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.