Friday, July 25, 2008

Where do my horses meet technology?

I've been away again, surrounded by the normal trappings of my "real" job in the technology industry and far away from the dirt and manure of my preferred job as horse owner. This time I was in Portland for my favorite O'Reilly conference, OSCON. We had fun photographing all the folks who came to show us their old O'Reilly t-shirts. There were some real classics in the bunch! The booth was comfortable and attendees, authors, and editors had a place to sit down and talk about everything from books to podcasting and video to Perl 6.

Surrounded by all this technology talk usually means that if horses come up at all, it's because I bring them up, but I decided not to this time and went a more passive route. We had ribbons on our badge holders that you could use to express what conference tracks you were interested in. Perl, PHP, Databases, etc., and while I'm interested in those things from a theoretical standpoint, I'm certainly not capable of holding a coherent conversation about coding with the experts that surrounded me. So I decided to make my own little ribbon that said "Horses" and let others start the conversation if they wanted to. Some people laughed and asked if I were serious, but a few people actually had horses, had horse stories, or just wanted to talk about horses for a minute or two in and amongst the technology buzz.

Swirling around me in the conference noise was a lot of talk about where technology intersects other interests--space, politics, parenting, you name it. For me, that "other interest" is obviously horses, and this blog is where those two things come together. I'm probably never going to be considered a leading technologist in my day job, but some of the comments I've gotten on this blog let me know that--as obscure as it is--it does provide insight and information to other horse people out there. It has also connected me with people in different disciplines that I might otherwise never have met. It's a virtual extension of one of the things I love most about owning horses--the actual, physical community of horse people.

The horse community can be a little odd, but it has also proven to me time and time again that regardless of what kind of riding you do, there is a basic love of the sport and a kinship between those that choose to answer the call that transcends what kind of saddle you use. When I fell off Bar at the beach, the other riders not only came to make sure I was okay, but also accepted Bar and the situation at face value, and helped get him taken care of, too. They may have talked later about how crazy we were, but in the moment, they did what had to be done to make sure rider and horse were safe.

I'm just an ordinary owner, one who is sometimes a little overwhelmed by the challenges we have with our two horses. I suspect I'm not the only one who gets frustrated with herself for not doing better, and probably not the only one who has horses who get hurt, get tired of the arena, or snort at bridges. If even one thing I write helps someone a little bit (or at least makes them laugh), I feel like I'm giving something back.

So for me, technology and horses are not mutually exclusive. However, taking the laptop to the barn or twittering on your iPhone from the saddle is definitely not recommended.

Monday, July 21, 2008

More trail riding

My daughter Katie and I took Bar and Lena back out to Shiloh on Sunday and had a great time. Bar did great and Lena was less spooky about branches and benches, though she was still a little snorty about the bridge. You can see how high she lifted those big feet of hers. Katie says she just likes to make noise. Bar paid attention as he went across, but with quite a bit less drama than Lena Rey.

Bar did a lot more trotting and even a tiny bit of loping this time to keep up with Lena, and even handled running into other horses and hikers with curiosity and calmness instead of being worried. (He even stuck his big, brown nose in someone's face - much to my embarrassment! "No, Bar, I'm sure he doesn't have treats for you.") He gets tired going downhill and sometimes tries to rush it, but he's working on it and I'm working on helping him and also trusting him to watch his feet. He still makes me (and Steve, too) a little nervous when he starts acting like he's in a hurry and not necessarily like he's really paying attention to where his feet are on the trail. Though the fact that he did trot more seems to indicate he's gaining confidence on the trail, so that's something to consider.

He and Lena did some dual sloshing in the water trough at the end of the ride and both of them got back in the trailer with much less resistance than last week. Bar likes to look out over the vineyards and would stop to stare out over the valley whenever we'd come to a place he could do that. I thought I'd take a picture of my handsome Thoroughbred looking regal and calm after our ride. Little did I know he was sticking his silly tongue out! That's kind of the epitome of Bar, though. Beautiful, curious, and totally goofy.

All in all, it was a really nice ride and I think it was good to go back there and face some of the same challenges. Katie called me a Bar-hog (we were supposed to switch horses), but she had fun with Lena, and Bar and I worked on challenging and trusting each other a little bit more.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Bar loses a shoe

Bar has typical Thoroughbred feet -- thin-walled, peel-y, prone to cracks -- so he has to have shoes all the time on all four feet. Mike has done a great job with Bar's feet, keeping them strong and getting them shaped well, and -- up until now -- keeping shoes on those feet of his.

Tuesday afternoon, Steve got to the barn and took Bar out intending to ride him. He brushed Bar, cleaned three feet and got to the left front (the upright hoof) and found the shoe missing. Poor Bar got put back into his pen and Steve rode Lena instead. Steve didn't find the shoe, so I worried a little bit about a shoe with nails sticking out of it laying where he might step on it.

As it turned out, the nails were still in his hoof and the shoe, with no pokey nails, was in the dirt in his pen, minding its own business.

Mike said his foot looked fine, and gave me some things to watch for in the future. If Bar seems sore going uphill, it's in his toe; if he seems sore going downhill, it's in his heel. Bar wasn't acting particularly sore, just still figuring out his way up and down hills, but it was good information.

Mike has had his trials with Bar, and has every reason to assume that Bar won't always behave just for Bar's own funky reasons. But after Mike got the shoe on the upright foot and moved onto the other front foot, Bar actually reared up. Mike put the front foot down and stepped back, his whole body focused on my horse. He walked around Bar and picked the upright foot back up, looking for blood to see if he ran a hot nail. He pulled one particular nail, no blood. He checked the foot again after he got all four shoes on and it all looked fine, but he decided not to put that nail in again, just to be on the safe side.

I like Mike a lot, and love the work he does with both horses' feet. But watching him stop and re-assess what was going on, not assume it was just Bar being bad, solidified my faith in our farrier. (That and the fact that a) Mike shows up on time and b) calls me to remind me of our appointment.)

Bar seems to be sound and his feet look great. And I got to learn good things about hoof care and about how good my farrier is.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Saving horses from the arena

After two weeks of boring (at least to them) arena work, we rescued the horses from one more day of big and small circles and took them out on the trail today.

Both horses loaded pretty easily, though as usual, Lena fussed a bit about being in front. We had decided to go out to Shiloh Regional Park--which is right by the barn Katie D. keeps Bee and Willoughby--just to try somewhere new. I'd called Katie to see if she wanted to go with us, but Bee hadn't been out for awhile, and she wasn't sure about Willoughby being ready, yet, so she said she'd just see us off on her way to the barn instead.

She got quite a show.

We got to the parking lot and there were several trucks and trailers already parked there, plus a kid's birthday party starting, complete with a big, blow-up Jumpy-Jump.

Oh, boy.

Bar started acting a lot like it was race day, dancing and looking around with big, wide eyes. I barely got him to stand still long enough to get on! Then, when we actually headed up the trail, neither he or Lena would go past who-knows-what they thought was going to eat them. Bar spun around several times, and we couldn't get Lena to take the lead, which usually gets him to settle out long enough to get us rolling.

I am pleased to say I kept my head--and my seat--and didn't panic. I just kept circling him and correcting him and trying again. Steve finally suggested we walk them around the parking lot a few times, though it was really more like dancing around the parking lot, and that finally got them calm enough to start up the trail.

About 100 feet up the trail, I heard voices coming down the trail towards us fast enough I was pretty sure it was mountain bikers. I shouted out a warning and the rider in front skidded to a stop a few feet in front of Lena. Some weird and unfathomable (at least by me) horse logic prevailed and neither horse budged an inch and we walked past the two bike riders without incident. Human head-scratching is still going on, however.

We traveled uphill and downhill, past scary tree limbs and truly terrifying park benches, on wide trails and narrow trails, and past a lake. We stopped at the top to have lunch and I noticed a lot of Yellow Starthistle, so wouldn't let them graze at all, much to their dismay. Steve and I switched horses after lunch, too, like we normally do. It seems to be good for both horses to work with different riders, and trail riding is no exception to that rule.

One of our biggest hurdles was the BRIDGE. Lena took one look at it and tried to turn around and go back the other way--about 4 times, actually. I nudged her forward and we clattered across it, her snorting and blowing the whole time. Steve, behind me on Bar, said she had her legs spread out and her head down, reminding him of a cat stepping in something unpleasant. Bar was acting a lot like he wished Lena would get out of the way so he could get across the darn bridge, already.

We ended the day with Lena slopping around in the trough and both horses refusing to get in the trailer. We obviously got them into the trailer again and all of us ended up at home, a little weary, but safe.

We did a lot of good work with ourselves and with the horses today, both training and trust-building. It was also a good day for me, dealing with Bar in a volatile situation, not having it escalate, and even working through it in a way that gained us a lot of ground.

In other words, as tired as I am after waking up at 4:30 a.m., running coffee up and down stairs for O'Reilly's annual Foo camp event, wrestling with horses and actually getting them to cooperate, I'm feelin' pretty darn good at the moment. Yahoo!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Arena Fatigue

Bar has been experiencing a bit of arena fatigue over the last week or so. Steve noticed it first on Sunday when Bar stopped dead on the way down the hill to the arena. Once they got into the arena, Bar tried for him, but was obviously not interested in working on the normal arena way, so when I got down there with Lena, we went down the road and out the bike trail. I think Bar would have kept walking forever. Well, for a longer time than we were out, anyway.

I worked him pretty lightly in the arena last night and while he was good for me, responsive and calm, he was not enthused. Then we walked down the driveway and I had to argue with him to turn around and head back to the barn. I swear he sighed. I promised him we'd go out at least once this weekend.

So today, Katie and I met at the barn and she took Bar out. We set up the jump and some side poles and she trotted him over them in circles, making him pay attention to his feet and keeping him entertained. She didn't work him very long, stopped when he was feeling good and happy, and we walked down the driveway. There was still a minor rebellion, but not as bad as yesterday.

I don't blame him at all. The arena work does get tedious and repetitious. It was really good for him to do something different today, and I think it will be good for all of us to get out on the trail again soon.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Magic Naps

I've just returned from the Pebble Beach Dressage Show, my favorite horse show and favorite event of the summer! This was Willoughby's second show with me and I'm proud to say that it was quite an improvement over our last show in May.
I went down to the show last Wednesday so I could have two days of schooling with Ellen. We competed on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. All of our tests went well. We had some baby bobbles in each test, except one, and areas that needed work, but overall the tests were consistently good. We had one fabulous test - one of the best tests I've ever ridden. It was our first level test 4 ride on Friday evening and the whole test was perfect in my book! We rode every single stride together and we're in each other's heads. It was the feeling of being one!! When we finished the trot portion of the test, I thought to myself that I would be so happy with just the trot work if the rest of the test didn't go well. But it kept on going well and by the time we did the last movement and went down centerline, I had a huge smile on my face! And we got a 68% on the test, our highest score yet!

I was also quite proud of the way that he handled himself. It was windy, cold, and foggy, and the arenas were very spooky. He got a little tense at times but he held it together and was very honest! It doesn't get spookier than Pebble Beach!

Pictured is Willoughby taking a magic nap. He took a nap everyday at the show, sometimes two naps! And he would lay all the way down with his head in the shavings, snoring and twitching like a dog sleeping. At first I was worried that he might have a tummy ache but with all the eating, drinking, and defecating, I put that worry to rest and learned that these magic naps were key to his success in the show ring!

Everyone else at the show did really well. Katey A. and Andy placed #1 in the first level stakes class, Katy P. and Wrivet kicked butt as usual, and unfortunately Odie got the flu and ended up scratching her rides. I'm sad that it's over but I'm glad to be out of the cold and foggy weather!

Monday, July 07, 2008

Wesley the yoga cat

Sometimes Wesley likes to show us lowly humans what true yoga poses look like. He likes to call this one "Upward Facing Cat" and says it's not nearly as lewd as it looks.

Trip pictures

I finally got around to uploading more of our trip pictures to

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Yellow Bristle Grass revisited

Yesterday, I had a comment on my mouth sores post from a woman in Minnesota, and another a few weeks ago from someone else on my culprit post. The latter was someone local wanting to find out what to look for and where that hay had come from, but since the little beastie grass had come up twice in the last few months, I decided to see what all I could find out.

I went to the internet to see if I could find out if this lovely weed is pervasive across the country and it is indeed found in most states in the U.S. See the range map on this site, which also has several good pictures of it in all sorts of phases. It's sort of benign looking for the most part, but it was not at all benign when it came in contact with soft horse noses and lips. It also caused some funky discoloration of Lena's teeth, inflammation of the gums, and Katie says bad breath, too.

It didn't affect Lena's appetite at all, but the sores were really nasty looking and impossible to heal until the hay went away, so I'm glad we figured it out. Well, I'm glad Dr. Kerr figured it out, anyway.

Miscellaneous horse news

Things are settling back into routine now that we're home. Lena got new shoes and both horses got nice long rides yesterday. Steve noticed that Bar responds pretty well to the two-handed trick we learned at Slide Mountain. I'll have to try that next time I ride my big brown monster. I rode Lena and felt like my position and balance were both in the right place and consistent, too. I had her paying attention to my cues pretty well, as well as responding to what I asked her to do easily and (mostly) smoothly.

Steve and I have both settled back into work, but notice that it's a lot more tiring to try to ride during the week when you're not on vacation.

Katie D. is at the Pebble Beach Dressage Show with Willoughby, but sadly, there are no pictures of her up on the site just yet. :) I hope they have a good time and learn a lot.

Nothing much new at the barn, except of course that board has gone up some to cover the increase in hay prices. Cheri says they had to raise their prices, too, just to cover costs. It looks like prices are not quite doubled from last year, but even so, that's a big difference.

It is nice to be home and to settle back into our normal routine, but Steve and I thought it would also be nice to wander around the Sierras on horseback for a few more weeks.