Sunday, November 30, 2008

Bar update

It's been a busy week for us, with much of our family coming to visit for Thanksgiving, so the horses didn't get much work. They did get attention and carrots, but both were anxious to get out by the time Friday rolled around.

Katie took Lena out and both of them had a very good ride. I set the cones up for them, supervised carefully by Lena to make sure they were the proper distance apart for racing around and graceful lead-switching. Bar wanted to come out, but there was too much going on at the barn, and we had Steve's brother, wife, and 4-year old nephew with us, too, so it was just too hectic right then. That may have turned out to be an inadvertent lesson, since Bar was pretty upset watching Lena and Katie run around on such a nice day while he was stuck in his paddock.

I also tried a new tactic to deal with Bar's suddenly recurring habit of nipping--he got a "time out," meaning I left him alone in his paddock for a little while every time he tried to take a bite, which actually seemed to work pretty well.

After we saw everyone off and had lunch, we went home where I fidgeted for a little while. Steve pointed out I couldn't possibly settle down until I went back to the barn, so I went. Bar seemed glad I showed up again, and really excited when I walked over with his bridle. I sat in his paddock, swapping a new bit onto his bridle, while he licked my pant legs and nosed the bridle without even an attempt at a nibble. I know some people would tell me to discourage any mouthy behavior, but I don't have any problem with him being affectionate and he's proven over and over that he knows the difference. He gets a completely different look in his eye when he's about to take a nip--a look that was noticeably absent while he waited for me to finish the bit-swapping.

I think one of the places things started to go astray with him recently was in the round pen, particularly me not enforcing discipline and letting him run loose, including over my commands. Not a good plan, I admit. So this time, I did some basic walking and leading ground work with him, then left him in by himself to give him room to buck and fart to his heart's content while I watched but didn't direct him at all. Then I went back in and asked him to do some more work with me, for me, on the longe line. He was a little confused at first, but he did stick with me and trot some patient circles both directions without arguing, stopped when I asked him to, then walked calmly back up to the barn with me to get saddled--in the dark at feeding time, no less.

It was too late in the day to let him work up much of a sweat, plus he'd gotten a lot of his pent-up exuberance out in the round pen, so I was hoping to work with his brain using my body cues while keeping him at a walk or trot. It actually went pretty well. I worked on slowing his trot with my post rather than my hands, which would have worked better if I'd shortened my stirrups a hair more to get out of the saddle better, but we'll try that next time. He was pretty cooperative, even though I knew he was dying to do more running, and I just concentrated on setting him up to succeed so the session stayed positive for both of us.

I had been a little worried about him physically because he had refused to go forward with Steve the other day, so concentrated on keeping him moving forward and on keeping my hands soft and out of his mouth. I don't think I did a great job, but he gave me most of what I asked for, so I must not have done too badly as far as he was concerned. He is, however, getting a massage Friday from Karen to be sure I haven't missed anything obvious. Yes, my horses are spoiled. I suspect Lena will be miffed when Karen arrives and Lena finds out she's not the one getting the massage.

Bar has been a challenge for me in a lot of ways, but he's also making me think a lot about why I love riding and horses. He's making me be creative with my training and push my skills further every day to figure out ways to show him how to be a better horse.

I know he can be a brat, but he's my brat and I think he's worth it. I also think he's got so much more in him and can teach me so much more about being a rider and horse owner--I just have to convince him it's more fun to work with me than to argue with me.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Crazy horses

I was looking back in my blog posts for pictures of our first trip to Slide with Adrienne and came across this post about riding horses that some people might consider to be a little out of control. Okay, sometimes they are out of control, but then again, I read that post and remembered exactly what it is we love about them.

Some days with Bar, it would help to remember this particular thing. Life is definitely too short for boring, and he is anything but. And now we do have a truck, trailer, two horses, and not enough rain at the moment for it to be an issue.

He could be a little more cooperative at the moment, however, and I would not complain.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Specifics from yesterday

I thought it might be helpful to describe some of Bar's behavior from yesterday because in my experiences with him and in my research into retraining OTTB's, his behavior is pretty typical.

In the arena, he was bolting and rearing--though to his credit, he was not bucking. Steve mostly succeeded in getting and keeping his attention, but again, we decided it was not conducive to Peter giving a good lesson.

Once we got out to the driveway, even with Lena in plain sight, he was dancing and rearing, and at the same time, refusing to go forward--whichever direction Steve pointed him. That is odd behavior for him as he generally dances, but dances forward to get out on the road and have some non-arena time.

As I said, we don't really have any answers. I have some theories about contributing factors--the lesson worried him, we didn't do our normal routine in the round pen, different rider, the perfect cool weather, and a sick horse in the front pasture--but he was far past even his normal obstinate behavior. Whatever the reason for his wackiness, my plan remains the same. Go back to some basics with him, and work him on the ground and in the saddle more consistently. Even if I don't ride him very long, it'll be important to do something with him every day. I also intend to check him for any physical things, but Steve says I may just be looking for excuses that don't exist. (I'm still looking, though.)

Oddly enough, prior to heading to the barn, I bought the book you see on New Vocations Racehorse Adoption's site. It's actually been helpful--the pictures in particular--and gives pretty practical advice, plus some inspirational success stories at the end.

The one theme that kept popping up in the book is "patience." I think some days it will take a little more patience than others, but I have a lot of hope. Not to mention a fair dose of stubbornness in my own personality.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Bar challenges

Maybe it's the time of year. Maybe Bar remembers it's time for him to be racing, not working in boring circles in the arena.

And maybe it's just that he's in good shape and feels strong and healthy.

Whatever it is, the last two days he's been more than just a little feisty. He's been a lot feisty and--today in particular--a lot hard to handle.

After our visit to the track, I do see a lot of the reasons he is the way he is. Racehorses really get to do a lot of things other horses don't get to do--including not always-good-behavior--because you want to keep that fire, that energy, that aggression very much alive in them. How else would they win races? Bar will always have a lot of energy to burn and our job is to figure out how to let him do that in ways we all feel safe, and in ways we can all have fun.

I've been doing a lot of work with him in the round pen--sometimes disciplined longeing and sometimes letting him just burn off steam--always ending with slow, quiet, ground work at a walk, asking him to stay focused on me for at least a few minutes. This is not always an easy task with a horse that really, really likes to pay attention at all times to everything going on around him. Especially when it's super dark outside the edges of the indoor arena and he can hear all kinds of noises--like carts--that suddenly sound completely unfamiliar and dangerous.

It's been working for us, Bar and me, but Steve has a different approach and he and Bar have a different arrangement. Bar gets to run a lot more with Steve (and with Katie) than he does with me. I'm still working on breathing when we get too far above a canter. (But I'm still getting on his back, so I deserve a little credit.)

Last night, I went to the barn after work and decided to take his highness down to the round pen for some informal steam-blowing-off. He did fine, nice canter, not too nutty, and he was perfectly cooperative when we did our leading and body positioning work. He even backed up without me touching him. Not too bad for a goofy racehorse.

The whole time he was super playful, and that included trying to nip here and there, which we had mostly cured early on. I don't mind playful, but I do mind teeth on my skin, thank you very much. Especially because he knows better.

When we were done in the round pen, we worked on the ground in the indoor arena, over poles, etc. He heard someone going by the outside of the wall, and got all wacky, dancing around like he'd never heard a cart or Cindy's voice before. Ever. However. He didn't once come close to running me over, so I knew he was paying much more attention than he was pretending to. Even when he snorted, which I've never heard him do. (It's more up Lena's alley.) Then, after the noise went away, he grabbed the lead rope in his mouth and started tugging it towards the door. I failed at not laughing, but I did tell him he had to let go before we could go. He did.

That was not the end of it.

I have no idea what his issue was, aside from being out of routine in the dark. He wanted to drag me up to his paddock, or to the grass nearby, he didn't care which and reared when I didn't give into his royal bossiness. He did not get the response to that he expected, either, and finally decided that if he wanted to get back to his dinner, walking alongside me quietly was his best approach. There was some serious TB pouting along the way, too.

Now today, by the way, is the anniversary of his last win at Golden Gate Fields, five years ago.

Maybe, just maybe, he is feeling the cool autumn weather and thinking he needs to be racing.

He decided to give Steve a run for his money today. They went straight down to the arena because someone else was using the round pen. Peter was giving a lesson, and Bar did everything but cooperate at first. He sort of settled down, but we figured he was objecting to even the vague possibility of a lesson and instead of disrupting things, we decided to go down the road. But whatever was in the air was not conducive to a smooth ride and Bar fought Steve the whole time, worse than he ever has before.

It was a little odd, and a lot frustrating. Both of us being mad at him seemed to make some impact, but we're not sure how much weight to give that, yet.

Our current plan is to go back to some basics with him, and continue to work with his personality and energy level to come to a better agreement than arguing over who is in control all the time. He has to burn off a certain amount of energy or he won't be able to pay good attention to you. It's the way he is, and we don't really want him to lose that part of himself. We just want him to understand that it's a win-win situation. If he cooperates, we get to do much more entertaining things than if he doesn't. Not to mention we get less grumpy and he gets more love (and carrots) if he works with us.

On the plus side, Lena always seems to realize when we really need her to be the "calm" horse, and she outdid herself today. She stayed quiet and cool while he danced, settling underneath me like a breakwater in front of a storm surge, listening to my voice, following my physical cues without a hint of argument.

I know we have work to do with him, and that days like this will come along where we just can't figure out why he acts the way he does. But I know he has it in him to be good, or at least mostly good, and I know he likes to come out and work with us. I even think he likes us as his humans 99.9% of the time. This is just the beginning of the next part of our journey with him.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Slide Mountain Ranch TV clip

Slide was featured on a show called California Heartland last week! Pretty cool clip, and a good look at how fun their horses are and (IMO) how well they can take you from tenderfoot to a lope in just a few hours.

Here is a link to the clip.

Really makes me miss them and riding up at Slide!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Morning at the racetrack

Steve, Katie, and I got up very early this morning and went down to Golden Gate Fields to get behind-the-scenes look at the world of Thoroughbred racing from Devon and Howie, the people we got Bar from.

We watched some spectacular horses work gently and work hard. It was amazing to see not only such fit and athletic horses in their element--happy and running full tilt on a beautiful morning--but to also see the variety within the racehorses themselves. They don't all look tall, lean, and delicate. Some of them are shorter and stocky, some of them--like Devon and Howie's horse SittyTwoFitty--are tall and sturdy looking. No fragile looking legs on this girl. Here she is getting a post-workout poultice to keep those great legs in top shape.

We also got to see Devon ride their other horse, Continental Cream. They argued a little, which looked vaguely familiar to those of us who have tried to convince Bar to do what we want him to do instead of what he wants to do. Devon and C.C. both look very fierce in the shot below.

I have to say that we didn't see one unhappy horse there. We saw horses that were being taken care of, and that really, really, liked what they were doing. In fact, C.C. seemed to want to run more than she got to on such a fine Bay Area morning.

On the way home, we stopped at the barn to clean and carrot our two. The experience at the track gave me a snapshot into Bar's life, and his brain. He is bouncy, and a little bossy, but he wants to have fun and he wants to work. It also made me realize that he needs to work a little bit most every day and I need to give him that time and energy as often as I can. Of course, Lena needs that time and energy, too, because she is--after all--the spoiled first horse, aka Princess.

It was a really cool experience and I'm glad we did it for a whole lot of reasons. As Devon pointed out, watching these active racehorses showed us that Bar isn't nearly as wild and crazy as he could be. And he is who he is, and I even like him that way. A lot.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Horses and the internet

Trying to find reliable horse information on the internet can be both time-consuming and not very fruitful. It's also downright scary if you're looking up symptoms or health issues. (Which I mostly avoid dong because, well, I'm really enough of a worry-wort as it is.)

Sometimes you can find fun stuff, though, like your horse's pedigree online.

Oddly enough (or maybe not), if you go back a bit on both Lena's and Bar's pedigrees, you find Man O'War.

I actually don't care much about what genetics make up my two horses. Their personalities mean more to me than the bloodlines they came from, though I am glad they both inherited good confirmation.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Another fan of Slide Mountain Ranch

Cheri from Slide Mountain, where Lena came from, sent me an email reminding me they are going to be featured on California Heartland on KVIE Monday night, November 17th, at 7:30 p.m. There is a preview of the episode at the link, and the broadcast schedule can be found here. I hope we get KVIE, or I'll have figure out how to tape the show when it airs on KQED Thursday at 2:30 p.m.!

She also sent me a link to another blogger who is a fan of theirs - In the Nicker of Time. I added my own comments to her piece about Slide, of course.

Just wanted to give a shout out to the folks at Slide, since we wouldn't be where we are with our wild and crazy horses without them. And that's a good thing!

p.s. Looks like I might be able to watch the episode online when they post it here. Phew!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Day in the sun, or at least no rain

We had a little break in the weather today and got both horses out in the outdoor arena. Katie was riding Lena, and Steve and I took turns with Bar. I started out on photography duty as Katie is writing a paper on the Thoroughbred racing industry and wanted some pictures of Lena, Bar, and I think most of the other horses in our paddock row to compare feet, bone mass, and confirmation.

Both Bar and Lena have great confirmation, but it's easy to see the differences in their structures and in the way they move. Bar has a long, easy stride--his rear footprints easily end up in the holes his front feet made--but isn't as laterally flexible (yet) as Lena is. They feel entirely different to ride, too. Some of that is practice and (for my part, anyway) the ability to relax and work with the horse. I'm mostly much more relaxed on Lena and can stay out of her way better. But they still feel different from each other. Bar feels more elevated. Like he springs up between strides. Lena feels very solid and fluid, but like I'm staying level, not rising up and down. They are, after all, cut from fairly distinct molds, not to mention near opposite backgrounds and bloodlines, so it makes sense that they don't feel exactly the same from up in the saddle.

I know there are obvious training issues for both horse and rider, and I'll surely have a revised opinion in a few months, but right now, at my level of (in)experience, that's how these two horses feel to ride.

On a side note, it's also the first time in a few months that Bar and I have been back in the outdoor arena at anything higher than a walk. We just worked on a steady, consistent trot today, but he was paying attention and giving me what I asked for, so I figure that's a win for both of us. Woo!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Winter training

Ah, the rain has started. And with the rain comes the annual challenges of keeping your horses healthy, active and in shape, in inclement weather with limited hours of daylight. One of the benefits of our barn, and one of the reasons we picked the facility, is the indoor arena. It does give us a place to work the horses even when it's pouring rain, but it is not without drawbacks.

The first foray into the indoor arena is always interesting, let alone when the rain is drumming hard on the roof, drowning out other sounds as the ears start flipping back and forth and heads pop up in the air, your horse using every excuse to jump sideways. Not that they need many excuses with all that going on, of course.

But probably the hardest thing is to give them a good workout without getting them too hot, too sweaty, to put their blanket back on and put them away. Our two like a good run to blow off steam and this is a hard time of year to do that at night.

In other words, time to get creative and come up with different workouts, maybe ride more often but for shorter times, just to keep them working and keep us riding.