Saturday, January 29, 2011

Katie and Forrest video

I promise I'll stop soon, but here are Katie and Forrest at a nice, fairly even jog. Hard for ex-racehorses, don't you know.

That's Katie's friend Russell riding Lena right before I got on and galloped the big spotty mare around for a bit just because we both needed it.

Trail ride video experiment

I took four short videos on our trail ride last weekend and then had to find a video editing tool to turn them right side up since I shot portrait instead of landscape.

Luckily for me--though not necessarily for you, dear readers--I found one. It not only lets me re-orient the video, it also let me combine the four short into one longer montage. And with no editing, the transitions are even okay. Obviously, I need to play more, but I am okay with the output I got after a mere 15 minutes of work.

Now--barring any technical difficulties--you will all see why my horse is the best chiropractor I've ever had.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Headed home

It's been a long week--a good week, but a really good week. I've learned a lot, though a lot of it is still processing in my slightly over-loaded brain. There is so much opportunity to help all the clients and potential clients we talked to, to really make their facilities run better, and it is very exciting to be a part of this.

Even if there were no horses nearby. Or at least not near enough I could get to them before crashing onto the hotel bed--wherever it was--in exhaustion every night.

I did meet several horse people in my travels and Barbara (my co-worker and cohort on this adventure) took my picture next to an AQHA poster in a restaurant in San Clemente last night.

Katie texted me last night that Bar had lost a shoe. Not sure how that happened since it's been wonderful and dry the last two weeks, but there you have it.

All in all, it will be good to be home this weekend, breathe in dusty, warm horse, and detox just a little from all of this.

There will be a lot of work to do next week, the week after, and so on. Recharging the batteries will be an absolute necessity, and my horses are just the ticket.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Trail ride before hitting the road

We did manage to get a trail ride in yesterday before I embarked on my latest work adventure.

I won't say the horses were calm, quiet trail horses. Heck, if I said that you'd all wonder what horses we were riding!

No, they were both very bouncy and up. The blue tarp covering the pile of hay bales was fine one way, definitely not fine the other way. (Split horse brains, gotta love it.)

We went over bridges, maneuvered around dogs, pedestrians, strollers, etc., and had a wonderful ride--despite the bounciness and occasional Thoroughbred tantrum. Nothing in particular, just Bar wanting to try (or not try) something his way. Or be in front of Lena, or... well, maybe it's better not to guess.

And now I'm sitting in a hotel room in Arizona, waiting for the iron to heat up so I can de-wrinkle my supposedly wrinkle-free slacks. Yeah. And I have a bridge to sell you, too!

No horse sightings, yet, though I hear there is a team roping event the night we leave. Oh, well.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Living out of a suitcase

The last couple of years, business travel has not been a part of my life like it was the last year or so at my previous job. Back then, I got pretty good at living out of a suitcase, finding my way around strange cities, and making sure the rest of my job got done--all while the tradeshow booths and hotel rooms became my home away from home.

As it happens, I will be out on the road all week next week--starting in Arizona and ending up in LA before flying home late Friday evening.

When I was on the road so much in 2008, no matter what city I was in, I could usually find a horse neck to stick my nose into, a soft nose to stroke, or at very least a fellow horse-person to talk to. The bonus this trip appears to be that one of the stops is right across from the Los Alamitos race course. Will I get there? Not sure yet. Will I try given the least opportunity? Absolutely!

I meant to spend more time with Calabar this week before jetting off on Monday, but it didn't happen that way. I am hoping for a trail ride tomorrow so at least I can claim some relaxation and horse time before the mad rush commences, but we'll see. Someone will have to load nicely into the trailer for that to happen. Two someones, actually.

This trip is important, and should be interesting. I really do love my job and know I am making a difference--which is good and has not always been the case. I know my horse will be fine without me and Katie promises to get him out and work him (not ride him, though) while I'm gone. Maybe even give him a bath!

But it's still hard to be away. Or rather it's hard to think about being away. The reality is going to be different, especially as we go from client to client, figuring out the puzzle each one presents. (I like puzzles, you see. It's why I love Calabar.)

It will probably keep me busy enough to not miss my horses and my family (not necessarily in that order) too much. Probably.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Yellow Bristle Grass

I just got a comment on a post I did in 2007 about Yellow Bristle Grass--a weed that can cause nasty mouth ulcers in horses--and it reminded me that when we were up at Slide in October, Cheri had a bad batch of alfalfa full of the horrid stuff.

Comment from Deborah & John:
"Hello, a friend of mine bought some hay from a feed store in Suisun last November. She started feeding it in December and her horses started getting soars on their lips late December. We ran into each other over the holidays and I remembered your blog. She's going to contact the feed store and ask to bring back the hay since it's loaded with Yellow Bristle Grass. I will let you know how it goes."

Wondering if there is an epidemic or if some hay folks are just not as careful about keeping it out of the harvest?

Retired Racehorse Today

Natalie is at it again.

Here, on Retired Racehorse Today, she promises to continue her delightful prose about all things Thoroughbred.

Thoroughbreds are indeed an addiction--a happy, fuzzy addiction. With soft, warm noses. It is a relief to know I am not alone in this folly.

Bar meets a lasso and survives

There was a rhythmic whirring sound coming from the other side of the round pen wall and Bar noticed. The air hummed, then suddenly there was a crack as the loop of the lasso hit the target--a cone in this case.

The big brown ears were in constant motion, as was the big brown horse. Moving, moving, moving, always tracking that sound, speeding up past it each loop around the round pen. Worse when the sound was on his right

He did not panic, he did not bowl me over in an effort to escape the odd noise. He came with me to investigate, white showing around his eyes, ears pricked forward, jaw tense. We peeked over the edge of the round pen at the rope flying around and out from Katie's friend's hand, thwacking the cone as it wrapped around it.

Bar positioned himself parallel to the wall, left side towards the lasso, with me between it and his silly self. I patted and soothed since he was exhibiting behavior I approved of--meaning not bouncing over me in abject terror--and inched us closer to the noises and flurry of the whirling rope. Still safely inside the round pen, mind you.

Remember how I resolved to be sure I was introducing new things to him more regularly? I think this counts.

When we were done with our ground work, we exited the safety of the round pen and headed towards the origin of the rope twirling. There was much trepidation. More big eyes, more blowing. He knew EXACTLY where that rope was.

We gave him time and space to walk up to the terrifying rope on his own. (I did have to touch it first.) He sniffed, and let it rub his nose with only minor consternation.

He doesn't want me to tell you he was certain it was following him up the hill back to his paddock, though. He tried really hard not to dance all the way back up there, but it was an effort for him.

We may not ever be able to rope together, but I think he did a good job tonight and I told him so.

Porter the Dressage Mule

I can't help but get a kick out of this video, and not just because I really want my own mule. Porter just looks so very happy and relaxed doing what he's doing. Thanks to Stacey at Behind the Bit for posting!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

What Bar was telling me yesterday

I found this post by TB at X via Sarah at Miles on Miles.

This in particular seems like what Bar was trying to tell me yesterday:
"You will not learn to train a horse until you have been humbled by many horses. Until you accept this, you will continue to make the same mistakes and continue to only work with “stubborn”, “stupid”, or “problem” horses. The most difficult horses have the most to teach you… but you have to let them."
"AND," he says, "you'd be bored with a push-button horse anyway. Bored, bored bored."

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Bouncy Bar behavior

Doesn't he look calm? Sweet? Innocent? HA!

Yesterday's ride was definitely not the best we've ever had, not by a long shot, but I'll take it because--this dawned on me afterwards--I wasn't afraid of him. Not of coming off, not of losing control of him, not of him and his big, brown, Thoroughbred self. Yes, he was being a brat. Yes, we have oodles to work on. But if he had really wanted me off, I'd have been off. If I had panicked or freaked out more, I would have dumped myself by stoking the fire.

The boy has been so good lately, so tolerant of the lack of continuity in his schedule due to the additional work load in my schedule, that I may have forgotten he can (and will) be a Thoroughbred on occasion. Actually, I think Thoroughbreds merely exhibit the outer spectrum of horse behavior--the behaviors that make people say horses are wild, unpredictable, stupid, etc.

Steve needed to get Lena out, too, so we headed to the barn later in the afternoon to try and stay out of the way of folks who may not appreciate double exuberance. Steve saddled Lena, then I saddled Bar--this was the first "not normal routine" moment for him, but all he did was dance in the cross ties a little.

It did get a little worse as we got inside the arena door, though. In addition to being out of sync--meaning it was not just the two of us heading down to the round pen first so he can roll before settling into work--there were several distractions. A strange, young horse in the round pen, dancing and snorting, plus Steve and Lena dancing and snorting in reaction to the horse in the round pen and whatever else Lena thought (and I use that term loosely) might eat her.

Bar likes his routine. He likes knowing what is coming next at all times. It makes him feel safe and that the situation is under control. It's something we usually work on a lot as tossing in new things to mess with his race-track patterned brain is good for him. Unfortunately, we've been in a bit of a training rut and haven't practiced the "sometimes new things happen and it's okay" bit lately.

Note to self: Work on that some more.

As soon as we got inside the arena--with Lena snorting and the unknown horse bouncing in the round pen--Bar went a little nutty. I was still on the ground at this point and to his credit, he stayed out of my bubble. He just bounced. A lot. But always facing me and always a good distance away. I admit to being a little impressed at his war-horse maneuvers ("Look! I can jump straight up in one place and kick out!"), but it was not proper arena behavior. Luckily, with only Steve and Lena to worry about, I could focus on him and not worry about freaking them out. And the folks in the round pen with the other horse... well, okay I admit it. I didn't worry about them, either.

This behavior used to scare me. Used to make me crank on his halter, covering my panic with bossiness and demands for capitulation. Irregardless of Bar's triggers, I needed to control him because I felt out of control--rather than just dancing with him and redirecting that energy. This time, instead of getting after him hard, which only confuses him and escalates things, I kept talking to him quietly and when he would settle--even for a second--I'd pet him, let him nuzzle close, and give him a carrot. Not continuing to build up the energy worked much better--all it took was changing the tone of my voice and using my body language to let him know what I wanted. It meant we were actually communicating with--not reacting to--each other. Hmmm.

Before I got on, though, I took him into the round pen to make sure we both knew where his head was. It was still on rolling, though he couldn't with the saddle on. He did settle down somewhat, so I got on. Then he wanted to catch up to Lena only to pester her. Jeeze.

I stayed with him, kept him at a walk, kept him from rolling in the corners, and made him work for me once Lena left us to walk down the driveway. All of this was a challenge because he was not very focused on anything. He stumbled over poles he normally steps over cleanly. He either wanted to canter or he wanted to stop and have me get off so we could go find Lena. Cantering is fine when he's calm and paying attention, but neither of those things were the case and that's when we get hurt, so I kept him at a trot.

He got annoyed. I made him work through his annoyance and do what I asked for one--just one, guy!-- lap around the arena. It took a few loops, some side passing and circling, some dancing, but I finally got one cruise around where he didn't try to canter, did side pass into the corners, and stopped when I asked.

So I took him into the round pen, took off his saddle and let him roll. "Aaaahhhhhh." He said. Then came up and nuzzled me gently as if to apologize. He even let me slap the saddle back on him with no complaints so I didn't have to carry it back up to the barn.

We were both a little sweaty when it was all over, but even if it wasn't a perfect ride, it was a ride that taught us both (I think) something and that's okay, too.

Really we just need to get back out on the trail soon. If the weather report holds, hopefully that can happen next weekend. That will probably soothe all of our souls.

On the plus side, his hind end looks fabulous!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Coming to the End of the Trail -- my article

There are probably a few edits that were made before this made it to print, but this is the final text of the article submitted to the Sonoma County Horse Journal magazine and published in their Winter issue Just wanted to share it in a way that did not require scrolling through a PDF.

Hope you all enjoy, or at least think it is worth reading. As always, comments are welcome!

Coming to the End of the Trail

Retail business going from brick and mortar to online-only, or shutting their doors completely. Rising feed and board costs. The sad increase of abandoned and surrendered horses from owners at their financial limit. It’s all evidence of the toll the economy has taken on the horse community. Existing rail riding facilities are among the horse businesses struggling to stay afloat, and the opportunities for new facilities are few.

"If you are coming into this business fresh, having to pay for a facility, insurance, gear--all on top of normal overhead--you won't be able to cover your costs," says Jonathan Ayers, owner and operator of the Armstrong Woods Pack Station in Armstrong Woods State Park. He and his wife Laura have been leading trail rides through the Redwoods for 30 years. They have been getting through the latest downturn by cutting costs and continuing to do all the work—including shoeing the horses—themselves.

Even with low overhead, some businesses are looking at rising insurance costs and refocusing, welcoming people to come and stay—but bring their own horses. “What this could turn into is only rich people being able to experience horses,” says Ike Bunney, owner of Slide Mountain Ranch in Tuolumne City. Ike and Cheri have run a guest ranch for nearly 25 years, inviting people from all over the world to experience adventures on well trained cutting and trail horses. They decided this year to cut out lessons or trail rides on their horses when their insurance went up again, and are retooling their business to be a place for horse owners to vacation, trail ride, and learn to cut.

“We had a good thing with teaching cutting and running the trail rides on our horses, but the bring-your-own-horse focus seems like a good option for us for right now,” says Cheri. It will allow them to work with their newest batch of cutters and tend their two granddaughters as well, but non-horse owners have one less choice for grand horse adventures.

It comes down to costs and volume.

When Jonathan Ayers started, he charged $12 a ride and ran four trips a day. He says his horses told him that was a little much so he raised his prices and dropped the frequency until he got to where he is now, running two rides a day (10:30 a.m. – 1 p.m., and 2 – 4 p.m.) at $80 per rider. He’s making the same amount he always has, and it allows him to keep a smaller string of horses and manage his costs better. The Bunneys calculated the actual number of rides they’d have to do just to cover the insurance costs and decided the overhead was too much for now, especially with everything else on their plates. And many people thought $100 for a 2 hour trail ride was too high.

Horse owners understand is that even $80-100 per ride barely covers the monthly cost of keeping that horse trained, sheltered, and healthy, but that still puts the activity out of the budget for many folks right now. Non-horse people don't see how much it takes to run a successful trail riding business—suitable horse property, stock, tack, equipment, and insurance. Plus the time and staff to care for it all. Add a mortgage and taxes for said property and the costs spiral quickly.

Some costs, like a mortgage, stay fairly fixed, but insurance costs have increased as the carriers react to the soaring costs of litigation. A new business can get insurance, but, “If you don’t have a track record, it is exponentially more difficult to get coverage,” says Tom Sawyer, an insurance broker in Sebastopol. Existing businesses have the track record, but still get hit with increases. Slide’s insurance more than doubled this year, despite never having an accident. According to Sawyer, when the number of businesses within a specific risk “pool” shrinks, costs go up for those remaining to keep minimum reserves in place—required of the insurance companies by law. Sometimes, that's the straw that forces a change.

What is the big deal? What are we losing?

Like many, my first experiences with horses were pony rides and simple trail rides—sitting on a sturdy trail horse, taking in the sights and smells around me. Trail rides are a great way for non-horse owners to experience horses and enjoy the great outdoors without the daily commitment ownership requires. My family has taken rides over granite-pocked trails in the Sierras and pineapple-studded fields in Hawaii. We might have even stayed non-horse owners without Slide Mountain Ranch. Their well-trained and responsive horses offered a refreshing change from earlier trail riding excursions. Once we dove deep into horse-ownership, trail riding on vacation seemed silly, so until we went to Armstrong Woods to meet the Ayers, we hadn't been out on other horses.

That brought home what will be missing without these businesses.

The ride with Jonathan was completely different than one we would have taken on our own horses—more on the leisurely side. “I like to see what I’m riding past,” said Ayers. For the horse owner, it was an unexpected treat. For the experimental rider, it could open doors to a new journey—or a new perspective.

Losing businesses like these and not having replacements will change the horse landscape. All bias on the table? That's a real shame.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Horses for beginners

It could safely be said that some of us think horses are a near panacea to the ills the world sometimes offers. Just tonight, after working all morning (yes, on a Saturday), I was able to visit my very wound up horse therapist for a taste of dirt and sanity. It was quite soothing, even with the minor (for a Thoroughbred) eruptions--all quite understandable after not getting out enough all week.

Are they good for everyone? Definitely not, but even a small dose of horse can add a richness to your life when approached with an open mind and sturdy boots. It should be noted that hanging around with horses (not to mention horse people) should not be approached lightly. Not too seriously, either, though. Just like riding, it's all a balance.

How should it be approached? What if you, the non-horse person, suddenly find yourself in a situation where you might have to get up close and personal with 1,200 pounds of equine? What if there is the distinct possibility of a horseback riding date? It's not even that you don't like horses, it's just that you don't have a lot of experience around them and don't know what to look for, do, say, etc.

My first comments are to the horse owner who really wants their new friend to like and try horses: please be careful and thoughtful. As an equine evangelist myself, I love to introduce people to horses. I am intimately aware of what wonderful, delightful creatures they are and that to have a relationship with them is amazing and fulfilling. But don't you dare take your new friend out and see how well they can stay on. You know what I mean and, no, it's not funny. If you hurt a new person you a) will turn them off horses for a long time if not forever; b) you're liable and the insurance company will find you and even if I disagree with that, it's the way the world works these days; c) the industry does not need help turning people off horses. Give them time to discover the wonder of horse snot on their own (or not). It's a much more powerful conversion, trust me. Actually, trust Bar on that one.

To the beginner, I'd offer my own experiences. The first time we went to Slide, I wasn't actually going to ride. Nope. That was for braver souls. Horses are big and powerful, often unpredictable, and a little scary.

Obviously, I got over it. Even after this last year (and a half) of horse-related injuries for both Steve and me, I have no regrets because--as Winston Churchill said--"There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man." Or woman in this case.

But here is a list of a few things beginners should know. (And please feel free to add any I miss, folks!)

It would be good to go out with someone you trust the first time, and trust that they know something about horses for that matter. If you have access to other horses, get some basic handling lessons beforehand if you can.

Basic horse riding attire: blue jeans and boots. I usually wear long-sleeved shirts and a hat, too, depending on the weather. Boots should have a slight heel (if you're riding Western), and a smooth sole is good. Hiking boots will work in a pinch, but tend to pick up, um, what comes out of the rear end of the horse. Most people also recommend a helmet and if it makes you feel more secure, then it is mandatory attire.

Check the tack. Even if you don't really know horse gear, look for worn places on the cinch (the thing that goes under the horse's belly) and on any of that part that connects the saddle to the horse. Check tightness when the horse is saddled. Then check it again right before you get on. You shouldn't see pinched skin, but you shouldn't see daylight, either. It should be snug to their body. Your new friend could be the nicest person in the world, but securing your own safety is a a good rule to follow in any new situation.

Stirrups for a trail ride should be set so the end of the stirrup is in your armpit when your hand is where the top of it connects to the saddle. That should put them at a length that allows you to switch between sitting on your butt and balancing on your feet. It's a good way to give both your butt and your knees alternating breaks as you get used to this whole riding thing.

Horse handling
Horses are prey animals. They have spent a lot of evolutionary time and energy becoming attuned to moving when something unexpected happens. Any time you're handling a horse, make sure they can see and/or hear you and move slowly. No mosh pit style bouncing, at least until they know they can expect it from you--and when you've crossed that divide, you may have to buy the horse because you've obviously bonded.

Sneaking up behind them and patting them on the butt, even softly, is generally risky. They do not have binocular vision like we do, and each eye actually acts independently from the other. This allows them to watch things very nearly all the way around them, but there are areas directly in front and in back that they can't see well. Their ears follow their eyes and can also track several things at once. If a horse is paying attention to you, you have an ear pointed in your direction, which means that eye is, too.

However, making sure they can hear you does not mean being loud and strident. I talk to our horses all the time, and they notice when my voice changes. There are even a few people at the barn whose tone, decibel level, and cadence of speech cause a reaction in my horse. And not a good one. Singing is good, too, preferably not heavy metal. Bluegrass and classic rock seem to work well, provided there is a good down beat. Singing (or humming) also helps riders because it means they are breathing. Breathing is good for relaxing, which is good for riding.

An interesting and exasperating (to horse trainers and owners everywhere) fact is that horses will react completely differently on one side versus the other. They can pass a log on the left with no problem whatsoever but when they come up to it again on the right side, it is a mountain lion. This is apparently because there is no connection from the left to the right side of the brain, so there is no data transfer happening. Until you convince the terrified side of the brain that it is not a mountain lion, you will dance past the log you walked past going the other direction. They really aren't being bad, you just haven't trained that side of their brain correctly, yet.

Body language
Horses have very distinctive body language and use it to communicate with each other very effectively. They also use it to communicate with humans, we just miss a lot of it until we learn to read it. Aside from making sure the horse can see and hear you, other things to watch for are pinned ears, tail swishing, head snakes, kicking out, and rearing. The first two are okay, the last three might make you reconsider getting on this horse for your debut ride. Ear pinning is often just an expression of irritation, as is tail swishing. It can precede worse behavior, so it's a good thing to watch for as an indicator.

When you are by their butt, stay close to it. Really close. None of our horses are kickers, but I still stay next to them while working on feet, grooming, etc. It's physics, actually. If a horse does kick, being close means you get more of a push versus the major injury when you are at the end of what is fundamentally a whip-with-a-hoof-attached leg.

The spook
Watching them, seeing where their ears and eyes are pointed, can help give you the clues you need to know what is going on in that horsie brain. This is good if there is spook-potential. No, I don't mean the CIA when I say spook. To the horse, the spook is what has kept them alive all these many years. A quick jump sideways meant the predator landed next to them, not on top of them. Sometimes, it's a bolt forward, too, which has the same intent--not being eaten. Very important to the horse, sometimes hard to understand (and stay on through) for the rider.

If you're on the ground when a horse spooks, you may end up in their way. They will often spook towards you because you are "safety." That is small consolation when you're bent over in the driveway because Lena clipped your ankle with her hoof. The best way to keep that from happening is establishing boundaries when leading that give you enough room to be out of their way. That's hard with some horses--Bar included--but especially until you know the horse, it will keep you safer.

There really isn't anything I can tell you that will help at the moment your horse spooks when you're in the saddle. Your instincts will kick in and they will either keep you in the saddle or they won't. I could tell you to sit deep, but you don't know what that means, yet, and if you're busy trying to figure it out, you won't allow your own body to direct you. Do not be ashamed to grab the saddle horn. Not ever. Of course if your first try is on an English saddle, you are out of luck in the horn department.

Every horse book you read tells beginners not to do what their instincts tell them to do when they get scared. And the books and trainers are right. Yanking on the reins at the same time you squeeze with your legs to stay on is very confusing to the horse. You've just told them to go and stop at the same time, you see. But me telling you that is not necessarily going to enter your brain at the same time as your need for that knowledge arises.

I really could write about this forever, try to cover every possible scenario, and probably scare you to death in the process. My best advice is to give it a try in a way that makes you feel as safe as you can feel with 1,200 pounds of opinionated horse. Just like life, there is no guarantee that you won't get hurt, but there is a very real chance you will fall head over heels in love or at very least learn something very valuable about yourself in the process.

Carpe diem and good luck!

Thursday, January 06, 2011

It is now our saddle

I forgot.

Yes, I did buy that saddle. I am hoping to actually use it soon.

Time with the horses

Warm horse noses are a gift--a break from the world of spreadsheets and making sure my clients have the money they need to keep their businesses running.

After several days of work--hard, brain-draining, thinking, calculating work--I finally got to spend time with Calabar. Warm, fluffy, soft, fuzzy-nose time.

He was good for me, but Steve told me Bar was quite high earlier in the evening--rearing and dancing in his paddock while Steve grained and fed.

No wonder. He hadn't been out in three days.

Normally, walking him down to the arena when he's like this--especially in cool weather and when I'm in a hurry, both of which were the case tonight--is a recipe for dancing and spinning before we even get to the arena.

But either he had gotten most of his bounciness out or he realized to really work it out, he had to cooperate with me.

So he did. No bad behavior on the way to the arena, even in his normal spots--right inside the gate, even right after I let him go in the round pen.

He did want to run. And run. And run some more. And spin on his back end. Buck a little. Levitate a little, too.

Can I blame him? Nope. I know exactly how he feels. I have managed to keep doing a little yoga every day, but I used to walk every day, too. but that hasn't been happening a lot lately. The wiggles can set in really badly at about 2 in the afternoon, and I'm not a Thoroughbred, a horse bred to move all the time.

I confess to wanting a little more balance in my life right about now.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Locally published

Soon there will be riding again, I promise

My friend Joan (over at Cowboy and Dexter's Excellent Adventures) encouraged me to submit some of my writing to our local Horse Council publication, and I have done so. Apparently, it was acceptable.

I have yet to get my hands on a printed copy, but my story starts on page 23 and rolls onto page 25. (Which means I got to spread out to more than one page!)

Wonder what I should write about next?

Perhaps balancing the thing that pays the bills (yeah, my job) with the thing that feeds my soul (the horses, of course).

Not that I don't love my job, I just sometimes wish I was a little less important. Okay, not really, but some of you may get where I'm going with that.

Unfortunately, the pragmatist in me realizes the job must be done, the bills must be paid, and Calabar will still love me when I do finally get back to the barn. He may pout--scratch that, he will pout--but he will still love me. As long as there are carrots. And black licorice. Oh, and apples.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Time flies

I went back to the beginning of this blog and it appears that I have been blogging for over four years! The first post was on August 15, 2006. One year after Lena's horrible, terrifying, traumatizing-for-all-involved colic incident, and one year and two weeks after we became horse owners.

And look at where we are now! Two OTTBs and our beautiful, opinionated Spotty Horse.

Makes you wonder what 2011 will bring.

Saddle is one step closer to adoption

Yes, it's kind of odd looking, but it does fit Bar quite nicely. And even better, it fits me really nicely. Comfortable, but not too squishy, easy to sit (unlike Bar's trot), and good contact with the horse under it.

Here is Bar warming up with it, sorry the video is so dark. Lena would stand out better, but she has a saddle. He seems to move smoothly with it and it moves with him, too.

I'm going to try it again tomorrow, probably push him a little harder with me in the saddle and see how well it all works. I can tell the saddle will be great on the trail, and I was very comfortable in it at all gaits, but want to give it one more good ride to be sure. Our only hiccup was at the trot when I had the stirrups too long. I'd get off kilter and he would come down to a walk. He does that now. I get off balance, he slows down--usually with an irritated ear flick. That and the buckles on the stirrup leathers dig into my calves just a little. Taller boots and/or a pad around the buckle should solve that, though.

It's a little more than I wanted to spend, but on the other hand it's an investment that will last me more years than I can speculate at this point. I was, however, incorrect about its maker. It is actually a 4-Beat Saddle, made for gaited horses. However, because it is made for gaited horses, it allows for a lot of wither and good shoulder movement, both of which Bar needs.

Here's a question, though. If I can buy the saddle new for about twice what is being asked, should I just go for new? Decisions, decisions.

New Year's Saddle?

Maybe so.

Here it is, in all it's odd-looking glory. I think it's made by this person, but am not positive and don't really care much as long as it fits Calabar. And it seems to. Really well. If anything, it may be a tad wide in the shoulders, but not by much and wider is better than narrow for him. Everywhere else seems molded to his body.

I did get the rigging figured out, thanks to the internet and the engineer in my life. I've seen this rigging before and liked it a lot as it seems to secure the saddle in a very balanced way. We are using a variation of the set up second to the left at the link above.

Right side--fender a little curled, oops

Left side

We put it on him in the cross ties to be sure I hadn't imagined how well it fit, and I didn't. The pictures are all with the saddle pad, but we fitted it without first. I love (love) the clearance above his withers, and the round skirt. There is a nice space running through the centerline of the saddle that seems like it will prevent any rubbing on the high spot he can get where his loin joins his croup. (Better now that he's fit and his top line has improved, but an area I watch for fit and comfort in any case.) It's also light enough for me to manage very easily, which is important for several reasons, least of which is tossing a saddle up on a 16.3 horse when you're only 5'3" tall.

Are we going somewhere??

I'm headed back to the barn in about an hour to try it for real. There was much coagulation in the indoor arena when we were there earlier and I'd rather focus on him and what we're doing, rather than worrying about staying out of everyone else's way.