Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The listening continues

After a day off yesterday, Bar was anxious to go do some work tonight. So anxious it was a little funny.

"Can I do this for you? How about this?"

I know that's probably giving him too much credit, but he was unusually eager to please today. He was also moving very well and felt like working, so maybe that was the only thing going on.

Doesn't much matter, though. He got a good work out and we had a good time, even though it was just ground work tonight. (Someone has to leave work before 5:45 to get a ride in before dinner.)

I may not always get the exact message he's sending, but this horse just keeps teaching me how to listen.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Not one, but TWO crazy Thoroughbreds on the beach

Today, Bar and I had a wild adventure all on our own. It was not all smooth sailing, but it all turned out well and we both learned a lot. Particularly about each other and about other crazy Thoroughbreds. Or not so crazy as it turned out.

Devon--one of the fine folks who handed over the big, brown horse--has a nice 9-year old mare who came off the track earlier this year and then got knocked up. Ursulita's due in March and according to Devon has been quite antsy on maternity leave, so we had decided we would take them out on an easy ride. (They actually knew each other since their careers crossed over under Devon and Howie.)

I know. First ride out on an OTTB with my OTTB? What craziness! But I have a lot of faith in Bar. And I know Devon can hang on and not fall off with the best of them, so I decided to take on the challenge and suffer the consequences if it didn't turn out exactly perfect.

It did not start out well.

Bar loaded just fine, but when he figured out he was alone in the trailer, things started to go astray. First, there was a nose through the screen and a general stomping and pawing. Not to mention the whinnying as we drove through town. I kept talking and singing to him, but it did not stop the trailer from rocking back and forth in a rather alarming manner.

Then the entire neck and head came out the window. "Bar!" That brown head swung around to the sound of my voice, "Get your head back in!" And he did. For a minute or two.

I had loaded him loose--tied in the front, but not shutting the center divider. My thought was--since I knew I'd be doing some maneuvering when we got to the ranch to pick up Devon and Ursulita--he'd be better off balancing himself if he weren't locked in.

As we drove through downtown Sebastopol, with the truck and trailer shuddering with his antics, I started to rethink that strategy. I even debated stopping and shutting the divider, but had a vision of being bowled over by 1,200 brown pounds as he pointed himself back up 116 and headed for home, so decided to just get him to the ranch and reassess the situation.

Apparently, you could hear us coming for quite a ways. All the horses on the property came running out to see what the heck was going on in this trailer, and Bar called out from his window, "Save me!!!"

Big baby.

I climbed out of the truck and peeked in the window, where I saw he had pulled himself loose from the trailer tie. Aha. No wonder the trailer felt like he was walking in circles--he was! Luckily, in all his wild antics, he did not injure himself--save for one tiny surface scrape on his left foreleg.

Ursulita looked a bit askance at the concept of climbing into the trailer with such a wild beast but we got him settled, shut the divider and the window, and loaded her in.

One of the nice things about other Thoroughbred people is they are willing to accept a certain amount of interesting behavior, though I think Howie was a tiny bit worried as we pulled out.

Within a few moments, Bar settled down and rode the entire way to the beach with hardly a bump--even though he was completely out of hay because he'd shredded the hay bag with all his wild antics.

I know I'm occasionally guilty of anthropomorphizing, but if a horse can look sheepish, Bar absolutely did when he stepped out of the trailer and realized we were at the beach. "Oh. We were going somewhere fun, just like you kept saying."

And he was fabulous on the beach. Playful but calm, watchful but responsive--fabulous.

Ursulita looked like an old pro out there, enjoying the sand and agreeing to at least approach the waves, if not douse her feet in them.

The return trip was completely uneventful. We loaded Ursi in first so we could drop Bar off first. If he looked sheepish when we got to the beach, he looked downright embarrassed when we got home.

It's not that I don't understand his reaction. In his world, it was perfectly reasonable. I could have been taking him anywhere, and wherever it was, it was too far away from the life he's used to. I'm still debating if I should have confined him to the front spot, but he might have actually panicked more that way. Really, I could second-guess myself forever, but I'd rather focus on what the situation taught both of us.

It's all about building trust, and I think we both figured out a little more about each other today. He learned we really are usually going somewhere fun; I learned he really will settle out if I just stick with him.

A year ago, I might have turned the truck around and taken Lena.

I'm glad it's not a year ago. I think he is, too.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Packing seminar with BCHC--North Bay Unit

The day after dentist day--when certain horses might not have felt like having other things in their mouth--seemed like a good day for a different type of adventure, so Steve and I went up to Lake Sonoma to participate in a packing seminar with our local unit of the Back Country Horsemen of California.

This is not our first exposure to packing, though we haven't yet been out on a "real" packing trip. A few years ago, we took a two-day packing course that drilled us with a lot (a LOT) of rope tying. It was great, but we were both afraid none of it stuck since we didn't practice--not even once--when we got back.

I am pleased to say that Steve Ybarra's coaching did filter back somewhat (okay, not as much as I'd have liked) as we tied box hitches and double-diamonds, talked about feed in the back-country, and the all-important concept of balancing your load.

Though Steve will tell you how very much I would like a mule in the family, I can't say we'll ever belly up to the bar and add a mule (or pack horse) to our string of ponies. It is doubtful Bar or Lena would consent to hauling mere gear, but they could probably be convinced to try some camping. Luckily, there are a couple sites at Lake Sonoma we can use to do a dry run (or two) close to home. Then there's Point Reyes to try, as well as some spots we discovered in earlier adventures up Highway 108. Close to home is a good place to start, so it was great to hook up with some local folks who are experienced and can share ideas and direction. They even offered to take us out with their pack stock! Lena and Bar will be pleased.

We didn't just talk about (and tie) knots, though. We also talked about education programs BCHC is involved in, including the "Leave No Trace" movement. With my past life of outdoor public service careers--and my obsessive-compulsive urge to pick up trash I find while out on the trail--I really appreciate the focus the BCHC puts on this idea. Teaching people that each and every one of us impacts the places we go--and reinforcing the concept that minimizing that impact should be a goal--could up awareness just enough to elicit change. And if it means I pick up just one less empty water bottle on the trail? (Really? You carried it in full, right??) Well hey, that's a good thing.

Dental day

A healthy mouth is almost as important as good feet in a horse, so we try to stay on top of their dental work. This year, we were a little behind--especially for Bar--but finally got it done on Friday.

As I related after last year's dental day, Lena has a great mouth and Bar has an okay mouth. His wave wasn't as bad this year, but he does actually have a bit of an overbite and that causes the rostral and ventral hooks to show up.

Over an hour and four shots of drugs later, he was in good shape, but it will be better to do him every six months instead so the duration isn't so long each time. His jaw was pretty tired and that's a lot of sedation to put him through, poor guy. Leslie is kind enough to price according to how much work she does and how much time it takes, so the cost won't really increase, it will just be spread out.

Bar wanted out of the stall so badly, I could guide him out almost immediately--though we did rest a little on the way back to his paddock as he came up from sedation. Lena made us wait while she napped a little, though she had seemed to be waking up as Leslie finished up. And she only got two shots!

Glad it's done, though, and it will probably be easier--in a few days, anyway--to get a bit back in Bar's mouth. A couple people have commented that he will probably move better, too, so it will be interesting to see if that is another bonus from all this. Certainly if he isn't protecting himself from the bit, that makes a lot of sense.

All in all, it is a necessary thing for a happy, healthy horse. And it's kind of funny to watch 1,200 pounds of stoned beastie, too.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Post-dental work

Post-dental work
Originally uploaded by spottyhorse67

He was actively looking for treats, so he must not be too sore. Even after over an hour of hard labor in his mouth and lots (lots) of drugs.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Always learning

One of the best things about owning horses is the learning curve--particularly when all my real experience in the last five years has been on-the-job.

We are actually quite lucky. As terrifying as Lena's first colic was, we all survived and are now all tuned into the warning signs. It could have been so much worse--a dramatic end to our horse-owning career before it even got started. I've heard stories like that and am grateful ours did not end that way for many more reasons than Lena has spots.

And as frustrated as I get with myself learning to ride Bar, the big brown horse has taught me so much about communication--how to be subtle and soft, learning how to ask, and being able to recognize the try. He is often more forgiving than I expect, giving me the opportunity to try something, be wrong, then move through it.

Learning to ride has been hard. I've taken some lessons on both Bar and Lena, and I've done a lot of reading and watching of videos, trying to make up for a woeful lack of riding and training knowledge. Mostly, it seems like the less I know the more I'm willing to work with the horses to see what's effective. Since that is different things with different horses, the learning seems to be constant. Ike once told me that is the mark of a good trainer, which I aspire to be in my own hunt-and-peck kind of way.

I also continue to poke away at my own abilities--feeling (and noting how it feels) when I'm in balance, trying to be light with my hands and cues, not wiggling too much in the saddle, etc. I can at least feel when I'm settled and right nine times out of ten these days. I can't always correct it instantaneously when I'm not, mind you, but I can feel it. The quiet bareback riding Bar and I have done seems to have helped a lot with my seat. Not relying on stirrups for balance, just settling into his rhythm--rocking as it is--seems to have given my spine and rear end some previously missing muscle memory.

Lessons, of course, are an ideal way to go about this process. The problem, though, is not only the cost, it's also meshing with the trainer. If you're not comfortable with the trainer, the motivation to find the cash is limited. Unfortunately, my favorite trainers are four hours away, which is a bit far. One of the reasons for our trip to Slide in October is to get Ike and Cheri's insight--as well as a much-needed horse-vacation for all of us. My brain seems to work well getting information, working through it on my own for awhile, then going back to build on it some more. Wash, rinse, repeat.

I'm both terrified and excited about the road that awaits us, not just at Slide but also as we roll onwards with our horses. I guess that describes much of my life over the last five years pretty well. It seems to be working, though--pushing me to keep learning and keep teaching, so it can't be all bad.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Great support from folks

I realized my last post was a little grumpy when two people gave me great feedback and support--all of it very logical and sane.

Bar has been a handful over the last two and half years, but he also has given me so much joy and taught me so much it really has all been worth it.

The frustration and grumpiness is mostly with myself. People who know me well point out that patience is not in my genetic make up and I can sometimes drive myself crazy. I really liked Kate's suggestion to add one thing at a time to push my own envelope a little more each ride.

And Kippen64 is totally on the mark with thinking I have to do it all "right" as opposed to just taking what comes and working with it.

Steve has often pointed out that I never give myself enough credit, either.

My big brown horse and I have come a long way, and we nearly always have fun together. We can both relax a little more, but we are both learning that bit with each other.

Must remember to enjoy the good stuff and focus less on the other stuff. Makes for a better ride through life all the way around.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Fear of flying

Reading a recent post on one of my favorite blogs reminded me of a topic buzzing around in my head since Sunday's awesome trail ride.

I am still afraid to canter the big, brown Thoroughbred. At least while I'm in the saddle, and apparently only in the arena.

And if I'm at all honest with myself--always a good plan--I'm still afraid some of the time just riding him. Not when we're on the trail, just in the arena.

This really makes no sense.

The arena is a fairly controlled environment. The trail has a host of unnamed surprises that can (and do) leap out at any moment. Dogs. Small children. Fishing poles (which look like lunge whips). Really, any combination thereof--and more--can occur. (I've seen it, trust me.) So why (why?!) can I relax in the saddle as we trot (and sometimes canter) up the trail and the mere indication of an increase of speed in the arena causes breath-holding?


Most--in fact nearly all--of our serious accidents have been in the arena. However, our very first trail outing was short-lived and terrifying (particularly for Steve) because I slid off and underneath a rearing horse. Only the big brown horse did everything imaginable--even panicked as he was--not to step on me. And I had no idea how bad it looked at the time, either--apparently quite bad if the look on Steve's face was an accurate gauge.

But it is the arena that causes me the most consternation.

I know this, so I take extra steps to deal with my neurosis. I babble to Bar in the arena. He tolerates it because it's better than breath-holding. I know I should hum or sing, but sometimes babbling is what comes out instead.

To his credit, many months have gone by since he has given me any reason to doubt he's taking care of me. When I get out of balance, he stops. When he does speed up without permission, the most I have to do is a gentle one-rein stop--usually because I'm too far forward and I've confused him--and mostly a tap on the outside rein is sufficient.

He likes it when I get on his back, for crying out loud!

No doubt part of it is that both of us have minimal fun in the arena. Ideally, we'd live somewhere that would allow us to point our noses off the property and run up and down trails instead of doing dumb ovals. However, I think it's important to ride him regularly and keep him in shape before asking him to climb over hill and dale, so we have to do arena work even if it sucks.

So we are stuck with the arena.

And I think it is past time for me to channel my trail riding calm--or at least trail riding confidence--to the arena.

I haven't figured out exactly how to do that, yet, but I have a deadline in mind. We are all (Steve, Lena, Bar, and me) going up to Slide in October and I'll need him to work with me in the arena by then. Or rather I'll need to be able to relax enough to keep him focused in the arena--a new arena in a new place--so we can learn a few things from Ike and Cheri.

Of course, we'll also have the trails up there to give us a good break. Hm. I wonder if he'll want to come home.

I wonder if I'll want to come home.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Lena anniversary

In all the time we've owned Lena, I don't think I've ever forgotten to celebrate the anniversary of her coming into our lives.

Only I did this year!

What a bad horse mommy.

Not only was August 1st the 5-year anniversary of her coming into our lives, the 15th was the 5-year anniversary of us nearly losing her to colic.

Since her last bout, we've succeeded in getting her out more and I've been able to do some acupressure on her on a fairly regular basis.

Call me crazy, but she seems calmer--both when eating (less frenzied swooshing of grain in her bucket) and in general. Out on the trail, she was curious and alert, but went up and down hills, over bridges, and past several things that normally make her leap sideways and snort.

She has been a wonderful, beautiful, spotty teacher and giving back some level of serenity to her seems like the least I can do. Thank you, Lena Rey!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Finally back out on the trail

Oh, it's been a long time.

So long, in fact, that my pre-trail ride anxieties were humming along at their funny little two-year ago buzz level until everyone was safely loaded and we were on our way.

For no reason, I might add.

Bar was first to load, since we've determined Lena rides better in back and he had graciously accepted the front compartment so long as we were getting away from the arena. Granted, it's been awhile, so when he didn't immediately into the trailer, I wasn't overly concerned. We did a couple circles, re-approaches, and I was still getting hesitation. Odd. I knew playing tug of war was not going to work, so I stepped to the side and pointed into the trailer.

He loaded. Stepped right up into the trailer, no hesitation, no dancing, nada.

I was reminded of Katie when she was little, wanting to do things herself: "My do it!!" Great. 1,200 pounds of toddler. But! He loaded, so it is hard to be grumpy about how it happened. In fact, I'm rather pleased.

Lena practically skipped in behind him and we were off.

We didn't go far, just to a local park that has hills and bridges, children, dogs, and fishing--good mental and physical challenges for both horses. In particular, we wanted to see where Bar is at physically with his knee and his stamina before trying some tougher rides.

He got tired and a little sore, but he was good and I could feel him starting to use his hind end, really get it underneath himself, as we went downhill. He reverted back to not wanting Lena to get too far away from him, like he was when we first took them out, but that seemed pretty normal. The only time it was an issue was when he would start to rush going downhill to keep up, but he paid attention to my body language and voice and settled out when he needed to.

Lena was less spooky than she has been in a long time--even going past dried out bushes of doom she barely batted an eye. She did kick back at Bar once, but he did have his nose way too close to her rear end so it was sort of deserved. And she missed--likely on purpose--so no harm, no foul. Being no dummy, Bar kept his distance after that.

It was a good outing after so long, both for Bar and for me. My arm is a little tired and his knees are a little sore, but I think both of us would rather be sore from the trail than from the arena any day.

Loading him back into the trailer we had the same issue--apparently I now have to stand to the side to get him to climb in. Maybe I've trained him to well not to come over the top of me? Who knows. Lena also regressed a little, acting nervous like we'd drive off without her, which set Bar off as I loaded him and closed the divider on his butt. Luckily, we got everyone in and settled before they shook the trailer apart.

After we go out a few more times, I expect they'll remember we always leave with both of them and we always come home, but it may take a few outings to get back there.

That's okay. Outings are a good thing. Just ask Bar and Lena.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Forrest's big day at the races

The people we got Bar from are still in the racing business, and just so happened to be racing their 4-year old in his first race in Santa Rosa Sunday. We got to go hang out on the backside and watch him get ready, then see him off to the track. Pretty cool stuff.

Forrest View is a nice looking horse with a calm demeanor and expressive face. He wasn't really sure what was going on today, but he was game for it. He was up and curious, and bounced towards the track, ready to release all that sproing-y energy.

It was a short race, only five furlongs, and on turf--several new variables for Forrest. Like all their current horses, he's much more of a longer-distance horse, and he'd never been on turf before, but he had to start somewhere and he did alright. He broke with the other horses, but then hesitated a little and lost ground. He made up some but by then there was no more race to be run and he finished 8th out of 10 horses. Then, of course, he was hard to pull up. "Is that it?" he seemed to say, "But I'm just getting started!"

He wasn't even breathing hard when he got back to the paddocks for his bath and cool down, and kept looking back at the track from the hot walker, maybe to see what he was missing. Devin and Howie were happy to get that first race out of the way and all in all were pleased with Forrest's debut.

So much more to write, but the photos will have to suffice for now.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Too much fun, not enough chores

We had grand plans to get out on the trail today, with Bar and I both feeling "sound" and the weather just about perfect.

And then we looked around the house and found quite a few things that needed to be done. Things that the last several weekends of entertainment had left laying about. Mostly in big piles.

Not that we regret the abundance of activity, of course. The trip to Slide was not only fun, but an important step to re-tooling their business. Last weekend, we went to Armstrong Woods to talk to Jonathan and Laura Ayers at the Pack Station about their business and ended up on a lovely trail ride through the redwoods there on some of their fine horses. There may have been a miffed Thoroughbred and spotty mare back home, but Steve and I had a nice ride we wouldn't have taken on our own horses. And it was sort of by accident.

In fact, we've had plans nearly every weekend--at least one of the days--for the last two months. For two somewhat hermit-like folks, that is a lot of activity. We'd probably go out tomorrow, but the friends we got Bar from have a 3-year old running in his first race at the Santa Rosa Fairgrounds and we want to go see that, too.

Oh, the dilemmas of balancing horse time with keeping things at least relatively organized on the domestic front. Much as we'd rather spend all our time with the horses, fall and winter are approaching and there are things that River Rats need to do to prepare.

Since we were not born independently wealthy and have to do all the work ourselves, the trail ride got pushed to next week. But next week it had better be, or Bar will never forgive me for all the arena work we've been doing to "get him back in shape." Ever.

Monday, August 02, 2010

An OTTB pack horse? Oh, yeah.

I follow a log of different blogs, some Thoroughbred related an some not.

You all know I love Thoroughbreds and will champion their off-the-track abilities as often as possible.

But a back-country horse? I think this is incredibly awesome and it inspires me. Check out Buckskins Rule's buddy's OTTB hanging out in the back-country. (Scroll down until you see him mention me, below the picture of the chestnut Thoroughbred carrying, yes, trail gear.)

Bar can do this, I know it. In fact, he would probably opt for this over the arena every single time.