Saturday, February 27, 2010

Lena (??) loses a shoe

Bar losing shoes this time of year is a given--the thin walls of his Thoroughbred feet combined with wet-to-dry and back to wet conditions make keeping iron nailed on his feet a test of my patience and my farrier's skills. Luckily, the latter is in a much higher supply than the former.

But Lena has great feet--big with thick hoof walls. She hasn't lost a shoe in a really long time, and then it was because she stepped on it and pulled it off. So imagine my surprise when Steve walked down to the arena sans Lena as I stood talking to one of the other riders and he told me she had lost a shoe. He had looked for it in her paddock but hadn't found it and said her hoof looked fine, not torn up at all. Hm. Could this be related to her kicking habit? One was surely suspicious having recently witnessed her deliver several jarring bangs on the back wall of her shelter.

I drove Steve home and then went back to the barn because Mr. Bar needed more work after yesterday's antics, plus I was determined to find Lena's shoe and figure out what had happened.

The first thing I saw was a hole at the base of that wall she's kicking all the time, and there at the bottom of the hole was her shoe. It looked a lot like she got her foot stuck under the edge of the wall and ended up pulling that shoe right off her foot.

Then I checked her foot and, yes, there was a big ol' scrape above the coronary band. She didn't seem sore or lame on that leg, but we'll watch her to be sure. Mike, the most awesome farrier, said he would probably swing by tomorrow to tack a shoe back on her dainty foot.

Is it too much to hope for that this might teach her a lesson? She really wanted out, too, and I explained that having a flat in the back made her uneven so she was out of luck on that account. Double lesson? I suppose I'm dreaming.

Bar, on the other hand, has all his shoes and got another good physical AND mental workout today--one that included dealing with the terror of hearing (and not seeing, which is apparently worse than seeing and hearing) the hoof clatters of another horse getting loose and heading down the driveway. Bar was very, very concerned and was actually the one to give those of us in the arena the heads-up that something was amiss (literally in Bar's case, along with his tail). We alternated between letting him approach to get reassurance and going back to work as if nothing was wrong as things got back under control.

He and I also did some work in the middle of the arena with two other riders doing their thing around us and he did fairly well--even with horses trotting up from odd directions behind him, he stayed calm and focused on me. Colleen, the nice woman who has offered several times to work with us, did mention that perhaps my own emotions/anxieties affect Bar. Sigh. I know they do, I just haven't figured out how to mask that from him just yet. Or get over it so I don't have to do any masking. I may have to fake it until I make it for awhile.

At any rate, the day ended with a beautiful moonrise and alfalfa. Not too bad, but it surely would have been better if Steve and Lena had gotten a ride in.

Rainy days and dancing with horses

Here in Northern California, it is an El Nino year--which means we have had a lot of rain, so much rain it feels like we haven't seen the sun in months. That's not actually true, we had just gotten accustomed to the drought cycle of mild, dry, and warm winters.

In other words, we forgot about the rainy season cycle, where the sun magically sliding through the clouds is cause for celebration--however brief--in the dreary norm of days-on-days of rain. Not to mention we get full reservoirs, lakes, rivers, ski slopes--all very good things.

The days and days of rain, however, leave us with muddy pens, slippery footing, and less romping back and forth for horses in their paddocks. Let's face it, deep mud makes for challenging rompage--at least it seems to for Bar. It's not that he doesn't get feisty, he just won't run and play as much as he likes to when he's fetlock-deep in the mud. It could be he's just taking care of himself--he's very cautious about footing--or maybe it's just too gross for him.

This inevitably leads to a build-up of play-energy, though. Yesterday it was just too much for him to contain and we had a minor eruption. Because we've worked extensively on ground manners, he's gotten very good at leading--with only minor reminders on occasion--even when the air crackles with him trying to be calm. It sometimes leaks out in a funny, low, squeal way back in his throat, but he usually manages to maintain until we get inside and he can buck, fart, and roll to his heart's content before we do any work.

Not yesterday.

A friend of mine said he must have known I was looking at his race photos and wanted to show off. Right, that must have been it.

He actually led fine down to the indoor arena, but as we went to close the gate (he always helps), he decided to see if he could make me drop the lead rope so he could have the whole arena to run free. He's done this once or twice before with some success, so he thought he would try again. He does a series of tricks to accomplish this goal: first, rear a little--always far away from mom because she gets mad; then back up to the very end of the lead rope and zoom around mom in a circle--again, far away because of the mad thing; then spin the hindquarters away from her, rear again while tossing the head, all in hopes of pulling said lead rope free of her hand.

Unfortunately for him, I've become more confident and am wise to his antics. He always stays outside my bubble, so I let him bounce around me a bit before informing him he was still attached to me. It's okay for him to play and blow off horsie-steam, but not in such a large way when we're joined together. He is smart enough to know the difference, he just needed a small reminder of what good manners are all about.

So after he got settled down and we walked together into the round pen, he had a few minutes alone to buck, fart and roll, then he stopped and looked over at me to check in. There are probably a couple different routes I could have taken, here--maybe immediately started working him hard or punishing him some other way--but it seemed like letting him work some of that out first would allow him to focus better when I did start to work him. I won't argue with his need to play, his need to MOVE, so I gave him that time and then worked him much harder than normal. We also went back to some basic movements and ground exercises to get him to focus. By the end of it, he was following me calmly around the arena, moving the parts of himself I asked him to when I asked him, and licking and chewing calmly.

There will always be days like this with him, days where he just feels so good in his skin he can't stand it. There are days I simply can't sit still to save my life, and my body aches, literally aches, to move (and sometimes aches when I move, too). Can he really be any different? I don't think so. He just has to remember I will always allow him that as long as he follows a few simple rules.

Lena wants everyone to know that she would never act like that and I should have just taken her out instead.

Both these photos were taken during sunnier times of the year, because photography in the rain isn't as fun, either.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Bar's winning races

I received a spectacular gift today--shots of Bar from the winner's circle after his two wins! He looks so young and so much like the racehorse he was.

But under it all, I can still see his personality shining through. A little mischievous, a little worldly, a lot Bar.

His first win was October 15th, 2003 at Bay Meadows:

His second was November 22nd, 2003 at Golden Gate Fields:

I feel a little like a mom with baby pictures.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Playing with a new camera

After graduating from an SLR and various film pocket cameras over the years, we've made do for a while with a series of digital point-and-shoot cameras. They do a pretty good job for most of what we're doing, as long as we're not indoors or moving too quickly. With horses as my primary subject, however, the point-and-shoots can be a little frustrating--particularly shutter lag. I can't tell you how many pictures I've deleted of the rear end of a moving horse--even Lena's cute spot gets old after awhile. It's either that or shutter-lag anticipation added to misjudged lighting and timing result in a photo--like the one below--which is actually a frame before the one you wanted. Indoors, I also struggled with getting the camera to focus on the moving horse--not on the wall behind said horse--with limited success. Yes, there are fixes for most of these things, but mostly they require more patience and set-up than I can usually manage with my personality and my horses.

I've played with enough DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) cameras to truly covet the clean, quick way they shoot, but we couldn't quite justify it over things the horses needed, things the house needed, cars, trucks--the list is endless. I could always make myself feel better by saying, "It would be too burdensome on the trail anyway," but the desire to point the camera, push the button, and have that shot--not the one a split second later--never quite let go.

Lucky for me (and believe me, I know how lucky I am), Steve does not believe in buying appliances for gifts.

My birthday is Tuesday and he had instructed me to studiously ignore the boxes showing up on the porch this week. Thankfully, he didn't torture me long--there were several decorative bags on the sofa when I got home from work Friday. When all was unpacked, a brand new, shiny Nikon D3000 was revealed. Oooo!!

It did not take me long to put it all together and start shooting, though waiting an hour for the battery to charge was sheer torture. The instantaneous reaction to pushing down on the shutter is heaven after having to plan and plot to get the shot you want. Of course, because I've become so accustomed to shutter-lag, I ended up with a few shots of the front half of a horse instead. Oh, well--I also ended up with some good action shots. This one has been blown up and cropped (okay, straightened, too) and still retains pretty decent resolution.

Here is a video made up of five shots of Steve and Lena at a canter--the camera just snapped them 1-2-3-4-5. Of course, at the end of an hour, I ended up with well over 100 photos--some not so great and some that were pretty good--but am overall absolutely thrilled.

In shooting Bar indoors, I started with the flash, and now wish I hadn't used it quite as much. Oh, so much to learn. Here is my glowing-eyed demon horse seemingly floating--and in focus--so I really can't complain about the camera much.

The flash close up washes out the background (yes, I know many photographers who have told me this before--NOW I get it). Luckily, his tongue still shows.

Standing still, at least, we didn't really need the flash and his colors still come out nicely. Neither of the two shots below have been retouched at all--I particularly love the one of his eye with the various hues of black and brown all showing up. I know I have to work some on lighting, especially with his dark-on-dark coloring, but I have a whole instruction manual to read.

And even with it's nice long lens, I can still take silly pictures of my horse and me. He's thrilled, can't you tell?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Bar says he feels ok and will keep an eye on Lena

Bar says he feels ok and will keep an eye on Lena
Originally uploaded by spottyhorse67

He was watching her pretty closely at one point, looking even more worried than he does here, but then he tried to nibble her nose which I think means she's fine. Or he thinks she's fine, anyway.

Vaccine day

Bar, Lena, and Sammy all got vaccinated for West Nile, 3-way, and flu today--lucky them. Lena appears to be the only one suffering any ill-effects, and she was definitely not feeling well. Not only did she not wolf her grain, she snuggled. Lena Rey does not snuggle--unless she feels really, really crappy.

Bar and Sammy seemed to be their normal selves, if a bit touchy in the neck area, but Lena was definitely not functioning at 100%. I'm sure she'll be fine tomorrow, but it is distinctly odd to see her so subdued.

Lena says she is not feeling very perky

Lena says she is not feeling very perky
Originally uploaded by spottyhorse67

Post-vaccine, Lena is feeling not-so-great. Poor Lena.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Random thoughts about life with horses

In working on a marketing project for some friends of ours, I found myself drifting back in time through my blog posts and reliving the last few years of our horse journey. We've gone from one, to two, and now three horses. All of them are fun to ride and somewhat bound together by that similarity, yet are also as different as they can be in fundamental ways

Lena is a well-bred, albeit too tall, cutting horse. She had basic breaking and training in the cow-horse tradition and is smart, confident, sensitive, inquisitive--most definitely an alpha. No question, she is in charge, and as long as the other horses accept that, things are good. It doesn't work that way with her humans, but she's always going to try just to be sure you haven't changed your mind and decided to let her run the show after all. Keeping Lena entertained is the biggest challenge for her rider, and that obstacle that she went over yesterday could be a monster today just because she's bored and feels like it.

Bar is also very well-bred, but did not get the same generalized training Lena did--certainly not ranch horse work. He was made and trained to do one thing--run as hard and as fast as he could. He is also smart and curious, but much more prone to look to his human for guidance. That is part of what has been so important about the work we've done with him--he knows now he can trust me to take care of him in a situation and he doesn't have to take over. As long as I can stay calm and confident, he defers to me. It's why he's such a good horse for me--he is making me a better horse-woman simply because he trusts me to be that for him. I expect that eventually his confidence level will increase even more than it already has, but that he will never be the alpha Lena is. That's okay, there are enough of us in the family as it is.

It's also been interesting to watch Katie work with Sammy--a wholly different horse personality-wise from either of our other two. Sammy takes a lot of convincing sometimes, but will usually finally go along with you. And she seems to tolerate a lot of different stimulus without either Lena or Bar's penchant for reacting--or over-reacting some might say.

The journey, it seems, doesn't really end--it just winds out and offers new trails to explore.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Elmer is back again, hungry and scarred.

Elmer is back again, hungry and scarred.
Originally uploaded by spottyhorse67

The ears are far more tattered than they once were. At least that
means he may have learned to fight a little better.

Sammy's first trail ride

Katie has been dying to get Sammy out on the trail since she got her, but the weather here in Northern California has not been as cooperative as one might hope. Not that we in the drought-stricken state are complaining, just noticing that the trail riding opportunities have not been as plentiful so far this year.

We decided to take Lena just because she is the more experienced horse. While Bar actually tends to be calmer, Lena is definitely more confident most of the time, and we thought that would be key for Sammy's first time out.

We were a little worried about too much mare in the mix, but they actually did quite well together. Lena is more dominant, but Sammy holds her own and isn't particularly herd-bound with Lena, which is good. Bar is extremely attached to Lena, and that has lead to him getting very stressed when she gets out of sight. Sammy was content to be by Lena, but didn't need to be. Of course, that backfired on us a little when we came across a terrifying trickle of water. Lena went across fine, but Sammy wanted nothing to do with this mud nonsense and it didn't matter that Lena and I were on the other side--not one little bit. Bar is more afraid of being separated from Lena than of almost any obstacle. Sammy wasn't sure that heading back up the hill away from the water--and Lena--wasn't the better plan but Katie convinced her that going through was way better than facing Katie's wrath.

The ride was only a little bit challenging for Sammy physically--since hills are not a part of arena life--but she wasn't too stressed and did great with both the uphill and downhill. She is definitely a good example of why Quarter Horses have that good, solid, golden retriever reputation--but she is not boring, which is good. Can't have Katie getting bored, after all. That would be bad.

Katie was very proud of Sammy, and we were all glad to get away from the arena today. Bar, on the other hand, was a bit miffed at being left behind. We got a loud whinny and a very sad, soulful look when we got back to the barn and came up the hill leading Sammy and Lena. Someone missed all his girls, but I promised him he'd get to go next time. He was only somewhat mollified, even after several carrots and some tasty grass, but hopefully he'll forgive me eventually. After the next outing, is my guess.

As it was, Valentine's Day appeared to be all about the ladies today and since it's an artificial event (in my opinion, anyway), that's probably okay.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Bar and Katie showing off his tendon

This relates to my earlier post about seeing the difference in Bar's tendon from when we first brought him home.

This is Bar standing as square as he possibly can--not an easy feat with an "I-really-have-to-move-all-the-time" Thoroughbred. The leg isn't perfect, nor will it ever be, but it is a lot better than it was. His strength, flexibility and range of movement continue to improve as well.

One of the other keys to all of this is proper hoof care and an awesome farrier. Mike has not only helped keep shoes on the boy, but has done a great job working with the confirmation and structural challenges--granting Bar the stability he needs to build up the muscular strength and support for the damaged leg.

And this is Bar, Katie, and Peter hamming for the camera. Not the greatest shot of Bar's leg, but an awfully great shot of two cheesy smiles.

Cutest horse EVER!

Cutest horse EVER!
Originally uploaded by spottyhorse67

Of course I'm a teensy bit biased.

Lena and Steve

Lena and Steve
Originally uploaded by spottyhorse67

Bar doing his very best grain vacuum imitation.

Bar doing his very best grain vacuum imitation.
Originally uploaded by spottyhorse67

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Bar's bowed tendon -- then and now

Bar has a bad bowed tendon--the one that ended his racing career for good and ultimately landed him in my lap. When he chose us as his new family and we signed on for that wild ride, the people we got him from (racehorse trainers) and my friend Karen (racehorse rehabilitator) all said it would tighten up with work.

Since Bar was fairly sound on it, at least for the purposes of trail riding, I didn't worry much about the way it looked, but always gave it a good rub before and after working him. He also gets massage whenever he'll relax and wherever he'll let me rub for as long as he can stand it--usually not long in most places. He's touchy, that one, and not so good at letting go, but he's improving.

I knew the tendon (and that whole leg) was stronger, but because I look at him every day, I really didn't realize how much it's improved until Katie and I were trying to remember if my dad had ever met Bar and I pulled up this picture from the day he came to live with us. (Bar, not Dad.)

Looking at that photo, I suddenly realized that his leg has improved--and rather dramatically. This photo below is from August of last year. He still tends to push that leg forward, but his leg no longer looks like it curves in way too many places. And this was right before the hell ride Katie and I took in Armstrong Woods, when Bar was still recovering from his and Steve's spill.

It was really surprising to see how much the tendon and leg have improved, and looking at it with new eyes the last couple of days shows me it's even a little better now--stronger and more flexible--with the regular conditioning work we've been doing. I've also been experimenting with Jack Meagher's massage and pressure point techniques to see if that will lead to more fluid movement for both horses. It actually does seem to be improving Bar's range of motion, though he really has a hard time with pressure points being poked and muscles being cross-frictioned. Jack says in the book that even resistant horses will start to work with you when they feel the difference in their bodies, and it is happening slowly but surely with Bar. More slowly than surely, but we'll take the baby steps with this--or anything else for that matter.

Sadly, I don't think Dad ever did meet Bar. That photo of us at the barn was from November 2007, right before we brought Bar home. Dad stopped driving very far not too long after that, but I know he followed our adventures and misadventures online here and that will have to be enough.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

The horses really did get worked last night

Don't let that last post fool you, the photo was from yesterday and all three horses--including the beavers--got worked yesterday.

Of course, tonight we had to drop off a car at the mechanics and I had massage scheduled to try and get my back under control (even Bar's rocking walk doesn't help) so they got no love tonight either. Well besides the adoration that is ever-present in my heart, that is.

It will be a miracle if that post is still standing tomorrow.

"Who, me? Bar started it."

"Who, me? Bar started it."
Originally uploaded by spottyhorse67

She almost looks guilty, but not quite. I figured she stopped in the
hopes Katie had a carrot, and Bar is probably behind Katie waiting for
a carrot.


Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Bored horses

Bored horses
Originally uploaded by spottyhorse67

Obviously, my horses think I have not been out to the barn enough.
Katie sent me this picture with the comment "You have two beavers."

Also, Bar has been playing with his water hose. Sigh.

Okay, okay!! I'll get out there tonight, spoiled, rotten horses!

Dad at the barn

I found this picture in my archives, from Thanksgiving of 2007--obviously a nice, warm day in November as sometimes happens in Northern California.

This was before his health really started to deteriorate, so it's a favorite shot of mine--nice to remember him this way instead of in the hospital.

As it turns out, Dad actually used to ride horses with friends of his while growing up in Iowa--a skill he apparently didn't forget, and that came in handy years later on an outing with some group home kids he worked with.

They were out on a trail ride and one of the kids' horse took off. Dad said he didn't even really think, just kicked his horse up to speed and went after them. He caught up to them, grabbed the runaway's reins, and pulled it up short. Nobody was hurt and all apparently ended well.

Upon hearing this story, I was hard put to imagine Dad on a horse, but it is not hard to imagine him riding off to the rescue.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Blogging with regularity

I didn't quite make a post-per-day last month, though I came pretty close.

Now we are into February, though I can hardly believe how fast January went. Of course, there was a lot going on.

I got some comments from some of the folks who had been involved with that arena fiasco with Bar a few weeks back. Their comments went up on the post, and I appreciate their perspective since mine was blocked by a big, brown body at the time.

It is hard to balance life, schedules, and barn time. For now, it seems better for Bar and me to pick times to ride when it's with people we can relax around. There are a couple--besides Steve and Katie--who have steady horses and don't mind his (or Lena's for that matter) sudden bursts of energy. Sproing. They even ride around the same time I normally ride, and one woman has offered to help me work with him any time. Of course, he loves her already because she gave him treats.

This year has had an odd start, and it remains to be seen where it will take all of us, but life really is about the journey and what you make of it along the way. I'm glad horses in general (and Bar in particular) are a part of my travels. Oh, and Steve, Katie, and several other humans, too.