Sunday, November 28, 2010

My three muses

Writers and artists rely on muses--spirits or spirited humans--to inspire their creativity.

My muses are of the four-legged variety, though I also think of my dad almost every time I sit down to write. (And not just from an English teacher's copy-editing viewpoint.)

Lena was my first muse, full of energy and sensitive nearly to a fault. She was willing to mold herself to whichever rider climbed aboard that day, and so very strong and balanced in her movements.

The brain is always working in this spotty head

Bar, of course, was my second muse and has inspired tales and prose I didn't know lived within my brain.

Smallest ears of the three, this horse of mine

And now there is Forrest, who with his very arrival has presented delightful challenges to my darling daughter and provided a whole new perspective.

Baby face

Such fabulous muses, so many stories yet to unfold.

A one-eyed racehorse

When we were at the track last weekend, I saw a curious thing--a one-eyed horse in the paddocks before a race. Devon said he was being schooled, and I'm pretty sure he didn't actually race, but it made me so curious about his story. (Her story? I saw the eye, but not much else.)

I would also submit this as evidence that not all racehorse owners and trainers will spit out a horse that isn't a winner, or even a prospect. Maybe I'm way off here, but this horse has got to be a long shot by any stretch of the imagination. And yet there he was, being handled with care and concern, just to teach him whatever lesson was in the offing that day.

I want to know who this horse is, know how he came to be missing an eye and how it is he is still on the track with such a shiny coat and attentive handlers. The gentleness I see in the way he's being handled below, the attention he's being given, speaks volumes.

I may never know what his story is, but he has certainly given me something to wonder about.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


I dreamed last night of riding Bar out onto a wide open beach, turning parallel to the surf, and urging him up into a gallop. I leaned forward, out over his neck, feeling his mane and the wind in my face, without an ounce of fear.

I count it as a good dream, a hopeful dream, a dream of things to come.

Playing with intentions

Communicating what you want to your horse can be challenging--especially if you aren't entirely sure you want what you're asking for. There are cues, of course. Leg cues, voice cues, and any combination thereof that horses can (and are) trained to respond to.

But how can you make it seem, well, seamless? How can you ask for a trot, then a canter, without that awkward jog in the middle? If you don't really want a canter because perhaps you're terrified it might morph into a gallop, well then what? How does that translate to your horse?

The Parelli's talk about using your own energy--bringing it up or down--to share your intentions with your horse.

Mark Rashid talks about visualizing and changing your own movement to signal what you want, instead of springing it on your horse all of a sudden. (At least in their opinion.) In the clinic we audited, he pointed out that the motion at all gaits is the same, just faster, so all you have to do is communicate that change in cadence to your horse.

That is easier said than done for some of us.

I decided to practice with Lena tonight and see how I did before getting on Bar. Why? Well, Lena is a much more sensitive horse. You think of changing directions and she's already there. She tells me I'm hitched up on the left by shifting off in the opposite direction, and stops on a dime when you sit back in the saddle. Usually, anyway.

Plus, I hadn't really ridden her since the broken rib and knew I had to get back on for both our sakes.

At first, she couldn't figure out what I was asking, which was okay because I had to think about how I was asking. The really cool thing was having her ears on me the whole time, which means she was using that big brain of hers--for good instead of evil this time. We worked on upwards and downwards transitions, the former being easier for her since it's what she's usually asked for. We ended with some fairly decent downward transitions from canter to trot to walk. They could have been smoother, I'm sure, but she was so with me in her head I thought it was a good place to stop.

Then I worked with Bar a little bit. Now Bar and I work on transitions in the round pen all the time--with hand and voice cues from me on the ground. Actually, he'll even change cadence if I sing faster or slower.

Lena is much more sensitive to my position, but I think Bar and I are more mentally tuned to one another. I think about a trot, change my motion, and I instantly get a trot. It works the other way, too. I think about a walk. change my motion, and I get a walk, then a halt. He is sensitive to my position, too, but instead of drifting when I get out of balance, he stops.

We had a little hurdle for me to get over last night, too. Romeo and Manna came in right after I got on and while I trust Romeo, he and Bar have a "thing," a competitive thing, and I worry about Bar acting out. But I need to get over it, I need to trust my horse and trust myself. So I visualized a calm horse handling this new parameter. Luckily, I also know Manna can handle her horse and deal with a horse that might get a little nuts, so all I had to worry about was Bar and me. Mostly me.

We walked them next to each other a little, Bar got big and bossy and tried to bite Romeo, then settled down and wanted to be right next to them instead of on the other end of the arena. But he didn't fight me when I moved him away. Success number one! We started to work on our trotting (okay, my trotting), and circled the round pen while Romeo and Manna rode on the outside of the arena. Bar was good and paid attention to me, despite wanting to chase after Romeo. Probably pass Romeo, knowing Bar. Success number two!

I probably could have ridden him longer, challenged both of us a little more, but since he was really with me and behaving, I figured I'd stop our ride on that high note. Actually, I think the real success was me staying calm, staying balanced and centered, so he could focus on what we were doing. Because it's perfectly normal to ride with other horses that aren't Lena. No big deal, right buddy?

With Lena, I changed my body and motion. With Bar, I channeled my energy in a positive direction. Both horses followed and all of us learned a few things. I'd call that a good day.


"Uh, there's a horse running loose through the campground!"

I saw this unfortunate blurb in the local paper (okay, the online version of said local paper), and while the news is a bummer, it brought back what has--with time--become a rather amusing memory. I think I've told this story at least twice here, but in honor of the campground, I thought I'd pull it out again. Besides, it amuses me more each year that goes by.

A month after we got Bar, we decided to venture out on a trail ride. Where should we go? Oh, I know! The beach!!

Can you say rookie mistake?

It was cold. It was windy. Bar had only been with us a very short amount of time. Very short. A blink in horse-human bonding time. We were both uneducated in the ways and lives of Off-Track Thoroughbreds, though Bar had been out on trail rides at this very same beach with his trainer and apparently loved it.

However, I was not her. I was a new and untested human.

We got out of the trailer, got saddled up, and headed out towards the beach, sand and wind blowing in our faces.

Bar took one look at the sand and snorted. "What kind of footing is this? It doesn't look solid and safe to me!" But he went forward, mainly because Lena was bouncing along fine in front of him. I highly doubt I had much (anything) to do with his decisioning at that point.

We got a little way down the trail when another rider crested the hill in front of us, headed back to her trailer. Her horse was blowing and sweaty, which set of Bar's radar a little right there. Then, for whatever crazy reasoning, Steve and I decided to try to pull off the narrow trail and let that rider pass us.

Long story short, I separated Bar from Lena on rather treacherous (in his mind) footing, then pulled on his head. He had one option--go up, and up he went and off I went. I slid right off and right underneath this huge brown frantic horse. Bar must have levitated straight up and off the dune because I saw hooves between the arms wrapped instinctively around my head and then he was gone.

I stood up, all eyes on me--I guess it looked bad, Steve's face was a little ashen--and when Steve asked if I was fine, I said, "Yes," pointed after Bar, and said, "Go get him."

"Please don't head up Highway 1," I thought to myself.

Bar, however nuts he may have felt at the time, kept his head to some extent. He took a tour of the campground instead--probably looking very dark and dramatic on that foggy, misty morning with his head up and wild eye.

"Yes," said Steve in response to the query about the horse dancing through the tents, "I know, thanks."

Meanwhile, I was trudging through the sand worried about my horse, not realizing how lucky I was to be trudging. Several riders came back to check on me and seemed reassured when I spoke in coherent sentences.

Bar circled the parking lot once, then allowed a woman on a different spotty horse to catch him. Went right up to her, as a matter of fact. Which, of course, is what one does when one is a racehorse--you go to that pony horse for safety.

It's been nearly three years since that attempt, and we have yet to go back there. It's not even really that I'm afraid of it, but it's quite a slog through the dunes before you even get to the beach, and then--unless it's a perfect day--once you actually get to the beach, you are often hit with stinging sand and cold wind.

But I would like to go back some nice spring day, so it is unfortunate that the California State Budget is such that this hugely popular campground has to close so many sites. Poor Bar won't get nearly the audience this time.

This is from the trail ride we tried after the one described above--when we figured out the beach was not the best place to start. After the fact, of course.

Katie is already wanting to see how Forrest does his first time out on the trail, and smiled wickedly as she suggested the beach. Honestly, Forrest might be fine wherever we take him, but it might also be good to start somewhere with a slightly less sensory-overload possibilities.

We'll just have to see. Of course, we'll also have to get both boys in the trailer, but that's a whole other blog post.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Wondering about Bar

Calabar by a nose--giving #8 the eye

Bar was off the track for three years or so when we adopted him. I've watched all his races (more than once) and I know how he ran. Fast, by the way. I know he was a sprinter, not a long-distance runner. He excelled at 5-1/2 or 6 furlong races--unless there was mud. Even now, he dislikes mud. On the track? Messing with his footing? Forget it.

But I've never seen him before a race. Or after a race. Never seen him load into the gate or parade around while the bettors decide if he's the one who will win.

Watching Forrest and Sitty makes me wish I'd known Bar longer, before he was mine.

I've seen Forrest before his first race, getting ready, parading. I've watched Sittytwofitty eyeballing the crowds and her competition, standing calmly while being saddled, confidently heading out to the track and loading into the gate, ready to go.

What was Bar like? Was he calm? Was he he wired? Was he the one bouncing out of the paddock while the other horses paraded around?

I will probably never know, and it probably doesn't matter. Okay, maybe it matters a little. Because I love this horse. Because I want to know more about how his brain works so we can work better together.

Then again, I'm pretty far along in figuring out how his brain works so maybe it is all about moving forward from here.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

My favorite On-Track Thoroughbred comes back to racing

The friends we got Bar and Forrest from are still in the racing business, and their big mare came back to racing today after a six month break to recover from an injury. She is my favorite On-Track Thoroughbred, so we took a trip down to Golden Gate Fields to go to the races and support her.

Sittytofitty is a big girl. Over 17 hands and absolutely beautiful. She's a distance horse, tends to come from behind and start devouring track with her long, powerful stride. She hasn't won her first race, yet, but has nearly always placed in the money.

Besides her size, the other thing you notice about Sitty is her sheer presence. She is there, calm and paying attention, watching as things unfold around her. There is not a mean bone in her super-sized body.

She was ready today and, at five, the oldest horse in her race. It was a mile race, originally scheduled for turf, but moved to the outer track due to weather. She broke well, then settled towards the back as is her norm. She made up ground on the final stretch and ended up fourth, a nose behind the third horse and only a neck behind the second horse. The odds-on favorite, ridden by the favorite jockey, won the race.

Maybe fourth sounds bad to you, but if you'd seen her run, you wouldn't think so. She looked great. Strong, confident, and ready for more at the end--she really does love to run and looks darn good doing it. A few more strides and she'd have had 3rd if not second. And for a first race back after six months, none of us could be happier for her.

Sitty is second from the left

It was obvious she felt good, too--with her ears up, eyes flashing, head tossing, and tail swishing as she walked it out after the race. She actually got picked (along with the winner) to go to the test barn. Since her odds had been 33:1 early on, her strong finish meant she had to pee in a cup. (Which--in case you're curious--racehorses do on demand.)

She, however, thought it meant it was time for her photo shoot.

Happy horse, happy groom

Good job, Big Filly! See you next time!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Moments to remember

Bar gave me a gift last night, one that washed away all the stress of the work week and told me the journey he and I have taken--all the ups, downs, bruises, and scrapes--has been worth it.

He asked me to get on and ride.

It had been a long week, and I'd already missed two nights at the barn when I called Steve to say I'd be late again and to eat without me--I really needed my horse fix.

It was dark, cold, and rainy when I pulled in and the arena lights were off. I had planned on just patting Bar and giving him some carrots just to let him know I was indeed still on this planet and thinking of him.

But he wanted out. He came splashing through the mud, nickering at me, asking for head scratches and carrots. I slipped the halter on and down we went (after blanket removal) to the arena--rain on our heads, water under our feet.

As we walked into the arena, he started to do his spin around thing--I even felt him expand in size right there next to me (Thoroughbreds can do that, you know). And then, when I didn't react, he.. just.. deflated. Not in a bad way, just in a "well, maybe I don't really need to do that tonight" way.

So instead of heading to the round pen for our normal routine, I unsnapped his lead rope and gave him the whole arena. He rolled, he ran, he bucked, he farted. He would come towards me and veer off, never once invading the bubble.

I sat down in the dirt, back against the round pen (which for those who don't know rests inside our already crowded indoor arena) and watched him. He was beautiful. Picking himself up over and around the ground obstacles, spinning on his hind end, rolling and throwing up clouds of dust he would then snort out of his nose.

Then he stopped, wandered into the middle of the arena, and stood watching me. He nibbled one of the cones. Looked over at me. Snorted. Looked over at me. Wandered over to the mounting block. Looked over at me. I was relaxing, letting the week roll out of me, and just wondering what he would do. He stood still, going back and forth between nosing the mounting block and looking at me. He took a step towards me, so I stood up. He closed the distance.

I wasn't even thinking I'd get on and ride until that moment. I was just letting things play out to see what happened. It was enough to make both of us think, and since I didn't do what he expected, he didn't do what I expected.

I snapped the lead rope back on his halter and looped it around, then led him back to the mounting block. He let me get on from the wrong side, checked to be sure he had a leg on each side, and off we went.

We didn't do much, just some walking, side-passing, and backing, but it was one of the best rides I've ever had because he asked for it. Now maybe he just thought this was what he needed to do to get back to his pen. That's okay. It was still communication. I got it. He got it. It worked.

One of those "Aha" moments for sure. Not to mention warm snuggly moments when you know you've made a connection with your horse. Almost nothing sweeter than that, my friends.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Four Thoroughbreds, one indoor arena

Two of the four

Sounds a bit like a recipe for disaster, doesn't it? Especially on a crisp fall evening--all the excuse a horse needs to act like a wild and fierce war horse. One other horse used to be enough to send me back to Bar's pen without working him, but after his antics the other day, I knew we had work to do.

Luckily, it was a bunch of other Thoroughbred owners and their horses, including Manna and Katie. They tend to be on the forgiving side when someone gets a little raucous. Oh, and they don't usually blame you if their horse acts up--in fact, there is often laughter and camaraderie instead of huffiness and condemnation.

Bar looked into the arena, saw all three other horses and riders and those brown eyes got really big. I let him watch for a second, then opened the door slowly, warning the one woman I haven't had him around that sometimes he gets a little dramatic. She chuckled.

Right. These are Thoroughbred owners. They like a horse with that buzz going on. In fact, they actually prefer it.

I wasn't brave enough to ride with all the cantering and energy out there, but I did work him in the round pen and he actually did really well. Even Katie said so. He stayed focused on what he was doing, with only a couple minor lapses into slightly frenetic behavior--generally when Romeo was cantering around the outside of the round pen. Very distracting, apparently. In fact, the third woman commented that he looked really happy! Yay! Then she laughed when he started bucking and showing off.

I still wasn't quite ready to get on him, though, until it was just Katie and Manna, Forrest and Romeo. And then it was bareback, and only to walk, side pass, back, and stand still while there was cantering and sideways-Forrest-trotting going on. BUT. I got on. And Bar did great.

Maybe we should work with Thoroughbred people all the time. It will be good for both Bar's confidence and mine.

Monday, November 15, 2010

On the bit

Not having much in the way of training in my life--well, except for on-the-job-stay-in-the-saddle-or-else training--this term hasn't meant much to me. Nor, for that matter, has collection. Particularly when I watch other people and their horses in what seems to be a parody of that term.

Lena is collected much of the time, it's just the way she is. One of the things Cheri said about Lena is she was always so confident, so sure of where her feet were at all times.

Bar is learning, and I can see the difference in his topline and in his overall strength, movement, and confidence every day. I can tell he feels it, too, knows his body is more in balance and therefore stronger.

But on-the-bit was an odd concept for me. We learned to ride Lena with a loose rein, only picking up her mouth when we wanted her to do something.

Bar had no idea what to do with a loose rein, and I'm afraid I didn't help early on by grabbing his face when I'd get nervous.

In a book I just finished, The Byerley Turk by Jeremy James, he talks about the style of riding I've seen encouraged--holding the horse back with your hands while pushing him forward with your legs. His description is from the perspective of a Turkish groom who has traveled miles with the first Thoroughbred and knows what kind of response this might lead to. It does. The rider who used that technique ended up in the dirt, and that kind of makes sense when you view it from the horse's perspective. "Make up your mind!"

The concept itself is important, but figuring out what it really meant eluded me and therefore was not easily translated to my dearest darling opinionated Thoroughbred.

This post by Glenshee Equestrian Centre, to which I was directed by Kate at A Year With Horses, makes more sense than anything else I've read, seen, heard, etc.

This last paragraph sums it up, but the whole post is definitely worth a read:
"Rather than the rider demanding the horse both yield to pressure while paradoxically accepting a strong contact, the rider offers a gentle contact and the horse, once he knows he can trust the consistency and fairness of the hand, will seek that gentle contact wherever the hand may lead, and allow the hand to shape his entire carriage and movement (the action of the rein through the body) with that same light feel. This, to me, is what it means to be “on the bit.”
I am looking forward to practicing with this methodology a little more, and I'm sure Bar is too. ("Finally she's making sense!") Lena already gets it for the most part, but it certainly won't hurt to play with it with her as well.

The thing I love about horses is there is always something new to learn. When there isn't, I'll just have to invent something lest we all get bored.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Two OTTBs, two personalities

I never want to hear "Thoroughbreds are all x-way or y-way" again. Not that I wanted to hear it before, but I got to witness first hand just how different two ex-racehorses can be today.

No worries, there were no injuries, but there was spinning and dancing.

Not, however, by Forrest. He was an absolute angel, despite being very nervous when the saddle went on and the bit went in.

It was Katie and Forrest's first ride today, and Katie did a great job of taking it very slowly. First she hand-walked him with the saddle on until he relaxed, then added the bridle and did the same. Only when he stopped chomping on the bit did she get on, and then she held him to a walk. Same deal, walk until he stopped chomping on the bit and relaxed, and then she got off. It wasn't even particularly hard to keep him at a walk, though at first you could tell he was waiting for her slightest signal to move faster. They even had to deal with a horse in the round pen and he was great.

Enter the "seasoned" horse, the one who has been doing all of this much longer.

I saddled Bar, kind of eager to get back on and actually ride after being off for four weeks or so after the rib incident. I wasn't planning on riding hard, just working on our side passing at the walk and trot, plus the ever-important stop-and-back.

Peter warned me he had two more horses to lunge, and brought the first one--a gray--into the round pen. In the meantime, one of the other boarders had come back from a trail ride and had a horse in their trailer calling out.

Bar, the horse that has walked around with me on his back bareback for weeks, jigged sideways and spun when the horse in the round pen started up. Oh, I stayed on--that bareback riding appears to have helped my seat tremendously--but it was almost like he forgot I was there. I reminded him with some nice, tight circles, but holy cow I forgot how he could move.

He did this a couple times, then when he settled down by the wall furthest from the round pen and relaxed, I gave him a carrot. Yes. You get a treat for not being a spaz. Hm, he said.

Then Peter brought in the next horse, who proceeded to buck and fart and was a louder horse than the previous one. So we had more dancing and more spinning, so more circles. Then he relaxed again and got another carrot.

At this point, I knew Bar needed to move more than my ribs were ready for so I unbridled him and took HIM into the round pen. He approached it with wide eyes, certain that all the ruckus (though it had ended by then) was a demon about to consume him whole. So we went in to confront said demon and to see where the boy's head was, since it was not 100% where it needed to be--with me. Heck, I'd have settled for 80%!

Lunging won't tire him out. That's not why I do it. I wanted him to relax and focus and I can see that better from the ground right now. He did, and I got back on. We worked on the things I wanted to work on before the shenanigans and he did everything I asked. Perfectly.

In other words, one Thoroughbred--off the track within the last month--handled a stressful situation with less drama than another Thoroughbred--the one who has been off the track for six years. But I was able to bring Bar back and get him focused on work.

Yes, I am comparing the two, but not because I think one is better than the other. They are different personalities. Completely. Just like people. Maybe as different as Katie and I are from one another, even.

Devon told us Forrest was more easy going and easier to handle than Calabar.

I don't really care.

I love my horse. He teaches me more every time I ride him. Today he reminded me I need to pay attention and notice when we are entering into interesting and possibly stressful situations. That's when I need to calm down, when I need to give him the best I can give him.

Forrest told Katie the same thing, he just was a little less dramatic about it.

Forrest is Forrest and Bar is Bar. They are indeed both Thoroughbreds. They did both come off the track. But to say one is like the other is to miss the nuances and specialness of each. To say they are the same is to miss what both of them can teach each of us.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The gift of writing about Thoroughbreds gives back

Awhile back, I wrote a post about the healing power of horses and linked back to a story about Zenyatta and an Autistic boy named Jack.

This morning, there was a new comment on that post: "Howdy - I am Jacks father the autistic boy who connected with Zenyatta. Ya'll are absolutely correct thoroughbreds, they respond to the energy being projected upon them. We adopted a racehorse named Spot The Diplomat who was recently retired at the age of six and was ridden by Mike Smith as well. He is completely gentle with our entire family. We have two autistic boys they run and grab his hind legs - under his belly - pull his tail - ride him bareback. Spot doesn't even flinch and smiles while they do it. He is a part of our family and very happy helping the boys. He has completely mellowed from their energy to the extreme. Thank you for all the kind words about healing and autism. The horse connection is real! God Bless " Grant Hays ".

Writing about horses has been an outlet for me, one that gives my rambling thoughts and opinions a channel. Topics have ranged from just being glad to hang out at the barn to injuries and illnesses to behavioral challenges. Sometimes I even wax philosophic.

I am glad (and often humbled) to have people read my words and give me support, feedback, and ideas.

This is the first time a comment gave me chills, though.

Big thank you to Grant Hays for his kudos to Thoroughbreds and for making my whole day with his kind words.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Learning from Forrest

Bar watching Forrest arrive

This post could be about what Katie's learning as she works with Forrest, but it's not.

It's about watching her with her young, fresh-off-the-track Thoroughbred and wishing I'd understood things a little better when I brought Bar home.

Forrest is curious about everything. It's all new, it's all different from his previous life--including obstacles on the ground and the indoor arena and working at night under lights.

Bar was older when we got him, and had a little more experience, but not as much as I mistakenly assumed. He'd never really seen an indoor arena, either, or worked at night or clambered over logs on the ground.

The difference is in their reactions to new situations. The motivation is the same--"This is new, this is different, how do I deal with it?"--but where Bar went for huge, dramatic movements, Forrest stops and gulps, needing to be coaxed along gently. (Yes, he really does gulp. It's rather endearing, actually.)

It took a long time and patience for Bar and me to build the trust we have--the trust that means he pays attention and is alert, but doesn't spin up out of control because he knows I've got his back. And his front. Sides, too.

I don't regret the journey at all--the training epiphanies alone have been worth the struggles. To have come through it, emerge on the other side, and feel this connected to Calabar is a gift beyond measure.

I only feel a little twinge watching Katie and Forrest, wishing I'd figured things out a little sooner for Bar's sake. Then again, I wouldn't have learned nearly as much about myself or been able to appreciate the path he's taken to meet me here.

Here is good. There, wherever that is, is good, too. We're not done, yet, this big brown horse and me. There are many adventures to come and many trails to take.

And I've got a horse who will travel with me.

What more could I ask for?

Monday, November 08, 2010

Dark horses get dirty too

This is for Dave at A Tale of Two Buckskins--bay horses get just as dirty, they just choose a different color palette. Or maybe Bar wants to be a Buckskin?

And yet more evidence:

I rest my case.

A tale (but no pictures, sorry) of two OTTBs

Last night, we took Lena and Forrest down to the arena. Mostly because I'd already worked Bar, but also because I erred on the side of NOT putting two Thoroughbreds together immediately. Other horses have always been a trigger for Bar, so I didn't want to freak out the new horse with big brown horse explosions.

As it turns out, I worried for naught--the boys did just fine. Better than fine, actually. Bar started in the round pen, working out cold-weather kinks. Forrest and Katie worked over obstacles while Steve observed what could have been incipient chaos.

It wasn't.

Bar was calm and focused on his work, giving a balanced canter and varying is speed on command. Forrest was attentive to Katie, though still wouldn't cross poles on the ground one direction even though he'd cross them going the other direction.

Then we switched, and Bar worked over obstacles despite oddly syncopated rhythms coming from Forrest in the round pen. Normally, disturbances of that sort send Bar into at least a freeze while he figures things out, and usually a larger-than-necessary up-down-sideways maneuver.

It was like he knew he had to be the grown-up, the steady pony horse on the track, the calming influence. My horse? My crazy, bouncy, ginormous moving, brown horse? Yup, he said. That youngster needs me.

Forrest watched Bar go over the poles the "wrong" way, and then proceeded to navigate them with Katie. He had watched Lena yesterday, but hadn't copied her.

Somehow Bar was a different nut. Well, I know he's a different nut, but apparently Forrest thought he was an okay leader.

The camera we had wouldn't take pictures in the indoor arena--it's lit, but not enough anymore after the time change. Otherwise, you would see pictures of the Thoroughbred mind-meld. Bar and Forrest--forehead to forehead, passing unknown secrets to one another. Not really sure I want to know, but I do wish I had pictures.

After that, Forrest proceeded to very thoroughly--much to Bar's discomfort finally--sniff and snuffle the big, brown horse. Interestingly enough, Forrest went right to the bowed tendon. Then the girth and flank. The look on Bar's face was priceless--ears back towards Forrest, but not pinned, looking down at me as if to say, "What on earth is he doing??!!" Finally, he had enough and moved away, but never kicked or struck or even squealed.

Katie and I were both very proud of our horses, and came up with several theories about the interesting behavior. Has Forrest ever really been close to a lot of other horses? Any other geldings, or only mares? For that matter, had Bar before he came to live with us?

I did have to reassure Bar that I was still his human and wasn't dumping him for the new, flashy kid on the block. As cute as Forrest is, he is Katie's and she is his. And Bar is most definitely my partner in this horse journey.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Looking back

Having Forrest arrive has me looking back at the beginnings with Bar, back when I was trying to pretend a) I hadn't already fallen in love with him and b) was still considering other horses. Ha!

It has been a long journey, sometimes a frustrating one, but the theme that crops up over and over (even in those early posts) is how much I love his personality and how--when it really matters--he's there for me. Of course, I had to learn to be there for him, first, but I did and it's made all the difference.

Some of his finest moments have been on the trail, like when we ran into the yellow jacket nest and--even while getting stung--he kept his head and took care of me. I think, though, if I'd panicked or tried to turn him around instead of doing just what we did--pointing up the trail and getting the heck out of there--it might have turned out differently. My reactions matched what any herd leader might do in a bad situation, so it worked. I took care of him, so he took care of me.

In fact, I'm realizing he takes care of me a lot these days. He's also made it clear he prefers me actually riding, rather than watching him from the ground. I get leg leg smooches when I climb up, as a matter of fact--as in he reaches around to nuzzle my leg when I get on.

Besides, any horse who lets you dress them up can't be all bad.

Forrest's first day--full of entertainment

Katie and I ended up at the barn together tonight, in between her two shifts at Wine Country Sporthorse (WCS). Bar had already been out and done some beautiful, collected ground work then given me a quiet, responsive bareback ride, so I decided to play with Lena a little, too.

As it happens, Katie showed up just as I was getting Lena out so we all went down to the arena together--Katie, Forrest, Lena, and me. Lena was a little, um, flirtatious but Forrest didn't seem to mind much once he got used to her slightly over-bearing manners.

Forrest did wonderfully, though he got a little bouncy watching Lena in the round pen and chased her around on the outside of the round pen. (It was sort of cute, actually.) He walked over obstacles nicely, and--it pains me a little to admit this--Forrest seems to be more confident and better with his feet than Bar is. Bar has improved immensely, but I think Forrest does not get as distracted by his own energy as Bar does. And because I'm now feeling horribly disloyal, I will say Bar is much better with his feet on the trail than in the arena, so perhaps it is boredom in the arena as much as anything.

At any rate, all guilt aside, it was a fun way to end our very eventful weekend. And for Forrest, it was an ending that was much better than it could have been for a day that started out with an escape.

Following in the footsteps of his new herd mates, Forrest appears to be an escape artist. When Steve and I got to the barn earlier in the day, we were greeted with stories that Katie had left Forrest's pen unlatched and the boy had done what boys do--run around checking out the neighborhood. Now, Bar did the very same thing two or so days after we got him--nearly ending this story before it began because someone (yes, me) freaked out a little bit. Katie knows that story and it was on her mind yesterday, plus I'm fairly certain she would not still be employed at WCS if she left gates unlatched all the time.

However it happened, Forrest ran loose for a little bit, but unlike his Uncle Bar, he didn't hurt himself and he was fairly easy to catch.

This is the face that greeted Steve and me. "Who me? I would never escape."

All three horses now have dual chains on their gates because I have nightmares of all three getting out. At once. That would probably make headlines. And not in a good way.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Turning the page

Bar greets Forrest

Today was an interesting and exciting day in our horse family, and certainly the start of a new chapter for Katie, Sammy, and an OTTB named Forrest View. Sammy stepped right off the trailer and into her new family, barely looking back at us. After finally deciding to load at his racing trainers' barn, Forrest rode mostly calmly through Sebastopol, then climbed out at our barn and into the next phase of his life.

Katie felt really good about the family who bought Sammy, and the balloons on the mailbox cemented it for me--especially the one that said "Welcome Home!" And then the woman said, "Isn't she gorgeous?" about Sammy--who is cute, but often got secondary notice next to Romeo when they were out together--and we all knew it was the right place for Sammy.

Then came the wait for the call from Devon that they were headed back to their ranch so we could pick up Forrest. Katie was amazingly patient.

When we pulled in with the trailer, Forrest was immediately suspicious. He apparently doesn't like trailering much, but especially away from the barn since that has (up until now) meant back to the track. He likes the track. He likes he activity and other horses. He even likes to work. He just didn't like to actually race. At any rate, the trailer was immediate cause for concern. Perhaps ignoring it would make it go away.

Forrest pretending the trailer is not there

He did finally let Katie get the halter on him, though was not interested in the very tasty horse cookies she offered as a bribe.

Okay I'll go along with you and see what happens

Loading still took us awhile, plus some creativity, but when he finally decided to get in, he was fine nearly all the way home. Only minor trailer rocking through downtown Sebastopol, which all things considered is pretty good.

Katie was careful unloading, but he was a perfect gentleman and came out soft and easy for her.

Forrest arrives

Katie walked him around, let him eat grass and check things out. He came up to meet Bar and Lena--Bar was sweet, Lena was sassy.

Not squealing. Yet.

For all that he is an OTTB, a "crazy" Thoroughbred, Forrest was easy to control and settled quickly. He had never been in a round pen or an indoor arena (let alone one with jumps and obstacles on the ground) and he handled it all with only minor dancing and all the while listening and responding to Katie. He is not as volatile as Bar was, not quite as hard to handle and a bit less opinionated. It is giving me more perspective to watch this younger horse with the same background walk through these new experiences--experiences that must have been new to Bar, too, despite having been around the track a few more times.

Forrest and Katie staring at something

As for Katie, I have never seen her connect like this with a horse. I've seen her grin like this because of horses, but never while levitating off the ground with absolute joy and excitement.

Getting to watch this will definitely be an interesting next chapter for a few of us--not just Katie and Forrest.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Night without horses? Oh no!

Work has been a little crazy lately. Okay, a lot crazy, and I've had some really long days. Usually, I start early enough that I can still at least smooch a fuzzy nose before going home, but not tonight.

Tonight I was lucky to get home in time for dinner, and I still have one last bit to do once the client's back-up is done running--hopefully soon.

That is a long way of saying I missed my horse tonight. I missed hearing his funny whinny, missed his ears-up-eyes-bright expression as I walk up to his paddock--me with a big, silly grin on my face, just as excited to see him.

Katie reported back to me, like a good daughter who knows her mom is a crazy, obsessive horse owner. She had ridden both Sammy and Lena, and said Bar was pouting when she left. He wanted to know why he didn't get to come out and where his human was on such a fine Northern California evening.

Staring at an Excel spreadsheet, actually, but sometimes one has to do these things. Horses need stuff, you know. Grain, shoes, saddles--my list is long. And my company is small and we all have to do a lot to keep things rolling along.

My horse doesn't care. He still pouts. Apparently when I don't come out, he pouts a lot.

I will have to make it up to him tomorrow. And probably the next day. And the day after that, too.