually, sometimes *because* we're arguing over who is really the alpha.

A man and his horse

We just got some of the Thanksgiving photos from Steve's brother and I love this one of Steve and Lena. Very peaceful feeling, I think.

Of course, she may have just been checking extra carefully for carrots, too. Ha!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Horse shopping

We have accidently (on purpose) started the process of finding horse number two.

It started the other day with Peter telling Steve he was getting a 6-year old Paint mare in that he thought we might want to look at. Then my friend Karen told us about a 6-year old Thoroughbred gelding that needed a home. The last cosmic hint was a message from Katie's old coach about a horse they have that is not a good lesson horse, so needs someone else to love him.


I knew nothing when we bought Lena, except that I trusted Ike and Cheri - and still do - and liked Lena as a fellow being. Little did I know all the things I should have looked at. Feet. Teeth. Confirmation. Attitude. Personality.

The latter two have become really important to us because, frankly, we like challenging horses. I see ads for bomb-proof horses that you can (supposedly) leave in pasture for a month then hop on and not have any problems and I think to myself, "Well, how boring is that?"

If we left Lena in her pen for a month without riding her, it would be like straddling a keg of dynamite. Grumpy, unstable dymamite.

But the other stuff is important, too. Confirmation, health of the feet and legs, all of these play into the longevity of the horse and - worst case scenario - how easily you can get rid of them in a pinch.

Lena has great feet, beautiful confirmation, and mostly a good attitude. She is NOT a horse for a novice, but she is also a lot of fun to ride. Horse number two - whoever that turns out to be - has to be high up in the fun factor or the rest won't matter nearly as much, though it will still be important.

I've called both my vet and my farrier. Haven't heard from Dr. Leslie, yet, and my farrier told me not to fall in love with the first horse we look at, which of course I've already half-way done.

The Thoroughbred, of course -- even though there are some physical issues that make him not an optimal choice.

Calabar has a slight club foot, a bowed tendon, and the hoofwalls that go with being a Thoroughbred. But the club foot didn't keep him from winning money on the track (and didn't look as bad as some I've seen) and the bowed tendon is well healed and did nothing to mar the grace and athleticism he demonstrated as he galloped and showed off around the arena. Did I mention he was dark bay with good, strong-boned legs and a white crescent on his forehead? His movements were big and loose and graceful, and he has a certain attitude that would fit in well in our family. (We call it the "butthead" gene.) (And, yes, I forgot the camera again, so no pictures, sorry!)

If we were going to show or compete with him, the tendon and the foot would be a huge issue. As it is, my main concern would be his overall physical health and any risk of reinjury. He'd be a trail horse, with some arena work to keep him in shape and schooled. Would his feet and tendon preclude those activities? Probably not. But how well would he fare on a back-country trip and could we find him a good home easily if we had to get rid of him for some unforeseen and terrible reason? Those are things to think about realistically, without the filter of his beautiful movement and funny personality clouding things. At least not too much.

Last but not by any means least, we also have to factor in whether this next horse and Lena get along - mainly because of the type of riding we'll be doing. Can't have bickering horses in the trailer or on the trail, it won't work.

It's really a lot to think about and balance.

This is not going to be nearly as easy as buying Lena was. Not by a long shot.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Trying new things

One of the fun things about trail rides is getting Lena to experience new things. In this case - several months ago, now - it was the ocean.

I love this shot, though, because of the expression on Lena's face and the obvious encouragement both Doc and Lena are getting from Katie. (Notice the foot in the surf.)

Lena got to try another new thing today - having a very small person on her back. Steve's three-year old nephew Adam has been up visiting for the holidays, along with his parents -- Steve's brother Thom and his wife Jane. We all went to the barn today so Adam (and my dad, Thom, and Jane) could meet Lena. Adrienne came, too, though she is well acquainted with her Royal Spottiness.

Adam was cautious, but not afraid - even when that big nose investigated him thoroughly for carrots - and wanted to ride Lena from the first second (maybe the third) he saw her. That is Steve asking me what the rough patches on the insides of Lena's legs are called again - her chestnuts.

We put Katie's helmet on Adam and he sat up in the saddle, holding the horn tight since the stirrups were way, way below his feet, and apparently grinned from ear to ear the entire time Steve and I led the two of them around the arena. I was busy watching Lena so I missed that part, but am hoping Thom shares some of the many pictures he was taking.

At one point, Adam looked down at me and said, "She moves!" in absolute wonder, his voice echoing the same genuine awe that fills me every time I work with her.

I'm just glad to have a horse that pays attention to us, even when we're asking her to do something new and sometimes weird.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Day one with Lena

Day one with Lena
Originally uploaded by spottyhorse67

Can you tell this was back when I was still a little scared of horses? She was so lovely back then, and I think even lovelier now. Although she is rarely that clean anymore. Sometimes in the summer. :-)

Friday, November 09, 2007

Good horses

People have a lot of criteria for what they consider a "good" horse, and it varies depending on the person and what they want from that horse.

Me? I like a horse with some spunk, some brains, a good attitude about learning, and the willingness to trust me.

I know I'm still relatively new to all of this, and that maybe my criteria is based on the horse I have, but now that I have her, I can't imagine wanting a different type of horse.

But that's me.

Lena gave me a good example of what I consider a "good" horse yesterday. I had noticed some scuz on the inside of her rear left "thigh" the other day, but hadn't looked closely. (Yes, unlike me, I know.) When I did look at it yesterday morning, there was a scabby knot of blood and dirt there, so I took her into the barn to clean it out and see what it was.

Now, as some of you know, Lena does not hold still well. She dances and shifts from side to side in the cross ties, cranes her neck back around to see what you're doing, nibbles at the ties, etc.

Unless you're doctoring her.

I put her in the cross-ties and got some water and a towel to clean off the scab, then did that thing I'm good at - ignoring conventional wisdom about being around horses - and climbed under Lena's belly to work. She stood absolutely still, not even shifting a foot, while I scrubbed at the scab to get at whatever lay underneath.

Linda and Karen were both there and were both impressed at how still she was, both of them knowing what a rare thing that is with Lena.

It's almost like she knows I'm fixing something and - as long as she wants it fixed, too - holds still until I'm done.

I think it was a tick - there is a nice, round hole underneath all that crusty stuff, like she'd managed to get the tick out, but it left a good gouge. Ew.

At any rate, my point is that as goofy as she can be, she seems to know when to be still and let us tend something that needs attention. Even if she challenges me the very next minute in some other way, that makes a good horse in my book.

Sunday, November 04, 2007


I love owning a mare. I know. I'm weird. Geldings are calmer, steadier, more affectionate, and generally better choices for new riders like us. I read somewhere that with a gelding, you're always dealing with the same quirks, but a mare invents new ones all the time. That's been true so far with Lena, but I can't really say I would want it any other way.

As we get to thinking about horse number two and what we want, there is a logical assumption that we consider a gelding - a nice, calming influence on Lena - and part of me thinks that might be a good idea.

But the other part of me loves - absolutely loves - the quirks that come with owning a mare. Yes, even when she's in season and not necessarily focused on arena work - or much of anything but her own hormones.

She is passionate and moody, sensitive and emotional. And I love that about her. I think she is amazing and I love playing with her, riding her, and figuring out what mood we have on any given day.

I don't honestly know who or what the next horse will be, and as long as Lena accepts him or her, I don't care. Of course, since she may be the most spoiled spotty horse in all of Sonoma county, getting her to share her humans at all - regardless of the gender of her new trail buddy - may be the biggest task of all.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

33 second nose bag lesson

While Steve and I were at the packing class, we witnessed the power of a nose bag of grain. Shake it, and they will come.

So we found a nose bag today and introduced Lena to the concept.

The first thing she did was stick her nose in it. Then decided it was too scary for all of about, yes, 33 seconds. I shook it at her and she walked away from me, rolling her eye in my direction. I shook it at her again and she walked away again a couple more times.

It didn't help that she could see her regular bucket o' grain outside the paddock and she did wander over and hint that Steve could give that to her any time since I was being silly with this weird bag thing.

But then she decided maybe the nose bag wasn't too terrible and buried her face in it until she had effectively snarfed up every last little rolled oat.

I can't guarantee that it will pull her away from a meadow of lush, green grass, but that's an experiment for another day.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

More packing notes and pictures

I finally sat down and put a series of pictures together. Some of them were taken by Tammy Ybarra, our instructor's wife, and some by me. She took the shots of us pulling and tying all that rope -- since our hands were busy -- and the one above of Four-by-Four and me.

Click here to see the set of pictures.

Steve and I are both trying to retain what we've learned and find ways to keep the rope patterns in our heads until we can get some way to practice.

In the meantime, we are riding Lena and figuring out where we go from here. Obviously, we'll need at least another horse and probably some more tack and gear. (Yay!) We also need to work with Lena to get her less spooky and more able to deal with weird things we might encounter. Like scary blankets and tarps, for example. Not to mention mules. She might wonder why on earth these fine large-eared critters seem to want to follow her everywhere.

Steve Ybarra kept telling us that the more we can expose her to, the better, so we'll be working with her on new things, trying to make her as trail-worthy as we got our loads to be by the end of the class. Mostly, she's pretty good at learning. Sometimes, though, it depends on her mood. And the weather. And the full moon. And any number of other factors that are involved with having a horse.

One of the many things that make owning Lena worth a lot, actually. She's a good - if sometimes goofy - teacher.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Yosemite Packing School

Well, it was indeed an adventure and a grand one at that.

Unfortunately, my grand plan of typing up my blog entries every night in Notepad - or even live since we actually had wireless - ran into the harsh reality of total exhaustion every night except the first night.

Here is what I wrote the first night:

Thursday night, 10/18/2007

So here I sit, on the ground next to the tent, watching the mosquitoes fly in front of the computer screen. Bonnie Raitt sings in the background, sounding a bit tinny through my laptop speakers.

Yes, actually, I'm at a campground. AND! I've got power! Very cool. There is even wireless, but I can't access the network, yet - I suspect I need to pay a fee for it.

Wow. Big mosquito just buzzed my screen. Hang on.. time for repellant, be right back.

Okay. This this is pretty geeky. Oh, well.

The sky is beautiful, pinky, orangy clouds as the sun sets. Oak and Manzanita curling up around us into the sky, sweet, cool air to breathe.

And, yes, I miss my horse. However, unlike other times I've been away, at least I'll get a horse fix this time. Without accosting mounted police officers, anyway.

We made sure to stop by the barn and say good-bye, of course. My daughter will come up and ride her Sunday and a couple of our barn-mates are keeping an eye on her, so she won't feel too neglected. Lucky horse. :-)

More on our adventure tomorrow night - maybe even live, if I can get onto the Wireless. :-)


And that, folks, was as far as it went where documentation was concerned. I was lucky to stay awake through dinner most nights. :-)


It was awesome and we learned a lot. Like the fact that mules follow horses without having to have halters on them. (At least most of the time - unless you've captured them just to worm them and give them shots, then they might give you a little trouble for a second or two. Or 30. More on that later.) We also learned that there is a lot to learn and that common sense and communication go a long way when you're working together to tie weight on 1,200 pounds of muscle.

I have never pulled on so much rope in my life! Steve and I figure we loaded and tied the equivalent of a 5-day, 6-mule pack trip in two days. (30 loads, easy.) My hands, though not blistered much, were indeed feeling the strain. As were my shoulders, arms, back, and stomach muscles. Great workout, by the way. It made me very glad I'm in decent enough shape; it was hard work! But very satisfying, too. And really, the only way to learn the art of packing is to do it over and over again until it's second nature. We're hoping to set things up so we can practice at home, though I can't imagine Lena being nearly as cooperative as the two mules we worked with, Mabel and Four-by-Four, and suspect we'll have to rig ourselves a practice mule like we started with.

This is Mabel, she's 26 (-ish) and retired. She's a Percheron cross, so very tall and a bit challenging for those of us of the short persuasion when it comes to checking our knots. Luckily, she is also very patient with folks tying loads to her.

This is Four-by-Four (4x4) and I am not sure how old he is. He is a quarter-horse cross, so a "small" mule compared to Mabel.

On the last day, we also worked with Steve Ybarra's horse, Peanut, a cutting-horse bred gelding who is actually distantly related to Lena. We rode him and led 4x4 through an obstacle course. He did a great job of showing us how to deal with mules and various obstacles.

It was a great trip and my first real exposure to mules. They are pretty cool animals and fun to work with. I'll be setting up an online gallery of more pictures of knots, loads, and mules shortly.

Lena was mostly glad to see us, and really glad to get out on the trail today with Doc. It was absolutely gorgeous here and she was on remarkably good behavior.

All in all, a great experience that I would recommend to anyone seriously considering wandering into the back country with horses. It's an eye-opener about what you really need to do to safely get to some of the most beautiful places in this country and not end up hiking out chasing your stock.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Off on an adventure

So Steve and I leave today to go to our 3-day introductory packing class with the Yosemite Packing School.

We'll be learning the basics about balancing loads, working with stock, basic livestock first aid, and I'm sure a few other things. There are actually three courses you can take, this is just the beginning. The Intermediate and Advanced actually include going out on the trail. (Click on the "Courses" tab on on their site to see them all listed.)

We are NOT bringing Lena this time, mainly because it would have been our first long trip and we didn't know what to expect once we got there. Probably our first long trip with her will be up to see Ike and Cheri at Slide. (She says hopefully.)

I don't think I'll have internet access, so most of the posts will have to be typed into Notepad and posted when we get back. Should be an interesting experience at very least.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Cowboy Hall of Fame?!

I just saw Katie's post about Oklahoma City and The Cowboy Hall of Fame! How cool! I wish I could be there, too, but instead of Maker Faire, I'm going to be going to an introductory class on packing with horses and mules!

Steve and I leave Thursday for our class at the Yosemite Packing School in Coarsegold, CA. We'll be learning about balancing and tying loads, as well as trail first aid and stock management. One of our biggest questions is how to feed your animals while you're out there, including how much food would you have to carry and what is the best way to do that. Fundamentally, we need to know if we need more than two horses to do any back-country trips!

We are not bringing Lena this time, since it's mainly introduction and classroom work, but are looking forward to it nonetheless. We could have brought her, but figured that combining our first long trip with her and completely new circumstances would be a mite distracting for us, as well as a bit scary for her.

We'll be camping, so I hope the weather isn't too bad. My daughter Katie will be coming up to tend and ride Lena while we're gone, which is really great news. Good for us and good for Lena.

Morning greetings

One of my favorite parts of any day is getting to the barn and seeing this nose pointed at me, those big curly ears directed at my voice as I come up the path to the barn.

I know it's mostly because I bring food, but it still makes me smile every time I see her, hear her nicker at me, watch her pace her circle while she waits for me.

Every morning during the week, I stop on my way to work to see Lena and give her a scoop of grain. I also give each of her neighbors a bit of carrot. That means that they all perk up when they see me, of course.

While she snarfs the grain, I pet and talk to her - sometimes I even sing to her. If it's sunny, I stand in the sun, soaking in the warmth as the day starts. If it's raining, I stand with her under her shelter, listening to the sound of rain drumming on the tin roof. Yesterday, I moved her hay enough under the shelter so she could either stick her rear out in the rain or stay dry. I have no idea what she decided to do, since I had to go to work, but I am sure she did whatever suited her mood that morning.

After she eats her grain, we do carrot stretches. They help keep her flexible and that's a good thing. (Stretching is good for me, too, I just don't do it for carrots.)

Just like me, one side is more flexible than the other and some stretches are harder than others, but I've noticed more fluid movement since we started and she actually seems to sort of like it, though it's probably just the carrots.

Oklahoma City

Howdy from Oklahoma City!!!
I'm here on behalf of CRAFT magazine for an arts/crafts show called the Girlie Show.
It was really neat show, well organized, cool artists, and lots of people.
So what does this have to do with horses???
Well tomorrow before my flight to Austin, I'm making a stop at the Cowboy Hall of Fame!
I can't wait. Ellen's (my horse trainer) mentor, Tom Dorrance, is in the Hall of Fame so I'm really looking forward to seeing his exhibit. I'll post some pictures tomorrow night!
Jess - I wish you could go with me!!!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Maker Faire

I may be MIA for the next couple of weeks because I'll be putting on an event called, Maker Faire, in Austin! Maker Faire has nothing to do with horses but yet it's like a horse show in many respects. Maker Faire is two-day family friendly event celebrating arts, crafts, science, and engineering. Makers from all over come to share and show off their projects and inventions that they've been working on.
Ways in which Maker Faire is similar to a horse show:
*You get up really early everyday
*You go out to late dinners in a big group
*The Show Office is similar to the tack room at a horse show because it's always messy! And it's the hang out spot!
*The food is generally crummy!
*You're tired and dirty at the end of every day!
*You leave at the end of day feeling like you accomplished something big!

Click here to find out more about Maker Faire

Friday, October 05, 2007

Horse-to-human therapy

While I think there is great merit and progress yet to be made in the realm of physical therapy for injuries and disabilities using horses, that's not what this post is about.

We had a rough few weeks here around some personal family things and I ended up taking Tuesday off to both get some sleep and to get my brain back into some semblance of normality. (Hush, out there.)

For me, that process involved yoga in the morning and a trip to my favorite spotty therapist, Lena.

Just being outside, under a big blue sky, with the warm smell of horse and earth was a great start. She and I had a great ride, working on some basic stuff, and the usual "I'm the alpha mare" discussions. (The picture above is from many months ago, it was just Lena and me on Tuesday.)

Riding her, working with her, feeling her move with me - or in spite of me sometimes - cleared out a lot of the cobwebs and ickiness lurking in my head and my heart. She gave me a little peace, even while she tested the limits like always.

By the way, warm, dusty horse skin makes for wonderful aromatherapy.

Herd dynamics

I had an interesting lesson in herd dynamics this week when my friend Karen (yes, Lena's favorite masseuse) moved a mare to our barn.

Ellie is a four-year old thoroughbred mare who didn't race (I don't think). Pictures are coming, but I keep forgetting to grab my camera and since she's out in pasture, sometimes she's too far away. Karen is training her to sell and says she's a great trail horse.

Monday night, we picked Ellie up and moved her into the big pasture at our place with two Belgian mares - mother and daughter - and two geldings that are also new to the barn. Karen said Ellie was pretty dominant, but I was a little concerned because Ellie isn't very big and, well, I've seen those two mares be awfully nasty to some of the other horses in there.

I needn't have worried.

First of all, she out-ran all them -- trotting big, bouncy circles around them as they chased her, galloping with her tail up in the air while they watched her as if they had no idea what hit them.

Lena was watching me as well as all the commotion with great interest.

I left, telling Karen I'd be sure to check on Ellie when I got there in the morning, and telling Lena to keep her eye on Ellie, but still feeling vaguely worried.

The next morning, I got to the barn and saw the pasture bunch by the gate of their pasture. One of the mares pinned her ears and ran at Ellie, who pinned her ears back, but didn't budge one inch. Not one. She just swung her rear end in that direction slightly and the other mare veered off. Meanwhile, the two geldings were not only following Ellie like lost puppies, they were ready to defend her, too.

Today, they were all in relatively close proximity and mostly getting along.

The way I understand herd dynamics, that's about right. The alpha mare organizes the herd and keeps them together, though when a stallion is present he "technically" runs things. That probably defaults leadership to an alpha mare in a non-stallion environment, or so it would seem in this case.

I can't help but wonder what would happen if we had Lena and Ellie in the same pasture. Hmmm.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Horse Anatomy

Last Monday night Ryan and I went to his Uncle's horseshoeing class at SRJC Shone Farm.
Task of the day - dissecting horse legs! It sounds like a gross activity but it's actually very interesting. The horse's leg is very complex and it's fascinating to see how it actually works. At Cal Poly we did a lot of dissections in my animal science classes so it wasn't foreign territory but it's amazing how quickly you can forget!
See if you can identify some of the main tendons,ligaments, and bones:
Extensor Tendon
Superficial Flexor Tendon
Deep Digital Flexor Tendon
Suspensory Ligament
Navicular bone & bursa

For a more detailed picture (slightly grosser) check this pic out : Detailed View