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.