Friday, December 26, 2008

Owner (re)training

I've been researching training techniques, trying to find new tools that will help me work with Bar without resorting to either one of us throwing temper tantrums. Me stomping my feet and losing my patience really is not an effective learning environment, you see. I found some tips from Clinton Anderson that made a lot of sense to me, and today they helped Bar pay better attention and gave me a little reminder of some horse psychology I'd forgotten. In other words, Bar got the benefit of a little owner re-training.

I think that body language and tone of voice work for getting him to pay attention, so I concentrated on being "bigger" with my energy today. And it worked. I kept his attention and got his cooperation without having to resort to the stud chain, simply by keeping his feet moving forward when he tried to rear and backing him up away from me using my body and tone of voice when he tried to crowd me.

Most of this lesson was before I even got him into the round pen. Bar heard Lena and Steve going down the driveway to cool down after their ride and started dancing and crowding me. I worked him around me in circles at the end of a longer lead rope, then give him a chance to walk calmly and when he wouldn't and tried to rush me instead, I'd get in front of him, facing him, and march him backwards. When he'd stand still, I'd stroke his neck and tell him he was being good, even if it was just for a second.

After a few minutes on his own in the round pen, with me peering over the side and him working out his kinks, he would do a circuit then stop next to me and wait, finally pushing his nose through the top of the panel to nuzzle my hand. I took that as my cue to go in and we worked together for a bit, ending with our normal routine of stretches and ground work.

His focus on me was better and even when he would stop to check out something else going on outside the arena, I could get his attention back on me quickly--and keep it. The big test came at the end, after I went to lead him out the outside door of the arena. One of the newest boarders was walking her 5-1/2 year-old Thoroughbred down the alley and Bar really wanted to check this out. Especially when he saw Steve stop to pet "Romeo." I made him wait until Romeo was not only past us, but on his way down the driveway, before I opened the gate. Then I made him stand and wait for me to move forward. He did, and not only did he not argue, he looked to me for direction. Woo!

I told Steve when we got home that it seemed to me that, much like dogs, horses like to know you're in control of the situation. Duh. It's not even that I don't know this, I just forgot for a little while. Bar was able to relax and give control over to me because I took control and he didn't have to be in charge for a little while.

So, we both got some training (or re-training) today, which makes it much like most days when I'm actually thinking about how to best work with him, rather than worrying about how other people think I should be working with him. Best of all, I didn't feel frustrated--fighting him to stay barely in control--and we could relax and enjoy each other. That's a huge reward. For both of us.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Dressage without Horses

I came across this video and am now wiping tears off my cheeks. Katie D. will have to tell me exactly what Dressage moves are being performed, though. :)

Horse soundtracks

A woman I know tweeted (on Twitter) about trying to find a song to help her relax and yet stay alert on her "sassy mare" and that started me down a bit of an odd road, even for me. What songs would be on my horses' playlists?

Lena would definitely have Brass in Pocket by the Pretenders on hers, at least every few weeks. I can almost see her sashaying to the part that goes "I'm special/So special/I gotta have some of your attention." Oh, yeah.

A little Dixie Chicks, too -- Wide Open Spaces and Ready to Run -- and some Eagles. Peaceful, Easy Feeling and Witchy Woman. She lopes nicely in time with Take it Easy and Hearthache Tonight.

Some days, Bar would have a lot of AC/DC on his. Yesterday, he was apparently listening to Problem Child, Back in Black, and Highway to Hell. Desperado by the Eagles also comes to mind -- "Why don't you come to your senses" and find out how much fun we can have if you don't act like a dork! But some days, Peaceful, Easy Feeling works for him, too. He's calm, snuggly, gentle, and mostly goes along with whatever we're doing.

I can see I've opened up an odd little wormhole in my brain, now, and will be adding to these playlists indefinitely. Oh, boy.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Coyotes came through again

I was looking at my friend Terrie's wildlife pictures and remembered I saw the coyote pair at the barn again on Thursday morning. Both of them, Tripod and mate, looked healthy and strong.

I noticed them because Bar did, and I watched them trot through the back pasture on their way through to wherever they were going.

Bar's Workout routine

Almost every morning, I've been getting to the barn early to get Bar into the round pen and work with him. He still seems to look forward to it, and his attitude has indeed improved with the extra exercise and attention he's getting.

If I have time, I work both horses a little bit, but my primary focus right now is on Bar. Lena isn't entirely sure how she feels about that, but since she's still getting carrots and massages every morning, she's willing to ride it out to see if it helps get us back on the trail soon.

Our routine is pretty simple. He and I walk down to the arena, me insisting that he listen and not do too much dancing on the way there. I give him a few minutes to himself in the round pen to buck and roll and be a horse while I stand outside and watch him squeal and wheel and change direction as often as he likes before I go in and give him direction I expect him to follow.

Karen suggested letting him warm up at the lope/canter first, because it's an easier gait, then work on his trot, so that's what we've been doing. I'm also working on getting him to stay with me, rather than slip into his "zone" of race-breathing. I do a lot of talking to him, keeping my own energy calm and focused on him, praising him when I can tell he's paying attention to me.

We always end the same way, with some bending and stretching and simple ground exercises to work on his focus and manners. The mornings he's distracted, I'll put the lead rope back on him, walk him around me, stop him and wait for him to swing his hip away from me, then back him up a few steps. If he does that well, I'll do it again off the lead rope, getting him to move his hip away from me and back up without touching him at all. The mornings he's more focused, we can start without the lead rope, but my goal is always set him up to succeed, and some mornings he needs a little more input from me than others to get there.

The very last thing I ask him to do is follow me with the lead rope looped over his neck instead of in my hand. He has to stay at my shoulder while I wander all over the round pen, turning one way then the other, then he has to stop when I do and back up a step or two without me touching him or the lead rope.

The other morning, Peter said two things to me. One, my horses have it way too good, that he'd never come out every morning the way I do. Two, he'd probably have moved onto an easier horse than Bar by now, but that's because he's lazy. I took both of those things as compliments of a sort, though he may not have meant them as such.

My horse will never be mild-mannered and he will always be prone to dancing, but he and I are working things out in our own way, on our own time line. I've had people tell me to feed him less or maybe let him be a little sore to make him more controllable, but I'd really rather have a healthy horse and learn how to work with him, even if it takes me longer that way.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Bar the Ballerino

I had another impressive first-hand example of how fit Bar is this morning. (And, yes, the term is indeed ballerino according to Wikipedia.)

I took him down to the round pen and, just as I've been doing lately, let him loose on his own for a little while. He bucked, farted, raced around, and then did the most amazing act of levitation. As I watched, he launched himself straight up off all four feet and got about 2-3 feet of air.

It was like a solid spring of dark brown muscle. So much energy, so much power, all under his control.

Yes, I was glad I was on the ground and not on his back, but it did not dull for a second the awe I felt for this wild, healthy, beautiful friend of mine. I could almost see him in battle, leaping up and over whatever the enemy might use to sweep his legs out from under him. It was truly amazing.

Maybe I should change his name to "Bar-ishnakov." Ha!

On a side note, I am seeing a difference in his behavior the more often and consistently I handle him. I put the stud chain (also called a lead shank) away because, frankly, he listens to me even when I don't use it, so I don't want to pull it out unless absolutely necessary. Tone of voice works amazingly well with him, actually.

I did ride him over the weekend, but I used a new bit and it did not go well. I got a high-five from my daughter because I did manage to stay on, but I was pretty frustrated with myself. (Okay, I had the curb strap on incorrectly, so not only was it a new and heavier bit, I didn't have the leverage I needed and was probably bumping his mouth in entirely the wrong way.) Hopefully, we can backtrack a little and he'll forgive me for being so lame. It may take longer for me to forgive myself.

I almost hate to admit that after 3+ years, I got the curb strap on wrong. It looked wrong, but I was in my little tunnel of needing to get back on Bar and only focused on that, rather than on figuring out *why* it looked wrong. (It was hooked on the lower part of the shank, where the reins connect--duh.)

I know there are a lot of people who would rather pretend they know everything, but I'd rather use my own mistakes to help someone else out if I can. This particular mistake was more in not taking the time to correct what my mind's eye told me was wrong, not just having it wrong in the first place.

I may not be the smartest horse owner out there, but I am trying to learn as I go, working with the horse I have to get us both to the next place we need to be.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Healthy horse syndrome

With Bar's recent behavior being, oh, less than angelic, I wanted to be sure there wasn't anything physical that could be causing him to act up so I had our friend Karen the masseuse come out to check him out. Not only is Karen an excellent masseuse and horse woman, she owns two Thoroughbreds of her own and has worked with horses on the racetrack for years. She's also known Calabar for a few years and is familiar with his moods and personality.

On the way to the barn, I found myself worrying both that she would find something and that she wouldn't--not even sure which concerned me more.

As it turns out, my boy is very healthy and very happy, and therein lies the problem. He's fit, very fit, and very full of himself. I grumbled briefly about ignoring him for a little while, but knew I didn't mean it. Plus, I think that's kind of what got us here in the first place. We got into a routine where he was getting worked regularly, then winter and busy work schedules intervened, and, well, him acting up is the recent result.

He enjoyed most of his massage, though it was hard for him. He does not relax well, which is typical of Thoroughbreds in general and him in particular when it comes to being handled. (Unless you're brushing out his tail, for which he will patiently stand still longer than I've ever seen him do for anything else.) His nuchal ligament was tight and Karen worked on it a lot. She also did a lot of teeth-avoidance techniques because it was not necessarily comfortable for him to have her make it less tight. He did better when she worked on his back and enjoyed all the work he did on his lower legs and tendons. Karen said his bowed tendon looks and feels really good, too.

He did give her big yawns and even relaxed enough for me to hold his head and stroke his forelock a few times if only for a few short seconds each time. Lena watched attentively from the corner of her paddock, possibly worried about him, but more likely hoping (probably assuming) she was next.

Just to be clear, here. I love Bar's energy level. He is who he is and that means a certain level of buzz at all times. I don't want to kill it, I just need him to pay attention to me and his surroundings so we can work together in a safe manner. Shoot, we can trot uphill for days as long as he's watching where he's going and listening to me, but right now, I'm not sure I feel confident enough to take him out on a trail because he just seems a little out of focus. Though maybe a trail ride is just what he needs, I don't know. (Alas, the perennial burden of not being independently wealthy and owning acres of property right on the border of a park full of trails.)

So for now, I have resorted to using the stud chain again as a back-up measure. While I appreciate his exuberance and energy, I do not want to get hurt if he rears or dances--even by accident. I don't start with it on him--giving him the benefit of the doubt--but he knows it's in my pocket at all times, and if he starts up, I pull it out and put it on him. I never need it once we've worked, though, so I know a lot of it is just his energy level. Steve hasn't used it, yet, but he has more strength and mass than I do.

I was hoping to ride today, but the both arenas were full so he and I had to be content with walking up and down the driveway, ground work, and a little exercise in the round pen. After some initial dancing in the driveway--in his defense, some of the horses in the pasture were running amok--and eventual employment of the stud chain under a bit of duress from fellow barn mates, he gave me a wonderful session in the round pen without longe line or stud chain. Karen will be glad to know his head position was much better today, too. He listened, changed direction, and stopped when I asked. He pivoted on his front end and backed without me touching him, and followed me at a constant distance off-line as I zig-zagged around the round pen.

Then, just to show off in front of the folks in the arena, he let me lead him back up the hill to his paddock without the stud chain, never once trying to get ahead of me.

I get a lot of advice with him, and some of it is good, but sometimes it distracts me from focusing on him and what he and I need to do. Especially in the middle of a tantrum, that can be counter-productive. At least for me it is; he is usually looking for a distraction/excuse at the moment I'm disciplining him. Losing focus because I'm trying to listen to someone else is probably not what I need to be doing right then, but that's my challenge to figure out, not his.

I am glad he is fit and healthy, that his body is strong, balanced, and well-muscled. He does look beautiful and he seems to be a very happy horse in all regards. We just need to do some work on when and how to express his joie de vivre so we can get back to having fun and not arguing all the time.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Bar update

It's been a busy week for us, with much of our family coming to visit for Thanksgiving, so the horses didn't get much work. They did get attention and carrots, but both were anxious to get out by the time Friday rolled around.

Katie took Lena out and both of them had a very good ride. I set the cones up for them, supervised carefully by Lena to make sure they were the proper distance apart for racing around and graceful lead-switching. Bar wanted to come out, but there was too much going on at the barn, and we had Steve's brother, wife, and 4-year old nephew with us, too, so it was just too hectic right then. That may have turned out to be an inadvertent lesson, since Bar was pretty upset watching Lena and Katie run around on such a nice day while he was stuck in his paddock.

I also tried a new tactic to deal with Bar's suddenly recurring habit of nipping--he got a "time out," meaning I left him alone in his paddock for a little while every time he tried to take a bite, which actually seemed to work pretty well.

After we saw everyone off and had lunch, we went home where I fidgeted for a little while. Steve pointed out I couldn't possibly settle down until I went back to the barn, so I went. Bar seemed glad I showed up again, and really excited when I walked over with his bridle. I sat in his paddock, swapping a new bit onto his bridle, while he licked my pant legs and nosed the bridle without even an attempt at a nibble. I know some people would tell me to discourage any mouthy behavior, but I don't have any problem with him being affectionate and he's proven over and over that he knows the difference. He gets a completely different look in his eye when he's about to take a nip--a look that was noticeably absent while he waited for me to finish the bit-swapping.

I think one of the places things started to go astray with him recently was in the round pen, particularly me not enforcing discipline and letting him run loose, including over my commands. Not a good plan, I admit. So this time, I did some basic walking and leading ground work with him, then left him in by himself to give him room to buck and fart to his heart's content while I watched but didn't direct him at all. Then I went back in and asked him to do some more work with me, for me, on the longe line. He was a little confused at first, but he did stick with me and trot some patient circles both directions without arguing, stopped when I asked him to, then walked calmly back up to the barn with me to get saddled--in the dark at feeding time, no less.

It was too late in the day to let him work up much of a sweat, plus he'd gotten a lot of his pent-up exuberance out in the round pen, so I was hoping to work with his brain using my body cues while keeping him at a walk or trot. It actually went pretty well. I worked on slowing his trot with my post rather than my hands, which would have worked better if I'd shortened my stirrups a hair more to get out of the saddle better, but we'll try that next time. He was pretty cooperative, even though I knew he was dying to do more running, and I just concentrated on setting him up to succeed so the session stayed positive for both of us.

I had been a little worried about him physically because he had refused to go forward with Steve the other day, so concentrated on keeping him moving forward and on keeping my hands soft and out of his mouth. I don't think I did a great job, but he gave me most of what I asked for, so I must not have done too badly as far as he was concerned. He is, however, getting a massage Friday from Karen to be sure I haven't missed anything obvious. Yes, my horses are spoiled. I suspect Lena will be miffed when Karen arrives and Lena finds out she's not the one getting the massage.

Bar has been a challenge for me in a lot of ways, but he's also making me think a lot about why I love riding and horses. He's making me be creative with my training and push my skills further every day to figure out ways to show him how to be a better horse.

I know he can be a brat, but he's my brat and I think he's worth it. I also think he's got so much more in him and can teach me so much more about being a rider and horse owner--I just have to convince him it's more fun to work with me than to argue with me.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Crazy horses

I was looking back in my blog posts for pictures of our first trip to Slide with Adrienne and came across this post about riding horses that some people might consider to be a little out of control. Okay, sometimes they are out of control, but then again, I read that post and remembered exactly what it is we love about them.

Some days with Bar, it would help to remember this particular thing. Life is definitely too short for boring, and he is anything but. And now we do have a truck, trailer, two horses, and not enough rain at the moment for it to be an issue.

He could be a little more cooperative at the moment, however, and I would not complain.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Specifics from yesterday

I thought it might be helpful to describe some of Bar's behavior from yesterday because in my experiences with him and in my research into retraining OTTB's, his behavior is pretty typical.

In the arena, he was bolting and rearing--though to his credit, he was not bucking. Steve mostly succeeded in getting and keeping his attention, but again, we decided it was not conducive to Peter giving a good lesson.

Once we got out to the driveway, even with Lena in plain sight, he was dancing and rearing, and at the same time, refusing to go forward--whichever direction Steve pointed him. That is odd behavior for him as he generally dances, but dances forward to get out on the road and have some non-arena time.

As I said, we don't really have any answers. I have some theories about contributing factors--the lesson worried him, we didn't do our normal routine in the round pen, different rider, the perfect cool weather, and a sick horse in the front pasture--but he was far past even his normal obstinate behavior. Whatever the reason for his wackiness, my plan remains the same. Go back to some basics with him, and work him on the ground and in the saddle more consistently. Even if I don't ride him very long, it'll be important to do something with him every day. I also intend to check him for any physical things, but Steve says I may just be looking for excuses that don't exist. (I'm still looking, though.)

Oddly enough, prior to heading to the barn, I bought the book you see on New Vocations Racehorse Adoption's site. It's actually been helpful--the pictures in particular--and gives pretty practical advice, plus some inspirational success stories at the end.

The one theme that kept popping up in the book is "patience." I think some days it will take a little more patience than others, but I have a lot of hope. Not to mention a fair dose of stubbornness in my own personality.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Bar challenges

Maybe it's the time of year. Maybe Bar remembers it's time for him to be racing, not working in boring circles in the arena.

And maybe it's just that he's in good shape and feels strong and healthy.

Whatever it is, the last two days he's been more than just a little feisty. He's been a lot feisty and--today in particular--a lot hard to handle.

After our visit to the track, I do see a lot of the reasons he is the way he is. Racehorses really get to do a lot of things other horses don't get to do--including not always-good-behavior--because you want to keep that fire, that energy, that aggression very much alive in them. How else would they win races? Bar will always have a lot of energy to burn and our job is to figure out how to let him do that in ways we all feel safe, and in ways we can all have fun.

I've been doing a lot of work with him in the round pen--sometimes disciplined longeing and sometimes letting him just burn off steam--always ending with slow, quiet, ground work at a walk, asking him to stay focused on me for at least a few minutes. This is not always an easy task with a horse that really, really likes to pay attention at all times to everything going on around him. Especially when it's super dark outside the edges of the indoor arena and he can hear all kinds of noises--like carts--that suddenly sound completely unfamiliar and dangerous.

It's been working for us, Bar and me, but Steve has a different approach and he and Bar have a different arrangement. Bar gets to run a lot more with Steve (and with Katie) than he does with me. I'm still working on breathing when we get too far above a canter. (But I'm still getting on his back, so I deserve a little credit.)

Last night, I went to the barn after work and decided to take his highness down to the round pen for some informal steam-blowing-off. He did fine, nice canter, not too nutty, and he was perfectly cooperative when we did our leading and body positioning work. He even backed up without me touching him. Not too bad for a goofy racehorse.

The whole time he was super playful, and that included trying to nip here and there, which we had mostly cured early on. I don't mind playful, but I do mind teeth on my skin, thank you very much. Especially because he knows better.

When we were done in the round pen, we worked on the ground in the indoor arena, over poles, etc. He heard someone going by the outside of the wall, and got all wacky, dancing around like he'd never heard a cart or Cindy's voice before. Ever. However. He didn't once come close to running me over, so I knew he was paying much more attention than he was pretending to. Even when he snorted, which I've never heard him do. (It's more up Lena's alley.) Then, after the noise went away, he grabbed the lead rope in his mouth and started tugging it towards the door. I failed at not laughing, but I did tell him he had to let go before we could go. He did.

That was not the end of it.

I have no idea what his issue was, aside from being out of routine in the dark. He wanted to drag me up to his paddock, or to the grass nearby, he didn't care which and reared when I didn't give into his royal bossiness. He did not get the response to that he expected, either, and finally decided that if he wanted to get back to his dinner, walking alongside me quietly was his best approach. There was some serious TB pouting along the way, too.

Now today, by the way, is the anniversary of his last win at Golden Gate Fields, five years ago.

Maybe, just maybe, he is feeling the cool autumn weather and thinking he needs to be racing.

He decided to give Steve a run for his money today. They went straight down to the arena because someone else was using the round pen. Peter was giving a lesson, and Bar did everything but cooperate at first. He sort of settled down, but we figured he was objecting to even the vague possibility of a lesson and instead of disrupting things, we decided to go down the road. But whatever was in the air was not conducive to a smooth ride and Bar fought Steve the whole time, worse than he ever has before.

It was a little odd, and a lot frustrating. Both of us being mad at him seemed to make some impact, but we're not sure how much weight to give that, yet.

Our current plan is to go back to some basics with him, and continue to work with his personality and energy level to come to a better agreement than arguing over who is in control all the time. He has to burn off a certain amount of energy or he won't be able to pay good attention to you. It's the way he is, and we don't really want him to lose that part of himself. We just want him to understand that it's a win-win situation. If he cooperates, we get to do much more entertaining things than if he doesn't. Not to mention we get less grumpy and he gets more love (and carrots) if he works with us.

On the plus side, Lena always seems to realize when we really need her to be the "calm" horse, and she outdid herself today. She stayed quiet and cool while he danced, settling underneath me like a breakwater in front of a storm surge, listening to my voice, following my physical cues without a hint of argument.

I know we have work to do with him, and that days like this will come along where we just can't figure out why he acts the way he does. But I know he has it in him to be good, or at least mostly good, and I know he likes to come out and work with us. I even think he likes us as his humans 99.9% of the time. This is just the beginning of the next part of our journey with him.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Slide Mountain Ranch TV clip

Slide was featured on a show called California Heartland last week! Pretty cool clip, and a good look at how fun their horses are and (IMO) how well they can take you from tenderfoot to a lope in just a few hours.

Here is a link to the clip.

Really makes me miss them and riding up at Slide!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Morning at the racetrack

Steve, Katie, and I got up very early this morning and went down to Golden Gate Fields to get behind-the-scenes look at the world of Thoroughbred racing from Devon and Howie, the people we got Bar from.

We watched some spectacular horses work gently and work hard. It was amazing to see not only such fit and athletic horses in their element--happy and running full tilt on a beautiful morning--but to also see the variety within the racehorses themselves. They don't all look tall, lean, and delicate. Some of them are shorter and stocky, some of them--like Devon and Howie's horse SittyTwoFitty--are tall and sturdy looking. No fragile looking legs on this girl. Here she is getting a post-workout poultice to keep those great legs in top shape.

We also got to see Devon ride their other horse, Continental Cream. They argued a little, which looked vaguely familiar to those of us who have tried to convince Bar to do what we want him to do instead of what he wants to do. Devon and C.C. both look very fierce in the shot below.

I have to say that we didn't see one unhappy horse there. We saw horses that were being taken care of, and that really, really, liked what they were doing. In fact, C.C. seemed to want to run more than she got to on such a fine Bay Area morning.

On the way home, we stopped at the barn to clean and carrot our two. The experience at the track gave me a snapshot into Bar's life, and his brain. He is bouncy, and a little bossy, but he wants to have fun and he wants to work. It also made me realize that he needs to work a little bit most every day and I need to give him that time and energy as often as I can. Of course, Lena needs that time and energy, too, because she is--after all--the spoiled first horse, aka Princess.

It was a really cool experience and I'm glad we did it for a whole lot of reasons. As Devon pointed out, watching these active racehorses showed us that Bar isn't nearly as wild and crazy as he could be. And he is who he is, and I even like him that way. A lot.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Horses and the internet

Trying to find reliable horse information on the internet can be both time-consuming and not very fruitful. It's also downright scary if you're looking up symptoms or health issues. (Which I mostly avoid dong because, well, I'm really enough of a worry-wort as it is.)

Sometimes you can find fun stuff, though, like your horse's pedigree online.

Oddly enough (or maybe not), if you go back a bit on both Lena's and Bar's pedigrees, you find Man O'War.

I actually don't care much about what genetics make up my two horses. Their personalities mean more to me than the bloodlines they came from, though I am glad they both inherited good confirmation.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Another fan of Slide Mountain Ranch

Cheri from Slide Mountain, where Lena came from, sent me an email reminding me they are going to be featured on California Heartland on KVIE Monday night, November 17th, at 7:30 p.m. There is a preview of the episode at the link, and the broadcast schedule can be found here. I hope we get KVIE, or I'll have figure out how to tape the show when it airs on KQED Thursday at 2:30 p.m.!

She also sent me a link to another blogger who is a fan of theirs - In the Nicker of Time. I added my own comments to her piece about Slide, of course.

Just wanted to give a shout out to the folks at Slide, since we wouldn't be where we are with our wild and crazy horses without them. And that's a good thing!

p.s. Looks like I might be able to watch the episode online when they post it here. Phew!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Day in the sun, or at least no rain

We had a little break in the weather today and got both horses out in the outdoor arena. Katie was riding Lena, and Steve and I took turns with Bar. I started out on photography duty as Katie is writing a paper on the Thoroughbred racing industry and wanted some pictures of Lena, Bar, and I think most of the other horses in our paddock row to compare feet, bone mass, and confirmation.

Both Bar and Lena have great confirmation, but it's easy to see the differences in their structures and in the way they move. Bar has a long, easy stride--his rear footprints easily end up in the holes his front feet made--but isn't as laterally flexible (yet) as Lena is. They feel entirely different to ride, too. Some of that is practice and (for my part, anyway) the ability to relax and work with the horse. I'm mostly much more relaxed on Lena and can stay out of her way better. But they still feel different from each other. Bar feels more elevated. Like he springs up between strides. Lena feels very solid and fluid, but like I'm staying level, not rising up and down. They are, after all, cut from fairly distinct molds, not to mention near opposite backgrounds and bloodlines, so it makes sense that they don't feel exactly the same from up in the saddle.

I know there are obvious training issues for both horse and rider, and I'll surely have a revised opinion in a few months, but right now, at my level of (in)experience, that's how these two horses feel to ride.

On a side note, it's also the first time in a few months that Bar and I have been back in the outdoor arena at anything higher than a walk. We just worked on a steady, consistent trot today, but he was paying attention and giving me what I asked for, so I figure that's a win for both of us. Woo!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Winter training

Ah, the rain has started. And with the rain comes the annual challenges of keeping your horses healthy, active and in shape, in inclement weather with limited hours of daylight. One of the benefits of our barn, and one of the reasons we picked the facility, is the indoor arena. It does give us a place to work the horses even when it's pouring rain, but it is not without drawbacks.

The first foray into the indoor arena is always interesting, let alone when the rain is drumming hard on the roof, drowning out other sounds as the ears start flipping back and forth and heads pop up in the air, your horse using every excuse to jump sideways. Not that they need many excuses with all that going on, of course.

But probably the hardest thing is to give them a good workout without getting them too hot, too sweaty, to put their blanket back on and put them away. Our two like a good run to blow off steam and this is a hard time of year to do that at night.

In other words, time to get creative and come up with different workouts, maybe ride more often but for shorter times, just to keep them working and keep us riding.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Ups and downs in the horse community

My mom sent me an email telling me about this very sad story. I can't believe people sometimes. What possesses them to be so full of cruelty? I just don't understand it. Not one little bit.

Than again, there are people out there like this. These kind of folks make me have just a tiny bit of faith in humanity.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Why horses matter to me

It's no secret I love my horses and what they bring to my life. But in explaining my newest obsession to my aunt and uncle, I struggled a little to translate that feeling, that bond, into words that adequately expressed the joy and wonder of inhaling horse into your lungs.

It's grounding and real. It's dirty, warm, earthy, and holistic. It's life, in 3D, full color, and smell-o-rama.

It makes me feel alive, it gives me as much back as I put into it, and it balances me both physically and mentally.

It all matters in ways that are beyond logic, beyond anything but the feeling of wind in your face and the cooperation between you and your horse.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Quick update

It's been awhile, I know. I've been on the road for a week so far, first at Maker Faire Austin, and now in NYC (again) for a week for Photo Plus Expo.

So, here is a quick update on the horse and cat front.

I did connect with some horse slobber in front of our hotel in Austin. His name was Rowdy and he was a huge black Clydesdale who was ready to get rolling with his carriage full of little girls (and their parents), but let me scratch his neck and pat his nose first.

Lena is doing well and seems to be healing. Karen came out last week and said her muscles felt much looser and no more treatment is needed for now. Karen wants to go on a trail ride with us because the last time she took her mare Ellie out, Ellie acted just like a Thoroughbred and scared the woman Karen was riding with too much. Since we ride crazy horses, we may be a better set of trail partners. Of course, we may end up with a race on our hands, too.

Bar managed to lose Steve in the big arena on Sunday, then proceeded to buck, fart, and take himself over the jumps before settling down. Apparently, it caused a bit of an uproar at the barn. We think riding him more often is probably the best solution, though he may not agree.(At least at first.) I like to do a lot of ground work with him before I get on, too, because I think it helps. It doesn't always take the fire out of him, but it usually gets him a little more focused and in tune with me.

Katie D. had a horse show in LA right before that. I know she and Willoughby did really, really well and there were neck ribbons and everything! She was really happy with the way they performed, but I'll let her elaborate.

Lastly, we still haven't seen Wesley. He was in the house snuggling with Steve and me the Friday before I left and that was the last we saw him. We've checked the neighborhood and called and called, but it's been over a week now and we don't think he's coming back. I like to think he found some nice person who stays home with him all the time and feeds him steak. Wherever he is, I'm glad we had him in our life, even if it was for only that short amount of time. Mostly I don't think about it too much because it makes me so sad. I've been dreaming of him coming home since I left and have that brief hopeful moment when I wake up, only to realize seconds later it was only a dream. Bah.

And now I'm off for my first NYC subway ride, meeting up with my aunt and uncle and doing a little bit of shopping for warmer clothes! NY is a bit cooler than Austin was and I could only pack so much in my poor suitcase!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Lena gets a massage

A month or so ago, I noticed Lena's left "hip" felt warm to the touch. It was after a ride my daughter and I took at Lake Sonoma, when Lena was particularly rambunctious in the trailer--banging back and forth into the divider and scrambling bad in the front slot. It was also after that same ride that Steve and I got the call from Peter that he thought Lena was colicing. That makes me think she was laying down to soothe her hip, not her belly.

We watched the area and noticed some days it would get sweaty, even if she wasn't hot anywhere else. We kept it rinsed and clean, thinking maybe it was a skin irritation and that seemed to help, but it wouldn't go away. Lena wasn't lame on it and showed no real sensitivity to pressure (and believe me, I poked and prodded a lot), and the vet didn't see anything when she came out to do shots a couple weeks ago either.

It was quite baffling and starting to worry me more and more every time I got to the barn and saw it wasn't getting better. Mind you, it wasn't getting worse, either, but not being able to figure it out was aggravating. Peter suggested it could mean she needed an adjustment, so before I started the search for a horse chiropractor, I called our friend Karen the masseuse to come out and see what she thought.

Karen started with stretches, then worked her way down each side, starting at the shoulder. Not the world's most patient horse, Lena danced quite a bit, but she did let Karen do her work. I think that means it felt good and was helping.

Karen doesn't think we need a chiropractor yet, and is going to come out again while I'm gone to do another session to be sure. I noticed a change even before I got on and rode her. Lena looked more relaxed and her hip and the muscle on that side looked more "right" (for lack of a better term).

Karen worked a lot on Lena's hind quarters and up on the lumbar area, resulting in some serious head-shaking and yawning on Lena's part. Those are good symptoms and it looked like Lena released a lot of tension during the whole process, so that was a bonus.

We have things to watch for, like how she's standing, and things to do for her to help the healing along like stretches and some pressure points to hit a few times a week. Steve is in charge while I'm gone, but since he does a fine job whenever I need a massage, I'm sure he can handle his spotty horse, too.

I will admit to feeling guilty that I haven't given Lena the same amount of attention and massage she was getting before we got Bar. I promised her I'd try to do better when I get back from this trip, at least until I'm sure she's healed.

And for the folks who tease me about my horse getting massages instead of me, I do see my chiropractor once a month in order to stay somewhat symmetrical in the saddle. And I don't have even carry non-symmetrical yahoos on my back all the time!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Horse lessons

Bar has been giving us all lessons recently, and through it all, we've all learned a few things about him, and I've learned something I need to keep working on, both with the horses and with the people in my life.

Katie worked with Bar in the round pen the other day and we're still debating who exactly was in charge. He got a good work out, but Katie was a little frustrated because he didn't do exactly what she asked when she asked it, though she took control at every turn and didn't let him get away with anything, either. She learned that sometimes Bar doesn't cooperate (or switch direction, for example) when you think he should. He's tricky that way. But on the plus side, when you do connect with him, it's really rewarding.

I rode Bar on Tuesday morning and, well, he was mostly good, but not great. We made it through the ride, though, and I learned that giving that extra bit of time and energy is sometimes necessary to get to the right place to stop. He was pretty distracted by the noises coming from outside the arena, but was mainly just using that as an excuse to act goofy. I had to work with him a little longer than I'd intended (since I had to go to work afterwords) but I knew if I didn't, we'd backslide and that is the last thing he needs from me.

Steve rode Bar Thursday night and learned that even a race horse can be a little lazy sometimes. Or at least not always willing to run. (I know, shocking.) Steve kept at it anyway, and then took the dancing horse down the driveway for a walk. I was longing Lena at the time--due my current unfortunate pattern of getting to the barn too late to ride and still make dinner--and didn't see how things were going, but I could tell Bar was not at his most cooperative. Steve had a couple of theories, but one never quite knows with Bar.

I (again) got to the barn too late last night to ride, so I replaced Bar's bit with an egg-butt snaffle while they munched grain, then tried it on him to see what he thought. He thought I was weird to bridle him in his paddock, then take it off and go get his halter. He wandered to the other end of his paddock and stared out over the pasture, but I waited, halter in hand, until he turned around and came over to me willingly to go down to the round pen for a little bit of exercise. Only once has Bar ever refused to come and get haltered by us, so he must enjoy himself at least a little bit. (That time, he thought we were having a lesson.)

Then we just did some ground work and played with each other a little. I try to do new things with him and not just stick to the same routine. While he's comfortable with a routine, it means he isn't learning and neither am I. Sometimes it's big things, like walking over wet tarps on the trail course, sometimes it's smaller things, but I try to think of one new thing to do each time I handle him. Each time we get through one together, I feel like we've built one more inch of trust between us.

He still thinks I'm weird half the time, but now at least he goes along with what I'm asking with only a slight sideways glance out of a worried eye. It's almost like he's saying, "Okay, I'll do it, but only because you haven't gotten me into a mess lately."

I don't always remember to do that with Lena because she's not the "problem" child. (Well, most days she's not, anyway.) But she grows and learns from new things, too, and she certainly needs our input just as much, if in a slightly different way than Bar does. Have to put that on the to-do list, though, because I think it's important.

The last thing I learned (relearned) this week is that I have to let the people I care about build their own relationships with the horses I care about. It's really hard for me, particularly with Bar, to watch other people work with them and do things differently than I would. However, it probably won't hurt any of us to have the different inputs, and it is certainly not helping things if I'm hovering anxiously while someone else is working with one of the horses. Lena has always managed to respond to her rider based on who it is, and she certainly expects different things out of each of us. (More carrots from Katie, for example.)

Big week of lessons all the way around.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Another New Edition in 2008

On Friday night Ryan and I arrived home late after going to the Giants game in SF. I was drifting off into a deep slumber when I was jolted awake by Bee's neighing. Something had to change. I marched off to the barn the next morning for my lesson and started chatting to my friend, Nicole, while grooming our horses. I asked her about her goat she had generously offered up the week before. She was having trouble with him because he kept head butting the older sheep in her pasture. So the next morning, Ryan and I drove over to her ranch, horse trailer and all! I spent most of yesterday watching over the pasture, making sure Bee didn't trample him down like he did with the sheep. My midnight check calmed my nerves when I saw eight legs, all attached! Today when I came home to feed them lunch, I saw the two of them grazing side by side in the pasture. I'm so excited that Bee and Chuggy are friends at last and I expect to get through tonight without being jolted out of sleep by a whinny!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sunday afternoon trail ride

My daughter Katie and I took Bar and Lena out today for a great trail ride, though we had some interesting technical difficulties. Lena managed to tweak the pin that holds the trailer divider enough so it won't latch right and she ends up with an inch or two more room for her hind end. Argh. Since she didn't scramble as much in the trailer either direction (scrambling being a relatively new development for her), I'm wondering if she figured out how to ease her claustrophobia on her own.

Both horses were easy to load (despite lots of commotion from a horse show going on at the barn) and eager to get out for a ride. Once we got Lena in, Bar was so eager to go, I had to restrain him a little while Katie was securing the divider! (This was obviously before the bent pin.)

We went out to Shiloh, where it was pretty toasty, but kept them at a pretty mellow walk most of the time. Bar is doing much better with his downhill, really getting his hind end underneath to brace himself better and not rushing as much. He felt much more sure-footed and confident, which was pretty cool.

After we were done, Lena played in the water trough, splashing and blowing bubbles. Bar wanted to roll, but it was too rocky. Then he thought briefly about climbing into the water trough, but I discouraged him. Maybe we're getting close to being able to handle water crossings? Ha!

It is really good to be home for at least a little while, and really grand to be out on the trail with my daughter and our horses. Bar has come so far and is so willing to go along with us (at least most of the time), I can hardly believe it. Well, I can believe it, I'm just glad we stuck it out with him. He's totally been worth it. And look how handsome he is!

All in all, a fabulous Sunday afternoon.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Headed home

Steve and I are sitting at JFK Airport, patiently waiting for our flight to board. We drove down from Fishkill, NY--Steve's home when he first started at IBM many years ago--we wanted to be sure we got here in plenty of time. That means we were way early, but, hey, there's wireless here in the Jet Blue hotspot and I can check my email and write up a blog post. Not so terrible all things considered.

It was a good trip and I got a really great view of the East Coast--from NYC to Cape Cod and many points in between. I stuck my feet in the Atlantic Ocean and in Cape Cod Bay. I watched fall colored trees drift past my window as we cruised down through the Hudson Valley.

I didn't get near one horse, though I did see several "horse crossing" signs in Cape Cod. I guess I'll just have to save all my pent-up horse affection for my own two ponies. The last horse I got close to was attached to a carriage in Central Park and the carriage driver didn't seem inclined to allowing me to unhitch his money-earner and go gallivanting through the park. Oh, well.

I'm planning on spoiling Bar and Lena rotten as soon as I can possibly get rolling tomorrow. :)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Horse spotting

I saw two horses tonight, pulling carriages in Hell's Kitchen, one on the way to dinner and one on the way back.

However, due to the fact that my co-workers don't necessarily understand (let alone share) my obsession, I did not dart through traffic to get a soft nose fix.

So I came back to the hotel, called Steve to say hello and get a horse update, sent an email to Cheri (from Slide Mountain, where Lena came from), and IM'd my daughter to tell her hi and that I was pretty sure she would bail me out for stealing a horse while I'm here. Maybe.

Then I went to Slide's site and found the picture of Lena on the page about their breeding program. Why? Because she's just so darn cute and her personality shines through in this picture. (That's her on the left, her brothers Toby and Jazz next to her on the right, and XRay in front.)

Like I said yesterday, New York is fun and exciting and I intend to enjoy my time here as much as possible. But... I do miss my home and my routine a lot. Though probably not enough to get arrested for horse stealing. Is it still a hanging offense? Hmm.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Away from home again

I feel a little like Waldo.

Where in the world is Jess? Only it's just where in the U.S. is Jess, and this week, it's New York City for our Web 2.0 Expo.

It's exciting, particularly since I've never been here (yes, I am almost 42--it took awhile), and also because Steve is meeting me here and we're going to do some exploring before we head back home. We're going to go see The Horse exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History and then meander around on the East Coast and see what happens.

On one hand, I'm glad to get the chance to be out here--both for work and for a short vacation. I'm really looking forward to the time with Steve, and this is a great opportunity for us to really be away.

On the other hand, I struggle with feeling like I've been away a lot this year, and it's wearing on me a little bit right now. Part of it is that I feel like I'm finally making some progress with Bar and my own issues, and part of it is just that my routine keeps getting disrupted as I jet across the country.

On the other hand, I rode more last week than I had been riding for awhile, so it may be a case of absence makes the heart grow fonder, too.

And all my co-workers will tell you that the horses are never too far away from top-of-mind for me. Why, yes, I can turn any conversation into one about horses. Ha!

New York is definitely a new experience for me, so I think I'll just try to sit back and absorb and enjoy as much of it as I possibly can.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Bee's Settling In

Bee's finally settling in to his new home, and I'm settling in too! So far it's been great. I've been able to spend a lot more time with him - laying on his back while he's eating dinner, grooming, and just hangin out. I love tucking him in at night and giving him his midnight snack, an apple from one of our trees.
Pictured above is his cute stall that's inside his pasture. He loves his stall and I think it will offer great protection during the winter months.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Horse Entertainment

I admit it. I miss my horses.

I tried to get a horse fix tonight (and mostly succeeded) by doing something totally Las-Vegas-Tourist-y. I went to the Tournament of Kings at the Excalibur Hotel. I found out if I'd wanted to get into the stables, I should have gotten there before 1:00 so as not to interfere with the horses getting pretty for the show. Drat.

It was fun, and I would *love* to train Lena and Bar well enough to, oh, joust, deal with fireworks, have sword-fighting riders, etc. I admit we may have a long way to go, though.

At the very end, a couple of the riders and their horses stayed in the arena to talk to the guests, so I had a chance to touch soft horse noses and talk about riding with the actors.

I also helped convince a couple kids it was okay to get close to the horses so their parents could take pictures. Horse are big, and if I were a smaller human, it might take a little bit of coercion to convince me sitting next to a large horse I just saw racing around the arena was a good idea. Especially Diablo, a 14-year old Fresian who had the role of the bad guy's horse.

He's a big baby, though, and very affectionate with his rider--a nice guy (despite the dragon face paint) who has been riding Diablo for 5 years and told me he's the only one who rides that particular horse. They had quite a relationship which was cool to see. (No, didn't get the rider's name, just the horse's.) The nameless rider says Diablo makes everyone miss their horses.

The only downside about these horses is that they are so well-groomed that my hand didn't smell like horse after petting them. Oh, well. It was still a pleasure to watch such wonderfully trained (though still feisty and energetic) horses.

The rest of the show was a lot of fun, too. :)

Horse Emotions

I saw this article referenced in my friend Linda's newsletter and thought it was a really interesting observation.

I know that sometimes when one of the horses is in one of "those" moods--and even sometimes when they're not--changing the direction I approach an obstacle makes a difference.

The more I immerse myself in my horse world, the more I learn I don't know. But I kinda like it. :)

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Free Willy is Coming Home!

Remember that trip to Germany that I posted about awhile back? Well we finally have something to prove for it, Free Willy! Out of all the horses Odie tried, Free Willy got the top marks! He passed his vet check and arrived at LAX yesterday and is waiting for Odie to pick up on Friday from the quarantine barn. His real name is Feronelli (sp?) and he is 6yrs old. He's very sweet, talented, and beautiful! So welcome to new your new home Free Willy!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Lena Update and Las Vegas

I'm back in Las Vegas again, only this time it's for Photoshop World instead of Paint Vegas.

Lena is doing fine, feeling feisty and acting her normal carrot-hungry self. I made sure I stopped by the barn this morning to tell them both good-bye and get one last horse fix before I left. And, yes, to listen to Lena's belly and check the manure pile in her pen. All is well by what I can tell from those two things--and her attitude, of course.

I can never decide for sure if leaving her alone is the best thing, but I'm pretty sure transmitting my own worries and fears in a loud emotional broadcast isn't going to help her heal.

On the Bar side of the paddock wall, he and I had a great ride yesterday in the indoor arena, playing with obstacles and (gasp!) cantering! Yes, I finally just did it and it felt pretty darn good. It was too hot to do a lot of work, and I didn't have a lot of time, but we had fun and I didn't hit the ground! Woo! He likes it when he knows he did a good job, and I like it that I'm working through my nervousness because he is so darn fun to ride when I'm not a big stress ball.

So to reward him, I chased him around with the camera this morning. Poor guy, he sure puts up with a lot from me--including my Farmer John coveralls. (They hold lots of carrots, though.)

Bee's Home!

I moved Bee home yesterday -
It's going okay - he's stressed that there isn't another horse in his pasture and he's obsessed with the horses across the street. But I actually feel comfortable leaving him while I'm at work because my Dad set up his weather station video camera to shoot the pasture he's in! So every few minutes I can see what's he's doing! Here he is

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Colic scare

There is nothing in the world (probably) that horse owners want to hear less when they pick up the phone than "Your horse is colicing." Because our first bout with Lena was so bad and so terrifying, we may be extra sensitive to that phrase. (Very long and scary story short, we thought we were going to lose her to colic two weeks after we got her back in August of 2005.)

So when Peter called us last night and said Lena was laying down and colicing, we got right in the car and headed to the barn. We left my daughter Katie here with her dog, Jake, promising to call and let her know what as going on. I also called in and left a message for our vet, just in case. (Lena has had a couple of small bouts of colic that did not require nose tubes and Banamine, so I didn't want to declare an emergency if it wasn't required.)

We drove silently, trapped behind holiday drivers who were either completely lost or had perhaps imbibed a bit too much before getting in their car. For once I wished for slightly more reckless driving from the tourists in front of us.

As we pulled into the driveway at Peter's, I looked up at Lena's pen and could see her in a cloud of dust, looking as if she had just stood up. That was the first good sign. The second good sign was that there was fresh manure in her pen, and we'd cleaned it once already that morning.

We noticed immediately that she was definitly a little bit "off." When Lena gets snuggly it means she isn't feeling great, and she was super snuggly. Steve cleaned out her pen and I walked her around the property, talking softly and hitting some accupressure points when she would let me. Mainly, she wanted to walk, so we did, around the barns, and down the road. I even got her to trot with me, and when she started tossing her head, I started to think she would be okay.

Her gut was making good noises--we both checked--and her temperature felt fine, so after we took all the hay out of her paddock, we decided we'd done all we knew to do and left, telling Peter to call if he noticed a change.

I stayed up until midnight, but no call came, and we hadn't heard anything by the time we headed out at 11 this morning--me to the barn, Steve to our storage unit to start cleaning it out.

Lena was definitely feeling better when I got there, looking for treats and perhaps a bit miffed at missing a meal, but much more her normal self. Peter told me she'd had her breakfast and suggested we ride her. Relieved that she seemed better, I promised we'd be back after we finished clearing out storage. (Bleh.)

We had lunch and headed back to the barn with Katie and Jake. We cleaned the pens (again) and Steve rode Lena while I longed Bar. Steve said she wanted to run, but was controlled and cooperative, too. We walked them down the road and then I gave her a bath. She was beautiful and spotty, and seemed to be fine, nuzzling pockets for stray carrots and dipping her nose to check out Jake, too.

We'll probably never know for certain what sets her off, which is frustrating. I'm just glad we're close enough to show up when she needs us and very thankful that this time turned out okay.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Bar's Story--a work in progress

I sometimes wonder about Bar's life before us, what his journey was on his way to being our horse. I haven't yet made it to the races with Devon, which would give me a big piece, I'm sure. I saw this video and it made me wonder just what it was in Bar that made someone pick him, train him, and love him before he was ours. Was it the look in his eye, his beautiful shape and sleekness, that magic "something" that trainers always notice in the movies?

I know Lena's story and where she came from up one side and down the other, and I know a lot about Bar, too. Mostly, though, I know why I picked him--he has a huge personality that just hit me the right way. As I work with him more and we try new and different things, I'm so glad he found his way to us. Even when he drives me crazy.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Halloween and Bee Dilemma - what a combo

Last night I played dress up with Huck! We're preparing for some Halloween activities here at the office and I wanted to test out the jazzercise look!
He was such a good sport!

In other news - I'm having a Bee dilemma. He's getting evicted (I'm exaggerating) from the barn because he keeps kicking at the mares in the pastures next to him and breaking the expensive pvc fence. Why is he such a pain? So I need to find him a new situation. Right now I'm thinking of bringing him home for a test run on Monday to see if he'll get along with the six sheep and cow. I also have a friend in LA that might be looking for a school horse - but could I really send him away??

I'm excited at the thought of bringing him home because I'll be able to hang out with him more and he deserves that! And I never lived with my horses! Plus I like controlling every aspect of my horses care: the quality of feed, when they get fed, blanketing, fly masks, and graining! But I do have some legitimate worries: will he get along with the other animals? Will he be okay when I'm traveling and having the fam look after him? Will I be able to trailer him back to stable often enough to ride? Will he be really stressed moving in? Will this work long term? So I think I'm going to buy some hay at lunch time today and give him a proper trial run on Monday when I'll be home all day to post watch. That means I've got some cleaning up do tonight! Gotta make sure those fences are secure!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Successful Show

This weekend was very busy! It was packed with a work event in the city, a rehearsal dinner for Ryan's brother, and then his wedding, saying goodbye to my little sister as she embarks on her college adventure at NYU, and then a horse show!!!
I was a little worried that it would all be too much and that I wouldn't be mentally and physically prepared for the show..... but i was wrong!!

The first plus of the show was that it was held at our barn. I literally woke up and went to the barn in my pj's. There was no packing, hitching up, and driving involved! It was so relaxing and nice break from the bigger shows we've done this year. I got him all gussied up and even had time to apply the finishing touches such as rubbing baby oil to his muzzle to make him look even more handsome!

I allowed 45 minutes to warm up before the first ride. He felt great and had a little more energy than normal because of all the excitement. I did a lot of walking and focused on him being straight, active, and relaxed. We rode into the show arena and performed the test very well. He stayed focused the whole time and was right on my seat. My only complaints were one bad leg yield to the right and one over exuberant trot to canter transition. The result - a 72%!!!

The next test was two hours later so I gave him a bath and lunch! It was very hot out so I decided to do only a 20 minute warm up to keep him fresh. Our warm up felt good and we went into the test and nailed it! First level test 4 has a lot more canter work in it so I'm always a bit more nervous, but Willoughby stayed with me the whole time and performed beautifully. This time around we got a 73%!!

I was so proud of Willoughby! We received our highest scores ever as a team and I scored my personal best as a rider. It looks like I need to learn how to make some more stallipops for him as a reward!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Schooling Bar (and Lena, too)

We've all (Steve, my daughter Katie, Bar, Lena, and me) been arena sour for some time now, and the humans in that group have been trying to find the enthusiasm for doing the schooling work both horses need, just so we can approach our four-legged co-conspirators with the right attitude. The challenge is to find new and creative ways to teach our horses to be the best horses they can be, and let go of our own egos and baggage so we can learn to be the best riders we can be.

We can do some training out on the trail, particularly if we pick a mellow (and wide) trail like out at Riverfront Park. We went out there today and Bar and I worked on moving off my leg, criss-crossing the trail with his big, rambling walk, and a slow, even trot, using Lena's nice jog to keep the pace. He's still far bouncier than she is, but he did do a nice job of relaxing into a steady gait. Lena and Steve worked on water crossings and not snorting at logs. All of us worked on stopping mid-ride, being tied up in a strange place with all sort of odd noises and things going on, and still relaxing enough to at least gulp down half a sandwich. Lena and Steve did better than Bar and I did, but considering the personalities involved, we all did pretty well. (Horse as mirror, need to remember that.)

We also did the necessary arena work this week, and Steve and I both mixed things up from what had become a rather boring routine for all parties.

Steve and Lena did lots of things Lena likes--running and stopping fast, zig-zagging through cones, and pivoting on her hip like the cutting horse she was bred to be--all after he worked out all her nuttiness in the round pen first. She spooked less at the scary bushes and banners, and they both had fun. What more could you ask?

I worked with Bar this week, using the round pen, doing ground work, and playing with the various trail obstacles in the indoor arena. The trick with Bar is keeping him on task and focused, so that sometimes means switching back and forth multiple times between trotting circles and clambering over fake bridges. My goal is to stretch out each segment a little more each workout, and add in new things as often as possible to keep us both entertained.

One of Bar's big confusions is gates. Lena was gate-trained when we got her and she will sidle up to a gate, let us open it, go through, and then side step over to help shut it. Bar's response to a gate is to go in nose-first (he was a racehorse, after all) and he gets pretty frustrated when we try to get him to sidestep over to it to open it. Forget about closing it.

Luckily, one of the trail obstacles set up in the indoor arena is a stand-alone gate. After a good round pen workout the other day, I led Bar through all the gate steps from the ground. He still thought I was crazy--since he knew he could walk around it on either side--but I think he went along with it just for kicks. We went up to the gate and I positioned him parallel to it. We opened it, walked through, and I backed him up and moved him over parallel to it again to shut it several times. We never did do it perfectly, but he at least cooperated with me.

Part of the problem is that sidestepping is a bit baffling to Bar. He'll move off my leg while we're in motion, but from a stand-still he can't figure out what I'm asking him to do and he gets irritated. Linda suggested doing some ground work with him, physically pushing a hip to get him to move away from pressure. (Duh, by the way. Should have thought of that myself.)

The next day was the proof in the pudding. After longing him in the round pen, I got him to yield his hip from the ground. Then, I worked on the same concept from the saddle in the outdoor arena. I not only got him to move his hips over, but he also seemed more focused on what we were doing. Woo! When we were done, we walked up to the arena gate. I moved him up parallel, opened the gate, walked through, and didn't let go of the gate. He tried to head down the driveway like he always does, but I held on to his head (which he was tossing, naturally) and moved him over two steps closer to shutting the gate. We didn't actually get the gate shut, but I figured we did pretty well to get as far as we did and I told him so.

If we were showing these horses, of course I wouldn't focus so much on gate-training. But we're not, and it's something I know Bar is smart enough to do if he justs understands what we're asking him to do. I may regret teaching him this someday, but working on something we will use in what we do with them, with the extra bonus that it does make him think and work, seems like a good combination to me.

Actually, after writing all this, I'm not entirely sure who is getting schooled--Bar and Lena, or us. Eh, I guess it doesn't really matter since we're all learning something along the way. Seems like what life is all about, anyway.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


I just got back from an amazing trip to Duetchland. I tagged along with my one of my best friends in search of a horse for her. We were only gone for a week (including travel days) but we drove over 2,000 km and saw a great portion of the country. Horses are such a big part of their culture and it blew me away to see all the different riding clubs, barns, and horse people. We were so lucky to get connected with Anna, who worked at our friend's farm in L.A. earlier this year. Anna, our "horse agent" as we like to call her, gave us a great insight into the country and to the culture. And she showed us what is was like to drive 120mph on the autobahn!

Pictured above is:
Odie and I with a random goat
Anna, Odie, and I with Anna's horse, Crescendo
A picture of a barn connected to a house! And it's not unusual to see this!!!