Saturday, February 24, 2007

Large Animal Rescue

I found the Large Animal Rescue Company in my internet wanderings today and am thinking it might be a good thing to get this kind of training. We had a series of horse-and-trailer accidents a couple of years ago and I remember classes running back then, but that was before we had Lena. Now it seems like an even better idea to have some kind of training to deal with worst-case horse scenarios.

Actually, I've always had an interest in things like Search-and-Rescue, First Aid, CPR and EMT training, so this is almost a natural extension now that I have a horse in my life. I'm hoping a class gets set up near me, otherwise I may try to set one up. In all my spare time, of course. :-)

Monday, February 19, 2007

Horse dentist

Marcus, the dentist who came to do everyone's teeth back in October, has a new site he set up. It's pretty cool and has some of the pictures I took that day up as well.

When Dr. Leslie was out to give Lena her vaccines the other day, she thought that some of Lena's weight gain could be contributed to the work Marcus did. Like I said in my October post, "Equine Denistry," it's definitely worth it to me if it makes Lena a happier and healthier horse.

Sharing one horse

There are three of us that ride - Steve, Katie, and me. The reason Ike and Cheri picked Lena for us is that she is not only strong and energetic enough to be ridden that much, her personality is such that she can handle the changes between all three of us without batting too many of her long eyelashes.

We are very lucky to have a horse like her, but sometimes it would be nice to have another horse so two of us could ride together, or even so two people could ride in one day without having to do too much schedule arranging.

But two horses means doubling the cost each month, not to mention the cost to buy the other horse, and we just can't do it right now.

Phil and Karey, owners of Taffy and Doc, tell us that until Phil bought Taffy, they would take Doc up on trail rides together. One would ride up and one would ride down. That'll be harder with three, but as I told Katie - at least with two of us not riding, the hikers would have company.

Patience is key but it's not my strong suit, so it's hard. I can think of so many potential adventures that waiting is arduous at best. But I can wait. I can help make sure we are financially ready for this next stage. No, really I can.

Really. I can. :-)

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Performance Horses

Performance horses come in many flavors - cutting, reining, dressage, penning, barrel racing, and more I'm sure I don't know about, yet. In all of these, you are asking your horse to perform at a very high level of fitness, both mental and physical, and then calm down and stand around with other horses or climb back in the trailer and head home. In other words, flip it on and off like a light switch. That takes a particular type of horse and a particular type of rider to make it work.

Any one discipline uses horses with entirely different personalities and temperaments than any of the others. Lena is a cow horse by breeding and has a certain aggressiveness that comes from being raised and trained to think and act independently once those reins go down. It means she has a certain level of confidence and willfulness that are inherent in and integral to in her personality. In this month's Performance Horse magazine, they compared cutting horses to reining horses in the article, "Worlds Apart." She certainly fits the description of the cutter, and is every inch a performance horse, even if we aren't always using her that way.

Because you are asking a lot from your horse, you can run into the fine line between a horse being up for the competition and becoming almost too ready and losing all focus. Mental and physical strength and stamina must come together to make a horse able to compete and still be fun to be around. That goes for the riders as well as the horse, and that's part of what makes them so fun to ride. Lena is the best biofeedback mechanism I've ever had. You can't lie to her, you can't pretend you're not nervous or upset. She knows. And she lets you know she knows immediately.

Conventional wisdom might have advised us against choosing such a wild beast as our first horse, but we're not particularly conventional. Some might say we're not wise, either, but we are having fun at least.

Lena is always a challenge, always a little unpredictable, kind of like life. That means constant input and feedback, continually working with her to hone the relationship we have with her and to figure out how to best get her to cooperate. It also means we are continuing to grow with her as riders as much as she continues to grow as our horse.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Big Barrel Race yesterday

We took Lena to a really big barrel race yesterday at the fairgrounds in Santa Rosa. Katie says it's the most fun she's had ever at a show, even though there was a lot of standing around. We all learned something about big shows with lots of wild horses and not-so-polite riders, being patient, relaxing when it's your turn, and just having fun with your horse. Lena also reminded us that she really doesn't like stalls or being bored much.

No pictures, though, because it was inside and dark an rainy most of the day. Any pictures would probably have been blurry pictures of Lena's hind end, anyway.

We got to our barn at around 6:45 a.m., pulled the truck up by the upper barn, gave Lena some alfalfa and grain, and proceeded to load her tack in the truck. All this while being watched suspiciously by Spotty Horse, who had to be wondering what on earth her humans were up to that early in the morning.

She soon found out.

We got her loaded - in between Angel and Tristan in Shannon's trailer - without too much coaxing, even though it was breakfast time. The drive to the fairgrounds was fairly uneventful, though very rainy along the way. We got signed in, sent Steve and Brandon - Katie's boyfriend - to find straw for stall bedding, and unloaded the horses, only to be reminded forcefully by Lena that she does not like stalls. She tried to see the horses next to her through the walls, tried to sniff over the top of the walls, spun around in her stall, all to no avail. Then she stuck her head out and whinnied, hoping for an familiar voice to answer. She did get answered, but by another equally vocal horse over in the next barn. Later, she even made friends with a horse parked next door just to pass the time.

Even with her stall dance, we did manage to get her brushed and tacked up, after which Katie took her down to the arena to see about warming her up and getting ready for the time-only runs. We had two time-only tickets, one for me and one for Katie, but I got busy doing something else so Katie ran them both. She used them mostly as warm-up and for practice, and that was all Lena got to do in the event arena for about 7 hours until we finally got to my class, followed right after by Katie's class - the last two classes of the day.

In my own uneducated show opinion, they might want to consider letting the novice and novice youth go first, rather than making them stand around for 10 hours. It might help bring people into the sport better. Actually, since I'm not necessarily concerned with winning, we decided - for big shows, anyway - we might as well enter the open classes. We know the times we have to shoot for, and if it's all for fun, then it doesn't matter much and it would be much better for all of us than standing around between classes.

It might not have been so bad waiting if there had been something else for her - and us - to do. Unfortunatley, it poured down rain most of the day, which not only made things wet, cold and muddy, it made it hard to keep horses ready to go since the warm-up arena was outside. They did open up the main arena for a little while, but that was before the gigantic Open class - 130 horses - got started, so even though Lena got loosened up initially, there was a lot of time to kill before we got to run. We finally gave up and Steve and Katie each worked her in the outdoor ring during the day, which means she's filthy today. We also found out soggy, sandy rear boots have to come off. She's not a fan of rear boots in general, but the extra weight and grit from the wet, and muddy outdoor ring did not go over well. I thought she had suddenly gotten rude and was kicking back at other horses - which was kind of surprising and not like her at all. Peter said she probably didn't want her boots on and he was right, she stopped as soon as they came off. For now, we'll run her without them and see how she does.

Finally, we got to our turn. I rode her in the Novice class and did okay. I was really (really) nervous. Peter was manning the exit gate and as I waited for the entrance gate-keeper to let me into the arena, Peter told me to "relax." I actually did, for about a split second. Then we were out and Lena was really trying to do what I wanted, only I wasn't giving her great directions. We finally agreed to start on the left barrel, came around it, and went on to the second barrel. Then, when we came up onto the third and I found myself thinking - and holding her back a little in the process - "which side?!" I finally committed - correctly, as it turns out - to circling clockwise and then brought her down the center as fast as we could go. We got a 21 second time or so, which isn't terrible, and I'm trying hard to remind myself it was our first time and it's okay.

Then Katie's turn came and she says her main goal was to show how fast Lena can accelerate without use of a whip or spurs like some of the other riders use. Yeah, it's fast. Unfortunately, Katie got a little over-zealous and took out barrel number two. Katie says Lena 'felt' her back off a little after the barrel came down, and that's why Lena tried to skip the last barrel. Katie made her finish anyway, even though they had no time, and came out of that arena with a huge smile on her face, despite it all.

I think Katie and I are both disappointed that we didn't ride as well as we could have and so Lena didn't get the times she's capable of, but all in all it was a good experience for all of us. I think we'll try for smaller shows in the future, at least for awhile, and plan better for big shows if we decide to try more of those.

Phew. Long day, long post, muddy, crusty saddle that needed to be cleaned this morning. The saddle is currently drying in the front room and we are all pretty weary, but it was worth it on many different levels. I'll post later about the pony Lena wanted to follow all over, it was hilarious.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Lena's new boots

Here she is, all decked out in her new SMB II boots.

We finally decided on black - Tiffany's advice, too - because we all agree Lena is flashy enough in her own right, so we don't need neon colors. Not to mention the fact that Lena doesn't like neon colors. Yes, I know horses aren't supposed to see color, but Lena reacts to yellow, orange, and lime green like she can see them and they are definitely not good.

Though she is softening towards orange lately. Cones are orange after all, and she likes running around them as fast as her spotty legs can carry her.