Thursday, December 31, 2009

Last post of 2009

Last post of 2009
Originally uploaded by spottyhorse67

Sunset and moonrise from yesterday. Happy New Year, all.

Weird local horse mystery to share

This is a story from our local paper about an old horse skeleton (complete with saddle and tack) found in a park.

I wonder if somewhere back down the trail from the horse skeleton, there might be a bucked-off human skeleton? Or did they just walk back to the truck and go home without the horse? Very odd indeed.

Happy New Year

Yes, it's New Years Eve and I'm at home, on the sofa, blogging. I guess I'm just not much for being out there with the rest of the world.

It's been a crazy year in a lot of ways. It started off with losing my job of six years, but thankfully finding a new one a month later. (And still liking it so far, a nice bonus.)

It's been a year of watching my father struggle with his increasingly poor health, being sure to treasure the time I spend with him now and value the pieces of myself that come from being raised by him.

It's been a year of balancing both horses with a more professional job--one where showing up disheveled and muddy after going to the barn first doesn't really work. That has been hard for me, because it always seems there is more to do. Steve frequently reminds me our horses get more attention and exercise than 80% of the horses out there, but it is easy to feel inadequate when I see Lena's "I'm neglected" face staring out through the pen rails.

It's been a year that included watching Steve heal and get back to riding after an accident that could have been much worse than it was, but is still causing ripples here and there. (The vertigo tends to pop up sometimes, which is aggravating.) The feeling of mortality is a bit unnerving, but it reminds me to belly up to the bar and live life because the Mack Truck could be waiting right around the corner.

And finally, it's a year in which my daughter has started figuring out her own path--which (as of yesterday) includes her own horse, a sweet little Quarter Horse mare named Sammy. I would not necessarily have recommended this for her, but there are times as a parent you have to step back and let them figure it out. This is one of those times and she will learn something no matter how it turns out for her.

I don't know what 2010 has in store for us all, besides another birthday of course, but the lessons we take from this year are sure to serve us well into next.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 27, 2009


As the first decade of the 21st century winds down and I take a moment to reflect, it seems to me that horses in general--and my horses in particular--have given me a great gift.

They have also given me a lot of challenges and--this year in particular--some rather terrifying experiences. I am truly thankful that Steve's injuries have healed, were not worse than they were, and that he will still get on and ride. Someone asked me shortly after the accident if we were going to get rid of the horses and I have to confess it had not even occurred to me to do that. Luckily, it never occurred to Steve, either.

Both horses have had influence on and from us in 2009, each tossing their decidedly different quirks and personalities into the mix.

Lena has gotten less attention from me this year, and I haven't decided yet if that's good or bad. She has definitely made it clear that she would prefer to remain horse numero uno, at least where food and human focus are concerned, but on the other hand, she really doesn't need to be the center of attention for all three of us. I do have some goals for her for next year--mostly figuring out ways to get her out of her spooky little head by giving her other ways to use that big brain besides levitating sideways at the mere sight of something new.

Bar has gotten the bulk of my attention this year, and that will probably continue to some extent in 2010, though with a lot more work from the saddle going forward. Partly as a result of the ground work--and partly because of my own stubbornness and his willingness to keep at it with me--the trust (and fun) level between us has progressed. That's pretty exciting and keeps me focused on what we can do together, rather than what reaction I'll have to have to counter-act whatever thing he might do. Better not to send out those self-fulfilling prophecies in any case.

I don't really do resolutions, but I do like coming up with a plan for each horse for the next year. Nothing exact, mind you, but something that gives us all something to work towards in the never-ending quest to be better horse-humans.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Winter feet

Every winter, our farrier has to visit a little more often than during the dry times of the year. Not because of hoof disease (knock wood), but mostly because Bar has Thoroughbred feet and his shoes do not always stay as connected to his feet as we would like.

Lena has awesome feet--big and well-formed, with solid and thick hoof walls. Mostly, the only time her shoes come off is when she steps on them herself and pulls one off.

Bar, as mentioned in previous posts, has fairly typical feet for his breed. Racehorses are built and bred to be light and go fast, so they don't always end up with tough, sturdy feet. His feet have, however, gotten much better with the work our wonderful farrier, Mike, and Farrier's Formula.

Every winter, it's a dance to see how long we can go between shoeing as the moisture and mud soften Bar's already thin-walled hooves, letting the shoes work themselves loose. Last year, we added clips to the mix during the worst of the wet, but that's a trick, too. Clips can weaken the hoof wall by allowing bacteria to get behind the clip, so it's a balance between keeping the shoes on his feet and adding to the problems. We also use a lot of iodine to keep that bacteria in check and to harden his hooves as much as possible.

The horses were just shod on the 18th, so when I took Bar out today to work him in the round pen, I did a cursory check to be sure he did indeed have all four shoes on--which he did. After his work, I took him up to treat his hooves with the all-important iodine and noticed that two nails in the left front had wandered out of the hoof and gotten flattened out against the bottom of the shoe.


Luckily, Mike is available to come out on Monday and fix it. He knew exactly what hoof and even what part of the hoof because he'd set the shoe to try to give Bar's hoof enough room to flex with the moisture.

Seems like there is always more to learn, always more to try to make a horse's life better.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy holidays!

Happy holidays!
Originally uploaded by spottyhorse67

It's been an interesting and sometimes scary year, but all in all, I'm glad to have lived it!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Extra horse time

Steve has recently started playing music with some friends a few nights a month, which means he gets to expand his guitar skills and I get extra time with the horses! Quite the win-win situation!

Most evenings, I have just enough time to work both horses a little (in the round pen), or one horse a lot. Over the last year, this has meant that Bar has gotten the lion's share of my attention because, frankly, he needed it more. However, with winter here, Lena has started to benefit from my slightly lower energy level. After a long day at work, in the cold and dark, ground work sometimes wins out over coming up with a creative under-saddle lesson plan. It also helps that a lot of the improvements in Bar have been due to the foundation work we've done on the ground, so it will be interesting to see if Lena benefits from it as well.

Tonight, the horses both got exercise (and all-important rolling-without-blankets) in the round pen, then plenty of currying, massage, and brushing.

It suited all of us just fine.

Playing with style and layout

I'm experimenting with a new look and layout, so bear with me as we go through some trials here on Spotty Horse News.

I thought about changing the name, too, since Bar is very definitely not spotty, but I like it the way it is. I guess I'll have to figure out a way to connect the dots to him. Pun (such as it is) intended.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Mother-Daughter bonding over abscesses

Katie is house/horse/mule/dog/chicken sitting until the 27th and called me the other night because one of the horses had abscesses pop through in the heel bulbs of both front hooves. Poor guy--one would be bad enough!

Cowboy was wearing pads on both front feet--probably to protect his soles--and they seemed to collect a lot of, well, you can guess. Not only collect it, but hold it up against the sole of the foot where it can ferment and do all kinds of good (bad) stuff.

We decided to pull his shoes (with the owner's permission), and Katie needed tools and first aid supplies, so I agreed to head down there early Sunday morning and assist.

It's really amazing what this parent-child bond gets one to do.

Cowboy was not a terrible patient and we did get the shoes off and his feet cleaned up, treated with Ichthamol (a truly nasty but effective substance), and wrapped in diapers and duct tape for the night. I have to say Katie does a nice job of creating a diaper-and-duct-tape boot for a horse. It seems to be in the prep work, which appears to include holding her knife in her teeth.

Last I heard--which was this morning since the cell phone service is a little spotty where she is--the diaper boots were still on Cowboy's feet and Katie was prepping to go out and check on him again. She planned on laying everything out before even going to get him out of the paddock, since he is now vaguely suspicious of buckets and medical supplies.

Silly horse doesn't know yet how good Katie is. Or how stubborn.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Winter antics

Lena hadn't gotten much exercise in a couple days, and it had been four for Bar, so it was definitely hitting critical mass tonight. Weeknights don't offer enough time to ride both horses, but they really needed OUT, so we headed to the round pen.

The first thing each of them did--after being blanketed for several days--was roll. It's not that they don't lay down while in their protective gear, but rolling is really a treat for them this time of year. And roll they did. Lena got both sides at least once, and Bar very thoroughly rolled twice on one side, then twice on the other, before he would even consider any exercise. Not that I blame him, of course. It would be hard to be inside the same clothes, skin and hair starting to itch, day after day after day. Bleh.

And the exercise for both was mostly productive, if only to get at least a little bit of the spit shaken out. Lena was thoroughly distracted by another boarder and her Thoroughbred, Romeo, and proceeded to raise up her tail and gallop around snorting to get his attention. Luckily, Manna is a very good rider and took it all with good humor. "It's good for him," she said, correcting Romeo's dancing. Nice to have people like that around my nutty horses--people willing to take responsibility for their own horses, and also accepting of other horses and their sometimes less-than-docile behavior. Thankfully, Lena did settle down, give me her attention, and get a decent workout.

Bar definitely wanted to stretch his legs, so he got to canter a bit more than usual, though it was peppered here and there with some trotting to get him to work on his transitions some more. And then he had to show off with some bucking when another barn-mate went by with two of his girlfriends from the big pasture. Sometimes he is such a boy. He did also settle down and relax into a nice, smooth, steady trot, listening to me talk to him and sing The Dixie Chicks like I usually do.

Both got carrot stretches, too, so were nice and limber by the time they got back to their paddocks to finish their dinner.

Winter is hard, but it invites more creativity to help keep them entertained and interested in what we're doing. Sometimes it's just a matter of tossing in one thing that's a little different, like a ladder sitting in a different place or asking them to cross an obstacle in a new way. Sometimes it's just trying to ask them for something in a way they understand.

Who exactly is training whom? You have to wonder, don't you?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

New York Racing industry comes down against slaughter

Saw this post on The Second Race, a blog about giving ex-racers of all breeds a second chance.

I'm glad to see the racing industry stepping up to the plate. I know some really wonderful people in the industry, people who really care for their horses and make sure they go to good homes, and I've written before about the bad stuff not being confined to the racing industry.

While I'd like to see the whole industry deal with this issue, the very thing that makes horse racing such a huge target can really allow it to make a difference--across all breeds and all disciplines.

Winter Work

It seems as if winter arrived this week with quite a vengeance. Now for California, anything below 40 degrees is pretty cold, and it got into the 20s this week! It warmed up a little as the rain started--back up to the 30s at night and high 40s during the day. Br.

With winter comes the annual challenge of getting the horses exercised, but not too hot, blanketed but still keeping them aired out, not to mention staying warm and dry enough ourselves to avoid being miserable out there.

My theory with cold is to not even let it in because once that chill starts, it doesn't let go. The trunk of the car contains many layers of clothing at all times--down, extra socks, jackets, gloves, and the all-important hat. Once dressed, I resemble the Michelin Man just a little, but am warm enough to stand in the round pen while the horses get their exercise.

Of course, if there is riding involved, overheating quickly becomes a factor. All good Californians learn to layer and I am no exception. The trick is really to layer in the appropriate order so stripping is both quick and removes exactly the right amount of insulation.

However, the other thing that happens when the days get shorter and the rain really gets started is a distinct lack of motivation to be out in the dark and dismal weather--and not just on my part. Bar in particular hates the mud and the rain. He will stand under his shelter in the back of his paddock looking out over the mud as if to say, "Can't you make it stop?" He does, however, appreciate getting his blanket off and having a good roll in the round pen this time of year, which is helpful when it comes to convincing him to emerge to do a little work.

But even if it means dancing through the roar of rain on the metal roof every year like they've never heard it before, at least we have the indoor arena so there is a place to let them stretch their legs and get out of the weather.

And some days, maybe even most, motivation wins out over wanting to snuggle under a blanket and get out of the rain.

Brief break in the rain

Brief break in the rain
Originally uploaded by spottyhorse67

Got carrots?

Got carrots?
Originally uploaded by spottyhorse67

Steve and Bar

Steve and Bar
Originally uploaded by spottyhorse67

Monday, December 07, 2009

Mystery Horse Injuries

When we got back from our hail-filled trail ride yesterday and put the horses away, we noticed Lena's right eye was a little swollen. It didn't seem to be bothering her, nor did we see any obvious trauma, so Katie promised to check on it today and we went home.

Really, I tried not to worry too much.

Katie got there today and it is still swollen, though not as badly, and there isn't any discharge coming from it. She sent me pictures, though, to try and prevent the worry from increasing.

It's only slightly working, only because Katie will check on it tomorrow and let me know if it looks worse.

What caused it? Who knows. Maybe she got hit in the eye by the hail. Maybe she poked it while sticking her nose back in the trailer window from the outside to grab Bar's hay. Maybe she bonked it while rubbing on something.

Steve asked if I fretted this much about Katie when she was growing up. Um, no, actually not. "Is it bleeding? No? Then you're fine." Not really sure what turned me into such a "Mom" when it comes to the horses, but it appears to be permanent.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Hail of a trail ride

Katie wanted to go on a trail ride today, even though temperatures (for California, anyway) were awfully chilly. So we grabbed a lot of layers and headed to the barn to load up the horses.

As we were getting ready, one of our barn-mates pulled in with her truck and trailer (and daughter), headed out on a trail ride, too, so we decided to go together. It's was a good test for Bar, and it seemed like time to see how he'd do with new horses in the mix.

Lisa and her daughter, also named Jessica, go out pretty often. Poupon, Lisa's 20-year old Arab, is an ex-endurance horse. They also have a Mustang named Winston that usually lives next to Lena. Lena likes to pester Winston at home, and was not too different on the trail as it turns out.

It was pretty sunny as we loaded up the horses and not too cold, though not necessarily warm all things considered. However, about half way through our ride, we started to hear the pitter patter of what we thought was rain. Then Jessica said, "It's hail! Mom, what are we doing out here?" Bar kept tossing his head wondering how it was a pampered racehorse was out getting struck by icy bits.

But we made it through the hail and had a great ride, though it turns out Lena needs some more training and Bar needs a little more fitness. It's all good, though. Bar did great with new horses in the mix, and Lena is-as always-entertaining and challenging on a ride.

The work with Bar has really paid off. He responded to direction on the trail really well, even when he made it obvious he wasn't thrilled about said direction. His only transgression came when Lena came charging up the hill behind him--Katie working hard to get her under control--and he got a wee bit competitive or worried. We got got them back under control, but not before someone made a panicked-mom cry. Katie might eventually forgive me for it, but I admit it was not my best moment.

Luckily, Lisa and Jessica said they'd still go out with us, so it seems like we did okay after all.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Transitioning through fear

Recently, Bar and I have added transitions to his round pen work--trot to walk to canter, back down, and back up again. He has gotten smoother and smoother whichever way we go, so today we worked on it under saddle.

First, we worked at a trot and on trot-to-walk-to-halt transitions. He even responded to the speed of my posting by slowing his trot accordingly.

Since we've never really worked on this under saddle, it was a little surprising that we got it together. Pleasantly so, but surprising nonetheless.

After we'd trotted for awhile, and done several successful speed and cadence changes, I took a deep breath and asked him for a canter. He picked up a beautiful, gentle stride while I managed to stay calm and rock with him in the saddle. We were both a little shocked, but managed to keep it together to work more on our transitions. He gave me fairly smooth downshifts into a trot, then a walk--all with minimal cues.

Quite an exhilarating and positive change. My own mental state is a huge part of it for sure, but his own confidence in his body and knowing what is expected of him is also key to our continued growth as horse and rider. Getting us on the same page with one another has been an ongoing struggle for the last two years--and there are still hurdles to overcome--but this was definitely a confidence-boosting ride for both of us.

He is trying, giving me room to train him to be a better horse as he teaches me to be a better rider.

The evolution continues and we count today as a good day.

Lena's owie

Lena's owie
Originally uploaded by spottyhorse67

Not that bad after all and she and Steve had a nice ride today, as did Bar and I.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Vacation and mysterious injuries

Steve and I went down to Southern California for Thanksgiving to see family, so the horses were on their own for three days. Not totally on their own, of course--one of the benefits of boarding is actually being able to be away--but definitely lacking in their normal amount of attention.

Usually, Katie can tend them, but with the holiday and her work schedule, she couldn't get up here.

It used to be a major issue (okay, just for me) to leave them--mainly because of that first bad colic of Lena's after we'd left for a day--but it's much better these days. Peter will do what's necessary and it's best to try and let go of the worry that might actually perpetuate bad things happening.

And it works, for the most part.

Both horses looked fine and healthy when we got there today, though to hear them tell it they were STARVED, having missed their extra grain for those three days. Starved.

On closer examination, however, Lena had a cut on the inside of her left hind at the hock. Maybe she kicked herself, maybe she got it caught somewhere, who knows? It was a little swollen, not infected but pretty tender to the touch and obviously sore. I cleaned it out and Steve took her down to the round pen just to be sure she was moving okay. She was, so he got on and rode her gently while I worked the monster in the round pen.

Actually, Bar needs a new nickname because he continues to improve and respond in much less monstrous ways every day.

He should have been wild since he'd been off for several days and it was cool and breezy, but he was actually pretty good--even with the distraction of another racehorse in the indoor arena with him. He got a little goofy, but stayed (mostly) focused and on task, and got a good workout. When told he was well on his way to ruining his crazy racehorse image, his answer was to lean in and smooch me.

Lena will get checked again tomorrow, and both of them will get ridden. There are also plenty of carrots, so starvation will be staved off for yet another day.

Cutting Show

Having sat through Western Pleasure shows a few times in my life--which usually involved more standing than sitting, holding horses, brushing tails, brushing dust off Katie, or attempting to get food/water in her--attending horse shows is not high on the list of favorite activities.

But the lure of spending some quality time with just Katie, seeing Ike and Cheri again--plus some of their horses in action--made this a worthwhile adventure.

Not to mention driving the fun little car new places.

Katie and I beat the Slide crew there by a little, after getting a little lost on our way--thank you iPhone and Google Maps! We scoped out the situation and checked the schedule to see when Tiffany would be riding so we could let them know once they got there with the horses. It was a really nice facility, though Lenny looked a little out of place amongst all the big trucks and trailers.

Tiffany had a pretty good run, and was ahead in the standings, but the judge scored her pretty low for a penalty it doesn't appear she made. Everyone was a little frustrated and disappointed with the score, but Tiffany still had enough points to get the buckle for the series.

Then we got to watch Ike work BB and Sabine work Cooper in the practice pen. Katie got to get in there too, using Truly to hold the cattle for the cutters.

BB is a 3-year old mare out of one of Lena's sisters and an off-ranch sire. Her personality--curious, a little bit of a pest, always into things--reminds me a lot of Lena. She is, however, a little closer to the right size to be a cutting horse and with a beautiful, solid black coat.

Cooper is one of Lena's brothers, only--again--the right size. He's one of the horses that has always seemed to be a part of Slide, too, and an excellent example of the good-minded, fun-to-ride, athletic horses that Ike and Cheri raise. (Of course, there is a huge bias on my part where this subject is concerned.)

We might bring Lena with us to the next show, let her help hold cattle, practice a little. She a very cow-y horse, a cutter by nature and breeding, and it's good experience for her to get out and away from the normal routine. Not sure Bar is ready for it, but maybe eventually he'll go along, too. Not to work cows so much, but mainly to go and realize sometimes all the excitement won't involve him and he can just hang out and relax. That alone would be enough of a revelation for him to justify the trip.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


One of the subjects I never really bonded with in school was history.

Apparently, I still haven't bonded. I was looking back through old posts and seeing that I really used to actively canter that big brown horse of mine with a pretty good sense of humor about things.

What happened?

Well, I know a lot has happened. A lot of scary stuff, but a lot of good stuff, too. Of course, there has been rebuilding time, too. And a lot of the good stuff has happened after the bad stuff.

I need to ask him for a canter again. Not accept it when he gives it and ride it out, no. I need to ask him. And let him know it's okay and that we can do this together.

Sometimes I wonder who exactly is training who.

Katie and I on the road again

My daughter and I are on the road--not too far from home--to hang out with the folks from Slide Mountain Ranch (where we bought Lena) and watch them compete at a cutting show near Sacramento.

I haven't been in nearly as many hotels this year as I was last year, but it seems hotel rooms are very much hotel rooms no matter where you go.

Luckily, this one has free wireless--always a bonus.

It is much different to be traveling for fun than it is to be traveling for business. Right now, if I'd been at work all day (usually setting up for or manning a booth at a conference), I'd be exhausted, but still going through work email, trying to make sure things got done in the office. I can't say I really miss that. Sometimes the brain is not in the best place to write coherent email at that juncture, you know what I mean?

And I'm really looking forward to watching some great cutting horses tomorrow!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A sliver of moon--dusk at the barn

A sliver of moon--dusk at the barn
Originally uploaded by spottyhorse67

So lovely, clear, and cold at the barn tonight. Good to be alive. And in plenty of layers.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Lena and Katie

Lena had been ridden a lot this week--twice by Katie and twice by Steve by the time today rolled around. So when Katie went to get her out of her paddock today, Lena tried to object. She didn't succeed, but it was a fine display of athleticism vs. stubborn Katie.

Stubborn won out.

Then Katie tried the new English saddle on Lena. I didn't get any pictures of the riding part because I was working with Bar during most of their ride, but did see Lena relax into a beautiful engaged frame and Katie do a much better job posting than I have been able to master so far. Sigh.

Good to see Katie riding more and it's really good for Lena to have more work. Bad for that spotty horse to get bored!

Making progress with Bar and his "frame"

Poor Bar has been a little neglected this week because my energy has been sapped from fighting a totally unasked-for cold. We got a chance to do some round pen work yesterday and today, with a little bit in the saddle today, too.

He was a little annoyed at being ignored a few nights, but forgave me (for a few carrots) and is doing much better (most of the time) with relaxing and getting into frame. He is more stable on his feet and seems to be using his body better more of the time.

In other words, we are getting less upside-down banana neck and less tripping more of the time.

Not all of the time, mind you, but we'll take what we can get. It's great to see him get stronger and more balanced, even when he occasionally slips back into race horse mode.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Katie Dougherty has a new blog!

Katie D., who started this blog with me all those years ago, has started her own bloggy journey on The Stable.

I told her she could still post here any time, but that I would be following her and linking to her blog, too.

Welcome to the world of putting your horse journey (and sometimes other stuff) out on the internet, Katie!

Nice post from The Second Race

I thought this post on The Second Race blog had some great points about horse racing, patience, and young women.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Horses and humans and competition

Saturday's Breeder's Cup race was awesome. Great horse, incredible riding by the jockey Mike Smith, and a truly, truly, historic race. Her ears are the best part of the whole video. (If you want a great view between the ears, check out this 7+ minute video of a workout.)

But on the flip side of the racing industry, we have Phoenix. A horse that had raced, had to have raced to have the tattoo that was too worn to identify him, and ended up nearly starved to death before he was rescued by NorCal Equine Rescue.

But it's not just the Thoroughbred racing industry that is hard on horses. All, and I do mean ALL, competitive horse disciplines have their dark side. They are all drugging horses to perform better. They are all treating horses as lesser creatures just to win the big prize. Thoroughbred racing has a lot of money behind it and is much more public, but that just means they will be brought up short faster by the outrage of the general public.

Humans are generally not moved to act until extreme emotions come to play, it's just the way we are. Horse racing is big and that makes it an easy target. But if you talk to people in the cutting world, the Quarter Horse world, you'll get the same story. It's just better hidden.

It's not that competition is bad. Horses themselves are naturally competitive. It's tossing humans in the mix that makes it get wonky.

Zenyatta is a horse made to do what she does, and a horse that loves what she does. To deny her that would be to cut her heart out--a sin above nearly all others.

What we need to ask ourselves is what we can do, all of us, to make it better. Really make it better. Not deny the horses their nature, not regulate it to make ourselves feel better, but strike some balance in between.

Because I can't watch a horse like Zenyatta, or Rachel Alexandra, or my own two Man O' War descendants, love them like I do, and not embrace that wild, powerful part of their being. Not just embrace, but honor and revel in it.

Otherwise, what's the point of sharing the planet with creatures like horses?

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Moon stop

Moon stop
Originally uploaded by spottyhorse67

I took this on the way home from the barn tonight out the top of the Miata. I guess I have to get used to the dark for awhile, and working horses inside and under artificial light.

I guess I shouldn't complain, though. At least there is no snow!

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Halloween Trail Ride

We are enjoying some beautiful fall weather here in Northern California and Steve decided he was definitely ready to hit the trail again. It's been a long three months of healing for him since the accident, and while he's ridden Lena in the arena, he hadn't been out on the trail in far too long.

The horses, of course, were very up for it.

After the trip Katie and I just made with our friend Karen, when Lena banged herself up so badly, I wanted to try Bar in the front of the trailer. Steve was pretty skeptical of this plan since the first few times we tried him in front, Bar either pulled all the way back and broke the elasticized trailer tie (we now use rope quick-release ties), or waited until the divider was shut and then exploded. Which is why Lena got relegated to riding up there.

When we went out in the three-horse, Bar rode beautifully--and quietly--in the middle slot when we went out the last time. In fact, his trailer manners have improved dramatically, it just seemed like it was worth a try. We did prepare for him not loading, or not staying loaded, and booted Lena up with performance and bell boots under shipping boots. She was not amused.

He surprised both of us--though I told Steve I'd been visualizing Bar being calm and quiet all night--by not only loading up fine without Lena already being in the trailer, but also not objecting when I closed the divider. He just stood there while we loaded her, munching his hay, waiting for the journey to begin.

The drive out was totally uneventful, and even included a stop for snacks in Guerneville. Both horses peered out through their screens trying to figure out where the trail was and why they weren't getting unloaded, yet.

The day was spectacular--a clear view all the way out over the ocean, not too windy, and not too hot, either. And there was tasty grass at the top of the big hill they had to climb, so that was a bonus. Of course, when Lena got out of the trailer and saw the three other horse trailers, she suddenly decided she was in season and spent most of the trail ride weaving in front of Bar, who was decidedly unimpressed. Gotta love mares.

Bar still has to work on his downhill trail skills. He gets tired and sore and wants to rush, so we practiced walking slowly and zig-zagging on really steep sections, with me on the ground towards the end to give him a little less weight to worry about. The fitness work he's been doing has helped, though, so he's a little more confident with his footing.

Steve wanted to try Lena in front on the way home, so we reversed the load order, and she mostly did fine. One little scramble at the beginning, but Steve is an excellent trailer-puller and did a great job of hauling to Lena's satisfaction, so she was calm and relaxed when we got back to the barn. Sorry to the folks who were in a hurry and got stuck behind us, but, hey, they got to enjoy a little bit more of the gorgeous fall day, right? And we got back home with two happy horses, so seems like a fair trade off to me.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Officially welcoming Elmer

I think it is safe to say we have a "new" cat, though I'm terrified to jinx it after loving Wesley so much and having him disappear last year.

Elmer started showing up a couple months ago, and we don't really know where he journeyed from--though there is a sign at our local market saying he is a found cat (not by us) and to call "Jack" before "Jack" cuts off this cat's, um, parts. That maybe explains why he started showing up for meals, though he was incredibly skittish at first. Steve naturally got the first head scratch in, but Elmer soon allowed me to participate in the petting ritual.

Sometimes, when we'd open the door, he'd act like he wanted to come in, but you can't rush these things with cats. So one day, I sat down in the doorway and let him nose his way in, get a head scratch, check out the doorway, etc. I knew better than to shut the door behind him, though.

Every day he got a little bolder and a little more affectionate. And little by little, I started feeling like quite the cat tamer.

Little did I know how well I was being played.

Elmer now shows up at breakfast, then comes in to get his post-breakfast treat, settles onto the sofa for a nap while I'm getting ready for work, and then acts affronted when I put him out! Dinner is much the same, except after a power nap on the bathroom rug, he is ready to go out and do his rounds. He's nocturnal, you know.

He's quite the talker (must be the Siamese so obviously in him), especially when someone gets near the kitchen. But he also just likes to be around us, laying where he can hear and see the action,--sometimes right next to us, sometimes right outside the door where we are.

And, yes, Elmer is a tom cat, but so far has exhibited no bad behavior (e.g. spraying) and is too old at this point to stuff in a carrier and haul off to the vet to fix. Besides, he'd then disappear and I really don't think I can handle another cat going poof. All our gals are fixed, too, so--for now, at least--he gets to remain intact.

And we get to have a cat in the house again. Which is a gift I hadn't realized I'd missed as much as I did.

Time away from horses

Occasionally, Steve and I do spend time away from the horses and we did just that last weekend--taking advantage of a break between storms to enjoy a trip up the Northern California Coast to Mendocino.

We needed time away from work and time with each other, and so we took the Miata, put down the top, and headed up Highway 1.

That car is perfect for that type of trip, even though some of us may have packed a tiny bit too much into the very small trunk.

By Sunday, though, I was glad to be headed home (though not necessarily glad to be headed back to work). Katie had done house and horse-sitting duty for us, and worked both Friday and Saturday at her "real" job at Novato Horse and Pet Supply. She also got to drive my big green truck all weekend, which she loved.

I did get one horse fix (two if you count the tack store) while we were gone. We went by a stable that does beach and forest trail rides and thought briefly about scheduling a ride. We decided against it, but I did get to rub noses with a big spotty horse or two, and was content to leave it at that. We were, after all, only a few hours away from our own two ponies.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

New horse experience, sort of

Well, the reason for the new experience isn't new. Lena banged herself up in the trailer (again) and so we've been bandaging her over the last couple of days. Katie has done a really nice job wrapping her foot, using diapers, duct tape, gauze, and vet wrap of course.

Tonight, I wanted to check the injury but when I got back to the barn after Steve and I had dinner, I discovered the power was out at Peter's.

Decisions, decisions. Leave it until tomorrow, or figure out how to do this in the dark. I didn't like the way the fetlock looked or felt, though--a little puffy and warm--so I really wanted to check it out.

Luckily, one of the other folks at the barn (also the new State Barrel Racing champ) was nice enough to turn her headlights on for me and help hold Lena so I could clean, tend, and re-wrap Lena's foot. In the dark. With minimal water because Peter's on a well, so no power equals no water.

But we got it done, cleaned, wrapped, and returned to her paddock nicely bandaged.

Just another day in the life of a horse-momma.

Thanks also to Mr. Jack's momma, for the help!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Trail ride before the rain starts

Trail ride before the rain starts
Originally uploaded by spottyhorse67

I know I should be glad that the first big storm of the season is
bearing down on us, but I am sad to see the probable end to trail riding for the year.

It was a good day, with only a couple mishaps. We borrowed Phil and Carey's three-horse and put Lena in first. She did her scramble thing and now I need to replace Phil's front rubber mat. Sigh.

But both horses did a better-than-expected job tolerating a long-ish drive to pick up Karen's horse, a delay while we got Ellie loaded, and having to be good, calm role models since it was Ellie's first time out!

I'm happy to report that even Bar surpassed my wildest expectations!

What a great way to (hopefully not, but probably) end the season.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

New cat in the family

After Wesley disappeared, we decided to hold off on another indoor/outdoor cat--Steve said permanently, I figured awhile at least.

Elmer, however, has recently appeared and adopted us. He said it was apparent we needed the soothing presence of a cat "in da house."

Who are we to argue?

A funny thing called trust

Trust is a funny thing--delicate, fragile, and easily shaken.

Both Bar and I have trust issues, but he has shown me over the last week that he's willing to work with me, even when he isn't exactly sure what I'm asking. That's a big (huge) step for him.

Now I owe him a little more of my trust, and I'm finding it bit by bit as I get on and ride him more.

His tolerance seems to have increased, probably in direct correlation to his confidence and--I'll give myself a little credit--the time we've spent and consistency of work we've done. Instead of taking advantage of my seat wavering out of balance, he slows down and lets me get back under control. Instead of flying off the handle when he can't figure out what I'm asking, he tries to do something familiar to see if that's the right thing. He even gives me his attention when he hears the grain cart go past, or when other horses go by--both former triggers for eruptions or even just grumpiness.

My friend Karen said her horse Bobby--also an ex-racehorse--was and is her best teacher. Lena Rey is an excellent horse and a tremendously gifted teacher and without her, I would never have been able to keep working with Bar. He, however, has taken my horsemanship to levels I never considered, and that don't appear to have a limit.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Gotta get on and ride

I've never been a huge risk-taker, as far as physical things go. I have done risky things, sure, but usually because circumstances arose that made those risks necessary. Apparently, my self-preservation instinct is very well-honed--possibly too well-honed.

This thought process, and my ride today, led to this conclusion: The ground work is important, particularly as Bar gets his fitness level, balance, and confidence up, but I need to get up there and ride. For him, for me, for both of us to grow--him as a horse, me as a rider.

I need to push past the fear and trust him--and myself--more than I've allowed. Bar has given me every indication that he is ready to work with me and I've been too scared to accept it, to trust it. That means we're both missing out on the relationship we could have, not gaining knowledge and skills both of us need.

That's not going to get either of us anywhere and today was a prime example.

We were forced to use the outdoor arena--or give up and not ride--so down we went. I worked Bar in small circles around me, letting him come in for a second before sending him back out the opposite direction he'd been going, until he circled at at trot consistently before being called back in. This is hard for him, though I don't yet know why. Then we did pivots around his front end and side passes, just to be sure he was loose and paying attention.

He was, which meant no more excuses for me.

I was so stiff, so out of balance, and Bar never once took advantage of it. He kept at it, responding to leg cues that weren't great, and accepting my truly horrific attempts to post with relatively good humor.

I'd laugh, if I didn't feel so much like crying.

Steve asked me what I'm so afraid of. It isn't even so much getting hurt--though there's no denying that thought floats in the back of my head--it's the risk of sliding backwards with Bar, of having another accident that sets us all back to square one.

But that risk exists no matter where we are in our training, so it's not a good reason anyway.

I'm not Steve, I didn't grow up pushing my limits, and I didn't grow up riding and falling off horses, either, so learning to push just far enough is a new path to follow.

It's the right path, though, for learning, for growing--for Bar, and for me.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Starting to get there

Blurry picture, but I don't care. Slowly but surely, my boy is getting there on the ground, and that means we can get there under saddle, too.

In fact, even through nerves sometimes as taut as the cables on the Golden Gate Bridge, I can feel him trying really hard to do what I ask, even when it's not as clearly communicated as possible. Where he used to get belligerent and take control, he now tries harder to figure out what the real request is, and actually attempts to do it.

He doesn't always succeed, but he always tries. That's pretty good in my book.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Overcoming fear

I love my big brown horse, truly I do.

And he terrifies me at the same time.

I am learning every day to trust him a little more, and to trust my own abilities a little more, too.

I know, logically, that so much of this is a confidence issue. When we first got him, I would get right on and ride him and he would respond in kind--by being easy-going and ride-able, most of the time. It wasn't that I was over-confident, it was that I didn't think about what could go wrong. I assumed that he, like Lena, would take a certain amount of care for his rider.

But he didn't, not then, and each fall, each accident, eroded my confidence a little more, until the simple act of getting on his back at a walk (only in the arena, mind you--the trail has hardly ever been an issue) sometimes took all the courage I could muster.

I feel wimpy sometimes, like I'm not pushing myself hard enough, and maybe that's true. But I can only do so much without it feeding back into him and starting our own special little feedback loop. "Oh!" Bar says, "You're worried! Why are you worried!? Should I be worried, too? YES! I should definitely be worried, too!!"

I rode him Friday, after working him in the round pen in his new English saddle, which fits him perfectly, and he was great. He did what I asked him to do, even when I didn't ask clearly, and responded to every muddled cue as best he could without getting agitated or grumpy.

I am still afraid to ask him to canter.

He is finally giving me a nice relaxed canter doing our ground work in the round pen. After his fall with Steve, he would not canter without argument or with ease-not until this last week. He looks magical. Comfortable, smooth, relaxed. And he transitions beautifully back down to a trot, too. (And from there to a walk, I might add.)

Today was the first time I cantered him in the saddle in weeks. (In the English saddle, I might add.) It was also the first time he and I had been in the outdoor arena with him under saddle since the accident, so tensions ran a little high on both sides.

He did great. If I'd been relaxed, we would have done better, but all in all, we did okay. He responded to my cues, was paying attention to me--despite my oh-so-obvious-anxiety--and didn't try to dump me when he felt me get out of balance. (Something he has been known to do in the past to both of us.)

I didn't work him hard. I didn't do all the things that would have been good for both of us to do. But I got on that horse in the outdoor arena when I could very easily have unsaddled him and given up for the day.

I could think of all the things we should have done, or I could concentrate on the things we did do and be proud of both of us.

I think I'll go for the latter.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Farrier Science revisited with Katie

I didn't take any pictures, though a lot of people in the class did, but I got to go to class with Katie and help participate in dissecting a horse leg! So cool.

I did this when I took the class a few years ago, but it was great to go back and see it all again with a new eye on what those parts do, how they work together to support healthy movement in the horse, and how an injury can affect them.

The tendon Bar bowed was probably the superficial digital tendon. It is a big, thick, strong tendon, and probably tore near the sheath that bundles that tendon to the deep digital flexor tendon. (See here for drawing of the lower leg.)

Horses have no muscles below their "knee," so rely on this rather complex set of ligaments and tendons to move. In addition, they basically pump blood back to their heart from the bottoms of their feet. The movie we watched first likened it to horses having 5 hearts--one in their chest, and one at the bottom of each foot.

Looking at the structures, taking the leg apart, really pointed out how important circulation is and how when one thing goes wrong in there, it can snowball into lots of things going wrong in there.

Plus, how cool is it to watch your daughter diving in with a scalpel!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Fundraiser event for Sonoma County CHANGE Program

The family went to a fund-raising event today for a local horse rescue organization, C.H.A.N.G.E, and got to see some interesting demonstrations of everything from dressage, to driving, to mounted shooting!

Too many things to get pictures of it all, but the jumping and Dressage were very cool to watch. I can really see how Dressage work could help Bar (and Lena) with his balance and coordination, and Karen says even jumping (low jumps only) would be good for him. I don't think either of us is quite there yet (okay, mainly me), but it's not a bad goal to work towards together because it will incorporate the athleticism that he needs, and working through to accomplish it, we'll have to get through the trust and fear issues we both have. Again, this is a ways off, but he loves to jump, so if we could get there, it will mean we've accomplished a lot.

There was also a used tack sale and I got what looks to be a pretty nice saddle for $100! It looked like a good saddle to Steve and me, was in good shape, sat comfortably, and Karen said she'd buy it from me if it didn't work for Bar/Lena, so it came home with us. It got cleaned up and oiled and we'll give it a try this week.

The C.H.A.N.G.E organization has done a lot of good things in this county and helped a lot of horses, so it was a great way to support them and see a wide sampling of riding disciplines to boot. If the saddle works, too, that will be an added bonus!

I think, however, we will skip the mounted shooting for now. It was cool to watch, but I can't see it with either of our horses.