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.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Horses get some non-arena time

We haven't been out since the yellow jacket incident, mainly because Katie has been too busy with a new job and Steve isn't quite ready for the road, yet. This has lead to a lot of work in the arena for both horses, and Bar has recently expressed a certain amount of boredom with the round pen. How does he express his displeasure? Not the way he used to--thankfully there is no longer any rearing--but by stopping at the top of the hill on our way down and looking at me like he really can't believe he has to work AGAIN.

I can always convince him to go along without too much effort, and his whole body is already in much better shape than it was, so the training is helping. We just have to get creative and toss in some different activities to keep things interesting. Since Lena could use some attention, too, an every-other-day schedule might work best anyway.

Yesterday there was no round pen, no boots, just his halter and a walk together down the road to the apple orchard. He is so curious about everything--patches of darker asphalt, gopher holes, short and stubby apple trees, and mules. The barn next door to ours backs right up to the bike path and several of their mules came over to say hello to Bar. He thought they were very fascinating creatures indeed and wanted to hang out and interview them further, but his human was melting.

Today, we headed down to the indoor arena while Steve and Lena worked in the outdoor arena. Bar was acting jumpy--though it could also have been his human acting jumpy--so we started with ground work in the round pen with his saddle on. The last time we tried this experiment, it was wholly unsuccessful, but it went much better this time. No bucking or trying to roll or freaking out because the stirrups were hitting him or the side of the round pen. In fact, he looked pretty comfortable.

Well, when he wasn't pretending to be a racehorse again anyway.

Though the plan was to do some slow work under saddle in the arena, going down the driveway and back to the orchard with Steve and Lena seemed like a better idea. Bar agreed completely.

So we went down the driveway, down the road, jumped the gully into the orchard (that was exciting), and went to visit the mules again.

Bar is very careful and concerned with his footing and the loose, often gopher-holed, ground in the orchard makes him a little nervous. But he picked his way through the apple trees out to the bike path and up behind our barn. When he realized he was looking up at our arena, you could almost hear him say, "Huh? I know that place!" We tried to go back in the back gate, but can't remember our combination, so with Steve a little weary and sore, the four of us walked back to the barn.

Not too bad a way to spend time with three of my favorite beings.

(Note to the one bicyclist who--unlike the many other cautious and respectful cyclists we met--zoomed up behind us with no warning: You're only lucky so long.)

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A tale of two horses

Working with Bar to help him (and me) find his frame, seems to have produced lots of blurry pictures of both horses in the round pen. Lena shows such a good picture of where he needs to be, but her training, confirmation, and fitness level all support that.

He just hasn't had that in his life, but he has had good care and nutrition, and has learned a lot about trust, so we have a good place to start. Even if he does still look a lot like the "before" picture in the training books a lot of the time.

Riding both horses is very important, but the work from the ground with both horses really provides a good "snapshot" of where Bar is now and what the goal is. The progress is slow, but it is inching along. He leads with his toes on both front feet, something that may never be fully corrected considering his confirmation and injuries, but if he can get stronger and more balanced, it will be less of an issue.

Several of yesterday's shots were of his feet and legs to show the mechanics and, even at a trot, it's too fast to follow just yet. It made for some interesting and vaguely artistic shots, but really it helps gauge his progress inch by inch and movement by movement.

Working with both horses also reinforces just how different they are. Bar will trot around the round pen with minimal input until called into the circle. Lena Rey does fine until she is behind me, then she tries to stop and come in. She relaxes pretty quickly, but is then looking immediately for the release. Focusing energy on Bar makes him tense and worried, so sitting down in the middle of the round helps him come down a few notches, even as he continues to work. Lena (at least right now) requires constant input at some level or she decides it's time to stop and do something new. (More fun, in other words.)

He is willingly cantering in the round pen, now--better to the left than the right--but it is smoother and less of an argument than it was previously. For awhile, he would do it, but not for long and not without a lot of head tossing and breaking gait. He is still very resistant traveling to the right at any gait under saddle, so for now we are keeping it very slow until he trusts me not to make him do anything that will get him hurt--and until he trusts his own body enough to be there when he needs it.

Karen is coming out tomorrow to give him another massage and check his progress. His muscles seem to look better, and his neck looks and feels softer and less tight--hopefully Karen sees the same thing.

Meanwhile, Lena Rey--who already thinks Bar gets more than his fair share of attention--will surely be wondering when she will be getting her massage and spa treatment.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Horse thoughts and reflections

Winston Churchill once said, "There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man." He was right.

It's now been four years (a little more) since we became horse owners, which is making me reflect just a little bit on what that one decision has brought to my life. Sometimes I get so caught up in what I want to work on, or worrying about not giving one horse or the other (Lena primarily right now) enough attention, that I forget to just enjoy the gifts they bring every day.

Lena Rey taught us very quickly about the commitment it takes--and that sometimes hard decisions are necessary--when two weeks after we bought her, we thought we were going to have to put her down for a colic absolutely terrifying and heart-wrenching in its severity. She also taught all of us joy, that each person has a different and valuable perspective and a horse can benefit--and learn from--from multiple inputs. She can even tailor her mood and energy level to the rider in question at any given time. Lena is not easy, not by a long shot, but she is strong and healthy and confident and a blast to ride 9 days out of 10. She likes to play, and inventing games to entertain her is an exercise in creativity but one well worth doing. When you have her, you have all of her, but getting all of her is her best challenge to you the rider. And the gift when you get it? It's like being one with the elements.

Bar is his own element. Some days, I think it's Mercury. But as hard as he has been for me, he has gifted me with more than I ever would have imagined. He is an exercise in patience, which those who know me will tell you is NOT my strong suit. He is teaching me to be a horse trainer, not just a horse rider, and he does not always make my job easy. Okay, he never makes my job easy unless it's cuddling his big, brown head and scratching his ears.

Bar is not as confident as Lena, but that means that once he decided I was in charge, he would do anything I asked him to do to the best of his ability. With Lena, it always has to make sense. With Bar, if he tries--even if he messes it up--you have to give it to him because he really is doing his best to do what you want.

He's also not as balanced and strong as Lena, which naturally affects his confidence. He's been hurt badly in his life, doing what people told him to do, doing what he thought was his job. He protects his body the best way he can, just as I do with my old injuries, even if that sometimes means I'm carrying my body in a way that isn't as strong as it could be.

My job, as his owner, as his trainer, is to help him be physically strong enough to do the jobs I ask him to do, wherever I ask him to do them. On the trail, he's great--sure-footed, confident, relaxed. The arena poses other issues--his trust level is much higher on the trail than in the arena--and I think I'm turning that around slowly but surely. Back to the art of extreme patience.

For all of us, it's not just the physical aspect, though that's important. It's the connection we make to a creature very nearly our polar opposite and the perspective shift that entails.

Turns you inside out sometimes, but what a glorious ride it is.