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!!!

Monday, August 04, 2008

Notes to other drivers

We took the horses out yesterday and had a great ride, but--as often happens--I was witness to some driving that had me scratching my head, shaking my head, or wanting to hurl horse poop at the offending driver with as much force as possible. I got passed twice (!!) in double-yellow zones yesterday, and we were going the speed limit!

So on the way home, I started to think of things I wish people knew about those of us hauling horse trailers.

We have to put them in a horse trailer to get them away from the barn, something that I enjoy as much as you might be enjoying your drive through wine country (possibly more), and I have just as much right to be on the road as you do. I'm just not going to be in a hurry about it. I am carrying two 1,200 pound friends that I would really like to be in a good mood whenever I get to wherever it is we're going, so it is really important to drive with as much care as if I had my daughter in the back. Possibly more because it's 2,400 pounds that doesn't understand or care why you had to slam on the brakes, just that it's terrifying and they are tied into a metal box they can't escape.

So, here are some simple things I'd like people to know:

  • I don't make any sudden changes if I can help it. I don't stop fast, I don't speed up fast, and I surely don't turn fast. My job when I'm hauling my horses is to keep things as smooth and consistent as I can.

  • To accomplish bullet point one, I like to leave myself adequate following distances between me and the car in front of me so I have room to maneuver if necessary. Please think about that before you use it to weave around the guy in your lane you think is going too slow.

  • I will try to go the speed limit as best I can, but sometimes I have to take things easier than you do in your sports car or motorcycle. I'm really not driving slowly just to piss you off or get in your way, so try to refrain from flipping me off as you pass me.

  • If I feel like there is a safe place to pull over, I will. If there isn't, I'm not going to risk my horses, truck, or trailer to get out of your way. Riding my bumper and/or weaving back and forth right behind me will not change that. Not to mention I can't see you when you're drafting off my trailer. And you really (really) don't want to hit my trailer.

  • When you are getting on the freeway and see me lumbering along in the slow lane coming up to your entrance, it's really okay to accelerate to freeway speed and get in front of me--as long as you don't cut me off. Don't be polite. Don't waffle. GO! See the first bullet point for why I don't want to slow my vehicle down while you figure out what to do.

I'm sure there are more things I could add, but if you all have other pet peeves, please feel free to share.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Back to Basic Training

Trail riding is great, and if we could, we'd probably do most, if not all, our training out on the trail. But we can't and it's necessary to do arena work for all kinds of good reasons. The problem recently is not just that our horses that don't want to work in the arena, it's that their humans are bored of circles, too.

But training still needs to happen and one of the interesting things I've experienced as I learn to train my horses is even things you've tried before that didn't seem to work can have different results when you come back to them again.

Longing is a tried and true training tool, one I've used in the past with both Bar and Lena with very limited success, and had abandoned for different reasons with each horse. Lena doesn't really get tired, and when she was an only horse, Steve would ride first and take care of all her goofy behavior so by the time I got on, she was mostly obedient. (Mostly.) When we first got Bar, the round pen was way more trauma than it was worth. He was new and we were making him deal with two enclosed spaces--the round pen within the indoor arena--complete with a whole set of echoes he wasn't used to. Oh, and pigeons, we can't forget the pigeons. By the time he settled in with us and his new home, we didn't really want to be in the indoor arena anymore, either. The fact that both Steve and I get a little dizzy longing doesn't help, nor did the fact that it really didn't seem to take the edge off either horse.

But in my desperation to alleviate the arena boredom and still get both exercise and discipline to happen, I decided to give it a whirl and see what happened. So far, both of them have worked really well for me. They actually seem to be willing to cooperate, listen to my voice commands--both on and off the actual longe line--which enables us to work on things like ground manners and doing what I tell them to do when I tell them to do it without all the other baggage that sometimes happens when I'm in the saddle.

Not that I have any baggage, of course.

It was also a great opportunity for me to watch them in action from the ground and without a rider, so I could see their natural movement. Both horses move well, though sometimes Bar has a hitch in his right rear before he warms up a little. (And don't we all after a certain age!) I always start him out going counter-clockwise, since it seems to be easier for him (or more natural, probably) to go that way. I had both of them responding not only to voice (cadence) cues to go faster, but also to slow down. Since neither one of them slows down very well, I felt particularly good about the latter.

Cindy--Peter's wife--and I were talking about how sometimes, when all else fails, going back to the basics can be a good training tool. It allows you to work on something simple and that gives both you and your horse a positive outcome, which fosters trust and growth.

It is one of those things I know, and certainly one of those things people have told me before, but seems to be better learned by stumbling over it again.

And maybe the real lesson is to kick yourself out of a rut sometimes just to see what happens.