Tuesday, July 24, 2007

National Day of the Cowboy

So I'm up in Portland at our Open Source Conference, and lo and behold, I find out that this coming Saturday is National Day of the Cowboy.

Sometimes I feel like I'm in parallel universes. Geeks by day and horses by night. Or something like that.

One of the cool things that's happening - both from a horse and parental standpoint - while I'm away is that Katie is going to come up and tend to Lena since Steve and I are both running around elsewhere. This may seem logical on the surface, but it's not just because she's my daughter and is now mobile. It's that there are only a few people I trust to handle Lena the way we think she needs to be handled and Katie is in that (very) small handful. I'm so proud to know a young person who has such a good head on her shoulders, and really glad she's my daughter.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Learning with Lena

Riding Lena is a constant learning experience. Constant. I just read a short blurb in Western Horseman magazine from Linda Parelli where she talks about ways they've altered their training methodologies a little in regards to softening the face. It was heartening to read an expert saying that sometimes you have to change things up a little as you learn.

We are definitely learning. I like what Parelli says about using your butt and legs first - though I think she said it nicer - and hands/reins as the last resort. Both Steve and I have been doing that with Lena already, mostly because it seems to work better with her. The more you pull on her face, the more she wants to fight you. And that's just not a battle to get into with 1,200 pounds of stubborn, opinionated, muscle. Well, you can try, but nobody will win.

Pictures and video can help, too. Like this one of me, where I'm sitting up straight but my feet are somewhere up north - using Lena's head as North, of course - of where they should be. Not to mention my toes, which are pointed northeast and northwest.

At least my heels are down! I also don't look particularly relaxed, though I do look balanced. I'd like to work on softening my hips, getting a little more movement and roll in my pelvis, with less stiffness in the leg.

It's like learning to dance with a whole new partner. In this case, though, it's okay for me to lead.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Afternoon ride and driving lessons

Katie and I went out on a ride Thursday afternoon and learned lots of things. We learned that sometimes off road trail riding can be a little hazardous to one's skin - branches can scrape, don't you know - and that there are rude drivers out there that really don't understand at all what it's like to haul a trailer, let alone a trailer with friends in it.

We started out up a trail at one of our favorite places, and a place that Doc has been many times before, so when he started off on a side trail, I thought he knew a new way to go. It was new, and it was a trail, but it wasn't quite clear enough for those of us whose butts were 14 and 15+ hands in the air. There was a lot of ducking and laughing as we went along, and I even got off and moved a small tree to one side. Unfortunately, it dead-ended at a creek with no way up and over - at least not on horseback - but it was beautiful and peaceful and funny nonetheless. Katie hasn't quite forgiven me for accidentally sending a thorny tendril back into her face. Oops.

It was a beautiful afternoon, totally quiet and Katie and I didn't run into anyone else out there. Doc and Lena got a great workout racing each other up the hills - he does a good job of keeping up with Leggy Lena. Actually, the two horses have a funny pattern. Usually when we start out, Doc is the confident, calm one. Then at the end, Lena will relax and get up ahead of Doc, her head up, those big ears pointed ahead of her. He'll get worried if he can't see her and will trot to catch up if we get too far behind. Of course, sometimes Lena will get nervous about something and stop to wait for him to catch up. Like the scary fawn that leaped out at her. You would have thought it had fangs by the degree of spin that occurred. After that, Lena stuck closer to Doc and me.

I had an awesome parental moment watching my daughter and my horse drift in and out from behind redwood trees, soaking up the solitude of the afternoon and the gentle rhythm of the world around us.

Then there was the drive home. Katie wants to learn to pull the trailer, so I let her drive. She's a relatively new driver in any case and it was her first time pulling the trailer loaded with horses, so she was being very cautious and driving a bit below the speed limit. She said she was chanting "eggshells" to herself the whole time.

Someone got behind us and didn't like how slow we were going and decided that tailgating and then honking every time we got to a place he/she thought we could pull over was a good thing to do. We even moved over in an area where we could get over and they could pass and they didn't, so the honking was really, really uncalled for.

Now I understand getting stuck behind a trailer can be irritating, and if you're in a hurry, even more irritating. But it does no good to act that way. It is not easy to pull any trailer, let alone one with live creatures in it. You can't stop fast, you can't maneuver quickly, and you can't pull over any old place on the side of the road. There has to be a lot of planning involved in any maneuver, especially for someone learning.

We did finally pull over and Katie was so angry I almost had to switch with her and drive the rest of the way back to the barn myself. As wrong, rude, and inconsiderate as that jerk was, getting mad at him/her instead of getting the horses back safely is not where her energy needed to be focused. It was a good lesson for her - there are always jerks out there and people who think they are more entitled to be on the road than you are. It's best just to let it go.

I admit it did make me wish for my poo flinger, though.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Cutting practice

Steve, Katie and I took Lena up to Healdsburg for some cutting practice today. See? She's wearing her cutting saddle again. :-)

She - again - loaded fine and we let her ride in the back part of the trailer today since it was just her. It was a balmy 102 degrees when we got to Healdsburg, so it's good it's a short trip!

We unloaded and she checked things out as we led her into the barn to tack up. Mostly - except for a little chewing on the wall in front of her - she was pretty calm. Must have been all the correctly-sized horses she saw. (i.e. cutting sized.)

We warmed up in the outdoor arena, full sun of course, and across from the Dun stallion on the property. Initially, Lena ignored the Dun but finally noticed him when he whinnied at her while I was doing circles on her at his end of the arena. The first horse she really noticed was a Friesian gelding, Mister tall-dark-and-handsome-with-great-hair. Below is her noticing him. There was also a Friesian stallion there and both Katie and Steve introduced themselves to him. I'm not sure the world is ready for a spotty Friesian, but Katie and Steve already dubbed it "Legs." Sheesh.

Meghan - the woman I coordinated with and pictured below - has a beautiful palomino gelding named Hollywood. We worked with a trainer up there named Rob Ringrose who was riding a nice little sorrel mare he called "Shorty."

Lena was definitely the moose on the block, but she did an awesome job after a little initial trepidation about the flag. It flapped, don't you know. She moves so fast and she's so aggressive that even when she would get beat on turns - mostly rider error - she could catch up.

Most of my cutting pictures are of Steve and are dark and crooked - as is often the case indoors and with me shooting. The one above is the clearest, but I'll work on the others and post them later. We all got at least one try with Lena - Steve and I got two - and Katie got to try Hollywood and I got to try Shorty, too.

It was a blast. And Lena enjoyed it, too, which is always cool to experience. It was was the first time in a long time that I've seen Katie enjoy riding, which was also pretty cool.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Parental milestones

My darling daughter has her first car and I had the odd experience today of meeting her at home after she drove up here from her dad's.

Weird. And terrifying.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Mountain Bikes and Horses

Let me just say that I am all for multi-use trails. I think we can all learn a lot from each other and that there is a lot of open space out there we can share IF we can all respect each other.

I understand the thrill of mountain bike riding, maneuvering your bike on hard-to-traverse trails and the thrill of controlling your speed - just barely - as you fly down a trail.

I'm also a horseback rider and one of my biggest trail fears is a bike rider coming up behind Lena too fast and ending up kicked from here to eternity. And then some.

The thing that I'd like to impart to bike riders is that we can't control this animal 100% of the time. They are prey animals and they react to a threat in a strictly fight-or-flight way. And here's the thing - it is all over long, long before human neurons can begin to fire and direct the situation. And if she doesn't hear you until it's too late, there's no way I'll have heard you before then. No way at all. Her ears are much, much better than mine are.

The thing I'd like to impart to horseback riders is that the bike riders really enjoy their riding as much as we do and most of them really are decent humans who don't want to scare you, your horse, nor do they want to get hurt themselves.

So how can we work together, folks?

Trail ride with friends

On Sunday, Katie D., Karen and I went out on a trail ride. This involved not only coordination between the three of us but me taking my first solo journey with Lena and the trailer!

Exciting stuff!

I got to the barn ahead of Steve and even managed to hook up the trailer all by myself. It just takes a little longer and a bit more patience - and a lot more getting in and out to see where your hitch is positioned.

Lena loaded fine, though she really - really - doesn't like the front compartment. Too narrow, though it's not really. We immediately found out what it was that would make the trailer rock so much when we put her there in the beginning. It wasn't tricky, just the natural physics around 1,200 pounds of horse slamming back and forth between the front wall of the trailer and the divider. But, since I was picking up Karen and her horse, she had to be in front because I was *not* unloading her and reloading her at a strange barn.

So I drove through Sebastopol, out Highway 12 and onto 101 South all the way to Petaluma without running myself - or any of the other idiot drivers out there - off the road. Why people getting on the freeway dawdle is beyond me. No, I'm not hitting the brakes with 1,200 irritable pounds of animal behind me, so GO for crying out loud!


Karen's horse Bobby is an ex-racehorse and so much like Lena it's a little scary. I took one look at his head and realized why people don't think Lena has any quarter horse in her. Because she looks like a spotted thoroughbred, of course. There were some definite dominance squabbles between them that are not quite ironed out, even though she thinks he's totally adorable and wonders why he doesn't want to nuzzle after she struck at him. Nothing like a horse playing hard to get. Especially when you're between them. Oops. No major injuries, thank goodness.

Above is a picture of her peeking around the back of the trailer at him - since we couldn't actually tie them up next to each other or anything silly like that.

Katie brought Bee and he had a blast. He had gotten relegated to second horse status when she had Fenway, but since she is between show horses at the moment (a story for her to tell), Bee got to go out and be an only horse. He loved it. Lena always loves only-horse status, and is not very good at sharing her carrot-and-butt-rub-giving mom. (Me, that is.)

It was a great day for all of us and I felt really good that I could haul the trailer - and Lena - on my own. Including having to pull into a driveway and turn around on the tiny, windy road Karen's barn is on after I drove past her barn on my way there. Without dumping either Gus or the trailer (and Lena) in a ditch, no less. Not to mention avoiding running over any of the Sebastopol pedestrians who decided to meander across my path on my way home. Silly people.

I do have to note that every time we went past a cow pasture, I could look in my rear view mirror and see that spotty nose poking out the screen. We're going to do some cutting practice on Thursday, so I'm excited to see how she does - even if there are no cows.

And here is the obligatory over-the-ear photo, with no one in front because Lena got to blaze the trail this time. Check out those ears, folks. :-)