Sunday, January 31, 2010

Back to horses

Dad would want me to write, even if--possibly especially if--it bumped his picture down the page.

So we'll go back to horses, though there continue to be bursts of overwhelming sadness mixed with chuckles when memories surface. Matches the weather out here today, with the sun peeking through the clouds off and on and filtering down through the mist in the river valley below us.

All three horses got out yesterday, and all three were very glad for it. Steve and Lena had a nice romp, and Katie and Sammy helped Bar with his other-horse anxieties. Or at least they gave me a chance to do some training around that issue.

Having not been out in three days, Bar was very frisky and really wanted to play. He walked pretty quietly next to me down to the arena, but I could practically hear his muscles and nerves singing in my ears--sproing, sproing, sproing. It makes me wish (again) for a place to turn him out with Lena, and now Sammy, so he could play with other horses. It's a bit difficult for me to keep up with his long Thoroughbred legs and he says I take things way too seriously, like nipping for example.

Katie was already down there, and Bar was determined Sammy should notice his handsome self bouncing around in the round pen. He did finally settle down and work nicely for me, despite the overwhelming urge to show off. Sproing. "Sammy, look over here!" Sproing, sproing. "Yoo hoo... Sammy.." Sproing.

After we were done in the round pen, I got on him for a few minutes bareback, hoping it would knock my spine back into place. (My back has been out for three days and it's getting really annoying.) Bar still really wanted to play with Sammy, but I convinced him to work over obstacles and do some bending instead.

He actually did great until I got off and Katie zoomed by in jockey position on Sammy--then we got a little dancing and spinning as we left the arena. He always moved away from me and always pulled himself back together--even when we got into the barn aisle and he realized both (!) exits were blocked by other horses. He definitely wanted out (OUT!) of the barn, but he stayed with me and didn't rush too badly as we headed out into the sunshine.

All in all, I was pretty proud of him and his big brown bouncy self and glad to be back at the barn, too. It doesn't make me miss Dad less, but it does soothe my soul, which is a good thing.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Daddy Boyd

About three and a half hours after that last post, my father went on his way peacefully and--for the first time in weeks--without pain.

For the last three days, my sister and I have been calling people, making arrangements, and helping coordinate the influx of friends and relatives coming in. It is a tremendous gift to see how many people my dad touched over the years, and how many of them have their own stories to tell about the master story-teller. Had he lived in Shakespearean England, Dad would have been a Bard--traveling from town to town acting out the bawdy parts with grand gestures, silly voices, and waggling eyebrows.

His coping tool for difficult situations was humor, and he often held it up like a lantern against the darkness that pops up in life. He was always able to wring something funny out of tragedy or stress, many times turning the mood instantaneously.

He's my inspiration, and I admit to nearly always seeing an absurd twist in any serious situation thanks to him.

I know horses understand grief in some fashion, though probably not in any empathetical way with humans. It will still be good to see them today and get a good dose of warm, fuzzy, horse therapy.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Saying goodbye

My blog is mostly about horses and how they impact my life, what I learn from them, and how much joy (and sometimes frustration) they bring me. The journeys we've all had together have done much to shape my life over the last four and half years.

My father had a lot to do with shaping the 37 years that came BH (Before Horses), and he is dying. Details don't matter, not really. I have no regrets--except losing him, of course--nor do I feel as if there is anything I should have done, could have done, etc.

But I will miss him. His string joke ("I'm a frayed knot) and his bad puns. His uncanny ability to make anyone comfortable within minutes. His voracious appetite for the written word, be it books, magazines, online articles, newspapers--you name it, he read it.

Including, apparently, this blog.

Not too long ago, Dad told me, "I really like reading your blog." I don't know if he liked the writing or just the little window into my admittedly horse-obsessed life, but I'm glad he enjoyed it.

Reading and writing are gifts that he nurtured in me, and both have served me well over the years--if only as an outlet for horse-related musings in this case.

I love you, Daddy. Thank you.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Horses and schedules

Horses like schedules. They like routine, like to know what to expect on a daily basis--especially where food and exercise are concerned.

This does not mean, however, they will follow your training schedule--at least not as you envision it. It also does not mean that life will line things up perfectly and allow you the optimum training schedule.

Retired Racehorse recently posted about this very subject, and her words and thoughts struck a chord with me.

Well, more than one, actually.

First off, patience is (of course) a key ingredient in horse/owner training. It takes time to be sure you are listening to the horse and not merely focusing on some goal you want for your own reasons. Neither Bar or Lena care about my goals, they only care about how what I'm asking fits into their little horsey bubble.

Second, that life can occasionally get in the way and it's best to figure ways to deal with that and move forward anyway. Sometimes it's work-related; right now it's personal. It really doesn't matter to the horses, aside from the fact that they notice--and therefore try to take advantage of--my distraction level.

The biggest lesson for me is to breathe. Do what I can on a day-to-day basis, stay focused, and give back whatever I can whenever I can.

Works with horses, works with life.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Where this horse thing all got started

This is Katie, circa 1995 or so, at a birthday party at her dad's that included--oh yes--pony rides.

It appears that I was doomed eons before I even knew it.

A friend of mine recently moved in with her long-time boyfriend and in the process of packing, found a card I gave to her several years ago. This friend is also a horse-y person, though hasn't owned her own horse in several years. (She's smart that way.) In this card, I wrote that if I were rich, I'd buy us a ranch and a couple of horses so she could ride--as long as I didn't have to.

Teena smiled and chuckled as I read this back to her the other night, and Steve and Katie laughed outright.

How did they all know what I didn't? That I was a closet crazy-horse lady?

And I wouldn't have it any other way.

My horse rocks

With his shoe firmly attached to his foot, Bar had a riotous time blowing off steam last night. He bounced, he bucked, he reared--and boy, did he roll.

He also listened fairly well, despite having way too much energy for his own good.

Today was even better.

Steve was getting Lena ready to ride, and Bar and I headed down for the round pen. Peter was riding Rio, a horse he is training. I asked if it was okay to bring Bar in and Peter being Peter said, "Probably not, but go ahead." Which in Peter-talk means he'd deal with whatever happened.

Knowing Bar takes his cues from me and my energy, I took a deep breath and slowed way down. We meandered around to the inside entrance and waited there until Peter and Rio came around by the gate. Both Rio and Bar started a little, but I let Bar settle and watch a little before opening the gate to go into the arena.

We got to the round pen without incident on our part, though Rio was not sure about the intrusion and there was a scuffle or two as Peter corrected some aspect or another of Rio's reaction.

I started with some body work, actually--using some of Jack Meagher's pressure points and techniques to treat some of Bar's more chronically sore areas. Bar submitted to this for the most part, though kept a wary eye on the actions outside the round pen.

Once he seemed focused enough, I sent him out at a trot, then got a beautiful, balanced, canter out of him. It absolutely lovely to watch him have freedom and lightness in front because he was driving from his hindquarters instead of pulling himself along with his front end. There was a spontaneous happy dance on my part, I admit it.

Then he heard Steve and Lena head in and Rio get excited, which created a bit of a ruckus and meant Bar had to show off a little. The head went up, the tail went up, the snorting began. However, when I raised my arm from the inside of his big, bouncy circle, he came dancing in and stood next to me. Amazing. I could see and feel his heart pounding--his body twitching with every beat, his eyes wide. And yet, he simply stood there, blowing a little, but just watching and checking in with me.

That pattern repeated a few times--Bar working nicely, reacting to one of the other horses acting up and coming in to me to check in, then settling back into his exercise.

After all was said and done, he got a good work out and proved once again that crazy Thoroughbreds can indeed make progress if you just give them time and patience.

Of course, it does help to have people around who are willing to handle their own horses.

Mud vs. Bar, round one

The insidious mud won round one.

Bar lost the shoe on his upright front foot and went barefoot for one day, just until my long-suffering farrier managed to somehow attach a shoe to that soggy, peel-y hoof.

Mike is my hero.

As mentioned earlier, that shoe was hanging on by a bare thread the other day and by Wednesday night, was flapping loose on the inside. What to do, what to do. Leave it on until the mud sucks it off completely or pull it? Being a bit of a nervous nelly, I chose the latter--worried that the shoe would hide in the mud nails up, posing a much more nasty risk than Bar being barefoot. Then I slathered the foot with iodine, called Mike Thursday, and gave Bar the day off. You can see in the picture below how chewed up the inside wall of his foot is.

Lena benefited, too--getting some ground work, brushing, and massage on Thursday. She thought it was about time.

All this just in time for the next storm to roll in.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Sammy has a new blanket!

Sammy has a new blanket!
Originally uploaded by spottyhorse67

Bar and the muddy pen

Bar has the muddiest pen on the row, primarily because it's the lowest. Most of the year, it looks like it does in the picture above. But every winter, with the mud and goo, it becomes a struggle to keep shoes on the crappy Thoroughbred feet. Last year, Peter added mats and some gravel in front sloping down--as opposed to the steep, foot-high drop-off we used to have--so at least Bar could get out of the mud to eat.

Unfortunately, there needs to be much more done which the last two days of constant downpour has made painfully (and squishily) obvious. His shoe on his upright foot is still on (or was last night) but is only held on by the nails on the outside. Mike, our farrier, said to wait until it comes off completely so we hopefully have a little more foot to work with. The inside wall is pretty thrashed right now, so the nails don't have much to cling to and one, in fact is only clinging to the shoe.

People tell me to let him go barefoot, but it doesn't seem like a good option for him and his thin hooves as much as he gets worked. And not working him is NOT an option.

So I'll be talking to Peter about what to do with the pen, but nothing can happen until we start to dry out a little. That means coming up with some interim solution so Mike isn't out every other week trying to tack shoes on soggy feet. Definitely not a stall, possibly pasture, but the latter would mean supplementing his diet so he doesn't drop weight.

More on this later, along with pictures of the bog. Luckily, Bar also has a shelter in back so he can get up and out of the mud and, unlike some horses, actually does.

Really, it's all just a desire to tap back into my trail-building and erosion-control past and play with dirt, rocks, tools, and grading for proper drainage.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Many days of rain ahead

The forecast here in Northern California is rain, rain, rain.. and then some more rain. Now, my glass-half-full side says, "Yay, we really need the rain after three years of drought!" Me selfish horse-owner side says, "The horses really need to get out on the trail and away from the arena!"

They will have to wait.

So the challenge becomes entertaining smart, playful horses within the constraints of the indoor arena--really just a smaller and more dusty version of the outdoor arena with the added bonus of rain bouncing loudly off the metal roof.

At least we have the indoor arena, though. It's hard to imagine what would greet us in spring if we couldn't at least get them out to stretch their legs right now. And roll. Never underestimate the power of soft arena dirt over a horse that has been blanketed too many days in a row. Bar rolled at least five times on each side tonight and--because he was damp--ended up looking a bit like a cocoa-dusted chocolate truffle.

He was quite pleased with himself.

Luckily, I wasn't planning on riding tonight, so didn't much care how dirty he got as long as he blew off some of his energy. Which he did, quite enthusiastically, before settling into a nice frame at both the canter and the trot. Interestingly--and probably not surprising--his canter is much smoother and more collected as he goes clockwise (opposite of race direction), and it takes him much longer to settle into a good trot. Counterclockwise, he still uses his neck too much at the canter, but is more engaged and collected at the trot than when he moves to the right. It's taken patience, but it's been very rewarding to watch him figure out where his body actually feels good and works best. More and more he's giving me great neck stretches down, more engagement all through his body, and a nice soft eye and jaw as he settles into a steady pace.

Back to the boredom issue. Though we were once told horses don't get bored, our experience says otherwise. Routine is good, but with both Bar and Lena, a little brain challenge is good. For Lena, it helps keep her entertained and engaged. With Bar, it's good to give him tasks that he can achieve to build up his confidence and trust in himself and in me. One of the good things about the indoor arena is that there are plenty of trail obstacles set up and they provide good training opportunities.

Bar and I frequently use the trail obstacles as a tool. Sometimes to get him to pay attention to his feet, sometimes as a familiar thing to divert him from more goofy behaviors. Lately, we have been working a little bit over ground poles, though not in a more traditional set up like Cavaletti. At one end of the arena, there is a trail obstacle made up of a box of 10' poles with more poles crossed in the middle from corner to corner of the box and we frequently wander through it, around it, into the middle of it, etc.

The other day, I walked Bar around me at the end of his 14' lead rope and sent him over the corner of the box as a challenge. We've done this at a walk several times, so I decided to up the ante just a little and asked him for a trot over it. The first time he caught a pole or two, but we did it again and he slowed himself down, gathered himself up, and trotted over them perfectly. Then we did it the other way with the same results. He was so proud of himself and it was so cool to watch him use his body that way.

It seems with all this rain, creativity will be as important as riding if we're going to keep both wild horses entertained. We're up to the challenge, though it remains to be seen whether the rest of the barn is ready for it.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Look who showed up!

Look who showed up!
Originally uploaded by spottyhorse67

Elmer is awfully subdued, isn't fixed, and is wearing a flea collar.

I'm just very glad to see him!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Bar the big brown mirror

Bar is a mirror. A big, brown, fuzzy mirror that will not allow me to get away with anything.

There is no lying to him, no telling him everything is fine when I don't feel that way. All horses can tell when you're lying, but he is so finely keyed into my emotions, he is actually teaching me to steady myself, to take that deep breath and slow down.

He knows who makes me nervous at the barn. He knows who doesn't bother me. He even knows who falls in the middle and checks in with me to see how we're going to react. I can feel him relax with me when he knows when I'm having fun and trusting him.

Yes, he is a challenge. Yes, he's sometimes hard to handle. But he is not mean and he is not crazy--no more than I am any of those things, anyway.

He is my horse, and there is absolutely no doubt in either of our minds about that.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Bar teaches Jess something

Bar always teaches me something, but tonight felt a bit like one of those watershed moments--"click" as it all slides into place.

He hadn't been worked in a couple days. Tuesday I had a massage and Wednesday a social thing, so the plan was to give him a good romp and workout tonight--at least in the round pen--if there wasn't time to ride.

You know that they say about the best laid plans.

One of the other boarders was in the round pen with his horse--a nice Quarter Horse reiner--when I got there. Okay, I thought, maybe he'll be done by the time I clean Bar's feet and head down there. Normally I have the arena all to myself after work, and I really was not anxious to repeat the issues I'd had the other day.

No such luck. Bill and CD had finshed up in the round pen and Bill was getting on when Bar and I made our way down. I stood outside with Bar, letting him graze, while I fidgeted and tried to decide what to do. Finally, Bill looked out at me and asked if we were coming in. Fine. As I led Bar up to the gate, Bill asked which one it was and I told him, then said if Bar was too bad, we'd leave.

Remembering how Bar reacted to the situation the other day, I slowed myself way, way down. I let him check out the arena, made sure he saw Bill and CD, then opened the gate very calmly and again stopped to let him suss out the situation. As we went through the gate, I rotated him so he was facing Bill and CD, rather than having his butt to them. Then we turned and walked calmly towards the round pen, me giving him reassurances and pets to let him know he was acting just right.

Bar had a lot of energy--especially after two days off--and feels pretty strong and healthy right now, so really wanted to run, buck, fart, etc. I was relatively successful at keeping him at a trot and slow canter going to the right, but when he turned to the left--racetrack direction--all bets were apparently off.

I felt bad. If I were him, a certain amount of bucking and hijinks would absolutely be necessary, but I had to rein him in with someone else trying to work in the arena. Sad, because he looked like he was having a blast!

I called him in so we could do some yielding and side passing work--things less energetic but more appropriate for the situation. He did okay for a moment, but got frustrated and reared up a little bit, backing away as he did so because he knows that's bad manners. Clinton Anderson suggests letting them rear as long as they aren't striking out and as long as you are in a safe position--apparently, it takes the fun out of it when you stand your ground. So I let Bar rear, let him back off a little away from me, then backed him all the way to the end of the lead rope by wiggling it and made him stand there--far, far away from me.

Bar is a snuggler. He feels safe and happy when he is right next to me. In fact, I think that his lurch into me the other day was more because I represent safety than anything else. Not that it makes that okay, but it's another little piece of his psychology and our relationship.

So I could have backed him up all the way around the round pen and terrorized him--and it probably would have worked to some extent--but it occurred to me to try something different. Instead, I backed him gently but firmly away from me using just body language and the lead rope, driving him back every time he tried to come close, making him just stand there staring at me from a distance.

It was amazingly effective.

He did everything I asked after that--side pass, slow trot to the left, circle around me at a walk or trot both directions. Quite amazing, actually.

We took our time leaving the round pen and arena, too, so he could see Bill and CD again and be sure there were no monsters lurking outside the arena, too.

No monsters, just grass, which he got to eat more of because he had behaved if not perfectly, better than I envisioned.

Oddly, I think he thought the same thing about me.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Bright note from the "incident"

In all the irritation about the "incident" the other day (irritation which was preceded by a day of feeling guilty and obsessing over what I could have done differently, mind you), I forgot to mention the bright spot.

And there was a bright spot.

When I finally did get on Bar, Steve had already given Lena a beauty treatment and put her away, but being the great guy he is, waited patiently while I did a little more work.

Bar has been really good at maintaining a consistent trot in the round pen lately, but my not-so-great posting abilities make it difficult for him (and me) under saddle. I wanted to work on his speed control--as in he has to control his own rate of travel without me yanking on his mouth--by allowing him to trot on a loose rein. Not only did he do an excellent job setting a steady pace, he tolerated my spastic posting with good humor--all on a loose rein.

So things weren't all that terrible that day after all. Good to remember that.

New blog about Thoroughbreds

Really quick link to a blog I just discovered thanks to another blog I follow, The Second Race.

This is a blog that, like me, thinks Thoroughbreds have a lot to offer. Welcome to the blogosphere, Retired Racehorse!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Jess and Bar in trouble again

Yesterday was a reminder of why there are some people I won't ride with. Or even share the arena with.

Steve and I got the barn at 3 or so, which is usually the perfect time on a Saturday for us to ride our kooky horses. Peter is done with lessons, the arenas are pretty empty, and even if Bar is in a mood (which is less and less these days), we won't interfere with anyone. It also allows me to focus on him and give him the kind of training--whatever that is--he needs that day.

In general, we make it a point to choose times to ride that won't interfere with lessons, and won't intersect with the people who have the hardest time with Bar. He was very much a wild horse--even on the ground--when we first got him, and he made himself quite a reputation that colors how most people see him. And since I do try so hard to work him away from most of those folks--since they make me nervous, too--they really haven't seen him be any better.

It's probably a bit of a loop, isn't it? We don't work around them because they make me (and then Bar) nervous, they get nervous when they see us because they haven't seen him actually being good, then I get nervous, and so on.

He still needs to be worked, and yesterday he really needed to be worked, except Peter's daughter Brie was in the indoor arena. Normally, I would have just groomed him and put him away, but it looked like Brie was finishing up, and the outdoor arena was open for riding if she wasn't, so Bar and I went down to warm up in the round pen.

I don't really know what happened with Brie. I do know that when Bar got through the gate, he spun his butt away from me and then started to barrel over me. Not allowed, no matter what, so I backed him up, possibly more forcefully than needed, but I'd bounce off 1200 pounds if I were lucky, and end up under it if I wasn't.

I heard a couple of the women who watching Brie shouting directions at either Brie or me, but I couldn't tell who or even what they were saying, and my focus was on Bar and getting him to stand still in any case. When he was standing still--mere seconds later--I glanced over and saw that Brie was on the ground and walking next to her horse, so I started to lead Bar towards the round pen and he was calm and obedient--a little clingy, even--at that point. I heard one of the women tell Brie to "just get out of there," but was on the other side of the round pen by then, still focused on my own horse.

The story today was that by "beating" on my horse, I made Brie lose her horse and someone else had to catch that horse.


My first priority is my horse and keeping him under control. Nobody else but me is responsible for that, and I have to assume that other riders have that attitude, but sometimes I wonder. If it had been Steve, would he have blamed Bar if Lena had spooked and wandered off? Or would he have made sure he was controlling his own horse?

Some days, I wish I had my own arena on my own property. On my less grumpy days, I realize that Bar can and does work fine around some horses and riders and this is yet another training challenge for both of us to work through on our way to better horsemanship.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Trail mapping software application

More on this later, as we actually start to use it, but we just discovered a cool tool that not only allows you to map out trail rides you take (using your GPS-enabled phone--like an iPhone--or other GPS device), but upload pictures along the way and share the trips you take. even has several horse folks mapping trails!

This will be a fun thing to experiment with this year!

Elmer is MIA

Elmer has been missing for over three days now and I've decided that Steve and I must live at the nexus of a vortex that makes good cats disappear. Not the dumb cats that spray in the house so have to be outdoor cats, no. Only the good, snuggly, smart, and fun cats.

Now Elmer is a tom cat, so perhaps he has wandered off to do what tom cats do. Or maybe someone caught him and he is becoming non-tommed. There are several scenarios, but none of them appear to involve him showing up recently.

Wesley disappearing was bad enough, but losing Elmer really sucks. He was snuggly, but not overbearing, respectful and polite about going in and, and never did anything gross in the house. Well, if you don't count licking yourself as gross, anyway.

Just in case you're listening, Elmer, we miss you.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Reminded again at the differences between Bar and Lena

Bar and Lena are very different horses in many ways, and therefore training them has to use different approaches.

Not having worked Lena much on the ground, I found very quickly that the techniques that work with Bar are not a given when it comes to Lena.

For one, she anticipates way more than he does. "Oh, you're going to ask me to do this!" No, not actually--slow down and wait for the cue, Lena Rey. I can't really tell if she's trying to please or just anticipating so we get to the end faster. Bar, on the other hand, waits to be sure he knows what I'm asking. For sure. Really sure. He doesn't always get it right, but he waits and then tries. He gets a little more insecure when he's not certain what I'm asking, but he isn't quite as quick to assume as Lena is.

It's a good balance to work with, actually, and is helping me learn a lot more about training horses in general, and our two specifically.

Lena is super sensitive. Clinton Anderson would refer to her as a "sensitive, spooky horse" and the Parellis would definitely categorize her as a left brain extrovert. The lightest touch is sufficient, then she tends to overcompensate, but will finally settle down and pay attention. The goal with her is to get her to calm down and start listening sooner.

Bar is, well, Bar. He does not bolt like he used to when he isn't sure what you're asking, and he watches all the time to be sure he gets what it is you want. I think that means somewhere along the way we've made some progress. The goal with him is to build his physical balance and strength, along with his confidence and trust.

With both, however, it is completely obvious when the wheels start turning in their brains. The road to get there with each is proving a little divergent, but the challenge is fun and intriguing. Maybe they are saying the same thing about me. "So Bar, did you notice the expression on Jess' face when you reacted that way? What do you think it means and how should I express my confusion about what she's asking?"

If that conspiracy were to occur, I might actually be doomed. As it is, I'll just have to stay one step ahead. Tricky, that.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Jess in boots

Some might suggest that half of the fun of owning horses is the gear--and not just their gear, your gear.

Having mostly ridden Western so far, the boot collection has wandered through red, black, with the current pair of riding boots being brown. However, using the English saddle more has led to some challenges. The top of my western boots, even through jeans, catches on the bottom of the "skirt" (if that's what you call it on an English saddle) which interferes with posting. That's when the pant leg itself isn't riding up my leg, which I'm sure means something about my position, but is irritating nonetheless. Really, I don't need this kind of help from my boots.

Plus, I confess to loving the lean line of English boots, so for Christmas my big present from Steve was a pair from Mountain Horse. I have been following their shipping journey impatiently for over a week and came home tonight to the long-awaited box on the table.

I tried them on immediately, of course. I can't wait to actually ride in them! I'm sure it will make me into the most excellent rider, right? Well, a girl can dream anyway.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Sammy enjoying a good roll

Sammy enjoying a good roll
Originally uploaded by spottyhorse67

Humming helps!

After yesterday's post, I updated my Facebook status and said something along the same lines (only shorter), and that breathing and not gripping with my knees would be good to practice more when riding Bar.

Several of my horse friends suggested humming (or singing) while riding as a way to both soothe myself and keep the oxygen flowing--especially to my brain. Katie says she told me about humming a long time ago, but apparently I forgot.

So tonight I tried it, and lo and behold, it actually worked! It also made me laugh, which probably didn't hurt either. Bar is used to me singing to him from the ground, and seemed okay with it coming from the saddle, too. He was especially okay with the "Jess is breathing and not squeezing me with her knees" aspect of things.

So the humming experiment will definitely continue. More later.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Oh, NOW I remember what a slow trot feels like

It was music night for Steve again, and Katie is off on a non-date, so both our horses got out tonight. Bar got a good roll, romp, and ground work session and Lena reminded me that there is such a thing as a trot that doesn't bounce you out of the saddle and rattle your back teeth together.

Bar gave me some good head and neck flexes and then we did some bareback work, mostly just because we both like it. It's not super comfortable, mind you. There has to be a very delicate balance between his bony spine and my tailbone, but we can manage it for a little while--at a walk only--to work on my seat and his response to it.

I have not ridden Lena in months and decided to try the English saddle on her so I could practice with a horse who has steadier gaits than Bar does right now. It allowed me to work on things like my seat, overall balance, and leg position--all of which I'm still muddling through with that saddle--rather than my usual focus of trying to figure out the best way to tell him what I want.

Ah, what a nice trot she has.

Actually, Lena has three distinct trots. First is the slow jog you can sit, then-- when you ask her by starting to post--she moves into her next speed, and finally there is her extended trot where hovering is best unless you can post faster than I have yet mastered. Not only will she go up in speed on command (mostly), she will down-shift as well. I used to work with her on that a lot when I rode her more, and she remembered without too much effort.

I love Bar, and we have made so much progress, but cruising along on Lena reminded me we have a lot to work on--from smoothing out his trot to both of us being a lot more relaxed, not necessarily in that order. Lena also helped me remember that my riding skills are not all that terrible after all, and that might have been the biggest help of all.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Playin' with Lena Rey

Tonight when I got to the barn after work, Katie was there working Sammy, Steve had already come and gone after cleaning and graining, and I had my choice of Bar or Lena to work with first.

I admit it. I'm an older child so can empathize to some extent with Lena's feelings of being shoved aside and losing center-of-attention status. Besides, I wanted to work on the ground with her on some de-sensitization, really try to get her to use that big brain of hers for something other than spooking for no apparent reason. Well, no reason a lowly human like me might understand, anyway.

With success in mind (my mind, anyway), we went down to the round pen and worked on what pressure meant, when to stand still, and how to tell the difference in my body language. By the end, she was relaxed, licking and chewing, but still sensitive and responsive. Plus she got out, got to kick up her heels, roll, AND we still had fun.

Bar had to be content with grooming, a rub-down, and (not his favorite) being wormed. He was okay with everything--including not have to do any work, I think-- but the worming, even with molasses as a sweetener. I got the lip-face and had to hold that big, brown head up in the air for quite awhile until I was sure he swallowed. Actually, all three got wormed today, so they are all on the same schedule--easier to remember that way. Sammy apparently has quite the wormer-avoidance head-bob, so Katie used the round pen technique--you have to run around until you come into the middle and take your medicine. It was an effective tool, though I think molasses worked pretty well, too.

All in all, I think it was a pretty good night with both horses. (Minus the worming, they say.)

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Bar manages the arena with other horses

This afternoon, the stars aligned for Bar and me to have a test with other horses and riders in the arena, so we did it and he was awesome.

Katie was already going to ride and one of the other boarders and her boyfriend were there riding two of the mares Bar knows from the big pasture. (They hang out by his paddock all the time and he's quite fond of them.)

Since the two folks besides Katie are good, relaxed horse people, I went ahead and saddled Bar and went down to the arena. Everyone else was already here, and he stayed quiet as we went inside, just eyeballing the various bodies with a slightly worried look. I had him work at a slow trot inside the round pen first (our round pen is at one end of the indoor arena), quietly talking to him and keeping him focused on what we were doing, not what was going on around him.

He was attentive and cooperative, so we moved out into the arena with everyone else. I wasn't really interested in giving him a hard workout, mainly just keeping him on task and relaxed with other horses and riders around him. This is as much for me as for him since (as I've mentioned before) I do tend to tense up with others in the arena.

At first, he kept trying to get close to the other horses, but we just redirected his energies and did obstacles until he settled down and just walked the arena with me. We did try to walk next to Katie and Sammy, but Sammy turned around and snapped at Bar, so we backed off of that for now.

Once the other two riders left, I had Bar trot around the outside of the round pen while Katie trotted Sammy around the whole arena. The work around the round pen helps him bend, and having Sammy come up behind him and me insist he maintain discipline was also good. For both of us.

We'll ease into harder work with other riders around, but I was really pleased with his behavior today. There was only one time I could feel him start to go--he makes this funny noise, you see--kind of like a muffled, frustrated, squeal in his throat. Katie and Sammy were trotting up behind us, he started to bunch up under me and there came that noise. I just waggled the reins and warned him not to go there and he subsided from the edge like a well-poured beer.

My goal was to treat this as a situation where he could be relaxed and responsive to his rider, even if he wanted to go socialize, and he did a great job. Maybe it seems like baby steps, but I'll take it as a win anyway.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Cats break hearts for a living

I feed him, love him, and he snuggles with Katie.

Real Cowboys (and gals) have dirty boots

The other night, the sight of our three pairs of mud(etc.)-caked boots made me smile. I have fancy cowboy boots for going out, but the pair that goes to the barn and sloshes through puddles is the pair that fits best and is therefore my favorite.

They are, however, limited to the barn. Some people, particularly in restaurants and the movie theater, do not appreciate the rich, honest smell emanating from my boots. Now if only my car didn't also sport eau de poop!

Friday, January 01, 2010

Entering the next decade

Supposedly, all horses have birthdays today, which means Lena is 9, Bar is 10, and we don't yet know how old Sammy is. On day one of the new decade, Sammy was purchased for real, she and Lena got ridden, and Bar and I enjoyed a walk down the driveway and some puddle training.

Lena was very glad to get out, Steve had a pretty good ride, and it went a small way towards making her feel less neglected. It was bad enough when Bar came along and she had to share, but adding another horse has her Royal Spottiness feeling a little more bent out of shape then normal these days. Bar, on the other hand, reached through his pen bars after Katie put Sammy away as if to say, "Welcome to the herd!"

Lena will just have to get over it.

Katie paid Peter $1 and got the bill of sale for Sammy today, plus wrote her own check for board. She said she's never been so excited to give someone money before and has been picking up more work already to support her new horse habit. Luckily, we have more than enough extra tack (shocking, I know) for her to not have to worry about that part of things for now.

Sammy is loving the attention, even getting her mane and tail trimmed a little more today. The first time we took her out, she had huge tangles in her mane and her tail was dragging on the ground. We cut the tangles out of her mane, but it looked a bit like a hack job, so Katie has been cleaning it up over the last few days. Sammy has a great tail, and it just needed some TLC to get it looking even better.

Unfortunately for Bar, the indoor arena (it being rainy here today) was too full for us, even though he was in a super mellow mood, so I decided to groom him and take him for a walk down the driveway. If it had just been Steve and Katie in there, we would have gone ahead, but there are just a few folks who get nervous when we get in the arena, which then makes me nervous, which in turn makes Bar nervous. It's just not worth the headaches. Yes, one of the goals for this year is to get us past that with at least most of the people at the barn. (There are always going to be a few we will studiously avoid.)

While cleaning his feet, though, his left front (the upright) felt warm to the touch. Hm. He was putting weight on it, didn't seem sore, and wasn't limping on or favoring it at all, so we went for our walk. Nothing. No head bob at a walk or a trot, no stumbling, nada.

So we worked on going through puddles and some of our basic ground work skills, then walked back to the wash rack and rinsed his foot with cold water, just in case, and applied lots of iodine. He's probably fine, but we'll keep an eye on it over the next few days.

Then we took silly pictures of him and me while waiting for Katie and Sammy to finish their ride. This one is my favorite--my expression looks awfully guilty, like we got caught smooching. Notice he is licking my jacket, too. He is such an affectionate horse, much more than Lena. Not sure if it's a gelding thing, or if it's a racehorse thing, but while he can and usually does give me proper space, he also really likes being loved on. As you can see.

Happy 2010, may this decade bring new (but good) challenges, many rewards, and lots of fun and adventures to all!