Monday, February 21, 2011

Barn time, thinking like a horse, and reminders about boundaries

After a sporadic couple of weeks, I got to spend 3+ hours at the barn yesterday. It was like heaven. I worked both horses on the ground, let them both graze if not to their hearts content, at least for a good long time, brushed the mud off, de-tangled manes and tails, and spend some time reminding Bar of boundaries.

He forgets, you see. When we work together consistently, he does a pretty good job of not being a brat. He always tests, of course, but with the recent lapse in quality barn time, he didn't give in quite as fast. It wasn't even that he didn't want out, either. I worked Lena first, got back to the paddocks, and had a sad-faced Thoroughbred looking at me.

Part of it is his huge play drive, which was sometimes encouraged in less-than orthodox ways by his race trainer/former owner, Howie. We had to teach Bar that biting (for example) is not a part of play, no matter how long he's been cooped up in his paddock. Yesterday, he was definitely feeling high--dancing over obstacles, even jumping sometimes, feeling good in his own skin--and he's fun to watch when he's in that humor. Awesome, actually. It's a delicate balance, though, to give him the opportunity to cut loose and still keep the boundaries in place. It absolutely requires being clear and firm, just like another horse would be in the same circumstances. Body language works extremely well, actually. Taking an aggressive stance when he's headed towards you will keep him from coming in too close, too fast, and instead he'll veer off and stop a respectful distance away until you invite him closer.

He actually wasn't too bad yesterday, just wired. WIRED. Normally, a few trips around the round pen settles him out and we can do some good thinking work. I got dizzy waiting for it yesterday, and it took quite a while for him to come down enough to a relaxed trot with any kind of collection. But he did. Eventually. By then it was dinner time (his), and so when I led him over to the mounting block for a little bareback work, he fussed. He nipped at the lead rope (and in the direction of my fingers) as I looped it through his halter. He never connected, but he was definitely reverting to earlier behavior. Smacking him doesn't really help--he just thinks I'm playing--so I sent him around me, over objects, both directions, then made him stand much further away than he likes until he settled down. You can see it in his eyes when he's decided to go along with you, just like you can see it in his eyes when he's in the mood to nip. It's all about paying attention and preempting the negative behavior with him--so he knows you actually can read his mind. It's evil, I know, but effective.

Lena, by the way, was only marginally better. Her reactions are just different as she is a much more confident horse than Calabar is. She's also bossier, so our arguments were around doing what I asked and not ripping my arm out of the socket to get to grass. She maintained her normal round pen routine--go along lazily, then pretend something spooks her and zip around snorting with her tail up in the air. I just let her go until she calmed down, dropped her head, and started licking her lips. Still at a canter, mind you, but much more relaxed, until she finally settled into a nice, relaxed trot.

Both of them loved their spa time, too, giving big yawns and head shakes while I brushed the dreadlocks out of their tails. They are both a little vain, so simply telling them they are looking beautiful will usually distract them from being antsy in the cross ties.

All in all, a quite restorative day at the barn. And the way things are shaping up at work, we're all going to need as much of that as we can squeeze in.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Horse vision

Or various visions and views of horses. Just for fun. Just because.

Steve gets a smooch

Bar chowing down -- nice hip, eh?

Lena Rey Flo... so lovely

Love this horse.

The eye of Lena Rey

Watching a racehorse learn to win

Sittytwofitty, number 6, leaps out with the pack

We've watched Big Filly (aka Sittytwofitty) race for nearly two years now, since she started as a 4-year old. In addition to her style and grace on the track, she is one of the sweetest, most well-mannered horses I've ever met--she could even teach Bar a few things about snuggling--and has become one of my favorite horses to be around.

That mellow temperament made us to wonder if she'd ever be fierce enough to do more than place in the money, which she does consistently. She'd come close a lot of times, but hadn't picked up her first win despite having the speed and power to do it.

She's a distance horse, very often coming from behind the pack to swoop around wide and make up ground with her huge strides. She's big, she lays her huge head on your arms, and that makes her a very physical experience for a rider. Watching her races, it always seemed (to us laymen) like they asked her just a little too late as she was still gaining ground at the finish line.

A couple Friday's ago, she got her first trip to the winner's circle.

She was entered with a jockey who hadn't raced her before and is one of the top names in Northern California. He brought her around the outside, gave her daylight, and goosed her at the half mile. She never looked back, winning the race by 2.5 lengths and moving like a graceful freight train.

Sitty's winner circle picture from February 4th, 2011

Yesterday, she had another good shot, but had to use a different jockey, one they'd used before and who was excited to race her again. She was calm and cool before the race, the only tell an occasional grinding of teeth while she waited in her stall. She strolled up to the gate, then turned as if she knew the camera was focused on her. They loaded her first and she went right in, ready to do her job.

Are you getting my good side?

She broke well, her big head one of the first out of the gate, but things started to go a little wonky when another horse lost her jockey at the start. The jock was okay and the horse (number 8) ran the whole race with the others. That (and a couple other things) led to some maneuvering to get Big Filly out of a hole or two. Like said freight train, she does not spin on a dime and momentum was lost. Apparently the jockey was also sick, so didn't have the strength to ride her at the end.

That's the story, anyway. I think she could have had it with just a little more input, but I'm biased and opinionated, if not well versed in the way the races work.

She still came in second by a head, losing to the favorite jockey up here, and ran a really great race. She danced all the way back to the barn, tossing her big head, nosing her groom, as confident as I've ever seen her.

Did you see me?

The transformation in her is relatively subtle. She is still sweet and steady, watching as race preparations go on around her and yet able to catch a nap before hand. But there was a bounce in that big girl's step the whole way back to the barn, a bounce I hadn't noticed before. She knew she'd run a good race and wanted to be sure we all knew it, too. I swear it looks like she's asking her groom, "I did good! Did you see me? Did you??"

Sitty smooches

Unfortunately, I was so busy watching at the end of the race, I didn't get any pictures of the finish. I know. Fail! But I did get a shot of her cool down walk in the shed-row.

It is pretty cool to know people who love their race horses and to be privileged enough to watch one of those horses find her own way to the winner's circle.

Go Big Filly, go!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Will he still love me tomorrow?

It's now been 3 days since I've been to the barn, and four since Bar got any work.

I am attempting to not feel guilty. I'm failing at the moment, but I know a) this will pass (we're hiring) and b) my horse will forgive me and be glad when I do show up to play with him. After he pouts a little and I've emptied the carrot bins of all the local grocery stores to make it up to him, of course.

There's also the fact that I may have the world's bounciest Thoroughbred when I do get there, which should be fun.

We've got a three-day weekend coming up and my boss has informed me he really would like me to take the entire time off (he himself is going to be skiing) and that is my intent. If I can just catch up in the next couple of days, it should work.

And if I can even just get close, that will be enough.

My pony needs me and I need him. Balance must be restored to my universe.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Two awesome Thoroughbreds, one feisty Paint

Tonight was a much-needed horse-filled evening. Yahoo!

First off and much to my relief, I made it to the barn before dark tonight. Katie was there when I got there and had just finished up working Lena Rey. Bareback. For an hour and a half. Lena was a little evil and a lot feisty. Did the spotty mare look at all repentant? No. She looked quite pleased with herself, actually.

I was glad because Lena needed some work, though Katie had quite a ride.

Katie had also grained, so all I had to do was clean pens and take my big brown Thoroughbred out to play.

So I did.

Bar was good, if a little lazy. Surprising after being off since Saturday, but I'll take it.

After watching us for a few minutes, Katie decided to bring Forrest down, maybe let him and Bar run loose together, see how they did.

We didn't quite get that far, but we all learned a few things about each other.

Bar has always been a little weird being in the indoor arena when another horse is in the round pen. Too much action, too much noise, not sure what it is, but it has always set him off. So I let him loose when Katie and Forrest started working in the round pen, giving him control of his own comfort level.

He got over it and decided to be competitive instead. Zoom! There goes the big brown racehorse around the arena, causing Forrest to also kick up his heels. Wish I had video of that!

Only Forrest kicked up his heels with a little lack of coordination. All I heard was Katie's gasp (exclamation?) after a loud clatter of noise. Bar was still busy racing around and had turned to dance up to me when I figured out something was wrong inside the round pen.

Bar was exuberant. Bouncing towards me, rearing when he stopped, feeling his own energy. But then he listened to me, telling him to stop, to come to me so we could see what was going on in the round pen.

And he did. He was nervous, he was wary--eyes big around, nostrils flared. But he walked to me, let me re-attach his lead rope, and walk up the the round pen so we could check the situation.

Meanwhile, Forrest was stuck. hind feet under the edge of the round pen. Katie was scared because he wasn't trying to get up, fighting, or struggling. On the plus side, he wasn't doing any of those things and Katie figured out quickly that panicking would not help the situation.

Bar wasn't what I would call calm--the energy zinged under his skin--but he didn't blow. Forrest stayed cool until he figured out how to get up on his own. Katie figured out no matter how much her will, she is not big enough to move a horse.

Crazy racehorses? Really? Tonight, we had just the opposite. And it was cool.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

It's all about the rolling and the smooches

Not having been out much this week, Bar was surprisingly mellow. I worked him in the round pen, then climbed on bareback and worked on circles, stops, backing, etc., until the not-squishy combination of his spine and my tail bone reminded both of us to short rides are better without additional padding. How did Lady Godiva do it? Never mind, let's not go there.

In between all that, I turned him loose in the arena to take some video, hoping to capture the speed and grace of my ex-racehorse. Did I get that? No. Because apparently being free is all about sniffing the fluffy dirt, rolling, and frisking me for carrots.

And what a glorious day in Northern California! Sunny and 75 degrees. I'll take it!

Friday, February 04, 2011

Sometimes good guys do finish first

Photo taken in November 2010, first race back after 6 months off

The world of Thoroughbred racing (at least pre-Zenyatta) had a pretty bad reputation, and not entirely undeserved. We are lucky enough to know some really great folks who care a lot for their racehorses--enough to find two of them good homes with us when they couldn't race anymore.

They had a good day today. A really good day.

Their big mare, Sittytwofitty, won her first race today. Sitty nearly always finishes in the money--and runs like she loves it--but today was special. Today she hung at the back at first but finished at the front, her big strides eating track as she passed the other horses to beat the field by 2-1/4 lengths. I want pictures of her there at the end--stretched out, happy ears, reaching for the finish line with every part of her big body.

Congratulations to my favorite ON-Track Thoroughbred! Great job, Big Girl--we all knew you had it in you and really wish we'd been there to see it in person!

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Ex-Racehorse, mounted shooting??

You all know I think ex-racehorses can go on to do much more than run ovals at top speed, but mounted shooting? Even I had doubts.

Well. Someone else had more faith.

Good on them.

Bar and Forrest

Katie sent me this earlier today and I thought it was so cute. Until she told my my horse was biting her horse.

Apparently, Bar is the bossy one.

Dominant? Maybe a little.

I worked until 6:45 so didn't get to see my boy tonight. The boss is out of town until next week, though, so am hoping the chaos is kept at a reasonable level and I can get to the barn the rest of the week.

Both Bar and I need to burn off some energy, not to mention I need to remember the smell of dirt.