Friday, February 29, 2008

Getting ready to leave

I'm getting ready to leave for ten days to work two tradeshows. And this is what I'm leaving! So hard. I love the dual ears. They are waiting for Steve and the alfalfa, by the way.

I'm really liking the work Bar and I are doing and am vaguely afraid of the lapse that will come with my leaving.

No way around it, of course, just have to do my job, come home and get back to it.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Sunsets at the barn

I stopped at the barn - as usual - on my way home tonight. I didn't ride, just cleaned and petted.

As I was tending, I noticed the lavender sky lit up with glorious pinky-orange clouds and had to try to capture it.

Getting to see things like sunsets unfold is really one of the perks that comes from going to the barn. That and fuzzy horse noses in your face and pockets.

Horses and technology

I always feel a bit of a disconnect between my job in the technology industry and my personal life, in particular the time I share with horses.

Mostly I get odd looks and sometimes questions about my sanity when people find out I have horses. (Okay, it's not always that bad, but sometimes.)

So imagine my surprise when I clicked through to a post on our Radar blog - dedicated to following what is going on out on the bleeding edges of technology - and found a reference to horses.

The blog post is about RFID startups, and one of the examples was a company called Integrated Equine Technologies that is using RFID to help with Dressage training.

I have found that video, even pictures, help me - or mortally embarrass me - by pointing out where my position may be falling astray. I don't think I want to invest $10,000 in this particular product, but I can see where it may come in handy at an upscale training facility. I doubt, however, it will be coming to a barn near me anytime soon. Probably just as well. My ego is far too fragile at this point.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Retraining racehorses

I've found a few articles and books with information about retraining ex-racehorses. It's pretty interesting to read things that help me see how "normal" our experiences with Bar actually are, and that also frame some of the advice we've gotten along the way. As in, "Oh, now I see why that makes sense."

I found this article from a place called Tranquility Farms. They specialize in retraining Off-Track Thoroughbreds and placing them in new homes.

Amazingly enough, some of the things Steve and I are doing are recommended when dealing with horses like Bar. Some by accident and some because we do actually listen to the advice we get here and there.

We've been working over obstacles, which started as preparation for trail work, but is recommended as good for trust-building and also a way to "untrack" a racehorse and get them to pay attention to their feet. You know, those things at the end of the long things you stand on, Bar.

Doing the slow work I just started is also really great for him. I remember Peter telling us this with Lena, that going slow was really important before speeding things up. Okay, I get it now. Bar really responds well because I'm taking the time to work with him at a walk, get my hands and body in a good place, be relaxed (well, mostly) and it all goes back to building that trust and confidence while getting a horse to think and pay attention to you. As Steve says, Bar knows how to run. We need him to be thinking, engaged, and confident that we know what the heck we're doing and he knows what we're asking him to do.

Some of the things we've tried that haven't worked are also now a little more understandable. Like taking him out somewhere totally new and having things go awry when we hadn't established that trust and confidence, yet.

A couple of the things I've read talk about grooming, too, and how sensitive Thoroughbreds can be to touch. I had noticed that with Bar, but hadn't particularly changed tools or tactics, just worked on talking to him and keeping a hand on him while I groomed which did seem to help - most days, anyway. He's also starting to respond really well to light massage and acupressure. I even got a big yawn out of him the other day! Very exciting!

The key is patience and time. We've only had him two months, which is not a long time to get to know a horse and his quirks and habits, or for him to figure out we aren't going to do anything too evil. (Wormer doesn't count, Bar.)

The more I work with him, the more I appreciate his intelligence, his curiosity, and his attitude. He isn't perfect, but he is trying really hard and we're making progress. I'm sure he says the same thing about me, actually.

He will teach me a lot in spite of myself, I think.

Friday, February 22, 2008

February Clinic

Last weekend I trailered to Davis (Sacramento Area) for a clinic with my coach, Ellen.
Here is a little video clip from one of my lessons.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Bar and Jess get a lesson

Bar and I had a lesson yesterday that consisted of a lot of walking and a lot of Peter telling me to get my rear end in the center of the saddle.

All of what we were working on, I had worked on with Peter and Lena before, but am having to learn it all over again with Bar.

Some of that is because what we were working on - balance, position, seat - are things I'm supposed to be working on all the time, but have gotten pushed out of my brain by other things, other worries, other distractions.

The lesson helped me remember that without the fundamental piece of getting and keeping my seat and staying relaxed enough to do that, progress with Bar (or Lena for that matter) will be limited.

So, yes, we walked around the arena for an hour. I was concentrating on coordinating several things - getting my hips to be supple, but not relaxed; keeping my shoulders still and my hands relaxed; not bracing in the stirrups; and probably some more things I can't recite at the moment. It's a lot to keep running through my head while perched on the top of a dancing horse, but it also works when I can get it all together.

Steve says I have reverted to riding like I did when I was more afraid, which makes sense, but won't work. I've lost some confidence because of the falls, and while I know this and have that awareness, I am still working through it. The lesson helped, actually, because it pointed out how much my fearful reactions feed into Bar's behavior. He would start to act up for whatever reason - Lena walking by, the noise from the outdoor arena, whatever - and even while I was circling him and pre-empting his blow-up, I was tensing up in preparation of his blow-up and actually feeding into it.

Bah. Horses are hard. But so, so worth it.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Tigers in the bushes

I rode Lena Friday and while she's better trained than Bar in some ways, she was not on her best behavior. It was definitely a tiger-in-the-bushes type of night from start to finish.

Granted, it was dinner time and I pulled her away from a nice pile of alfalfa without even giving her a little grain first. (I knew Steve had been out earlier to ride Bar and both had gotten grain then.)

It was also prime predator time - dusk - and there was a nice cool breeze blowing in from the south/southwest, carrying the smell of water and who knows what else from the water treatment plant next door.

But - if I was figuring out horse brain correctly - the real problem was fluttery trail markers dancing in that breeze.

Every time we went over to that side of the arena, she acted like a tiger was going to come leaping out of the the bushes and she would either scoot forward or scamper sideways away from her perceived area of danger. Normally, it's a relatively small area, but Friday it was the entire far side of the arena. This meant we had to go around and around, down that side of the arena, over and over, until she got over it.

Well, mostly over it. Tigers are always lurking in the shadows of a horse brain, and that's hard-wiring you are not going to undo in any horse, let alone one as alert and ornery as Lena. Best to figure out how to get around it and get your workout done in spite of the tigers.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Help for Horses

I ran across this article in our local paper on an increase in abandoned and abused horses, followed by another about a local vet, Grant Miller, DVM, who is working with an organization called CHANGE to help save and place some of these horses.

I donated some money and got a really nice thank you from Dr. Miller who also asked if there are any horse people / ranch owners in our area (Forestville/West County) who may be interested in becoming a foster center. I know my blog has a very small distribution, but I also know how much horse people like to talk so I'm hoping I can do at least a little to spread the word.

He also said they have a number of horses seized recently that are keeping the volunteers very busy and they are hoping the horses will pull though. I'm sure CHANGE could use volunteers, too.

So, if you have time to donate, or funds, or if you can even just help pass the word, I know it will be appreciated by the volunteers at CHANGE, and the horses, too.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Big day for Bar

We gave Bar a new challenge today and he did pretty well!

The barn was busy when we got there, as it should be on a gorgeous sunny day, and I admit I was pretty apprehensive to take Bar down into the arena with all those people and horses. I could imagine all kinds of scenarios in my nervous little head, none of them ending up nearly as well as it actually did.

The first thing he and I did was go down and just stand and talk to Janice (and Tye) and Linda (and Lad). Bar stood next to me very calmly, taking everything in, interested in meeting the other horses, but accepting it when I didn't let him.

Then I got on and we walked awhile, checking out the arena, the bike path, what the other horses were up to - including Steve and Lena Rey, who had come into the arena. Bar did try to stay with Lena when she was going the other direction, but he listened to me and cooperated when I wouldn't let him. We did a lot of trotting and walking, just working on paying attention to each other and not too much on what was going on with other folks.

He did really well, much to my joy and - yes - amazement. He did want to run more, but Peter had a lesson going on and with all the other folks in the arena, I decided a few slow circles each direction at the far end of the arena was all I was comfortable with and with only minor objections, he went along with it. I promised we would run more tomorrow, when we had a little more breathing room.

Then Lena, Steve, Bar, and I wandered down the driveway and for the first time, Bar wanted to keep going down the road. We didn't let them this time, but I think next time we will.

It even seemed like he knew he did a good job and that I was happy with him. He just acted calmer and less worried than he ever has before.

I know this is no guarantee for tomorrow, but I take every positive step as a gift. He's trying so hard and he surprises me sometimes, allowing the trust to build a little more between us, allowing the learning to progress a little more each ride for both of us.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Horse training

Two different days, two different riders, and two different rides.

I had a great ride on Bar Wednesday night. No, he wasn't perfect but for the first time, he was really listening to me and (mostly, anyway) ignoring outside input. He can't ever ignore it totally, it's not his nature, but I was getting 98% of his attention and cooperation, so felt pretty good about the work we did.

Then Steve rode him yesterday and had a slightly different experience. I wasn't there, but it sounds like things started out normally - so a little testing, but not too bad. They did some walking and nice trotting and eased up into a canter. Steve got him to go both directions nicely, though they were arguing a lot about stopping.

One of the arguments culminated in Bar bucking hard enough to lift Steve out of the saddle and his stirrups. Much to Bar's surprise, however, Steve remained on his back and then Bar found out he was in big trouble.

They did quite a bit more work after that, and they did it mostly Steve's way.

I showed up later and rode the "easy" horse, who was easier than Bar had been, but not necessarily perfectly behaved by any means. She and I got a good workout, though, and partly because of the things we're learning with Bar, she didn't get away with some of the things she used to. Just don't tell her where we learned it - I can just see them conspiring together.

They are both so funny - Lena was bent out of shape when Steve took Bar out and even though he'd already been out, Bar really expected that I was there to ride him so was surprised when I went past his gate and got Lena. At one point, Bar noticed us down in the arena and he watched us from his pen until we finished up and did our walk down the driveway. He probably would have watched longer, but he couldn't see us at that point.

After our ride, Lena got a rubdown, a little massage, some wormer, her blanket and some carrots. Lucky horse - well, except for the wormer. Then it was Bar's turn. He stood really nicely for me while I tended him, very relaxed and calm. He is funny about being touched sometimes, and isn't sure about the benefits of massage, yet. I was scratching mud off his shoulder and moved into a flat hand, light massage because the shoulder felt like it needed it. He started to reach around to nose me away, but it must have felt good because he just stopped and let me work on it for a little while. Lena was also not sure about massage in the beginning, but will now stand still longer than I once thought possible while I work her sore areas and pressure points. Bar isn't quite to the jaw-cracking yawn stage, but is getting more and more relaxed each time.

On one hand, I'm learning things with Bar that help with some of Lena's less-than-good habits. On the other hand, I'm recalling things from training and working with Lena that help me have a little more patience with Bar. We are also constantly looking for new techniques with both of them, ways to keep them engaged and paying attention long enough to teach them something and long enough to learn something ourselves. Challenging, but not impossible.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Horse dreams

This video of Stacy Westfall and her tackless ride in the 2006 All American Quarter Horse Congress is over a year old and most horse people (at least in the Western world) have probably seen this, or at least heard of it. But, even though I'd seen the pictures, it's still an amazing and inspiring thing to watch. Maybe even aspire to in some fashion, though I have my doubts we'll ever be quite this talented.

I would love to be able to ride this well AND trust myself and either horse this much.

Maybe in a few years. Like 15. Ha!

My friend Ken - who is totally unaffiliated with anything horse-related - saw it and sent it to me because he has come to accept my obsession. He may not understand it, but at least he humors me.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Wesley and his pink catnip mouse

Wesley has a new favorite toy. He doesn't even care that he's a boy and it's hot pink.

Wesley is also very ready to investigate the great outdoors. Feeding the other cats involves zipping out the back door and quickly shutting it while you dump the food in their bowls lest Wesley wiggle past you.

Demon kitty and his pink mouse.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Wildlife at the barn

This morning, while tending the terrible twosome, I noticed some vultures in the big back pasture. Actually, Lena noticed them first. Then I saw two other shapes out there - a pair of coyotes!

I actually filmed them for a bit, but my video is a little shaky and needs some editing. As I was filming, though, I noticed that one of the coyotes was moving on three legs instead of all four.

So, meet Tripod the Coyote.

Looks a lot like a leg that got caught in a trap, poor guy.

I know a lot of folks think they are pests, but I'm still excited that I got to see them this morning doing their coyote thing.

The horses weren't bothered at all, so they must be used to them.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Two horses

One of Steve's major concerns about getting a second horse was making sure both would get enough attention. Part of what makes Lena such a good horse is how much we worked with her, all of us, and he was - rightfully so - undecided as to whether we had that much more bandwidth. Bar does need our attention, energy and training - maybe even more than Lena sometimes - but I think it's been good for all of us, if not remotely easy.

Lena is not sure we have enough bandwidth. I get the look in the picture above whenever I'm in Bar's pen, though I suspect it's more fear of uneven treat dispersal than feeling any lack of attention from me.

Don't get me wrong, she isn't getting all 45 minutes of my time and attention every morning, so it is less than she was used to. And I do find myself counting out carrots and balancing time spent in each paddock because they both watch when you're in the other's paddock.

They both demand a certain level of energy and focus, and Lena was used to having all of it from three people. Bar probably isn't used to quite this much attention all the time, but he's responding and I think it's helping as we work through getting to know each other.

Of course, as we all settle in to the two-horse routine, there is plenty of room for each to feel left out. When Steve took Lena out yesterday, he got the evil eye from Bar. When I took Bar out last night, I got pawed at by Lena.

When we can work them together, it's a good thing for both of them. Having Lena in the arena helps center Bar a little bit faster. Bar makes a good training aid for Lena when he starts in on some antic or another and we make her focus on us instead of him. Trying to keep Bar in the arena when Lena leaves is a little challenging, but also good for him.

We're all learning a lot and as challenging as it's been so far, I really enjoy working with him - maybe even because it's so challenging. He still tests me every time I get on, seeing if maybe this time I'll give in and let him do what he wants instead of making him do what I want, but I don't dare do that. It's making me think, try new things to see what will work with him, what will get his attention and hold his interest long enough for the lesson to settle in and to forge just a little more cooperation and trust between us.

It's making me a better rider, too. I have to sit deeper and stay more balanced so I can cue him correctly and concentrate on what I'm asking him to do without worrying about my body. Well, and so I don't fall off when - for example - he dances sideways in response to another horse running and bucking in his paddock for no reason a silly human could grasp. Last night, I sat right through the spook and circled Bar back around where we could stand and watch the horse in question. When I called the other horse by name, he looked right at us, earning me a backwards ear flick from Bar acknowledging who-knows-what.

Once he gives in, he pays attention and tries really hard to do what I ask him to do. The testing period appears to be getting shorter every time I ride him, too, though that's no guarantee for Steve or Katie - he's likely to try something interesting to see if they are paying attention next time they ride. I do miss riding Lena as much as I used to, but I'm sure she's saving a few lessons for me, just in case I get too complacent.

Barn mornings

I usually get to spend about 45 minutes to an hour each morning at the barn before I head into the office, though this week with fighting a cold and other miscellaneous duties, I've missed a few mornings.

Granted, I get to the office looking much more put together on days I don't get to the barn - hair not soaked, clothes on straight since I don't have to change in the trailer, and hands not coated in warm, sweet-smelling horse dirt.

But then I miss the soft sounds of horses chewing, their big, soft noses poking in my pockets for carrots, curious nuzzles of the camera lens.

All in all, getting to work clean is way over-rated in my book.