Monday, May 31, 2010

Steve and Katie have trail riding adventures

Being that one of us is still crippled and technically not allowed to ride her goofy ex-racehorse, Steve and Katie took Lena and Sammy on a trail ride adventure at the beach today.

It turned into a bit more of an adventure than they anticipated, thanks to a little dog whose owners a) should have been observing the leash law and b) are lucky they still have their little drop-kick dog.

Apparently this happened right as Steve and Katie entered the beach. A small dog, very aggressive, came charging up to them. Sammy went sideways, really quickly, and dumped Katie in the sand. Luckily, Katie held onto Sammy's reins because the dog continued to attack Sammy's ankles while the owner shrieked at the dog and repeatedly apologized to Katie. Probably the owner was too afraid to get close to Sammy, but the dog should never have been off-leash. Period.

Sammy never once kicked out at the dog or tried to run Katie over, and the only way Katie and Steve could get away was to mount up and run the horses down the beach because the owner had absolutely no control over her dog. Steve even turned Lena to the dog like it was a cow and Lena acted just like a cutting horse, dropping her head and pinning her ears back to try to control the minuscule terrorist. Unfortunately, the dog then went back to chase Sammy. This, by the way, was after the owner had captured the dog once, then let it escape again.

If it had been a Rottweiler or other large dog, this would not only have been unacceptable, but the dog would likely have been reported for its aggressive (and outright dangerous) behavior. It seems like people with little dogs don't always follow the same rules.

Katie and Steve went on to have a nice ride, though they also got in trouble for riding on the non-horse portion of Doran Beach. Oops. (They say the signs need to be bigger.)

I'm glad no one was hurt and I hope that person learned a lesson about their dog and horses. She probably has no idea how lucky her dog really is.

Meanwhile, Bar and I hung out at the barn and day-dreamed about our next trail ride adventure. Unruly dogs, beware.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The many faces of Lena

Lena is a very expressive--some might say dramatic--mare. She does not hide her emotions well, though she does tend to over-react nine times out of ten--usually just to have something to do.

Today we surprised both horses by driving the truck (one of the trucks, that is) right up to their paddocks to unload a sheet of plywood. (Lena is also a kicker which necessitates replacing the plywood on her shelter periodically.) "Well!" they seemed to say, "They've never done this before! How odd!"

Lena watched carefully as Steve began to unload the plywood, predictably taking a step back as he slid it off the top of the truck.

Bar was unimpressed and turned his butt to the whole process. Aren't ex-racehorses supposed to be more worried about things? And wait, shouldn't he have the stable vices?

But I digress, as usual. We are talking about the most lovely spotty mare on the ranch in this post, not about the most handsome Thoroughbred on the ranch.

She has many expressions, this mare of ours. She is smart and playful and curious. She needs a lot of input and doesn't always get enough, though we're trying to be better. She is a beautiful horse, both still and in motion, and she is why I'm here today blogging about horses in general and Thoroughbreds more often than not.

Thanks, Lena Rey. You're one of a kind.

Bar starts back to work

Unlike my arm, Bar's knee (well, carpus if one wants to be technical about it) has been cooperating and healing slowly but surely. It's not completely flat and it may never be pretty again, but there is no longer any heat in in it. He has been moving pretty comfortably on it for a couple weeks now, too, so we are gently returning to work.

Well, Bar is. One of us is still in a cast with a bone that appears unwilling to hold still and heal properly without surgical intervention. Dave over at A Tale of Two Buckskins has counseled patience. I know he's right, I'm just not sure I have any left at the moment.

But I don't have any cheese to go with that whine, so let's go back to Bar, shall we?

Prior to the carpus blowing up like a balloon, we had been working a lot on getting him to use his hind end to push instead of pulling himself along with his massive Thoroughbred shoulders. Progress was being made and he had started extending nicely through the shoulder and leading with his heel instead of catching and dragging his toes. This photo is from back in March and the position is lovely, as is the softness in his face. (That's his "ugly" bowed tendon in front, by the way.)

His convalescence has brought back some of his old habits, but watching him yesterday showed me he is paying attention to his body in a relatively new way. He caught a toe a couple times and then (on his own) shifted his weight back into his hindquarters, bringing the weight up off his front end and giving himself more control, more freedom, in front. It was so amazing to watch that subtle re-balancing--both because it means he is teaching himself that distinction, and because I could actually see the change in movement.

We have to work on his extension in front again, but it will come back. Two more weeks of ground work (my surgery is on the 11th) should help, and then we need to get out of the arena and back on the trails! Enough of circles, already!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Brief moment of freedom

Today was supposed to be the day my cast came off for good and I marched into Kaiser full of relief and expectations of a quiet trail ride this weekend.

I was sorely disappointed.

Emphasis on sorely.

Now I've had some pain and discomfort over the last couple of weeks, but having never broken a bone, didn't think too much about it. Of course it's sore, dummy, you broke it.

Well, it turns out that fractures can shift and mine has. Not only has it shifted, but the bone isn't reforming as well as they would like. When I asked if I should have come in sooner, the answer was that likely it wouldn't have changed anything.

Nearly everyone who heard this had an immediate response along the lines of, "Well, that's because you did too much." To which I say, no, I did less than I normally do which should have been little enough to have me fully healed at least a week ago.

The upshot is that I will likely have to have a plate put in to help my wandering bones reattach. The good thing is that--barring complications--the post-op healing should be relatively fast. Having watched Steve's rapid recovery after his clavicle was stuck back together, I am very hopeful.

I am also annoyed, but I keep reminding myself it could have been much (much) worse.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

I can always find them

Really, no matter where I go, I can find horses. Of course, that's undoubtedly because I'm as horse-crazy as a 12-year old girl and go looking. Be that as it may, I find them.

In New York, I accosted carriage horses. In Portland, I once chased down a mounted police officer--possibly mildly alarming him. In Austin, I snuffled noses with several big draft horses pulling carriages. In Las Vegas, I went to the Tournament of Kings show at The Excalibur just to see ponies.

I suppose one could reasonably call me obsessive.

Steve and I spent quite some time in Golden Gate Park this weekend, and I managed to find horses there, too.

The Polo fields are more like soccer fields these days, but my nose told me there were still horses nearby and lo and behold, the SF PD keeps a stable there, too!

The horse above was the most gregarious of the bunch, but I obeyed the signs and did not dispense treats--much to his dismay.

This was the first time either Steve or I had really explored the park and it seems like a great place to ride, but we haven't found evidence that's allowed for non-Police persons.

We did find evidence (aka road apples) that horses had been out in the park a few places, though perhaps they were on official business only. Ma'am.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Should be obvious

Steve and I were wandering through Golden Gate Park today and naturally (okay, with some persistence on my part) found our way to the SFPD stables at the Polo fields.

As we were leaving, having patted a couple noses and scratched an ear or two, I saw the above sign and couldn't resist a photo. It reads, "If you aren't willing to take the risk don't get up on the horse."

Seems like a no-brainer, right? Unfortunately for horse-related businesses, most folks don't see horseback riding that way--or life in general for that matter.

There are definitely things you can do to make yourself safer, no doubt about it. But that risk is always there and it's part of the deal you make when you choose to ride. Just stepping off the curb offers its own set of risks, too so wrapping oneself in bubble wrap hardly seems like a solution.

Will I make sure my arm is mostly healed before I ride? Yes. Will I pay more attention when I get back on again? Yes. Will I ride again? Absolutely.

Life is short and I surely don't want to get to the end and realize there are things left undone. Or at least things I haven't done out of fear. As Garth Brooks' says, "It's better than pushing up daisies."

Friday, May 21, 2010

This is why...

This is why...
Originally uploaded by spottyhorse67

I end up with horse slobber in my hair.

That's okay, though. Bar ends up with Jess slobber on him sometimes,

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Cool quote

I saw this on the All Horse Stuff blog and, naturally, I love it.

"I must not forget to thank the difficult horses, who made my life miserable, but were better teachers than the well behaved school horses who raised no problems" -- Alois Podhaisky, Director of the Spanish Riding School 1939


Originally uploaded by spottyhorse67

Bar says he will always listen to my rants as long as there is grain
and/or play involved, but to make sure we focus on having fun. Okay?

Soap Box

Okay, okay. I know that last post was a little bit of a rant, and a rant on an oft repeated theme here at Spotty Horse News.

Sometimes my frustration cup runneth over.

My friend Karen commented that easy horses probably won't teach you as much, and that is really the heart of it for me. Push button horses are the right horses for a lot of people, and that's okay for them and probably better for their horses, too.

As I've often written, Bar and Lena have been marvelous teachers. Lena taught me to be passionate about horses and riding, and Bar continues to stretch my horse-training mental muscles. Lena has also recently taught us all the importance of consistency. This whole learning process has not been easy but it's been an interesting journey every day--one sure to keep us all thoroughly entertained for many years.

Note to self: You don't always have to hit the "Publish Post" button two seconds after finishing, particularly when the soap box feeling is upon you.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Those crazy Thoroughbreds

My ex-racehorse and I have come a long way, but most people will still only see him as "one of those crazy Thoroughbreds." When they see him calmly walking with me, easily doing what I ask, he's "being good," but it must just be that day.

They have never seen him negotiate some weird thing on the trail when he's dead tired just because I asked him to. They haven't seen him load and ride calmly in the front of the trailer simply (I think) because he knows we're going somewhere away from the arena. They have never seen him stand quietly tied to the trailer both before and after a trail ride.

Natalie over at Retired Racehorse caught my attention months ago with her post You Can't Hug a Thoroughbred and it is an attitude that is very common in the Stock horse world, but I think there are tendrils of it everywhere--even in disciplines where Thoroughbreds are welcome and respected.

Yes, they can be hot and dancy and a little distracted at times. No, they are not necessarily the ideal horse for every person or every discipline. But not necessarily because of who they are, more because they deserve a little time and understanding. In disciplines where TBs are accepted, the attitude that they are "just that way" allows owners and trainers the latitude to not really communicate with the horse, and enables them to continue to give a horse input that reinforces that stereotype.

What if you expected your TB to enjoy just walking on a trail? What if you let your racehorse relax and have fun and didn't grab his face, anticipating a spook, when you came up to an obstacle on the trail?

These are random thoughts, things I have started asking myself while Bar and I try to find entertainment with our respective injuries. If I don't tense up as we walk down the driveway past the other ex-racehorse, even as he runs up to us, what does Bar do? Today, he kept on ambling along next to me. Tomorrow it may be different, but isn't that true with all horses? Is any horse *really* bomb proof, or do our expectations color their actions more than we even know?

I have no hard answers, yet, just ideas and things to try with Bar (and Lena--Paints have bad reputations, too). Actually, I doubt hard answers exist anywhere when it comes to horses--seems like it's just a journey you choose to take, one that can open a lot of doors if you're willing to go there.

Bar seems willing to go there with me, so my challenge is to keep both of us engaged and excited.

For him, I can do this--since it's really for both of us anyway.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Still healing

Still healing
Originally uploaded by spottyhorse67

Bar's leg still seems to be moving in the right direction, which
baffles me to some extent, though I'll take it however it comes.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Bar may know his body better than I do

Bar's knee has been my nemesis (well, besides my own arm) since last month. We drained, then wrapped, and re-wrapped really to no avail. Anytime the wrap would stay on too long (and stretch) or slip, the carpus would puff up like a balloon.

Truly aggravating.

So when Steve and I went to visit the folks we got Bar from and see their newest up and coming racehorse--Ginger, in the photo below--I told them what was going on.

They recommended stopping the wrapping, starting to use DMSO, and giving him some Banamine since they are well-aware of his reaction to Bute.

So, Saturday afternoon, I soaked his knee in cold water and then did just that. He didn't like it, but he didn't pout as much as I expected, though he did stomp a bit after the DMSO was applied.

Sunday, Bar got very agitated in the cross-ties, whipping back and forth until Steve went to him and calmed him down. We decided to skip the Banamine and see how the joint did. If it was more swollen on Monday, he'd get more Banamine. If not, well, the less drugs he gets, the better.

Monday his leg looked better--not perfect, mind you, but better--so I decided to just run some cold water on it, clean the area, and put DMSO on it.

Bar had other ideas entirely.

Just opening a jar of SWAT (similar look and shape to the jar of DMSO) caused major agitation in the cross-ties--so much, I was half-way afraid he'd bust loose. He NEVER once threatened me, he just acted like someone was going to kill him. So, taking a few pages from Mark Rashid's book, I decided Bar was actively trying to tell me something. Very actively, since he's normally a pretty good patient.

All the doctoring supplies got put away and I went back out to him empty-handed. He immediately calmed down. Just to gauge the situation, I went back and got the DMSO, opened it, let him smell it--then watched his eyes get wide as the agitation come back ten-fold.

Okay. Obviously, he has an issue with it, and probably has good reason for that. That big, brown horse is sensitive--very sensitive--and DMSO is not a soft-spoken product.

So--as hard as it was---he got minimal doctoring. Again, back to Mark Rashid, it seemed that if Bar knew his body well enough to react to the DMSO, he'd be able to let me know if something was helping, too.

Watching him move was an easy test.

Yesterday, I walked him and let him play a bit in the round pen. He wanted to work but was very conscious of the joint. After he did a little bit, I ran cool water over the leg and prayed it was the right thing for him.

Turns out my horse may have been right all along. Tonight, the carpus is less swollen than it's been in a long time and he's moving on it with strength and confidence.

Luckily, some of us can admit when they are wrong.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Thoughts on being "the Alpha" -- or not

(Note: photo was taken in early March, prior to the recent rash of injuries.)

Working with Bar continues to educate me about horses, about myself, and about life in general. Working with both Bar and Lena has taught me to pay attention to individual horses and treat them, train them, according to their particular personalities and quirks.

Off and on in this blog, I've referred to myself as the "Alpha" and not thought too much about it beyond my own perceptions as someone the horses turn to for direction and leadership. Then I started reading Mark Rashid's book Horses Never Lie and it made me rethink what I meant by "Alpha." My methods are not what I would consider dominating and I'm usually trying to figure out how to give direction that makes sense to whichever horse I'm working with. Bar takes one kind of instruction, Lena another, but both of them are intelligent, playful horses and respond to making things entertaining and interesting.

Bar responds much more to a calm reaction to his antics than to cracking him on the nose. For example, he settles down faster if I say, "Okay, you want to come around me, then keep going around me. I'll just stand here until you're done," than when I smack the halter down on his nose and back him up forcefully.

With Lena, she needs to stop dancing and anticipating what she thinks I might ask her to do and use her brain instead. Some days that means letting her blow off steam until she can focus on something else besides her own energy level.

Trusting my own instincts about my horses and what they need on any given day has been something I've had to learn to do, and with experts all over it hasn't always been easy. I remember a parenting class I took eons ago where they talked about being sure to pay attention to how you're feeling about what you're asking you child to do. If it feels wrong to you--no matter what the "experts" say--it will come off wrong to your child. The times I've felt most unsure in training Bar and Lena have often been the times I'm doing the conventional things--using techniques and hardware others have assured me are the right things to use to show the horses who is boss. It occurred to me that--much like parenting--my horses can tell when I'm unsure and will have absolutely no reason to feel confident in my decisions.

Not to say I will always make the right decisions, but if I am paying attention to my horses and training from my gut--much as I learned to parent from my gut--it might work out better than simply following some proscribed method of horsemanship.

Bar is not like any other horse. Lena is not like any other horse. To train them with push-button rules does them a disservice. Figuring out how to work with them and teach them is as much a gift as it is a challenge.

That is the kind of leader I'd like to be, that is what the term Alpha has meant to me when I have used it in the past. I haven't decided if I'll keep using it or not. Mostly, I'd rather have a partner than a subordinate, so maybe that's a no.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Bored with this

Originally uploaded by spottyhorse67

Bar and are both bored with being injured. His knee re-puffed yesterday because the bandage slipped, but he was the most impatient with the wrapping process he's been this whole time.

I don't blame him, not one little, teensy bit.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Lena uses her brain for good instead of mischief

Steve is off playing music tonight, which he does every Tuesday night, so I had time for both horses tonight. My arm wasn't sure this was a good idea, but my heart was. Yes, I promise I stayed on the ground.

I started with Lena, because she had already snarfed her grain when I got there and was looking for entertainment. We did some basic work in the round pen, and I was able to get her to transition on command (up and down) and stop when I asked her--all good things when it comes to Lena, who sometimes forgets who is the alpha mare. (ME!) She was very anxious to please, so I took advantage of that and sent her around me and over and around obstacles to get her to use her big, spotty brain.

Then I set her up just a tiny bit. She is goofy about poles and things that fall over, though sometimes I think it's just an excuse to bolt when whatever it is she nosed falls over. There are two upright jump braces in the indoor arena, just hanging out by some poles on the ground. I deliberately stepped to one side of one of them so the lead rope looped halfway around it, with Lena on the other side and--positionally--next to me. She snorted. She started to walk towards me in the way that would pull the pole over, saw the pole move, and stopped. Then she lowered her head and thought about it a little while... and came around the pole on the other side. It was at a trot, but she still used her head, so I didn't complain and gave her lots of praise.

Then I made her do it again going the other direction, and this time she walked.

She was surprised, I was not. I know the ability to think and learn is in there, we just had to find a game that brought it out.

Bar got his knee washed, drank out of the hose (his new favorite thing), and we played some, too, before he was re-swathed in pink and purple vet wrap. Good times.

I get a new (hopefully shorter) cast tomorrow, and Bar is nearly healed enough to start working again. Patience is not my strongest trait, but we may make it through all this--and learn a few things in the process--in spite of ourselves.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Lessons in leg wrapping

(Note: I know I am referring to his carpus as his knee, but I think y'all get my drift.)

When I got to the barn Friday, it was after both Katie and Steve had told me Bar's bandage had slipped. And it had. It was resting comfortably right below his knee, doing absolutely no good.


So I re-engineered my wrap in two pieces--shorter section below the knee, longer and resting on top of the lower wrap to cover the leg to about 4-6 inches over the knee.

When we got to the barn yesterday, I was thrilled to see the blue and tan wrap still in place, and even more glad to see distinct improvement--e.g. much less swelling--in the knee. It looks great head-on!

A little less great from the side, but still making progress.

He got duct tape along with his vet wrap yesterday, mainly because it pulls off the roll easier than the first aid tape and my left arm needs all the help it can get right now.

I'm off to the barn shortly to see how things look today. I'm hoping the new aggressive wrapping can dissipate the swelling so at least one of us can go back to work.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Jess-1, leg wrap-0

Bar's expression really says it all.

Even more good news, the knee is looking much, much better as well. We went for blue and purple vet wrap today. And duct tape.

More pictures to come.

Lay up

Having both Bar and me laid-up has led to possibly more thinking about training than is fair to either one of us. While he does want to work, he did look at me recently as if to say, "Sometimes it's okay to just to hang out and eat grass, you know." It may not hurt either one of us to just relax a little bit. Since neither of us is particularly good at that, it could be construed as training of a sort as it allows for some gentle detox time.

Of course, he is also ready to work--mentally anyway--and definitely tired of his pen. This week, he re-puffed and I was too worn out and sore by the end of my days from balancing my broken arm and over-using my good arm that I didn't even have it in me to take him down for a walk.

I go back and forth--do I trust him not to get goofy? Most days, yes. But he is who he is and sometimes needs strong reminders. That's fine, I am happy to reassert leadership any time, but afraid I would do what needed to be done before considering my arm. (Not that I've done anything like that at all during the healing process so far, of course. Absolutely not, nope.)

Bar, however, does not have my ability to take the long view and trade a moment's entertainment for getting properly healed so we can play hard later. Apparently he recently sneaked out past the guy who comes to clean pens and then played catch-me-if-you-can with Peter. Luckily, he doesn't want to leave the ranch and Peter always gets his horse.

Sometimes I wish I had that bio-link with him like the characters in Avatar had with their horse creatures, then he would know I totally understand and why we are so far out of our normal routine.

I couldn't exude any patience, of course, but we could at least grumble together.