Sunday, June 29, 2008


Having been away, and having ridden other horses, it's been an interesting few days back at home riding our two monsters. Something besides my riding position is different, but I'm not sure if it's just me or if I'm actually doing enough different to affect them in any way or if it's just having been away. It's not just Bar, I just notice it more with him.

Katie and I took them out on Friday, just to the Riverfront Park to do a couple loops around. Lena, for whatever reason, was in a particularly ditsy mood. She was bouncing and snorting at everything from butterflies to bushes to benches. But Bar? He was calm and cool as a cucumber, bopping along with that long-legged stroll of his, watching Lena act goofy and only occasionally acting like he wanted to spook at something, but never really following through on it.

We did a minor water crossing with them both and I didn't even have to get off Bar to do it. He also walked through instead of leaping over it, which was an improvement. We went through the water once on the first loop, and three times (back and forth) on our second loop.

The only time he got a little prance-y was right at the end, when a large-ish group of people (6-8) were walking towards us. But as soon as I put my hand on his neck and started talking to him, he flipped his ears back to listen to me and calmed down.

In fact, Bar was paying better attention to me that whole day than he ever has. It started when we loaded Lena to leave--with an audience, which normally makes all of us a little edgy. Bar was raring to go in right behind her, but held still while Katie finished getting Lena settled because I told him to. On the trail, he and I took a slight detour around a big tree just to do something a little different. He started to get a little nervous when he couldn't see Lena (even though he could hear her), craning his head back and forth to look for her. I put my hand down on his neck and talked to him, and he stopped fretting and listened to me--calming down instead of freaking out. Then came the aforementioned group of people. Finally, as Katie loaded Lena to leave, he started to get antsy, but relaxed as soon as I reached over and stroked his nose, telling him, "It's okay, you're next." We got home quietly and safely, both horses unloading nicely and ready for dinner.

Yesterday, Steve and I took them out on the road after a short arena workout and had to get past some obstacles that could have caused pandemonium--even in horses far calmer than Bar or Lena. The folks across the street had a truck and trailer plus two other cars in the road just opposite our driveway. Then there was the horse in the round pen and all the people watching it lope around a wee bit frantically because the herd was too far away and running around the pasture, also a bit frantically. All that was causing the group of horses in our big pasture to run around, buck, and whinny.

The scariest thing of all, naturally, were the white lines painted on the street down by the "bridge" we wanted them to walk across. It took three or four tries, plus some kicking and verbal coercion, but they did eventually get past whatever it was without us getting off and leading them across. Goof balls.

The horses across the street ran at the fence on our way out, and the horses in our pasture ran at us on the way back in. Both times Bar's head popped up and he started to dance and both times he responded to my hand on his neck and my voice and calmed down. I know that spot on his neck is an acupressure point, so--theoretically--it should always work that way. Only it hasn't always worked that way, so I don't know what changed. Maybe I'm calmer, though I don't always feel like it and still don't do well asking for a canter--much to my daughter's dismay and minor disgust. Maybe Bar has decided he's willing to trust me, and wouldn't that be cool! (She says with the endless hope of a horse-owner.)

Whatever the reason, I'll accept the gift of his cooperation when he chooses to give it and keep working with him so we can cooperate more often than not. Why? Because even if he's difficult, even if he's stubborn and doesn't always go along, he is still trying. Because he stops behind me when we walk, now, and doesn't try to bowl me over to get to the grass. Because he didn't take off with me when Lena came loping up behind us even though I know he wanted to. Because he'll go through water and past scary white signs on the ground because I ask him to. Because he comes to the gate every time to get his halter on, no matter what he thinks we might be doing.

I guess you could say I'm as stubborn as he is.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Trip to Slide

We're back!

We had a great trip and learned a lot! Slide was awesome and it was so great to see Ike and Cheri again, too. We had told them we wanted some help with training techniques, so we worked with some different horses to help us do that. The last day, we even got to do a little cutting after all our hard work.

This is Steve cutting the mechanical cow on Lena's half brother, Junior. Junior moves a lot like Lena, and was acting up a lot like Bar does. That gave Steve a great opportunity to work with him on ways to counter that kind of energy and behavior.

Ike had Steve use a two-handed technique to slow Junior down, which also helped calm things down, too. Using the left hand to hold the split reins loosely, with his hand resting on the neck, Steve would neck rein and use his legs -- until Junior would speed up into a faster version of whatever gait he was supposed to be doing or dance sideways because something was "spooky" (like the cow trailer, or the barbeque, or.. you know the drill). Then, Steve would use his right hand to gather both reins up in front of his left hand and "bump" Junior's head until he slowed down, then release. It sometimes took more than one circuit of the round pen, but finally Junior was both listening and responding well, and had calmed down from fighting Steve so badly.

I learned I can get up on a strange horse and handle all the things he tried to throw at me without panicking. Alas, there are no pictures of me riding Too Much Pepper. He was one of their two stallions, but he has since been gelded and gets used now for lessons and trail rides. He gave me some bucks and a little trouble, but Ike and Cheri both encouraged me to be tough with him and he settled in for me when I did. Ike had me do a lot of side passing with Pepper which helped me focus on using my legs to move him, rather than trying to muscle him with my arms and the reins.

The things Steve and I worked on were not new to us, but I realized I had gotten into such a different head-space--particularly with Bar--that some of those techniques had been lost, or if not lost, were not being implemented in the right way. It's also interesting to get different perspectives and it was really cool to hear Ike and Cheri telling us how much better we were both riding than when we first started. I know I have a long way to go, still, but it was really helpful to get that kind of encouragement and support.

I also worked a lot on my riding position and balance. I actually found it and felt pretty good riding, as well as cutting for the first time! Yes, even Pepper and I cut the mechanical cow. He is a full brother to their World Champion mare, Snow Pepper (scroll down one horse, below Truly) and he is also very cowy. Again, no pictures - sorry!

Katie got to ride a nice little gelding named "Hal" that Cheri is doing her best to find a home for. Hal (aka Sergeant Pepperchex) needs an experienced rider, but is perfect for someone who wants to work with him. Katie would have smuggled him home if she could, but he wouldn't fit in the back of the truck and thankfully we didn't bring the trailer. I didn't get any pictures of Katie and Hal, either. I know. I'm fired.

Adrienne got to ride her good buddy Eclipse the first day, then moved onto Dandy for day two. She loped by me at one point and said, "I forgot how much I liked to do this!" Here are she and Dandy cutting, which took some convincing. Dandy is a great trail horse and makes really cute babies, but she wasn't sure about this whole cow thing. Obviously, she and Andi made it work, though.

It was really a great trip and helped me remember why on earth I decided to follow my daughter down this horse road in the first place. Katie is a big part of it, and watching her ride Hal around with that big grin on her face was priceless. But having Ike and Cheri understand the horses we like to ride, why we like to ride them, and then come up with ways to help us ride them better was much more than just icing on the cake.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Fenway, the Teacher!

Last weekend ended up being another great horse weekend - A clinic with Ellen in Winters, CA. It's about a two hour trailer trip but luckily Willoughby is an easy traveler. We lucked out and had pretty mild weather - in the 80's and 90's vrs. the triple digits, which is the case most of the time! My first lesson was on Saturday and we worked a lot on his canter. He's still learning to understand the concept of accepting contact and shifting his weight behind instead of hitting the bit and breaking into trot. Basically, he's learning to sit, stay engaged, and to move through his back, in a "rein back" balance while being very forward! This is helping me understand the concept more thoroughly, just by writing it! On Sunday we really made some progress and his canter felt so strong and balanced. I was able to ask him to wait, or collect, or to jump forward off my leg. Having the ability to change the balance, speed, and collection is such a treat after just working on 20 meter canter circles for so long!!! We were able to transfer the same feeling into the trot work too.
I have to admit that when I first got Willoughby, I was slightly dreading going back to the basics all over again. But it's been such a great experience and has been so beneficial to my riding. I know what I want a half pass to eventually feel like, so I understand that type of responses I'll need in the leg yields and shoulder ins. I know what type of canter I'll need to get clean changes down the road, so I can start asking for that type of canter now! When Fenway broke down (Fenway's pictured above), I couldn't fathom what good was going to come out of it. It seems like it was the end of the world (I know I'm dramatic but that horse meant everything to me!). But know I realize that he was the best teacher I could have ever asked for! He was phenomenal! And I miss him a lot!!!

But back to the clinic! It's so neat to feel Willoughby getting stronger and so rewarding to see how he is progressing! It's also great fun to watch the progression of other riders and horses at the clinic. And nothing can beat hanging out with a bunch of horse pals!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Hello from the mountains

Steve and I are currently in Bishop, where we stayed the night in hotel. Aaahhh, hot showers. It just so happens that the rodeo is in town, but I haven't run off with any of the broncs, yet. I guess all things considered, Bar is enough of a handful. :) Besides, he's coming along nicely.

We camped two nights in Devil's Postpile and are headed back up towards the Yosemite area to do some more camping before we head over to Slide Mountain for some time with Ike, Cheri, Tiffany, Amber, and probably some pretty interesting horses.

Katie reported from the home front that things are going fine. She rode Bar yesterday and planned on going back up today to maybe ride both of them. Brave girl. She and Adrienne are driving up on their own Sunday to meet us at Slide so Steve and I can maximize our time away.

More to come later in the journey, when next I have internet access.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Racing perspective

Devon (Bar's first mom) saw my post about Big Brown and sent me an email with some really important perspective from inside the world of Thoroughbred racing.

From Devon:
"I read your recent blog and I want you to know that most race horse owners, trainers, jockeys, exercise riders, grooms all love their horses. Now there are some jerks out there that don’t give a rat’s fart what happens to their horse but most do. You will see that in many other competitive horse sports not just racing. The fact that Big Brown had a quarter crack or didn’t get his steroids, I believe I’m right and so do others including the jockey, is not the reason he ran so poorly. I noticed as they were loading into the gate that the track looked really dry and deep. The way Brownie was traveling by the half mile pole he wasn’t getting a good hold of the racetrack and was tiring really quickly."

She is very passionate about what she does and about the horses she works with, and she understands - and accepts - the sport, the breed, and the industry.

"These horses and I’m around them every single day, love to train, love to race, love to run. Calabar was one of them. He thrived on it. He would have still tried to run on a broken leg because his heart was so big. We aren’t making them do anything they don’t want to do. When they don’t want to anymore we find homes for them or send them out to breed, make sure they have a happy life. I hope you don’t take offense to this letter; I just want to tell you that lots of racetrack people love this sport, spoil their horses and hardly make a dime off of them. They do it because they love it and their animals. The media likes to make us out to be greedy, money grubbing people and I can’t tell you how untrue a lot of that is. I cannot say everyone is good but most are. Sure making money and being successful is great but it is not why a lot of us do this. I wanted to tell you this from someone who is in the business and not from people on the outside looking in."

I told her I wasn't offended at all, that I really welcome her perspective and input. What I didn't tell her is how much her dedication to her horses comes through. There are tragedies and weird things that happen in every sport, and with horses it can seem even more dramatic -- 1,200 pounds writhing on the ground is heart-wrenching for sure. But I do believe her that most of the folks really do love the animals, and I know the horses love to do what they are built to do. Just like any industry, software included, there are people who are only in it for the money, not the craft of the experience of being part of something bigger than themselves. She's also right that it's not just in racing that bizarre owner behavior and desires can injure horses.

The thing is, we should all be trying our best to put good energy into the horses (and people for that matter) in our lives. Devon and Howie do that, and so do most of the people at my barn. Not everyone does, but it is not specific to any one discipline and, while more visible, I'm not sure horse racing is any worse than other events. That is not to justify anything, just to balance the equation a little bit.

I'm hoping for a follow-up on this later this year when Devon and Howie bring their horses up to Santa Rosa for some racing and I can take a backseat and just watch and learn some more about this world Bar came from.

On the road

Steve and I are on the road, off on our week of camping and exploring. We stopped at the barn on our way out to grain and give treats and I'm not yet experiencing any serious horse withdrawal. Tomorrow may be a different story, of course. Luckily, we head to Ike and Cheri's next Sunday, so total horse withdrawal won't be too bad, though I'll still miss my horses.

I had an interesting and very helpful lesson Thursday night, though I'm still a little stiff from it. Bar takes a lot of energy, though possibly it would be less if I could relax a little more. Oh, well.

We started with serpentines all the way around the arena at a walk, then a trot, to loosen and supple him up. They also help get that brain of his focusing on other things besides tossing his head and being grumpy that it's feeding time. Since we were also working back and forth over the ruts in the arena, it made him pay attention to his feet, too. A very good thing for many reasons.

Peter also got the martingale out again, just to take the head tossing out of the equation a little more. Actually, I think it also minimizes the spastic-ness that comes through/from my hands somewhat which is also a good thing.

Yes, I know. I'm really hard on myself.

It was a good lesson, and Bar and I learned a lot and actually had some good balance and position throughout.

I also learned a valuable lesson on Friday. I got to the barn in the morning before work and Peter suggested I ride. I thought about it, but since I was leaving on vacation, I thought I could go into the office, do a few things, then get a ride in later in the day. Ha! So next time, I will definitely plan on a ride in the morning, even if I have to work late.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Another One Bites The Dust!

Yes - I had my share of contact with the dirt this week!
I've been out of town for the last week on a business trip and was so excited to get back to the barn and back to the CA way of life. Don't get me wrong, NYC is great but there's no place like home! I had a great ride on Sunday but I think Willoughby was really showing off for my Grandma who is in town visiting for my sister's high school graduation. I was pleasantly surprised by how steady and strong he felt when I was rode him on Sunday. Come Monday morning I thought I would give him a little treat by riding out in the lower arena - it's a little more open and field like. I lounged him first and then walked for awhile, trotted for awhile, and then asked for canter. He started to get a bit unbalanced in the canter so I put my leg on and asked him to shift his weight behind but instead of listening, he kicked out at my leg, which threw me forward a bit. Because of my weight shifting around, he started bucking, and kept bucking until I landed on my bum. Then he proceeded to gallop around the arena and then up the driveway on pavement. VERY SCARY. Thank goodness someone just happened to be around at the perfect time and was able to catch him. I wasn't hurt at all but I was startled and stunned. It's been years since I've actually come off. I usually avoid situations by jumping off before anything happens!

Looking back I can see there were a few contributing factors and lessons to be learned.
A) Forgetting that he's still a baby! Even though he's been good so far, groundwork is still important and I should especially do more groundwork with him after some time off.
B) Basics - revisit these often, especially after time off! Even though he was good the day before, I should have spent more time yielding at the walk and trot to make sure there weren't any tight spots in him.
C) My saddle
I had just gotten my saddle adjusted before I left on my trip and this was my second ride in it. It's not fitting quite right and is extremely tight on the sides of his withers. I think this could of easily contributed to his outburst. Hence, the saddle fitter is coming back tomorrow!!
D) They're horses - so always wear a helmet!!! (I did have my helmet on!!)

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Big Brown and horse racing

This story and this video make me glad that Bar had owners and trainers that actually like horses.

It is a beautiful thing to watch these equine athletes move, especially when they are healthy. I'd like to think Big Brown just had an off day, maybe didn't feel like racing, but I do have to wonder about the steroids and how much not having it affected him. The racing industry has some things to think about and fix if they want people to keep watching, if they want to not look as bad as they look at the moment.

I love my boy, and I'm glad in a way his injury pulled him off the track and he ended up with us. I know there are a lot of other race horses that aren't as lucky.

Good ride, bad position

Just when you think you've got your position working right, someone takes a picture that proves you are completely out of whack. Drat.

I swear I thought I was sitting back, but the photographic evidence belies what my body was telling me. Or maybe what my head was telling my body, anyway. At least my heels are down, that's one good thing.

Oh, well. Both Steve and Katie said I handled Bar really well today and looked more relaxed on him than I have in a really long time. That does make looking at the pictures that much more scary, though. I mean, how bad did I look when I wasn't relaxed?! I hate to think!

BUT.. poor form and position aside, I did feel good and I was relaxed on him - even if it doesn't look like it - and he was really paying attention to me and cooperating, so I guess I'll take that even if I look bad. I even asked him to canter for me, which I haven't done in awhile, and he did it--after he made sure that was really what I was asking for. I could almost hear him say, "Are you sure? Okay, then, here we go."

Katie and Lena Rey worked on stops a little bit, but mainly just had fun working out a little bit. I look at Katie's position and say... "Ooohhh." Sigh. Hopefully I'll get there one of these days.

Katie then learned that trying to give your boyfriend riding tips is really hard and let Steve take over teaching Brandon how to deal with 1,200 pounds of opinionated spotty horse.

Then both horses got baths, fly spray, and alfalfa. Not a bad day at the barn for any of us, actually.

Friday, June 06, 2008


Bar is coming along very nicely. I rode him last night for about 20 minutes, just at a walk, and he was moving pretty well. He did get a little hesitant around the end of the arena where he fell, though. We've since removed the bandages to air things out and it all looks good. No worries, it wasn't wrapped very tight, mainly to hold the gauze on and the dirt out.

Tonight, I got there before Steve and rode Lena because she hadn't been out since Sunday, the poor girl. Steve got there and didn't think he felt like riding, but ended up changing his mind and brought Bar down to the arena.

Lena and I stepped back and watched while Bar and Steve did a nice canter, switching leads at one point almost effortlessly. Such a beautiful horse to watch.

Steve said he felt Bar tire a little sooner than normal, so slowed him down and walked it out while Lena and I argued about continuing our workout. And there was definitely some arguing.

She and I stayed in the arena loping fast circles until she decided that listening to me was a better option than running off with me. Bar and Steve leaving was bad enough, but then Cindy started graining and things got a little hairy for a moment. But we got through it and she got a good workout -- not too bad for a day's work.

And it was great to see Bar moving pretty comfortably and carefully in the arena.

Owning horses, working with horses, is always a new experience. It's what makes it fun and interesting, after all.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Bar update

Bar seems to be doing fine, though he is a little stiff still. (So is Steve, for that matter.)

I took Bar out and walked him down the driveway and around the grounds last night, watching him walk to see how things were moving. He caught the toe of the bowed tendon leg a few times, but once he loosened up, he was moving smoother and got much better about lifting it. He was also really watching the ground and where he put his feet, so that's good, too. I even made him step up, into, and over a big log box by the arena and he did it without any problems at all. Well, except for being suspicious of the portable awnings nearby, left over from the show back on Memorial Day weekend and flapping in the wind at us.

It was good to see him moving comfortably by the time we were done and it's always good to do groundwork with him and work on those occasionally spotty manners of his. You know, remind him that the short person is in charge, even (especially) on the ground.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Hearts can sink

We had an interesting day in our little horse world today, a little drama along with the normal joys of training difficult horses.

It was a nice sunny and quiet afternoon at the barn and we started out with Katie on Bar and Steve on Lena so I could take some pictures and video. Here are Katie and Bar (and Lena, Steve, Melody and Cruzer, too.)

Bar seemed to be a little lazy today, maybe because of the warmth, and didn't really want to canter much. As many of you know, that's a hair outside the norm for him, and may have led to the last bit of excitement we had.

Steve and I switched off so I could ride Lena, so we adjusted the stirrups and off I went. I felt pretty good, like I was balanced and riding well - yay! Then Katie traded off with Steve so Steve could ride Bar and that's when things got interesting.

I was loping Lena and came back around facing the far side of the arena just in time to see Bar and Steve go down to the ground in a cloud of dust, Steve underneath as Bar rolled to one side. Bar stood up with Steve's foot still in the stirrup and I held my breath in the split second that it took for Steve to pull his foot out of the stirrup. But Bar just stood there, which was a huge relief--until I saw him holding his "bad" leg up in the air and leaning on Steve. They started walking towards Lena and me, Bar limping badly, barely putting his weight on the leg. I really never thought much about the phrase "my heart sank" until I felt mine hit the pit of my stomach.

I was off Lena by then, walking towards them, worried about how to make sure they were both okay, wondering how we were going to get Bar out of the arena if he really couldn't put weight on that leg. I hollered (yes, I was maybe a little panicked) for Katie, who came across the arena and led Lena out by one rein while I unclipped the other to use as a lead rope for Bar. Steve took off Bar's saddle and bridle and I led Bar to the wash rack to clean off and cool down the leg so I could see what we were really dealing with.

Much to my relief, both Bar and Steve started to move more comfortably as we crossed the arena. I got Bar to the wash rack and he even held his leg up for me to rinse. He got a full rinse while I was at it, actually, and started putting more weight on the leg at that point. He'd clipped the back of his right front - the bowed tendon - so it was bleeding, but wasn't super deep. He'd also skinned up both of his knees when he went down, but again, nothing was too deep.

Back to the being lazy part. Steve said Bar just wasn't quite paying attention--arguing and tossing his head instead of watching his feet when asked to canter--and he tripped. We were very lucky it was in the arena where the footing had some give and Steve's leg - trapped under Bar - had a place to go.

We cleaned and wrapped Bar's leg and he was putting what seemed to be normal weight and pressure on it, so I think he'll be fine. Steve is stiff, and thinks he'll be stiffer, but he also seems like he'll be alright. He is currently refusing ice and any hovering attention I might offer.

And if it seems like perhaps I was more preoccupied with Bar than Steve.. well, yes, I confess that was the case. I am only now feeling guilty about it, now that both of them seem like they will recover without any serious damage.

All of this happened while my mother and Cali (the dog) were watching from the other end of the arena. Mom--not being a horse person--did the wise thing and stayed out of the way tending Cali while the rest of us tended horses.