Tuesday, January 29, 2008

One more new family member

Quick post, because I promised to show everyone his picture.

Wesley is our new cat! We found him through a local rescue organization, Dragonfly rescue, and he's settling in very nicely. He will hopefully fill the indoor/outdoor, snuggle-while-you-read gap left by Tigger the Wonder Cat.

More on Wesley later.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Horse bloggers, unite!

My friend Janice wrote a very helpful and encouraging comment on my Accidents post. When I approved it, I found out she has a blog called My Wild World where she writes about her adventures and experiences with life and her pretty buckskin mare, Tye.

She has been really supportive this week as I get past my issues with, um, gravity and I'm excited to see another horse person getting online and sharing their experiences.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Accidents and learning to trust

We tried the beach with Bar and Lena on Sunday and it did not go at all as planned. Luckily, nobody was hurt and Lena showed us a very mature side we weren't really sure she had. It started with loading - Bar did not want to be alone in front and objected mightily so we loaded Lena first, even though she hates the smaller front compartment. She settled in with only a minor hip-swing into the barrier and they were both quiet and calm all the way to the coast. Normally, she bangs back and forth in the front compartment, but it was almost like she realized she had to be the grown up horse this time.

That was apparently the easy part.

I came off again trying to get Bar up a hill, away from Lena, to get out of the way of a lone rider coming back down one of the narrow trails at Bodega. I scared Steve really badly because I was underneath that big, bay horse, and it looked pretty bad. Somehow I managed not to get stepped on, which Steve thinks is mostly luck considering the shifting sands and frightened horse. I didn't think about getting scared until much later when we were sitting in the hot tub, too busy worrying about other things and being embarrassed, I guess.

Bar headed back to the trailer, with Steve and Lena in pursuit. (After they made sure I was okay). I missed all of the chase, but Bar came back to them twice on his way back to the trailer. Lena was calm and stopped and waited for him and he actually let Steve catch him for a little while. Those trails are not good for ponying, however, and he got loose and headed back towards the trailer again. There were a lot of horse people out there and one woman riding another spotty horse got hold of him - he went right to her - as he was circling back around to Lena and Steve.

A couple folks came to make sure I was really okay while Steve tended the horses. I was, just annoyed with myself and embarrassed more than anything. Again, the fear came later. It was a silver lining to meet strangers who would take time to help us when things went off kilter. And, I might add, not make me feel like a total idiot.

This is a hard post for me to write because there are probably some people who think we should get rid of him. I think we pushed him too far too fast with the beach trip and it just so happened I paid the price. It looks particularly bad since I just fell off the other day, too. Probably Steve could have stayed on both times, and I know he's really worried about me. Heck, I'm worried about me, too. Bar is a lot to handle, but he's trying really hard to do what we ask him even though he has no real reason to trust us or his situation, yet. If he weren't trying, it would be a different story, but he is.

It does come down to trust, and it is still really early in the game with Bar. Yes, he can be a spaz, but Lena was too, even when we started taking her out with Doc at first. The difference is that she trusts us more to take care of her and we've proven over and over in the last 2-1/2 years that we won't do anything that terrible to her. (Wormer doesn't count.) That probably started way back on the night she colicked and we stayed with her, but it's something we've had to build on, too. It didn't happen overnight and it could be gone in an instant - just like with the blanket trauma. (Thankfully we've worked through that, now.)

I don't think I've done a lot to inspire confidence in him at this point, either, which is why I'm going back to some of the basics Peter and Rob showed me. The simple stuff helps keep me calm (and in the saddle) and that helps him. It may or may not help when he freaks out, but on the other hand, if we've built the trust, he may freak out less.

I keep thinking about the beach and how trapped he must have felt in that walled-in trail. Normally, I'll circle him (or Lena) to get them to pay attention but I backed him up and ran him up a slippery hill away from Lena instead. He did keep coming back to Steve and Lena, and he did head for the safety of the trailer.

No, it's not all my fault - though I wish I'd handled it better - but better to not put him in a situation where he has to make those choices and I have to try to hang on until we've worked together some more.

The hardest thing I've had to do in a long time was get back on him yesterday, but I did it. We took it really slowly, even getting into the arena. We walked around so he could see what was going on outside before heading into the empty indoor arena. We checked out the empty round pen and made sure none of the trail stuff had moved. I paid attention to the noises and things that were bothering him and acknowledged them while continuing the workout. I just kept talking to him and giving him credit when he did the right thing and when he paid attention and responded. In turn, he got better and more responsive as we went along, less distracted by the rain on the roof and the noises outside the arena, more focused on me and what we were doing.

So, no, I'm not giving up on him. It's like having another kid - you can't expect them to act like your first and you forget how much work the first one really was.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

First fall for Jess

I've joined the ranks of real horse owners!

I guess that's the way to look at it with a truly positive spin - unlike the spin I took off Calabar's back last night.

It was Bar's first time in the big arena, and he'd been pretty good as we got started, walking and trotting, exploring the edges of the arena, watching a hiker or two wander up the bike path.

I'd gotten him up to a nice canter and we were working on where my hands work best with him when something in the back corner spooked him and he took off. I am still working on getting the new saddle set right for me and being comfortable in it. I wasn't there, yet, and was too far forward and out of balance. I probably shouldn't have been trying to adjust my seat as we cantered, but there you go, lesson learned.

Then I was off, vaguely on purpose, in the air for a moment before hitting the ground. I fell well, though - hit rear end first, then shoulder, so I must have tucked instinctively. Then I stood up and watched Bar race around the arena, right rein flying, tangling around and slapping his legs, adding to the excitement. He'd stepped on and ripped off the left rein pretty soon after I came off - at least that's what I surmised by where we found it after he'd stopped and let me capture him again.

Watching him run was a true gift, though. Those long legs stretching out, nostrils flaring, and so, so fast. He is beauty, power, grace - flying over the ground without wings, barely tethered to this planet. Even shaken, spitting out arena grit, I wished for my camera so I could have somehow captured the tiniest frame - blurry shot, even - of him stretched out and running. Not that you can capture air, spirit, energy - not ever. I just hope it's an image that always stays in my memory.

I did get back on, by the way. He even stood still for me while we re-attached the left rein and while I got back on. And then he did everything I asked him to. Nice trot, beautiful and easy canter, circles - everything. It could be that he burned out all that excess energy - probably part of it - but he was very snuggly, too. I think he knew he messed up. He's really not mean, he's really trying hard, and I think he was surprised I ended up on the ground.

I know I should have been mad at him, but it was just as much my fault as his and as stiff as I am today, I am not too badly hurt. Plus, I've finally gotten that first fall out of the way.

Of course, the other upshot of this experience - aside from the huge charlie horse in my rear end and the jammed shoulder joint - is the razzing I'm getting from Peter. Do I need a seat belt? Velcro? It still feels a bit like I've passed some kind of weird horse initiation.

Oh, well. I think it was probably worth it in any case.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


I haven't written much about Willoughby lately and I think he's due for some attention!
The last few months have really been about getting to know one another. He's a different type of horse than what I'm used to. Bee and Fenway are lazy horses who need a lot of encouragement. They aren't bothered by much and would prefer eating and sleeping over working! Willoughby, on the other hand has a lot of go in him. After riding him a couple of days in a row I expect him to be tired, but it's just the opposite. The more fit he is, the more energy he has. He's also very sensitive. He takes a lot in and breathes loudly, snorts, and even squeals at times. It's very cute. But one of his habits that is not so cute is his teeth squeaking. By teeth squeaking, I mean chewing on the bit. It's a combination of stress and old habits. I'm learning to take each ride as its own. If he's particularly hyper or stressed one day, I may only walk. Why just walk? Because I want him to let down and to feel confident under saddle. Instead of pushing him, I'm asking him to get used to the surroundings and conditions as is. So far it's working. Occasionally we have a so-so day and some days (like today), he's amazing and quiet with his mouth.
This has been a good learning experience for me. After some rides I become discouraged because I feel like I should be further along in my training. But I have to remember and realize that with a young horse, taking it slow and getting the basics downs will allow us to progress more quickly and further in the long run.
So that's where we're at! It's a lot of fun and each ride is it's own little adventure!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Bar and Lena Rey

We had some good work with our two racehorses today, including switching of riders and horses. Katie even took Bar over a tiny jump in the arena, then convinced Lena to try, too. Lena did dodge it the first few times, but Katie finally got her to give it a shot.

Bar is doing better every day we work with him, trying so hard to figure out what we're asking him to do and doing it as best he can. We found a used Circle Y trail saddle that seems to fit him pretty well and - once we switched out the stirrups - worked for us as well. Yesterday, both Steve and I tried it and had issues keeping our feet in the stirrups once we started into a canter. We put some heavier stirrups on and it worked much better. Very frustrating to get him up to a nice canter and have to stop because a foot flies loose. It must have been confusing for him, too - I'm sure he couldn't figure out what we were up to.

One of the non-riding things we're working on with him is not itching his big head on us. Obviously, it itches - here he is using a beam to scratch - but we don't make good scratching posts. So, we scratch until he starts to push, then stop. Then when he stops pushing, we start scratching again. He's getting it pretty well, actually, mostly because he loves to have his head scratched.

He's fun, and he's fast, and Lena wants to run with him so bad it's driving her crazy. Soon, very soon, we'll take them out and let them go and see what happens.

I'm headed off to Macworld tomorrow and Steve will be on his own until Thursday with the horses. I enjoy working the tradeshow scene, but it will be hard to be away right now. Lena is feeling a hair neglected and Bar is starting to really respond to the work and attention. I'm sure they will both be fine, but I'm not sure I will be.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Two racehorses, actually

Today we found out we actually have two - not one, but two - racehorses.

Unfortunately for them, we were in the indoor arena and had to discourage rampant galloping rather firmly. My arms are still a little tired.

Lena, by the way, was just as eager as Calabar to prove how fast she could go. She also kept dancing from one lead to the other while Steve guided her around the arena.

I actually got some cooperation from Bar some of the time. He really doesn't like it when there is a horse working in the round pen and Peter was working a little mare in there, so every time we came around the backside of the round pen, Bar and I danced a little.

Okay, sometimes a lot.

He probably hasn't seen a lot of round pen work - I don't think you usually lunge racehorses to get them to relax before a race.

But we're learning together - all four of us. Bar and Lena are really in tune with each other - to the extent that perhaps some bad behavior gets shared by osmosis - but on the other hand, it means they are paying attention to each other. That's probably a good thing.

I did decide that circling him works better than backing him up, both for for getting him to hold still while getting on and for general attention-paying at other times.

Steve and I are both looking forward to taking them somewhere they can race each other someday soon, without walls and round pens and miscellaneous bits and pieces in the arena to dodge.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

2nd New Addition of 2007

Yes, I realize we're in 2008 but I'm a bit behind!
This is the latest addition to my pet family, Faaris.
Faaris came from the San Luis Obispo Animal Shelter. I've been looking for a new cat and my friend Odie saw Faaris in the shelter. He was found wandering the streets of Nipomo, starving and sick. Odie fostered him and took him home to recover. She delivered Faaris to me in Carmel, in the middle of December. We were in Carmel for a Indian themed Christmas party. So naturally I had to find a suitable Indian name for him. I chose the name Faaris because it means horseman or knight in Indian.

Faaris has adjusted pretty well to his new life. He has had a few scuffles with Huck but for the most part they've worked it out. Faaris was included in our holiday adventure up to the snow. He's great in the car and I couldn't bear the thought of locking him up in kennel again. Our latest adventure is the great outdoors - I unlocked the cat door. He's doesn't wander far and for the most part stays inside.
I love my new cat, even if he's feisty sometimes! The great outdoors should cure him of that!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Horses - Not for the Fashion Conscious

One of my favorite parts of the day is my morning stop at the barn to tend the horses. I grain them, pat them, do some carrot stretches with them, sometimes a little acupressure, too. This occasionally includes a battle with the elements.

Some days, as I dry and style my hair in front of the mirror in the bathroom, I stop to ask myself, "Why bother?" Even if it's not raining, often it's misty out and with my hair, the flatness takes only moments to happen. Mere moments.

Today, it was a little more than mist.

Why didn't I just head into the office? Skip the barn and maintain some semblance of dignity and good hair?

Ah, because of the way they smell, the warmth of their skin and their soft noses. I admit it, I'm hooked. Head over heels in love like I never got to be as a younger me, left to act out my horsiness with plastic models and my own two-legged gallop.

So, I end up a bedraggled, soggy, mess because that's what makes my day start out right, grounding me enough to face meetings and marketing plans with a smile on my face and an odd idea or two in my head.

It's worth it, even if I do occasionally look like a drowned rat the first 15 minutes at my desk. Even if it means I'll never be a high-powered, fashionable executive with good hair.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Racehorse reading

I just started a book called My Racing Heart by Nan Mooney. Very (very) simply, it is - according to the back cover description - a memoir about a woman and her journey into the world of Thoroughbred racing.

That's the synopsis, but what I like about it is her description of horses in general and racehorses specifically. I see Bar in what she writes, including her description of horses that stay playful no matter how old they get and horses that hum with that internal energy.

Mostly I just love reading writings from a woman who obviously loves, respects, and understands horses for what and who they are, someone who can so clearly express the balance between risk and exhilaration that comes with truly loving and enjoying horses. Not owning them, not just making them do what you want, but building a relationship with them that makes sense.

Bar is definitely a different horse than Lena is - complementary, but different. Lena's upbringing and training was so different that in some ways she's more mature than he is. And in some ways she is not. Bar seems to take things in stride that she doesn't, but she is calmer about other things that send him dancing sideways. He can back into something or swing into a garbage can the farrier puts there and he's fine, where she would skate sideways and blow big air through her nose. She can handle a sliding stop coming from behind her with nothing more than a flick of her tail.

Both are quintessential examples of distilled horse essence; both make me feel extremely gifted to know and work with such fine horses.

Arena work

We managed to give the horses a workout today - a break in the weather and an empty arena gave us a short, sweet opportunity.

I didn't lunge Bar first today, and it really didn't seem to make much of a difference one way or the other in his behavior. In fact, even though he wasn't perfectly behaved, he wasn't any harder to handle than when I do lunge him, so I think it's kind of a toss-up.

There was a horse in the round pen and Lena and Steve were in the arena with us, so there was some dancing and prancing, but I stayed on and we actually had a pretty good ride. I won't say it was without challenges -- we still have a lot to work on -- but Bar listened pretty well, even with Peter working another horse in the arena with us. Peter and Taxi even showed Bar a nice sliding stop. Bar was not impressed, especially since they slid to a stop right behind us, but we didn't go shooting around the arena, either.

With the three of us loping around the arena, it was a little challenging to keep Bar from chasing down Taxi and Lena, but he responded to my hands and my voice and didn't get crazy, even when that spotty rear end flashed past him.

Then we took them down the driveway, Bar following Lena on the way down and leading by a length or two on the way back. Because Bar takes two hands most of the time, the picture at the top of the post is actually from the other day when Katie and Steve were riding. I'm sure we'll get to the point where I can take pictures from his back, but we're not quite there, yet.

Steve and I both can't wait to take them both somewhere and just let them go, they both need it. So do we, for that matter.

Now if the weather would just cooperate a tiny bit more.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Lessons in patience

I wrote this last night in the low-tech way because we - as happens in wintertime on the river - were in the middle of a power outage, so I used Notepad.

Part of what is interesting and entertaining about working with a new horse is learning them, their quirks, and the right things to do to communicate with them in order to motivate them to cooperate with you.

Sometimes it's a true test of patience, stubborness and ingenuity.

Last night I did okay with the first two in that list, but could have used some inspiration along the lines of the altter.

Granted, it was a (to paraphrase Snoopy) "dark and stormy night" and Bar had not been worked in the indoor arena under such conditions, yet. I did what everyone tells me to do and lunged him first and when he stopped and faced me, we stood for a minute and listened to the rain pound down on the metal roof and looked out into the dark outside the arena. He seemed alert, but responded well and wasn't pushy or nervous leaving the round pen.

Then I tried to get on. Yes, call me goofy, but I really prefer my horses to stand still while I get on.

I think we backed around the entire arena 7 times! He'd be standing still, I'd put my foot in the stirrup and he'd start to circle around me. I think he thought I'd give up so he could go back to his alfalfa and leave this riding nonsense to a more reasonable time of day.

Silly boy.

I did finally get on because I knew I couldn't lose that battle. We didn't work very long after that, and then I made him stand still again while I got off. He thought I was mean.

Too bad.

If I could do it again, I would try harder not to get frustrated with him because I know he can sense it and it really doesn't help the situation.

I also wonder about lunging. I know that common practice is to lunge a horse like him (and like Lena for that matter) but I swear it makes him even more wired. Maybe I'm doing it wrong, who knows.

I'm going to try a different approach next time and go right into riding to see if it makes a difference. It may not, but he certainly couldn't be more wired than he was even after I lunged him, so I figure it's worth a try.

I do realize it was another new situation for him. It was the first time riding at night, in the rain and wind, in the indoor arena. He saw Lena and Steve finish up and probably couldn't figure out why he had to be out working alone while she was eating. (Lena has been known to be less cooperative at feeding time as well.)

And I don't even blame him for testing me, that's his job. I just wish I could have stepped outside of the situation last night and thought of this then, rather than armchair quarterbacking myself now. Not that I would have let him get away with anything, just that it might have helped my own reactions which would have in turn helped manage the situation better and helped us both.

Oh, well. All part of the learning curve.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Arena dirt

Arena dirt is its own special brand of substance. It clings to clothes, skin, sneaks into creases and crevices, and leaves you feeling a little dust-coated all the time. The dirty smear on the towel after I wash my face makes me wonder if I need a high-powered air blaster in the entry way of the house.

We're doing so much work with Bar right now, I'm feeling pretty gritty most of the time. Even when I'm not riding him, I'm watching him in the round pen - where he stirs up his own little dust storm every time - or waiting my turn with either him or Lena. Plenty of time to collect a significant amount of arena dirt.

Not to mention the mud from the paddock that soaks into your jeans and somehow doesn't scrape off with normal means. Nope. It waits until you wash your clothes to nicely coat the inside of the washing machine. The arena dirt helps with that, too.

I occasionally watch the show What Not to Wear and am afraid that - even for them - I would be a lost cause. Why? All of my clothes have to be at least vaguely barn-resistant or they just stay in my closet feeling alone and forlorn. I'm afraid cute little pumps don't deal well with dirt in any format, even if it's just long enough to get to my boots in the back of the truck. We won't even discuss mixing nice fabrics and horse noses.

Too bad. I bet I could spend $5,000 on cowboy boots and jeans really, really quickly.